Chapter 9: The war begins
Like a gust announcing a storm to be upon the lands, the horn blares over the desert. Unlike other places it doesn’t echo, as there’s little to echo against, but this only adds to the fearful sound that the horn of Blight produces.
The horn of Blight, a powerful construction for alarm gifted by the Alliance to all nations regardless of their history, produces a well-known sound. However, it sounds just a little different for each nation, as each nation looks different. For the forest lands of the elves it sounds muffled like an encroaching threat, but unmissed by any elf with their sharp ears. In the mountains of the dwarves the horn echoes against the granite walls resulting in the sound coming from all sides, convincing even the most stubborn dwarves of the serious nature of the horn. For the grasslands of man the sound grazes over as a sign from above, not to be questioned by any.
But for the outskirts, the horn only echoes against Li and Lo before traveling over the flatlands unopposed. Like the sandstorms before them, they rage over the desert and disappear as fast as they came. A cry of danger and despair that cannot be ignored or missed by anyone.
To the inhabitants of the outskirt, this sound filled them with more fear than the message behind them. The horn had never been used before and the tribes of the outskirt were an isolated lot unaccustomed to it. If it weren’t for the pilgrims in the area knowing all too well what horrors awaited these lands, the people might’ve remained unaware still.
But the leaders of the tribes knew. The officers knew. The garrison at Firewell knew. It was time to forget petty squabbles from the past. It was time to sharpen the axes and craft more arrows. It was time to train militia and for veterans to come out of retirement.
The Blight had come.
At the Gate
With a huff and a puff he blew the horn. The sound was almost unbearable to anyone being near it, the sound of the horn was strong enough to travel miles so it was like having your bones shake loose and your eardrums tearing when you were standing this close to it. But he wouldn’t stop because something as simple as agonising pain.
Porcai the Butcher, nickname Porky, stopped blowing when his lungs were empty and he started to see stars. There, that should do.
The heavy-set orc, as fat as he was muscular, walked out of the horn-room and back to the bridge. If that lazy-ass Sos of Ale wasn’t there yet, Porky would drag him out of bed himself. And seeing how Porky was almost as strong as five regular orcs, that was no empty threat.
But it was an unnecessary one. Against expectations Sos was waiting for him at the bridge, the room located between the two towers and above the Gateway that acted as the command room. Sos was panting and wheezing after climbing the two flights of stairs, unlike Porky he was just fat, but at least he was there.
‘About damn time you woke up, Sos.’ Porky said.
‘Hey, have some respect!’ Sos said.
‘Why? We’re the same rank and you’re sleeping late during a time of crisis. You don’t deserve respect right now.’ Porky said.
‘Doesn’t matter whether we’re both first lieutenants of Thallal or not!’ Sos shouted with a shade of red that was as much rage as it was the exhaustion. ‘I’M the commander of the Gate while you’re a field commander, so in here only Thallal himself outranks me!’
Porcai the Butcher doesn’t say anything. He just stares at Sos and straightens his back. Sos’s anger turns to fear, knowing that his average strength would be like that of a child against Porky’s incredible power.
In the Wild clan only the strength of Boac the Axe compared to Porky, the orc known for carrying pigs with one arm on many occasions. Sos on the other hand, the continuous drinking and partying did not do wonders for his physique. Sure, the men liked him more, but none would stand against Porcai if he were to attack Sos.
‘Already killed 200.’ Sos said proudly. ‘My men may not fight often, but they don’t just party as your men always taunt and know how to fight when they have to.’
‘Last I checked there were over seven thousand Immortals inbound. Two hundred undead, mostly Goblins, doesn’t sound like much of a dent in those numbers.’
‘Big words. What did your men do?’
‘Saving their strength until the real horde arrives. And I was busy commanding your troops in your absence.’
‘We’ll see whose troops are superior when the horde arrives, your ‘Disciplinary troops’ suppressing the spineless Nihilists and Dusts and collecting slaves, or my troops that are actually trained in holding this fortress.’
‘Case and point, I lost only four wolf riders taking down those two hundred undead.’
‘Using four against one techniques when the undead ranks are still thin, that’s nothing special. And if it weren’t for me giving the command, your troops couldn’t have even started doing it.’
Thallal looks at the horizon, he could almost see the Gate over it. So close…
Yet so far away.
Thallal looks back at the problem again. He still didn’t know what happened, but from one moment to the other he and his men got in a heap of trouble.
His Warg whined his last few breaths, with the horrendous wounds it had sustained it was no wonder it could only feel pain. But as wolves didn’t raise after dying to the undead, Thallal saw no need to spare the energy to put it out of its misery.
He needed that strength himself.
Another undead Nihilist lunged at him, its body weight being more of a problem than the attack itself. Thallal focussed on staying steady and swinging his sword rather than piercing with it. If he’d pierce, he’d lose this common sword to the Immortal’s belly just like his sabre.
The sword hits the Nihilist’s jaw and zombie falls limp. It still twitches, but it wouldn’t get up any time soon. But the jaw had taken a chip from the sword.
Thallal looked at the chipped sword. Damn this cheap iron, this wouldn’t have happened with his sabre.
Thallal takes a step back to avoid the twitching Nihilist from grabbing his ankle, and looks back. From the twenty men of his escort, only four still lived. But the undead seemed to have an almost limitless amount of reinforcements.
‘Damn it all to hell!’ Thallal shouts.
He was worn out from the hasty journey, his men were worn out, and the Wargs were more worn out than anyone. But how did they not see the undead until they were surrounded? There was nothing but rock and sand to hide them around for miles.
Why were there even undead on this side of the wall? How?
Thallal knew the answer. The Nihilist’ clothes and the direction that they came from was enough of a hint. Flatness fell, and it went unnoticed in the sandstorm. In that sandstorm, not even the horn of alarm could be heard. But damn it, why him? Why did he, the leader of the outskirts, have to fall before the war properly began?
Had he known this, he would’ve taken a larger company of men rather than prioritising speed. He would’ve signalled Thugs wall to send reinforcements as well. But now…
One of his men screamed at the undead jumped him three at a time. Thallal cursed again and shouted to move more southwards. Another undead fell to his chipped blade, but as feared the twitching Nihilist grabbed his ankle in the scuffle.
Thallal tried to parry a third zombie, but with the leg clamp he couldn’t move quickly enough and the zombie managed to grab his arm. Thallal hissed in pain as it bit down.
Even if anyone knew of his dire situation, there was no way reinforcements could fight their way through in time to save him. Not even a full platoon of chariot riders could now. But damn it, Thallal was no pushover!
The chipped sword broke off completely as Thallal split the zombie’s skull. The handle was used more as a club than a sword on the leg-clamping Nihilist’ head as Thallal tried to get loose.
Four more were upon him by the time Thallal killed the Nihilist.
Mammon stared at the words written on the report. As if he froze on the spot he didn’t move even his eyes. But Mammon wasn’t frozen in place, rather he was thinking so fast and much that he couldn’t spare any mind to his movements.
The dark magic born from the black dragons, which had gotten in the hands of mortals. A self-reproducing plague that had been popping up everywhere lately, causing havoc from one day to the other.
Mammon pondered upon what this meant to him. The amount, the direction, the defences. He estimated the chance of him ending up dead around 17%.
Normally, this would be enough for Mammon to vanish in the wind. He hadn’t survived this long by sticking around when danger was looming or unrest was brewing. No, aside from Emperor Azrael, no human firstborn had survived through such means.
But this situation wasn’t alike the others. The Blight was popping up everywhere. Unexpected, uncontrollable, unpredictable. Even the dwarven keeps that were usually so reliable for him to seek refuge at could now become death traps with the arrival of a single infected gryphon.
Perhaps he could ask his old acquaintance Gorvar for protection? The orc firstborn had a more than respectable empire with many soldiers to defend it from any threat. And unlike the other orc firstborn, hell, unlike all but a few orc-human relationships, he and Gorvar could stand to be near one another. Ever since he taught Gorvar that little algebra trick to improve the sales profits of his slaves, the two of them were on friendly enough terms.
Nah, Gorvar could be just as proud and battle-fierce as any orc, before you’d know it he’d charge into battle. In times like these he might even try to give birth to that silly idea of his, riding dragons.
Dragons allowing mortals to ride them, like that’d ever happen.
Mammon didn’t hear Amon’s words, he was too lost in thoughts.
Dwarven keeps, human citadels, orc settlements. These days, every place was an unforeseeable calamity away from being his demise. And he knew little of their layout.
But Park. The landlocked trade centre that he had built from the shadows to what it was today, he knew every nook and cranny of it. This fortress of money and power where he knew everyone and everyone knew him.
The pitiful Dukedom near an orc slavers settlement too insignificant for anyone to care about, which he turned into a citadel of incredible influence in just three hundred years. The Koning family which were once upon a time the laughing stock among nobles, now were an archduke whose power rivalled kings. The intricate balance with the Wilds, Dusts and Elves that he built up, shaping these lands, creating a unopposed realm of stability and power.
He was the hidden king. The father of economy itself, the very inventor of trade. The ruler behind the scenes. It was he who saw opportunity in Allfather Odin’s obsession with gold and turned it into an economic bubble persisting to this day. It was he who invented the various techniques and tricks that made the foundation of trade. And these last three hundred years he made a kingdom filled to the brim with soldiers and defences but with no needless aspirations to conquer the lands around it like a gluttonous beast. He…
Amon glazed over eyes were staring into oblivion, the words that were being said falling on deaf ears. It wasn’t until Kristal gave him a gentle elbow in the kidney that he regained awareness.
‘Uhum. Yes, quite.’
Amon sighed internally. He was well aware who the three noblemen before him were and why they were here. But alike all noblemen, they insisted on introducing themselves with ALL of the formalities and then enveloped their request with a whole lot of unnecessary compliments, small talks and general ass-kissing to get on his good side.
Just their names and lineage took over forty minutes according to the sundial.
Amon looks at Kristal and she bows over to sum up the conversation.
‘The guy in the middle is the only one of noticeable importance, he’s a viceroy of the court. The other two are distant relatives of yours. The old man is the retired Baron of Black Park and a second uncle of yours, and the young one is Ser Harry, a fourth nephew.’ Kristal says.
Amon only needs to frown.
‘The old man is the closest relation to the Koning bloodline and only one sister of your grandfather was ever added to their lineages, but they did name Black Park in honour of your house.’ Kristal says.
‘Naming a village after us, what a honour. Doesn’t sound like they can really appeal much to us in term of family ties.’ Mammon grunts.
‘They’re under attack by the Blight and you have men to spare. There’s a humanitarian obligation.’
‘Fine, fine. What requests did they bury among their ass-kissing?’
‘Troops, provisions, mana water, gold, loans…’
‘So, pretty much everything and anything they could get?’
Amon sighs when Kristal stays silent. These noblemen are all the same, conceited enough to think they’re entitled to whatever they wanted even when they were begging for it.
‘So, my Lord.’ The viceroy says. ‘How you do answer our pleas?’
‘Can we cut to the chase, what do you need exactly? In numbers.’ Amon asks.
‘If you could spare us 10.000 gold…¬’
‘But surely a wealthy country like Park…’
‘Your family members are in grave dan…’
‘I’m not even going to borrow you 10.000 gold, and if your demands are this outrageous I think you’ll find yourself leaving here empty handed. In fact, after this insult I won’t even give you a single dime.’
‘And before you ask, we can’t spare you any mana water either.’
The viceroy stays silent for a while. That should set the tone of these negotiations.
One could almost see the gears in his head spinning. If gold and mana water are out of the question, then soldiers and provisions were the only things he could barter for. And like every nobleman, he was going to prioritise the former over the latter regardless of the situation of their storehouses.
But, the viceroy clearly wasn’t used to using his head for anything except the etiquette and hierarchy they spoon-fed him from birth, and he was struggling with the simple question of what was and wasn’t a ludicrous request. Probably why they sent him rather than a nobleman with actual skills to gather support and rally favours, he wasn’t going to be of much help against the Blight back home anyway.
With the viceroy struggling internally, Amon takes the time to study the other two representatives.
The old Baron is clearly nodding off, not strange considering they must’ve been traveling as fast as they could and didn’t rest before seeking an audience of him. Amon was surprised that he survived the trek, the old man looked like he hadn’t had any shuteye in days.
The young one, the Ser without any discernible title other than his knighthood, was looking more alive. He was tired but he was clearly young and experienced enough to survive the trip well. But his very attitude had gotten on Amon’s nerves the moment he got here.
Standing as if he were a legendary war hero, waving at the ladies of court when he walked in, that smug, disrespectful face of his when he introduced himself to Amon. This guy was thinking higher of
himself than any other. And when Amon denied their plea for gold, the brat looked at him as if Amon was double crossing an ancient pact.
How Amon loathed these foreign noblemen. Even when they understood that he was above them in this country, their attitude spoke of ridicule and disrespect. And that brat, who no doubt spoke highly of his own valiant war efforts but declined to help Amon’s crusade against the Wilds back before the Blight, his kind was the worst.
‘Two hundred soldiers and 50 knights.’
Amon looked back at the Viceroy. This was a nuisance. Was the man highballing that number for barter, or did he truly believe it to be a realistic amount? It was just too on the edge to tell.
’25 knights and three caravans of supplies, or 75 soldiers and five caravans.’
There, this’ll show whether the viceroy knew what he was talking about. Any military nitwit would pick the second option, supply caravans were much more important in the long run than the soldiers who ate from them, and the foot soldiers wouldn’t be too slowed down by it. But if this guy was truly the incompet…’
‘Surely 25 knights is a bit low, no? What if I trade those caravans and raise the number a bit? How about 100 knights?’
Amon almost got a migraine through proxy from the viceroy’s stupidity. He should’ve skipped these discussions and go straight to giving supplies only. If this man and the brat would command even a handful of soldiers, they wouldn’t even get halfway back before the troops would start a mutiny.
Amon looks at his advisors. It seems some of them are still a bit torn on which side to take, considering this isn’t alike the ordinary Wilds discussion. But, like always, his sister already made up her mind.
‘I say you shouldn’t be too stingy, brother.’ Lucy says. ‘We’ve got more than enough mercenaries teeming around the place, can’t you hire those or bankroll the mercenaries in Gryphon’s crown? That way you won’t be giving away the gold and keep our troops intact.’
Clearly, Lucy was just as versed in military operations as the viceroy. Those mercenaries would only be for hire as long as their wages could cover enough to strafe off the hunger. In between the failed harvest and the main trade route being cut off, Gryphons crown could barely even feed their own troops.
‘We could spare the troops.’ General Beelze says.
‘But?’ Amon asks.
‘But we both know why that wouldn’t be a good idea.’ Beelze says. ‘If it were, we could send the troops stationed at Firewell. I’ve heard the Wilds are almost ready to conquer it back anyway.’
‘The nearby elves settlements might be able to supply food to the troops in the area, but it’s indeed for the best not to strain their goodwill further by sending more troops.’ Kristal says. ‘I think…’
‘I THINK that you guys should stop getting our panties in a bunch and start acting like men capable of leading a country. Even you, Kristal.’ Lucy interrupts, pronouncing the elf’s name with the same tone that Amon uses to say moist. She didn’t like the ambassador one bit, probably because of Kristal’s side-occupation. ‘These people need soldiers, not empty words!’
‘Lucy, if you don’t know what we’re talking about, I suggest remain silent.’ Amon says.
‘But brother…’ Lucy says. ‘These people are your family.’
‘No, they’re not. These bloodlines they’re calling upon are ancient history.’
‘Then maybe we should refresh them.’ Lucy says. ‘They do have a strapping Ser and a fourth cousin is distant enough to…’
Clever sis, he hadn’t even thought of there being an ulterior reason for her standpoint.
‘Absolutely not! In fact, you’re not to exchange a single word with that brat, period.’ Amon says. ‘He’s far below your status and there’s no point in building political bonds with Gryphons crown right now.’
Not to mention, this smug brat struck Amon as the kind of short-sighted romantic that would decline Lucy based on her looks. There was a reason why she was the last of his eight sisters without a husband, after all. And a heartbroken Lucy would be lobbying his ear off about war against Gryphons crown until either of them bit the dust.
Urgh, doesn’t matter. Clearly the other advisors weren’t going to pitch in. And it seems that Kristal was standing above picking a fight with Lucy. That leaves only one more guy to ask for advice.
‘Mammon.’ Amon says.
The Treasurer doesn’t respond, absorbed into the report that he was reading.
‘Mammon!’ Amon says.
No reaction. By now he was certain that Mammon was sleeping with his eyes open again. The man knew well how to hide it, but he was sleeping at the wrong time way too often.
‘MAMMON!’ Amon shouts.
Mammon makes a little jump in shock, startled like a sleeping cat whose tail just got stepped on.
‘Huh? What, where?’
‘Mammon, these representatives of the Gryphon crown court are asking for aid against the blight raging through Dawnfort. I already denied them gold and mana water. How much do you think we should give them, and what?’
‘Nothing.’ Mammon answers.
‘Mammon, we do have some responsi…’ Amon says, only to fall silent when Mammon hands him the report. His eyes flutter over the lines.
‘How certain are you of this?’
‘There is no reason to doubt the scouts on this.’
Amon stands up.
‘Ah, you’ve came to a decision, my lord? How generous will Park show itself in these dark times?’
‘You’re getting nothing.’ Amon says with more enjoyment than he should.
‘You can’t be serious!’ The brat says.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, listen carefully.’ Amon says to his court.
‘Damn it, you have an obligation to help us in times like these, you…’ The brat interrupt him.
‘You!’ The brat says as his hand reaches for his belt.
‘Touch your sword, and I’ll have you executed before the clock strikes another hour.’ Amon says with a calm hatred that silences everyone more effectively than his raised voice did just before.
The brat hesitates, and then looks down.
‘Listen up, everyone. The undead have found their way into the slave camp of the Wilds and are now headed this way.’
‘Officers, arm your soldiers. Noblemen, raise the taxes. Merchants, readjust the prices. The Blight wars shall soon hit us, and once they do we better be ready!’
The viceroy sighs, their plea losing its weight the moment Amon announced the news.
Asmodeus finished reading the rapport and takes over. ‘Alright people, I’ll be announcing the details and the new provisional rules and laws that will be in effect until the Blight is dealt with. The horde we’re dealing with is a…’
Tael and Mael
‘A what?’ Tael asks.
‘A 10-1-2.’ Boac the Axe repeats, more agitated. The Wild was already furious that Tael had somehow managed to sleep through the horn of Blight, and was now getting even more furious about Tael’s inability to understand what they were talking about.
‘You’ll have to excuse me, but we Dusts aren’t exactly allowed to really connect with the rest of the world that much. By you guys, may I add.’ Tael says calmly. ‘You’ll have to put this in layman’s terms.’
‘It’s an Alliance system to analyse the severity of the horde, 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest. It stands for ‘horde size-organisation-geography’.’ Boac says.
‘There are no Immortal lords among them, nor mana pools for them to spawn for. And there are no mythical creatures there either. There’s some variety of races there, but mostly orcs and humans. So their organisation is the lowest possible rating.’
‘They have to go through a fortress at a bottleneck and spread from there through rather well-defendable lands, so the geography is in our favour as well. It’s only because of the chance of another sandstorm giving them cover to move without us being able to stop them that it’s a 2.’
‘But their numbers already equal ours, and all concentrated in one point. Normally a 50-50 rating before a regional mobilisation is already enough to consider a region done for, it’s only because of the rest of the situation that we’re not evacuating quite yet.’
‘If we can hold the undead on the other side of Thugs wall, then this Blight issue will be just a little spat. If they break through, we’ll be in for quite some trouble.’
‘So, I assume that the battalions will all be mobilizing for the Wall then?’ Tael asks.
‘No, the humans might use this situation to their advantage if we do. We keep the 1st and 2nd battalions where they are and send more new recruits in their stead to Thugs wall.’
‘You’re kidding, right?’
Tael has to bite his tongue not to give the brute a piece of his mind. Even when the freaking undead were on their doorstep, the Wilds were trying to keep the Dusts and Nihilists under their thumb. The 1st and 2nd battalions, all Wilds, were a bunch of bullies with as only purpose to keep the other two tribes under their thumb and to strafe off human invasions.
The 3rd-6th battalions on the other hand were mostly Dusts and Nihilists, and this command suggested that the Wilds were still planning on using them as cannon fodder in times like these.
‘I see.’ Tael forces himself to say.
‘Prepare the other men of your tribe who can wield a weapon. We expect you to rally 200 in the next three days.’
‘We couldn’t give you fifty before.’
‘This is a time of emergency, time to get less critical of your far future and think of our near one.’
Sure, while you keep the Wild’s best interests in mind. Tael thinks.
‘I know. I know.’
Baoc leaves the room and Mael comes in.
‘I’ve heard the conversation. Seems like some old dogs doesn’t want to learn new tricks no matter the circumstances.’
‘I guess you know what we’ll have to do, right Tael?’ Tael asks.
‘Not referring to me as Mael is enough for a hint, brother.’ Tael replies. ‘Are you sure?’
‘We don’t need a shepherd of sheep right now.’ Tael replies. ‘We need two shepherds for our tribe.’
‘I agree. But you know what your role will be in this, right?’
‘I’m aware. But if I don’t do this, the Wilds may sacrifice us all to protect themselves. It’s time.’
‘In comparison, my task sounds like a walk in the Park.’
‘Good luck, brother. For freedom.’
‘You to, brother. For independence.’
Fire. Chaos. Death.
Ushor looks around, only to see these things. No order. No comradery. No hope.
There was a lot of fire. More than usual. The great amount of shamans in the area made sure of that. But without order or soldiers, those shamans were going as much harm as good.
Ushor looks at the Wild shaman that he judged just a few hours ago, as she’s throwing around fireballs with the same lack of control as before. Shamans like her, panicking and throwing fire around without care, were being just as much as a problem as the Immortals. The way she’s throwing fire at anything that moves, including the fleeing civilians, says as much.
The Dust shaman that came after her, also comes after her now. A single blue flame, visible only as an afterimage on Ushor’s cornea, burrows itself in the female shamans skull. She falls to the ground while the Dust shaman runs of elsewhere.
Ushor looks at the dead shaman. She killed many, but in a way that they would not rise afterwards. He killed her to protect those civilians, but many of those civilians would fall to the Blight and rise instead. Which one of them was right? Which one was wrong?
What should he do?
Ushor looks at the skies. The sun itself was about to be blocked out by the smoke that the shamans were producing. In their despair-fuelled resistance, the shamans were choking their own source of power.
What to do?
Ushor looks at the bitemark on his arm.
At this hour that his people needed him most, what should he do?
Ushor looks at his entrails, pouring out of his stomach.
In this moment, the last moment he had to serve his tribe, what should he do?
Should he use his last breath to burn himself and the area around him, or cast the spell that only he was allowed to use? It would strengthen the orcs, but also the immortal orcs. Which one would benefit from it more?
Ushor looks at the sun peeking through the smoke. He didn’t have much time. He wouldn’t live long enough to see the sun again once it would disappear behind that column of smoke.
Ushor breathed in heavily and breathed out again. In. Out. The flames that he breathed out burned his nostrils and licked at his entrails. In. Out. The flames raging around the dying orc moved along with his breath. In. out. The burning passion within his veins was rising up one last time, ready for a last grand effort before it would sizzle out.
The fire within Ushor burned through his chest, boiled the breath within his lungs and melted his muscles. But he would never breath out again.
The shaman hesitated too long, and the smoke blocked the sun. Ushor died that same moment, his body burning up to ash but the area around him not. Just like the ashes that were soon enough swept away by the wind, his efforts were but a small detail in the chaos.