[RP Episode] The Flames of Change


#1

The year is 47 BC, ‘‘Before our modern Calendar’’, and the home of the Niirai bleeds with the flames of war. Brought low by age old blood feuds, broken promises, ruthless power mongers, and corrupt eunuchs, several factions are in total war with the rest, shattering the lands. The fires of war erupt across this once peaceful realm. In the growing chaos, rebellions rise, but the people’s voice is drowned out by the roar of tyrants.

People from all corners of the realm are rallied to one banner or the other to fight for whomever happened to rule their corner of these lands. But unlike before, where people would vigorously declare their support for their Daimyo, now they feel only sorrow, and anger. Some towards the enemy, some towards their own, and yet others towards both. Whole villages lie deserted as all the men were dragged off to the battlefields of this era, a small group at a time, none of which ever came back to their families, but who were instead greeted by more conscriptors, dragging away yet more of their men until there were none left to take.

It is the common folk who suffer the most, it is they who are the real victims of these wars. To the rural commoner, the only difference between an ally army passing and an enemy one, is that the allied army only burns down their house if they refuse the passing troops to lay with their women.

Worst still is the horde of marauders plaguing the lands, thriving in this chaos to strike out its own claims, taking advantage of the people’s dissent to further their own goals and recruit new souls who would support their cause. As the horde grew from just another bandit group, none of the warlords payed attention to it, they seemed a minor inconvenience to be dealt with after the war was won. The horde resolved to guerrilla tactics, sabotaging, infiltrating, and stealing, before they grew in strength to outright attack towns and seize what they wanted. To recruit people to their cause, they gave them a choice before any siege, either fight for their Daimyo who does not know or care of their sacrifice being made and die as all the other fools who will never see the end of this conflict, or surrender to them, give them what they came for, and join them to become the ones who plunder, and live, and not the ones who are plundered, and die.

Unfortunately for some, their town’s loyal Shugodai would refuse to forsake their pledge to their Daimyo and would rather see himself and his men defend their post and die with honour rather than yield to these lawless brutes. However, the bandit Queen, Zhei-Yiang, was known to show mercy for those who did not have a choice but to suffer their commander’s poor life decisions. She gave the commoner a voice of his own, one who would grow to be feared by the many warlords that fight over the realm, she would see their own troops defect to her and fight and live as a free mer instead of fighting and dying for some despot’s ambitions.

In growing desperation, as the horde grew beyond what any one warlord could deal with, a truce was struck in a momentary calm. Blades were sworn together, and an unlikely coalition formed against the bandit Queen and her followers. And after pursuing minor warbands that were part of her horde, the coalition finally found and cornered Zhei-Yiang. Surrounded on both sides by enemies or blocked off by mountains, things looked dire for the bandit Queen.

The proceeding battle roared intensely for days on end as these two great forces collided with intense fury. The forests burned and the mountains smoked as flaming arrows soared across the sky and streams of blood flowed down their foothills. Outnumbered in manpower, out equipped, and lacking mages and sages of their own to rely on for support, the horde suffered great casualties. But as if by some miracle of magic or divine grace, Zhei-Yiang and her remaining followers broke through the enemy lines and escaped before anyone had realised they were even there.

Self assured that she was too broken to face them again, the coalition diverted the main bulk of their forces to reign in the remaining warring warlords while a token army pursued the bandit Queen. As she fled, more people joined her along the way, having heard of and sympathising with her cause. Those who were now on the opposing side of the coalition were the most inclined to defect to her and leave before they are subdued by the enemy and forced to do their bidding.

With the coalition having established peace in the realm, and the three most prominent Daimyos effectively establishing their own kingdoms, they made sure to root out any traces of rebellion. They pursued Zhei-Yiang directly once more, and it was then that she made the hard decision to flee north, beyond the mountains, and in to the unknown.

Peace was finally secured. But it was a fragile peace, and it would not last…


#2

It was the 12th moon of the Damah. The Jida River would soon flood yet again and the crops would be planted the following sunrise. The citizens of Akhaliqia were all gathered at one of the many different local ceremonies held throughout the empire. Both young and old, male and females were attending them to praise the deities for their blessing of fortune, and to pray for the Damah of coming.

In the Crater of Khatiya, the most divine temple was to be found, often described as the heart of Akhaliqia. A temple larger than anything most common men ever could have imagined, filled with drawing of the most legendary heroes in Akhaliqia’s history, such as Shaliqia the Forgiven, Eras II of the Sakehra, and Farius the Benevolent. The temple featured a statue representing each of the 8 deities and symbolised the god king himself, Sayaj. It was the most sacred temple of the empire for good reason, it was the first temple.
The Temple of Sayaj was built in the Crater of Khatiya to remind the mortals to never allow the demons of Sins to corrupt their vulnerable souls, or Sayaj and the eight deities would punish them yet again. The ceremony in the Temple of Sayaj was held by the head priestess Sarjess, the most respected and influential individual within the borders of Akhaliqia.

“Ever and always shall we, mortals, be indebted to thee wardens of all.” Sarjess said with her loud powerful, yet genuine voice standing tall and proud on the central pedestal looking over the crowd of thousands of citizens. She had often been praised for her way of speaking and giving any sentence a sense of importance. The priestess held her arms out moving them slowly but gracefully to above her head, so the snow white linen robes where gently falling from her arms giving her the figure of an angel.

“We praise your generosity of past Damah, and we shall pray for fortune to be blessed upon us mortals for the Damah of coming.” She lowered her arms and turned gracefully turned around to a young boy patiently standing just a few paces behind her, holding a thick, used, leather covered tome in his weathered and roughed yet still young hands.

Rhaqit looked into head priestess Sarjess’ dark eyes and extended his yellow hued arms and placed the thick tome in Sarjess pale, soft hands. Sarjess turned around to the crowd and slowly and carefully opened the tome, as if opening it too fast would break some kind of spell holding the ancient tome together. She then loudly read out one of the pages, Rhaqit couldn’t clearly see which one but he already know it was the first page of the documented history of Akhaliqia.

“Flames of war and death plagues the known world, but this nation will not be part of the known world. This will be the unknown where the plague of war will not reach. I Shaliqia shall lay my sword down for the last time. – Shaliqia the Forgiven, the first moon of the first Damah.” Sarjess carefully closed the book and returned it to Rhaqit, then promptly returning back to the pedestal. She stretched her slender arms out in a welcoming gesture and spoke loudly to all the crowd of listeners.
“Feast till the sun sinks and the Iris rises, and look up into the abyss of stories and see the celestial bodies of heroes and gods, and remember that one moon, it will be you and I that lights up the sky on these grounds we walk on today.”

As the crowd of listeners started dispersing back onto the streets and markets, Rhaqit went down, down into the sacred basements of relics. Due to its sacred status, the basement’s entrance had been enforced with all the security measurements possible. The basement chamber was surrounded by the strongest and most durable rocks they could find.

The entrance way was blocked off by a solid iron vault door that was said to keep anyone who did not possess a key out, no matter what was done to the door. Rhaqit dropped his hand into the inner pocket of his linen robe and retrieved a large golden key with cuts going all four directions. The key had a thin intricate silver wing engraved into the handle, with a tall plain golden shaft resulting in a key taller than Rhaqit’s hand. He inserted the key into the crossed keyhole and began twisting the key with all his strength, and slowly the sounds of the bolts moving was heard through the thick vault door. He swung the door open with his remaining strength and stared into the chamber he had seen more times than he ever could imagine to count.

The basement was as decorated as the main chamber, if not more. The walls were filled with every memorable hero that had lived within the borders, items from hundreds of Damahs ago, even the sword of forfeit swung by Shaliqia herself. Furthest back in the chamber was an old pristine bookshelf filled with hundreds of books, all as old as the bookshelf itself and some even older than the temple itself, one of these books that was older than anyone could remember was the book of sins. Rhaqit could still remember when he had been even younger and had just been chosen as one of the scholars of the temple.

He has been trying to study the given texts and books but no of them held his interest, as they were mostly just more stories of the heroes and legends before his time. He had wanted to find a book that would keep his focus throughout, and so he searched through all the old books and tomes until he came upon the book of sins. He had just begun reading it when the head priest before Sarjess found him and quickly took the book away from the young boy. At the time he did not understand for why he was not allowed to read that particular book, but as he grew up he began realizing his mistake and had him forever feel guilty. It was the book that had corrupted multiple individuals and would corrupt even more if it wasn’t contained. It was said it was the book that the demons of sins would speak through. Shaking off the memories he started pacing forward until he had passed the bookshelf and stood beside a pedestal made out of carved rock with thin golden cresting decorating the 5 sides, each side having a different symbol embedded in the rock. He gently placed the old tome on the smooth rock surface and then hastily made his way back up to the main ceremony chamber.

When he reached the top of the stairs he felt something was missing. He checked through his pockets starting with the inner chest pocket and quickly realised that he had forgotten to close the vault, and that the key was still in the vault’s keyhole. He hastily turned on his heel and rushed down the stairs going 3 steps at a time. When he reached the bottom of the slippery staircase he heard a scream from above, from the ceremony chamber. At first he couldn’t tell what kind of scream it was. Was it a scream of pain he heard? No, that couldn’t be it, why would there be any reason to scream in pain in the most sacred temple of Akhaliqia. No, it must have been a scream of joy Rhaqit concluded as the started to push the vault close. Then came another scream, then another scream. Soon the only thing Rhaqit could hear was the screams of people from the upstairs. Something had to be wrong.

As the stress and fear grew inside of him his impulses got the better of him. He released the key and let the door stay open as he started running up the stairs, almost climbing up with his arm helping him go even faster.

The first thing that took his attention was the foreign strangers. At least he thought them to be warriors as they held thin long objects with point ends. He had never seen anything similar to it in his life, or had he. He thought of all the times he had walked pass the sword of forfeit and he quickly realised what the objects the strangers were carrying. They were weapons, something that had been banned inside the border of the empire for as long as anyone could remember, and especially within the walls of the temple of Sayaj. He quickly realised that these were not mere strangers, but they were warriors, and by the way they cut down the townsfolks that they were hostile. A particular warrior got his attention, a warrior with wide hips and a thin waist, decorated armour that felt more powerful than the other warriors, with golden cresting decorating her entire figure and a demon like helmet, black as night could be with sharp features. It was clearly a woman, and by the looks of her armour she seemed to be a sort of leader. But for Rhaqit, the warrior had no features resembling anything remotely living, as for him, she was a demon of death. She cut through those in her way like cutting butter and by the blood staining her weapon and armour, she had been doing this for a long time. The demon turned around and faced the direction of the stairs, and even though the demons eyes, if she had any, were hidden, Rhaqit clearly understood that the figrue stared at him. Pushing down his fear he promptly jumped down the stairs as fast as he had ever moved in his life. This time he didn’t go down 3 steps at a time, he jumped them ever only touching the stairs every 6 steps or so. As the boy jumped from the last step of the stairs towards the key to remove it from the keyhole, heard the sounds of footsteps in the stairs. Then he could clearly hear mumble from the individual. The mumble sounded foreign, unclear and undecipherable.

Every step got louder and louder and Rhaqit knew what he had to do in order to survive. With the key in his hand, he slid through the half-opened vault and into the sacred chamber and shutting the door from the inside. The vault shut close with a heavy sound, and as Rhaqit started turning the bolts and the usual sound of metal scraping metal was heard, although Rhaqit couldn’t really tell as the only sound he clearly heard was the sound of his blood rushing through his ears. As the bolts were fully locked in place, the young boy fell down on this floor breathing heavily. Then the sound of something large banging against the iron door, sending electricity through the boy’s spine. He was sure that there would be no way of entering, but that didn’t comfort him as he was now locked inside a room of relics, with the only exit blocked by a demon of death. The banging kept on going, and as the banging became less powerful and more desperate, the boy started drifting asleep.

Hours had passed since the boy’s energy had given out and he finally started opening his eyes. The only thing he could think of was the painful thirst. But there was nothing to relish the thirst with, as he was still locked inside of a chamber filled only with relics and stories of the past, and opening the vault was not even a question as he could still hear and feel the steps of creatures above, walking the floor of the temple. He knew he had to find a distraction to not go into madness. The only distraction he could think of, that he had access to was the forbidden book. The book of sins, and so he did the unthinkable and for the first time of his life, he started reading the book of sins, and this wouldn’t be the last. As the pages were flipped the more obsessed did the boy become of it. He became so absorbed by it that he never noticed the smell of burnt flesh filling his nostrils.

When the time came and he felt safe he started turning the bolts open and pushed the vault open. This time he didn’t feel any fear as he had broken yet another rule of the empire by arming himself. Arming himself with the sword of forfeit, a sword symbolising the basis of empires founding ideals of pacifism. He took step by step up the stairs until he reached the top and was greeted by an image that was burnt into his mind for decades to come.

Where the temple had stood was, there was only pillars of smoke visible, filling the sky with ash of centuries of history, spreading by the weakest of winds. The presumed bodies of the people he had once loved and served were stacked on top of each other around the boy. All of them unidentifiable due to the lack of skin and facial features, and some even missing limbs or even heads from their bodies. But the boy wasn’t scared, he wasn’t angry, he only felt nothing, and as he took his first step of the ruins of the heart of Ahkaliqia, the corners of his mouth were raised. The boy formed a grin, and then suddenly burst into laughter, a laugh so mad that if one were to hear it, they would not think of him as a human, but as the void itself.


#3

The Desert 01

Marching across the desert was a challenge of will and faith for the horde indeed. Many succumbed to the heat and were left to waste away in the sands. They began to run out of food, and more importantly, drinking water. In time, they reached a wide river where they could finally restock, but the water had a funny taste, almost salty. Unbeknown to them, this supposed river connected with the ocean on both ends, and drinking its water would only make them thirstier until they would dehydrate to death. They discarded the water as soon as it became evident that it was no good, and proceeded northward across the river, until signs of civilisation became apparent.

They had reached Akhaliqia, and beset upon it like rabid animals in their desperation. They took whatever they wanted from whomever they wanted, and savagely cut down anyone who resisted, and then some. But the outskirts of this realm did little to sate their hunger, they needed more. They had noted this people’s pacifist nature, as none carried weapons, none stepped forth to oppose them in force, so they fell upon the city within the Crater of Khatiya with ease.

As a warrior of the people, the leader of the horde, Zhei-Yiang did not approve of the senseless butchering and other atrocities that were being committed against these people, but she was powerless to stop it, they were desperate. She knew none would simply give them what they wanted, they had to take it. It was either her own people, or theirs, and she chose her own.

Niirai Warrior 01

After the horde had gathered enough of what they needed, along with plentiful treasures these people had, Zhei-Yiang gave the order to put the city to the torch. They could not risk a nation like this recovering as soon as they left and take up arms to pursue them. They also took slaves who would replace their fallen comrades who did not make it through the desert, and would carry their newfound goods for them.

The horde stayed in the city for a day, resting. The survivors of Akhaliqia who were hiding among the ruins must have been terrified, under the occupation of demon masked people, nowhere to run, and no one to call for help. In this time, Zhei-Yiang attempted to breach some sort of vault within the central most building of the city, to no avail. Giving up, they packed up and proceeded north, where the lands began turning more temperate.


#4

SARLOND

The city thrummed with excitement. Crowds pushed each other, moving slowly in the same direction, whilst cutpurses slowly relieved them of their coin. The roar from the tourney grounds was deafening, and the clash of steel on steel combined with the crowds to form a monstrous din. Celdar II Fenandion, High King of Erestimion and Lord of Castle Fenand, had declared a tourney, in celebration of the birth of his son, and everywhere the masses rejoiced.

The King was sitting in a panopied box, the lords and ladies of the court spread out around and before him, while opposite their stands a massive melee was raging. It was the conclusion of the Great Tourney, the free-for-all in which the last man standing received a large purse, and a wreath of glory. At the moment, only 5 contestants remained, all the rest lying upon the ground or being dragged off the field by their squires and attendants, to be ransomed from the men who had vested them at a later date. Such gatherings often generated quite a sum of coin for certain parties, mused the King, whilst the remaking 5, no, 4 now, combatants slashed, stabbed, and swung at one another.

The outcome of that tourney would never be determined however, no victory wreath would be bestowed or purse of coin earned. A messenger on a lathered horse appeared, all but threw himself from his mount, and could be seen arguing with the captain of the King’s guard. After a moment, he approached the King, knelt, and then spoke a few words to him.

The crowd, if they had been watching the ruler instead of the fight, would have seen his face go first pale, then settle into a slow set position of determination. He stood, kissed his queen, who sat beside him, and vanished from the tourney grounds. A herald blared out in a heat booming voice however, which DID agent the onlookers attention.

”This Tourney is at an end. By order of the King, those brave knights who have fought here today…”

Celdar could no longer here the herald’s voice. He was concentrated on a new problem that had arisen, something about an attack on one of Lord Redar’s holdfasts. The inhabitants had been put to the sword, the stronghold burned, with no survivors. Grandon Redar was not a man to scare easily, if at all, but the messenger had been most emphatic in his delivery that Redmont might soon need aid.


#5

The horde had grown in strength again. The lush and forested lands beyond the desert was teeming with wildlife to hunt, and foreign people to plunder. Word has spread of the marauding horde across the tribal lands of the region, and even though of the language barrier that prevented any productive forms of communication, some managed to offer tribute to the bandit queen, most of which included men to serve them, mostly bastards, orphans, or criminals. They spared themselves much suffering this way as the queen of course accepted, for she had enough slaves to drag around, she needed fighters.

The horde at this point counted many thousands of souls from different corners of the world, the majority of which were mounted on horseback or were riding on carriages stacked full of supplies which were being pulled by cattle. Some bandit groups they encountered along the way would willingly join with them, most of which only did so because they thought they had a chance with their queen. This resulted in some minor conflicts within the horde between the bandit lords, and even attempts were made on the queens life when she rejected all of them, only for them to loose their tongues, reproductive organs, and be subjected to slavery.

One day on the horde’s continued path through the pine woods towards the west, two horde scouts, two outriders, stood mounted on their horses on a small hill overlooking a wide plains area. They had spotted another settlement on an opposite hill, a more permanent one from what they have seen thus far in these lands. They observed the settlement and its people for a little while until they themselves were spotted by these folk, then they bolted.

They returned back to the horde and gave word to their queen. She did not think much of it, so she delegated a raid to one of her warlords. The warlord, going by the name of Zha-Yan, gathered his warband of 800 and rode for their target.

Zha-Ann was a younger warlord under the queen’s command. He was arrogant, proud, and secretly had a crush on Zhei-Yiang. He was willing to do anything to earn her favour. He was indeed young, but not at all an inexperienced fighter. He was however shorter than most, was quite touchy about it, and had quite the temper. His face and body alike bared many scars of past fights, all of which he recovered from as if they were nothing, and he delved in to this raid fully expecting to add a few more to his collection.

As they approached their target, the warband’s scouts would appear first, just over the horizon, and they would vanish as swiftly as they would come in to view. Soon after, thundering sounds of galloping horses could be heard echoing through the air as the mounted warriors charged with their weapons drawn.


#6

The small holdfast belonged to a minor lord named Curfan Dormond. He ruled the castle, and surrounding village with a firm and gentle hand, and was well cared for by his subjects. He commanded a few dozen men at arms, 5 knights, and a half dozen archers or so. Watchmen paced the walls, the gate was shut, and the knights were training in the yard, but besides that, no defenders were prepared for the horde of riders that burst from the treeline 600 meters away and charged, screaming war cries in a foreign tongue.

The villagers outside were butchered without mercy. Inside the castle, the knights and men at arms burst into action, arming themselves and racing to the ramparts just in time to watch the few surviving peasants be ridden down. The corpses of a mother and her child lay in the very gate, pierced by arrows. Farther on, while the riders raced about, one of them lay with his head smashed open by a blacksmith’s hammer, but beside the dead horseman lay the smith and his son, blooding seeping from their bodies.

Lord Dormond had armed himself, the two eagles on his surcoat black as night against the bright red of the background. His few archers were firing arrows at the riders, picking off a few of them with their longbows. He his knights about him.

“Mount up. If they assault the gate and break it, we charge out, wheel, and return. If they don’t assault us, make sure none reach the top of the wall.” The warriors nodded. It was good counsel. The outer wall of the castle was 12 meters high, with crenelations and battlements to provide cover. As long as they held the wall ad gate, all was well. If the enemy got in however, their numbers would overwhelm the defenders.

The horsemaster and the surviving stabeboys led out the great destriers of the knights, and the smaller horses of the few mounted men-at-arms. They swung themselves into the saddle, and took the lances handed them by their squires. As a castle on the border, and with several riotous neighbors amongst the tribesmen beyond them, House Dormond was always prepared for some kind of attack, but this was no raid, this was an assault, invasion. Curfan disdained a lance, and instead drew out his family heirloom sword, a hand-and-half sword that he normally carried on his back. The large kite shield went on his other arm, followed by his helm, a piece of metal and boiled leather that provided good protection against arrows. He settled into his saddle, waiting for the cry of Gate! that would warn him of an attack against the entrance of his home.

Outside the walls, bodies of men, women, and children lay scattered about. Fire had taken hold of several buildings, and riderless horses were galloping about. One was on fire, screaming in pain as the red flames consumed him. The archers on the walls kept up a steady fire, attempting to pick off as many of the attackers as possible.


#7

Zha-Ann observed the chaos on a vantage point on higher ground with his champion at his side. He stared at the stone fort and saw arrows pick his men off one by one. Afer the slaughter had ceased and most buildings outside were aflame, he grabbed his horn he had at his belt and blew it once. The riders retreated out of range of the fort and encircled it.

Some of the horseman began to dismount out of view, and prepared for another attack shortly.


#8

“Milord! They’re regrouping!” One of the archers called urgently down to his liege. Dormond instantly dismounted, and walked up to the battlements, to gaze out upon the carnage. There was a mass of riders boiling about, just out of range of his longbowmen.

“Hold your fire. If they come back, start shooting again. Well done.”


#9

After a while that felt like for ever, the warband charges again. Horsemen steady themselves by kneeling in their horses as they fire arrows back at the defenders atop the wall as they neared, while soldiers on foot charge the wall. Some of them are in pairs of 3, holding up a shield with one arm, and carrying a ladder with the other.


#10

“LOOSE!” Arrows once again began dropping amongst the attackers. This time however, the return fire swept over them like rain. Dozens of arrows whistled through the air, dropping men like flies. Soon the Vahans were forced to hunker behind the ramparts, unable to disturb the men climbing up the ladders.

Lord Dormund yelled, his voice ringing over the tumult of yells and screams. “Dismount! Defend the wall!” His few horsemen leaped to obey. As they prepared to receive the men clambering up the ladders, the lord spotted a man on a lathered horse vanishing out of the village, riding like demons were behind him. Perhaps there were.

The first opponent over the wall leaped forward, swing his curved blade overhand, a small shield in one hand. He never set foot on the wall, as the terrifying figure of the armored lord cut him in half with a single twohanded stroke. His corpse toppled backwards, taking the man behind him down as well.

All along the wall, the few defenders struggled to keep the assault at bay. After the first few men died however, the dismounted horsemen began gaining footholds on the wall. Gradually, taking losses as they went, the men at arms fell back. More lightly armored than the knights however, few of them managed to reach the keep. None of the archers survived. Lord Dormund fought valiantly, sending several men to their graves forever. His knights cut their way to him, protected by their armor and shields. Most of them had some sort of wound, but the battle madness was on them, and so they fought like tigers, clawing at their opponents.

It could not last. The wall was completely overrun, and finally Curfan and his men were surrounded in the courtyard, unable to reach the safety of the keep, where the surviving men at arms were showering rocks down upon the riders who now poured through the gate that they had opened. They circled the group of knights, who kept their shields high, until one of them abruptly dropped. Blood was running from a wound in his shoulder and leg, and he fell. He was instantly cut to pieces.

The riders surged forward, hacking at the armored figures. One by one, they all fell. Finally, Lord Curfan fell to his knees. His shield was shattered and sliced to ribbons. He had half-a-dozen wounds that were bleeding profusely, though he could not feel them. The strength left them. As he watched, the riders battered down the door of the keep and surged inside. Screaming and yells followed. He watched with tired eyes, as the small figure of his wife ran out upon the battlements, hesitated, and jumped. He looked away. The strength left his fingers, and his blade dropped into the bloodsoaked dirt.


#11

The warriors cleaned up the rest of the fighters and rounded up any survivors to be dragged away as slaves. The castle was secured and its storehouse theirs. Zha-Ann knew that leaving a defencive position such as this to re-occupation by another would be foolish, so he decided to maintain his garrison here and send a report back to the queen of what happened. Zha-Ann suffered more casualties than expected, as these people proved to have been able fighters, trained even, and very well equipped. Zha-Ann personally inspected their armoury and was intrigued by how differently warfare developed for these people than for his own back home. What was clear to him however, was the fact that the horde was about to leave the weak tribal lands it had been bleeding dry for the past few years, and is about to face a greater challenge, a challenge that could harbour greater rewards? Possibly.

Whichever the case, the main host had picked up again, and is on the move, surging deeper in to this new realm in all its might.


#12

The lone survivor pushed his horse so hard, that soon he was forced to walk on foot, leading the animal. He managed to stay one step ahead of the horde, as it moved slowly through the lands of Lord Redar, the Lord of Redmont and the survivor’s destination. Behind him, the horde slowly took over the castles and lands of the Vahans. They were deep into House Redar’s lands when he reached Redmont, with his warning. Other had likewise arrived, with tales similar to his.

Lord Grandon Redar heard their stories. There were so many of of these tales that he was unable to disbelieve them. After dispatching a messenger to every great house and lord in the realm, as well as one to the king at the capitol of Sarlond, he called what remained of his banners. From the undamaged portions of his lands, his liegemen appeared, dozens of knights, hundreds of men at arms, and thousands of levies fleeing the destruction caused by the nomads. He equipped as many as possible, and after leaving a strong garrison at Redmont, moved to interpose himself between the horde and the lands of House Delderan, another Great House to whom he had sent for aid.

The bands of riders and scouts he sent out often encountered the roaming horde, resulting in a series of short, sharp battles that raged for a few hours. Lord Redar had some 5,000 men, including some 2,000 cavalrymen, knights and mounted men at arms, and he managed to blunt the first feelers that the horde sent his way. However, he also discovered the size of the gigantic mass of horsemen to be almost 40,000 horsemen, which he did not have the numbers to stop. Therefore, fighting a series of small engagements along the way, he kept moving, trying to hold onto as much ground as possible, and slow them down until the King could arrive with the Crown, Fenandion, and Delderan forces.

While Lord Redar fought valiantly to hold back the invasion, King Celdar had not been idle. He ordered a mustering of every great lord in Erestimion, and most of them responded. He held a hosting at the capitol of Sarlond. Delderan was the first to arrive, with 3,000 footmen and 500 horse. Then the Fenandion troops themselves, 5,000 men and 1,000 riders. The Crown army finished it’s muster soon after, 3,000 heavily armored infantry and the 1500 cavalrymen of the SwanKnights with their winged crests of white and blue.

After a brief lull of 3 days, Lords Branor and Veldarion arrived together. 5,000 Branor spearmen, 8,000 Veldarion infantry, and 4,000 horsemen from both houses. Word also arrived from Lord Darmon that he and his riders were already moving to link up with Lord Redar, to help forestall the attacks further.

From the royal palace, King Celdar looked out upon the massive encampment outside the walls of the city. Banners and flags flew everywhere. The White Swan on Blue of the Crown and House Fenandion was in wide appearance, the Antlers on Red of Veldarion the only other banner that was as common. House Frandor was in the far south, and would take too long to arrive. Redar would be dead before they could all unite, so Celdar intended to find more men elsewhere. He had 31,000 troops as it was, not counting the surviving Redar men and the 3,000 horsemen of House Darmon. He needed more men. And so he sent for the Basileus of the Ekklisiasma, and the Grandmaster of the Order.

He awaited both men in his war tent in the midst of the army. He was pondering over the numbers when they arrived. 12,000 horse, 23,000 foot. It is not enough. he thought. Reports from the north had placed the size of this horde at roughly 40,000 troops, all mounted. If the Order does not join us, I cannot stop them. He rubbed his face with one hand. Celdar had been named for his grandfather, the Unifier, but unlike his prestigious forebearer had a foreign foe who outnumbered him to defeat, instead of an internal series of civil wars. The King was tall, like all Fenandions, well muscled, and at 47 years of age had fought in numerous battles and tourneys. Those had all been against either hill tribes or other Houses however. He leaned over the map in his tent again, and continued to plan, while awaiting the arrival of his churchly counterpart.


#13

As the horde pushed deeper inwards they began meeting stronger opposition. The enemy was attempting to stall their advance, several skirmishes and swift battles were fought between the natives here and her dispatched warbands, and to queen Zhei-Yiang, who was very well familiar with such tactics of attrition from her bandit and rebel days, their moves were obvious. The enemy was attempting to hold them back and chip their strenght away piece by piece whenever they could, to weaken the horde, and to buy themselves time. Time for what she could only assume the worst.

She sent warbands further afield, ordered her men to circle around the enemy and sack the towns and villages at their side and at their back. They could not fight them everywhere, they could not be everywhere, and they moved slower due to their foot soldiers. If the enemy arrived in force, they would simply flee. They made sure they would bleed them of their supplies, and what they could not take in a raid, they would burn, denying supplies to anyone else, bleeding them dry.

All of this was building up to a major confrontation, Zhei-Yiang was sure of it. But she had a few tricks up her sleeve the enemy is not aware of. The first of which she is excited to introduce to these plains men. All though a lot of them did not make it to Akhaliqia, they were still in shape to be taken to war. Large, armoured, and decorated with symbols of death which are universal to people everywhere, they would surely strike fear in the heart of the enemy. A siege weapon like no other. Elephants.


#14

In the distance, a horn blared a long, wailing note. The dust of cloud that had been visible on the horizon for several hours resolved into the silhouettes of men. Rank after rank of infantrymen. The sun shone from their armaments and panoplies. Heavy chainmail, thick, round shields, rimmed with black iron and emblazoned with the Mendranion letter sigma. On their iron helmets they wore tall purple and white feathers that fluttered in the wind. The column of men marched in a rigid formation, ten abreast, their spears reaching to the sky and swaying to the beat of the drummers. In front of them was a party of twenty horsemen, similarly equipped. They carried four banners. two of them, the ones in front, displayed the sun-and-bow of the Ekklisiasma, gold on purple. One showed the Order’s dragon-and-arrows sigil. And the last one depicted an axe splitting the head of a man with a leaf in his mouth - the personal heraldry of the host’s commander.

The Order of the Blooded Knights of Sagonos had arrived, and were led by no one but the Grand Master himself, Belisarios Ithacoi, the Butcher of Revallon.

The King’s sentries watched as the troops filed into the camp, moving towards a corner set aside for their camp. Swiftly the groups of men split into units of six that began pitching their tents. Meanwhile, having entrusted his retinue with pitching the command pavillion, Belisarios strode to the King’s tent. He was an angry, bitter man in his late forties, full of hatred and pent-up violence, and many quailed in his presence. His reputation had been earned by a vicious campaign to scourge the country of those towns reckoned to aid bandits and outlaw bands. Few of those were left standing in his wake.

Without waiting for the herald to usher him in, he threw aside the cloth entrance and paced right to the map table, which the King was bent over with a number of his aides, deep in conversation.

Not missing a beat, Belisarios smashed his fist into the table, which made several aids all but jump in surprise. “Your majesty.” He growled.


#15

Celdar looked coldly at the man. He bore no love for the Grandmaster, his cruelty unnecessary in the King’s eyes, but his military experience could not be ignored.

”Sit down, Grandmaster. And refrain from smashing my map. How many troops have you brought?” He gestured at the map. ”I have thirty thousand men, and an enemy who is faster and more numerous than us. What did you bring me?”


#16

Belisarios didn’t sit. He loomed over the map table, his long, gray hair hanging over it to all but obscure the view of the aides to the side, and spoke with scorn. “Ah yes, the map. Perhaps we should’ve been elsewhere on it by now, your majesty. Moving closer to the enemy might be a good idea, for instance. Or you can wait for the rest of the Order forces to arrive, if that is what you need to find your courage. For now, we are three thousands. Two more will arrive soon, I reckon within a fortnight.”


#17

Celdar narrowed his eyes at the man. Someone is going in the front rank… He snapped his fingers at an aide, who removed the map. He gazed back at Belisaurus without dropping his eyes. ”Tread softly, Grandmaster. You are not the only one with a passion for violence.” Crldar preferred not to use violence to solve problems, but when he did it was with a ruthless brutality that was common in Fenandions. ”We leave at dawn tomorrow. I’m putting you and your Order brothers in the center, front rank, with the Crown infantry. Now get out.”

The combined forces of the King and his lords moved out the next day. Celdar pushes them forward as fast as he dared, hoping to reach Lords Darmon and Redar before a conclusive battle was fought. Normally he would have kept a slower pace, but he knew that no matter how much he pushed his men, that the damage done by NOT pushing them would have far greater.

They moved away from the Capitol, and began forming into a column, to begin the march to Redmont, where Lord Redar has last been seen. However, it was Darmon who found them first. A week after the King has left Sarlond, Darmon led his riders out of the hills, and joined up with the long column of knights, footmen, archers, and hangers on. He had been unable to reach Lord Redar, who was in danger of being surrounded by a sea of foes. Not wishing to lose horsemen for no purpose, Darmon had not attempted to cut through, as horsemen make poor defenders, and had rode to join Celdar. With the now full strength of five great houses, the Crown army, and the soldiers under Belisarus, Celdar now commanded a force of thirty five thousand combatants. Such an army had not been assembled in Erestimion since the days of the Mendranion Empire, and their legions of heavy foot soldiers.


#18

Warbands sent ahead of the horde kept facing tough resistance from Redar’s army as he attempted to slow its advance. Zhei-Yiang was beginning to get annoyed by this man’s arrogance to oppose such a force as her, but none the less, she decided to play his little game and make him believe the horde is in hot pursuit of him. Zhei-Yiang’s scouts have worked out the general direction to where he is retreating, and they have spotted a larger settlement deeper in the plains lands, which was not hard to spot in the vast emptiness of the flatlands, as this one too was atop a rather major hill.

The time was now. Enough playing cat and mouse. If she would let Redar make it to his city, he would be a much more difficult foe to overcome. They would need to attack him directly and overrun his forces before he they could reach their safe harbor. They would use a decoy army to attack a nearby village on the path to the city head on, through which Redar would surely go through to gather supplies and defend to evacuate his people. Meanwhile, a far greater warband of several thousand horsemen circles around the foothills to flank the enemy and crush them as the main host ignores the battle, confident of their victory, and heads straight for the city.


#19

Redar’s scouts did notice the large warband heading toward the village. And as he also had scouts in other directions, he knew that there was a large force moving to flank him. The villagers he ordered to evacuate to Redmont as speedily as possible, escorted by a few dozen of his men, while he led the remainder of his troops as fast as possible towards the relative safety of his castle.

Meanwhile, Celdar, having finished his muster, had started moving towards the river, traveling slowly because of his footmen.


#20

The smaller raid party consisting of only a few hundred cut through the village like a hot knife through butter. They caught up to the evacuating villagers who didn’t move fast on foot nor carriage with their escorts compared to galloping horses, though the raiders quickly realized this was not Redar’s full army. They knew the flanking army was still going to attack Redar, no matter where he was. They assumed Redar saw the flanking army and moved to a better position to face them, so they swiftly slaughtered all the villagers, and moved forward to aid them in the coming battle. It seems the roles of each army have switched. Now the flanking army will be the force to face Redar directly, and the raid party will do the flanking.

Meanwhile, the main host had halted to re-organise and prepare an assault on the city. They formed an army the size of several warbands to send forth. Around thirty thousand mounted men and women.