The melting snow watered the plains before the city of Cattania. The land had finally gone quiet. It was an eerie silence that reminded General Leo of the grave, and thus, of Rufus. His horse had been put to rest, just one of many thousands of casualties in the war.
Leo halted before Lady Korgal's tent. A row of peasants were on their knees in a line outside of it. Hareveim stood over them, their magical Harev daggers drawing scars on the backs of their victims. The peasants struggled, but their mouths were held shut by magic.
Disgusted, Leo walked past them and stepped inside. Cenus followed close behind. He immediately saw Lady Korgal standing crouched over a table. She paid him little heed. At her side were several of the fabled Zaramim. These Zaramim had yet to prove themselves as being anything other than petite chosen ones in ceremonial armour. Leo hoped that they were capable of more than show, but they had only just arrived at the encampment. Time would tell their worth.
"Good afternoon, Lady Korgal. Care to explain why there are civilians being tortured outside?"
Lady Avette Korgal ignored him, as her hands shuffled through the papers on her desk. Leo watched and waited, casually noticing the Zaramim staring at him from his peripheral vision. Was it contempt in their gaze? Perhaps they could read his mind.
"Milady, why are you having those people tortured?" he asked again.
Korgal finally looked up at him, her eyebrows furrowed.
"They are being made an example of. Townsfolk who work with the invaders must be punished. But General, that is not what we should be discussing."
Leo raised an eyebrow.
"What did you want to chat about, then? For it seems you wanted to see me, from the sound of it."
Then Leo noticed that there was a man behind Korgal, shielded by the Zaramim. Korgal beckoned for the man to step forward, and he did so. Leo noticed that the stranger was finely dressed, and getting on in years. No doubt such a combination meant that he was a noble.
"General Tiberius Leo; allow me to introduce Lukas Notaras, one of the ministers of Stromgarde's court."
The noble smiled grimly. His hands fidgeted with the buttons of his coat. Leo distrusted such gestures.
"And what is he doing here?"
Lady Korgal allowed herself a predatory smile.
"He comes with news. The King of Stromgarde has been assassinated by rebels. For once, Stromgarde is in chaos. Its armies in Hesperia lie confused and static. Now is the time to strike. But first, we must ensure that they are unable to reorganize."
General Leo managed a deep intake of breath. It was as if the Four Gods themselves had intervened to provide Hesperia with a miraculous victory.
"Then we have but to sweep in and finish them off? I think you underestimate them, milady, though the news is better than we could have dared to hope for."
Then Lukas Notaras stepped further into the torchlight. He cleared his throat and looked Leo directly in the eyes.
"I have come here to ensure that Stromgarde's armies are unable to interfere with the rebellion. To secure the new regime, the Tribunes of the old order must die. They must not be allowed to lead a resistance. Tribune Septim is the greatest amongst them, and thus the greatest threat to me."
General Leo knew the name of Septim. He had met Septim at the Thoradin Wall, before the war had broken out. Septim had been an honourable knight and soldier, despite the threat he had posed. When Stromgarde had withdrawn, Leo had been relieved. Facing Septim on the battlefield would have been a formidable challenge. Leo would not have guessed that Stromgarde would have ended up breaking its neutrality and invading anyway.
"What are you suggesting, minister Notaras?" Leo asked.
"You hold Lord Captain Anderas as a prisoner in the city of Cattania. Use him as bait, General. Promise to Tribune Septim that you will negotiate a ceasefire, and the release of Anderas. Fool Septim into meeting with you, for he trusts you, and believes that you are a man of your word. When Septim comes to rescue Anderas, then you must strike."
The thought bit deeply into Leo. What this snake wanted was for Leo to betray Tribune Septim's trust, and to betray morality and honour.
"The Tribune would not walk blindly into such an obvious trap."
Lady Avette Korgal issued a girlish giggle.
"Oh, naive Leo! Of course, the Tribune would want to parley on safe ground, surrounded by his most trusted men. That is why you will take the Hareveim and the Zaramim with you. The Zaramim will kill the spellcasters protecting the Tribune, and then the Hareveim will teleport you back to safety once the spellcasters are unable to interfere. Before the armies of Stromgarde can descend upon you, you will be safely back amongst us."
Leo turned and saw the expression on Cenus' face.
"Is this necessary, my lord?" he whispered. "If their King is dead, they probably don't want to fight us anyway."
"Silence, worm!" Lukas Notaras hissed at Cenus. "Let the men of worth do the talking, or I will teach you your place."
"Lay a hand on him and you die." Leo said plainly. Lukas Notaras squirmed under the gaze directed at him.
Perhaps General Leo could negotiate with Tribune Septim; but instead of assassinating him, he could instead negotiate a genuine ceasefire between Hesperia and Stromgarde. Then, Stromgarde would withdraw back behind the Thoradin Wall to deal with its own problems.
Yet, Leo knew that if he did that, then the rebellion in Stromgarde would be crushed. If it was crushed, then it was only a matter of time before Stromgarde rebuilt its strength and renewed its invasion plans. Dictator Javali would surely not approve if he let Tribune Septim live if he had a chance to kill him.
All eyes were upon him. He closed his eyes as his mind raced to make some sort of decision.
and the Elves
Dictator Javali's legions marched out from the burned out husk of Seashire. They did not find themselves waved off by either the townsfolk or by Count Zartus. When Javali had found Zartus in the town hall, the count had barely acknowledged his presence. It seemed that the city's ruin had driven the man into a depression.
Scouts brought fresh information to Javali by the hour as the legion marched north. General Leo's armies had partially secured the northern frontier at Cattania. The city of Tornio was silent, however, presumably under enemy occupation, though the rumour had it that Tornio was suffering some sort of struggle within its streets. Perhaps Hesperian loyalists were giving the invaders a hard time.
What surprised Javali was that the pagan dwarves from Ironforge had marched right past his forces, when at Seashire, and on towards Dalaran to consult the dwarven ambassador Grog Flintbuckle. The word was that Ironforge had suffered a coup, and planned to withdraw from the war.
Amidst all the bad news, Javali received a letter. It bore the mark of House Benado. He broke the seal and held up the letter. It read:
To dearest Generalissimo Javali,
Lucio Benado be wanting to say Hey, what's up? Lucio Benado also wanting to report back to base. He went in search of Councillor Emberstone, the sixth member of the Council of Six who went missing. He tracked him to Alterac, and spied upon Alterac as his Generalissimo-ness instructed. Lucio Benado had a lot of fun. He made new friends, learned many lessons and went on many adventures. Lucio Benado continues to search for clues about Emberstone. He just wanted to let you know everything is O.K.
Javali vaguely remembered Lucio Benado, the Flamingo; an agent he had sent to Alterac. The man had not reported back, until now. Tearing up the rubbish letter, Javali turned his attention back to the present. He had no interest in the petty frivolities of Benado or Councillor Emberstone.
He was finally contacted via communication stone by Archmage Franek Snowburn, who he had left to manage Dalaran.
"Report, Franek!" Javali commanded.
"My lord." Franek Snowburn said with his usual bout of genuine respect. "Our spies have reported that the King of Stromgarde has been slain by rebels."
"Will that affect my campaign, Franek?"
The Archmage paused to ponder, before continuing.
"We cannot be certain; but if affairs in Stromgarde do not right themselves, the enemy may withdraw completely. They cannot conquer Hesperia if they lose their capital city."
Count Scipio would be crossing the river to try and flank the enemy, and Javali was forming the core of the wedge. Yet, all the while, the enemy legions had just sat there, fighting a defensive war. If he intended to drive the blade home, then it would cost him dearly, but his forces were now in position to continue the fighting, should he command the hammer to fall.
In Seashire, Madreen Chameral was reunited with Alial. The woman was haggard and silent, basking in her failure despite her attempts to hide from his judgement. In truth, Madreen did not blame Alial for the disaster. He had endured enough failures in his youth that he would be a hypocrite to tell her otherwise. Nonetheless, there was much to do. He did not have any forces to his name any longer, but the Dictator was finally moving to victory.
Warester dashed into the mouth of the ziggurat, and was embraced by darkness. The sounds of pursuit soon faded, swallowed by the all-encompassing blackness.
"Where are we going, pea-brain?" Hocus Snood chirped from the void.
"Silence, Snood!" Krasus growled back.
Unable to see anything, Warester followed Krasus, staying behind him to avoid getting separated. Meryl stayed just as close to Warester.
"Why'd you come here, Meryl? And why bring the Egg?"
"This is a sacred place. The place where it all began, Grand Master. I thought the Egg would be safe here, but isolationist Zul'Dare has gone over to the Prophet."
"And the Black Dragons, Meryl. There's still a lot for you to explain before I trust you."
"Now is not the time!" Krasus growled again. He breathed a plume of flame, which momentarily illuminated their surroundings. Warester gasped as he took in the sight. They were in a vast hall, the ceiling too high for them to see. Every step took them further down, for the hall was sloping deep underground. As for the walls, they seemed to be made of bronze, or some other rusty blood-coloured metal. Figures of an unknown language were carved into every inch of them.
"Ah, the history of the Mezejin Imperium." Meryl breathed.
"Too long, didn't read." Hocus Snood replied. "Seriously, enough history already. If you open your dusty mouth one more time, zombie-witch, I'm going to kill you."
Krasus kept the flames going, guiding their way through the giant hall. The hall kept on going down in a straight line, until at last it ended before a massive circular chamber. Warester could see golden steps in the centre of the chamber, leading up to two giant seats, adorned with skulls and pictures of past misdeeds.
"The thrones of Xostheron and Akaerna-Sagai." Meryl breathed. "It is here that the Archivists began. I remember."
Krasus rounded on them and bared his teeth.
"I'm not half as patient as that girly girl version of myself that visited me thousands of years ago. And that means I only want to hear one thing from you, Meryl Winterstorm. I want to know how to get out of here. And afterwards, you're going to tell me your involvement with the Black Dragonflight."
Meryl Winterstorm nodded briskly.
"We can get out of here three ways, dragon. One, we can try and momentarily dampen the magical wards on this place, just long enough to be able to teleport into the forest. That would entail facing our worst nightmares. It will also require blood magic, and thus, sacrificing a part of ourselves."
"You trolling?" Hocus Snood exclaimed.
"Possibility two." Meryl said, two fingers unclenching from his fist. "We activate the Black Iron War Golems in the ziggurat, and hope they fight the Prophet's forces instead of crushing us. But that would also require blood magic."
"Black Dragon instruments!" Krasus hissed. "I'd rather die than allow you to activate what I helped to personally seal away. Is there anything that doesn't require your damned blood magic?"
In Warester's mind, a mental note was taken to avoid telling Krasus about Alterac and the Golems temporarily activated worldwide.
"The final possibility." Meryl said sharply. "Is that you have a better idea."
The undead wizard folded his arms grumpily.
Robere de Changee waited for a reply. It came gruffly.
"I'm not going to tell you my real name, but you can call me Dellyn Paganslayer. It will have to do. As for my personal stake in this, I am of the Esarim, and Alford Menethil is my King; not the abomination, Andol Corin."
Qu's rage was heard in the background, presumably at the infiltration of the network.
"Quiet down, Qu!" Robere sighed. "We'll have to trust you, then, won't we? Now how are we going to do this?"
The voice came again.
"King Alford Menethil and his court wizard, Thomassy, are being held at Snowfold, a lakeside resort in the north owned by Lord Dandred Asher. It is two day's travel from your current location. It will be full this time of year, as nobles flock west, down away from the snowstorms in the mountains. You can disguise yourself and sneak amongst them. King Alford is being held there until ships arrive to bear him to Fenris Isle. As an Esarim, I cannot exactly disguise myself like you assassins can. You need to spring him out of there without violence, because if they find out we are trying to rescue him, they will kill him. Once he is safe, I will bring my strength to bear. Oh, and send Cerzimon my regards."
"Send him whose regards? Dellyn Paganslayer's?" Robere said sceptically.
"No. Just say the chief is keeping an eye on him, and tells him to behave. I know where you seek to go. If your companions refuse to aid our cause, then tell them I can speed you on your way to Shorel'Thalas. It will be quicker to earn my trust and assistance rather than walking the whole damned way."
"How do you know of our mission?" Robere asked.
"I've been listening in for days, you fool." the voice said again. "I just wish you had kept that madman away from the communication stone. You have no idea..."
"Oh, I do, believe me." Robere sighed as he looked at Lucio Benado balancing a coconut on his nose. Robere could not even begin to imagine how the man had gotten one in the first place.
"A bit of madness... never hurts anyone.
" Lucio Benado muttered quietly enough that none could hear.
The armada completely occupied Balor, flushed out any signs of resistance, and then prepared to set sail again. Precious little time was given to take in the sights or appreciate the architecture.
Linus Wrynn soon sent in his officers to drag the soldiers out of the taverns, much to the relief of the locals. The soldiers of Stormwind did not feel entitled to pay a copper. At last, with the looting done, the Stormwind fleet set sail again, leaving only a token force behind to keep Balor secure.
House Alten had been extinguished. Travot felt a tinge of sympathy for them, for whatever wars Kul Tiras fought, the colonists had precious little to do with the politics back home. Regardless, war was war.
The Stormwind fleet sailed for over a week, stopping to resupply at the few coastal towns that existed along the shores of western Khaz Modan. They were mostly neutral ports, or dwarven settlements, though there were precious few dwarves who cared to settle near the ocean. Travot found the places to be largely unmapped and unheard of, and was interested to learn about them. They passed Dun Argath and Tol Ronal and Newman's Landing. Leaving them behind marked the entrance to the northern seas.
It was for that reason that Linus Wrynn called in a meeting of his commanders and lieutenants aboard the Majesty.
Travot Ravenholdt had gained an opportunity before the meeting to influence Augustus Fenris, and would thus be able to manipulate the man if it came to any decisions.
"What information we have on the theatres of war is sparse." Linus Wrynn announced during the meeting. "But our good friend and dear, dear ally, Travot Ravenholdt, has shared his intelligence with us. We must now decide how to deploy our armada. A direct assault on Kul Tiras would surely be foolhardy, as their ships remain superior to ours. What we require is a foothold, such as Tol Barad or Crestfall, from which to strike at Boralus."
"Yes, but if we lose the opportunity to launch a surprise attack, we lose our main advantage against them!" one of the captains argued.
"Friends! Countrymen!" one of the men coughed. All eyes turned to him. "Stromgarde is our principal ally in this war, but as we have heard, they have suffered a coup. We must sail to Port Baradin, where members of the royal family are taking refuge, and we must focus on retaking Stromgarde City before the war in Hesperia is lost. If that happens, then we will have to take on all of Hesperia without Stromgarde's assistance."
Travot Ravenholdt wondered what course of action he could encourage, and use Augustus Fenris to promote. There were, of course, courses of action of his own design that he could encourage as well.
and the Elves
A scream came from Barny's room. Ewe rushed from Anazar and into Barny's room, throwing the door wide open. He found Barny on his knees, clutching at his leg. Blood poured from a giant gash along the half-troll's leg, dribbling across the floor in a pool.
"What in the Outside have you done, Barny?"
"Blood magic. I am getting out of this place, Lord Marsh. I can only get us outside of Boralus, but no further. Take the Scroll and come with me, before it is too late!"
A ripple formed in the air, opening up to form a crimson gateway. Barny began to crawl through it. Yet, if Ewe left, he would lose his chance to meet with Xaxion Drak'eem, and perhaps learn how to better serve Muhar. If one thing remained certain, it was that the Esoteric Order had betrayed Kul Tiras. If they had betrayed Kul Tiras, could they not betray Muhar too?
Ewe had discovered that he would become like Barny; an abomination. That was something he could not forgive. Perhaps Xaxion Drak'eem could prevent the transformation entirely, and then Anazar would not be horrified by him as he slowly turned into a half-troll over the years.
Yet again, freedom lay just a few feet away.
and Kul Tiras
Lord Ephraim Marsh considered the words of these Outsiders. Perhaps, it would be better to consult the Prophet before making any hasty alliances. Yet again, perhaps the Prophet applauded initiative. Would Ephraim accept the assistance of these Outsiders in an assault on Boralus?
and Kul Phorcys
Xalmor Windrunner and the Stromgarde sailors soon found Ianthe Marsh and some of the remainder of their forces. Reunited, they remained covered by the forest.
"They have Iphis!" Ianthe hissed.
"Well, we have one of their elites." Xalmor said with a grin. "My duty takes me to the forest, but I am sure they will release Iphis if we exchange her for their elite soldier."
Several Stromgarde sailors were sent with the message regarding the prisoner exchange.
Namor Periandrius, Johnnie Jacula and Alan Zadok stood kitted out and prepared for their jungle adventure. The soldiers holding New Barsmouth would cover their retreat. As they set off, news arrived regarding the fate of the Eels. Brutus Armaggon had been captured, and the enemy wanted to exchange him for some prisoner woman that they had gotten a hold of.
Xalmor Windrunner stroked Ianthe's cheek and nodded.
"Mnesthes and Muhar willing, Iphis will be returned to us shortly. But now, milady, I must discover my fate within the woods. I will not be long."
The old forest loomed silent and foreboding, though Xalmor Windrunner did not fear it. He could sense powerful and dark magic as he traversed the ancient paths under the creaking eaves. At last, he came to a clearing, which gradually opened up to reveal a vast city of ziggurats, towers and spires carved of bronze. A cry rose up from behind the buildings. Xalmor saw a transparent kaiju spider rear up and skitter out of sight.
Drawing his sword, he set down towards the streets. As he passed between the buildings, he heard the sound of movement and swung around just in time to come face to face with several half-trolls jumping down from parapets on the ziggurats.
"Hold! He is with the master!" a voice cried. Xalmor craned his neck and saw a human in ragged robes staring down from one of the parapets. "Hail, Lord Benefactor. I am Dartol Caxagord. Welcome to Ythan'alai!"
"What is this place?" Xalmor Windrunner called up to the man. "Why have I been brought here?"
"Brought here?" Dartol laughed. "Ythan'alai has a way with such things. But no matter, Lord Benefactor. We shall meet again soon."
Then the man was gone. Xalmor saw that the half-trolls were on their knees before him, as if having realised the gravity of their mistake.
"Rise!" Xalmor commanded. They complied, but stood awaiting his command.
Then, Xalmor felt a pulling sensation. A voice whispered in his mind.
Xalmor Windrunner braced himself and waited, but nothing happened. He looked across the ziggurats, but they were silent.
"... I gave you life. I am Xaxion Drak'eem. I am the soul of the earth, the spirit of the trees. Why have you disobeyed me?
"Disobeyed you?" Xalmor hissed. "The Prophet is the son of Mnesthes. You are nothing but a demon!"
The voice chuckled, though to Xalmor it sounded more like the rumble of a waterfall.
"You are much like Men'heva, and nothing like Men'nuth. It is no wonder that the Prophet warps your mind."
With that, Xalmor Windrunner was left with his half-trolls. He knew he could plough Ythan'alai for its secrets if he wished, though the sooner he found Ephraim Marsh and used his half-troll army to retake New Barsmouth, the better.
Namor Periandrius had to keep looking over his shoulder to make sure that Johnnie Jacula was following. The stinky rogue kept tripping over roots and getting lost in the bush, like an amateur.
Alan Zadonk, on the other hand, navigated like an old and grizzled veteran, wrestling giant snakes and chopping at them with his scimitar.
"Are we there yet, Zadonk?" Namor said as he stubbed his toe on a root.
"Madness!" Zadonk replied.
The forest began to grow thicker, and Namor Periandrius held up his hands as he felt a numb sensation beginning to take over. It felt like he had been bitten by a makrura, and the nectar was incapacitating him.
"Sweet texture!" he cried. "This is a forest for drunks."
Suddenly, Alan Zadonk made a lot more sense as a drunkard.
Many revelations later, they stumbled across a gargantuan scrapyard with ancient doodles adorning every surface of the junk. Periandrius could not help but feel creeped out by the looming shadows and general evil aura that the rust emanated, but he was not about to be dissuaded from his mission. Whatever it was.
Johnnie Jacula suddenly went deathly still.
"I haven't felt this - I haven't felt this since... by Brux's beard, dear gods no..."
"What's wrong, Jack?" Namor Periandrius grumbled. "Do you need a bathroom break again? I didn't hire you into my merry crew for fun, Jack. You're like Ishmael Khalabrond. Frail of mind, light of purse. No fun to sing with. What's that smell really?"
The kaiju spider reared up from behind one of the buildings, its beady eyes set on Johnnie Jacula. Namor Periandrius swore that there was fiendish glee and recognition set in those eyes.
not a pony." Zadonk wailed, clawing at his face and jumping up and down in circles. An immense buzzing sound ensued, and a host of bees descended from the heavens.
and The Elves
Marshal James Sherman returned to the Imperial Host with the Perinany Legion behind him. Shortly after the Hesperian and Gilnean ambush had been fought off, General Mattheus Perinany had arrived with the bulk of the Legion. They had brought enough supplies to buy the Imperial Host the time it needed to take Venege.
Back in the command tent, Sherman struggled to stay alert. He was exhausted and wounded from the fighting, and the tainted food had taken its toll on him. Mattheus Perinany stood facing him from across the tent, a man just as tall and bold as him. Mattheus and Sherman had fought many battles together through as equals in the past months, but Sherman could tell the look in General's eyes. Mattheus had watched the Imperial Host splinter, and now he looked into Sherman's eyes and defied his authority. It was as if the General of the Legion blamed Sherman for the Host's failure.
"The Imperial Host stands on the brink of destruction, Marshal." Mattheus Perinany spat. "A mockery has been made of humanity under the Holy Light. Your crusade has crashed against the walls of the enemy and has been rebuked like a wave against a cliff. All the while, your kingdom remains under the Bruxist boot of Andol Corin."
"Spare me your insults, Mattheus." Sherman said with a sigh, massaging his temple. "We must concentrate on overcoming our obstacles, not glorifying them."
At Mattheus Perinany's side, the remainder of the Fist of Humanity stood with hands on the hilts of their weapons, strikingly defiant. Vasgren Haran had removed his helmet, and Sherman looked at him and was unnerved by the man's hairlessness. The dark skinned commander was known to ritually shave himself, down to his eyebrows.
"We must act now, Marshal!" Vasgren Haran bellowed. "The Fist must assume control of the Imperial Host, and we need to launch a full-scale assault upon Venege before we are the ones starved into submission."
"It would be a massacre, and you know it." Sherman shot back.
"Yes, it would." Herubrad Garithos of the Fist added. "But it must be done, else we have already lost."
Mattheus Perinany continued to stare into Sherman's eyes, his gaze beating down spirit and resistance.
"It has been decided." Mattheus began. "The Perinany Legion shall assume command of the Imperial Host. Until you can recover your health and your mind, Marshal Sherman, you have been deemed unfit for your role. We hereby relieve you of your command of the Imperial Host."
Sherman immediately drew his sword. The Fist of Humanity replied, each of the men drawing their own weapons, save for Mattheus Perinany.
"You wouldn't dare." Sherman growled.
"It is over, Marshal." Mattheus Perinany said plainly. "Stand down, or we will withdraw to Raven Keep and leave you to your doom."
A vision of an ancient empire, collapsing under the weight of an invasion. The screams of the dying, from the men to the women and children.
Teliel Zamashen awoke sweating. Her dream was one of a past tragedy. Templar sometimes had such visions. Teliel was certain that a similar fate would befall Hesperia if she failed.
Metellus Cipher sat watching her. The Gilnean bore bloodied marks on his face, as if he had been mauled by a wild cat.
"I am awake, lieutenant." she managed to say. Her throat seemed to burn out of dryness. "What has come to pass?"
Metellus Cipher told her of what had transpired since the ambush. The Imperial Host was launching an attack upon Venege, striking at the city walls day and night from every direction. It was said that the siege would not last another day, and the casualties were horrific on both sides.
After explaining everything, Metellus Cipher left momentarily. He returned with a man at his side, decked in finery, a cape flowing behind him. Teliel Zamashen leaned up in the bed she was in and assessed the newcomer fiercely.
"Milady, this is Count Elrios Kaleiki of Pasata. We are in his encampment, half a day away from Venege and half a day away from Nevezia."
"It is an honour, Count." Teliel Zamashen replied.
The man bowed to her, and Teliel nodded her head as a reply. She let him speak.
"Templar Zamashen, I am pleased to see you awake. I was informed that you bear a tattoo of the Lord D'vorjakque. The men say that you are here to deliver us from destruction, though so far it seems that we are the ones delivering you from such a fate. Nonetheless, I will heed your advice."
The mark of D'vorjakque, Teliel wondered. She had no such tattoo. Perhaps the demigod had intervened after all.
"And why are we not relieving Venege, Count Kaleiki?"
"We are outnumbered. Count Dorian refuses to leave Nevezia, and General Niccolo Marius of Dalaran is fighting a defensive war. Venege is lost, milady. It is inevitable. I am afraid that I am not a military man, but even I know this to be true." he said, closing his eyes. "I am out of my depth, I am afraid. But I will be damned by the Azure Goddess herself if I stand by and let Hesperia fall to invaders. What I can do, I shall do."
Kariel Winthalus left Firael, Andellion and Foruel in Stromgarde to oversee Mallich Vitalion's seizure of power. The three former servants of Rommath would remain out of trouble there, and would be overseen by Haeliel to prevent them misunderstanding any orders, or making mistakes out of possible inexperience.
The days following the coup were bloody and chaotic. Some regions of the nation rose up in revolt, while others rallied as royalists to defeat the rebels. Fighting broke out across the country. In the meanwhile, the Tribunes were busy organizing a resistance, while the invading armies in Hesperia suddenly found themselves deprived of their chain of command.
Lanudal hurried to bring Kariel Winthalus news of where the rest of the Trollbane family had fled to. Reports were varied, as the Trollbanes had covered their tracks well. The only lead Kariel had was that one of the cousins or nephews of the deceased Dorath may have gone to Port Baradin, in the Wetlands, and another to Stonehold, a royalist stronghold in the north of the highlands of Arathi.
For the first time in weeks, Kariel Winthalus was contacted by the Viridian Prophet. The Prophet had little to say to him, other than a congratulations for his part in Stromgarde, and a warning that the time would soon come where Kul Tiras would be under his control, and that Kariel's help would be needed.
Magus Rimtori Sanguinar was called to meet with Andol Corin in a village near the Bruxist host. There, she found him standing before a crowd of villagers. He was midway through a speech, speaking of justice, equality and liberty. Andol Corin spoke of knowing the burdens of the people, of the tyranny of the Witch Hunters and of the Church. Never again, Andol Corin promised, would a king in Lordaeron rule through fear. Lordaeron would have a citizen king.
The people cheered, and Andol Corin walked down to meet with Magus Rimtori.
"Ah, milady. You find me in good spirits."
"It seems that I have, King Corin. And under a clear sky, as well."
Andol Corin accepted a goblet of wine from one of his retainers and took a hearty gulp.
"So then, I presume you will want to hear of my response to your plan to keep the Archbishop alive?"
"Aye, my lord." Magus Rimtori said cordially. "It is of importance to the Benefactors that Marden live to see more sunrises than he deserves."
Andol Corin's expression underwent a transformation. He took on a grim visage, and leaned in closer to Rimtori.
"I will grant you your wish, milady. But not for the Benefactors. I do it for Amron Radiun Malad, because I know he would have respected your wishes."
Magus Rimtori inclined her head.
"And when will we march? I presume you shall attempt to relieve Northridge of its siege."
"I shall send Northridge reinforcements, but I march to the Northern Church, to Marden. If he must live, then he shall do so in chains. He must not be given time to escape, if he has not already. The noose must be drawn tightly."
With his part said, Andol Corin marched off in the direction of the army encampment, tailed by his retainers. Just as Magus Rimtori was about to leave, she saw a band of men leaving the village towards her. At their head was Henrick Balnir.
"Milady, it seems that my path will be joined with yours again, for the time being. I have gotten word that the Shermans have evacuated their estate, and have rallied to defend the Archbishop. Lady Thera Sherman will be there, it seems."
"Then let us make ready." Rimtori replied curtly.
and the Benefactors
and the Benefactors
Shortly after the death of Mordred Baldanes, Warren Greystone was contacted by Louis Oudinot of the Malachite Hand. Warren remembered that he had seen Louis Oudinot being interrogated in an alley by the Grand Master of Ravenholdt, but he had intervened alongside Zamelean and Louis Oudinot had gone free.
Warren and Oudinot stood together near the Azure mosque, looking down at rabid waves below.
"When I first met you, Mister Greystone, I was undercover as a soldier under Major Richard de Marmont outside Ginchar. You were in the company of two Benefactors, one of which I have killed. Now you have aligned yourself with the surviving one of the two Benefactors. What am I to make of that?"
"The Benefactors are no friends of mine. I serve the Doctrine, just like you." Warren Greystone replied. "But this lady has been misled, like General Mordred was."
"Perhaps she seeks to redeem herself. Perhaps not." Louis Oudinot said with a grunt. "But one thing remains certain. We need to get our hands on Rodin Fornsform. Then, we must take him to Braent, where the Malachite Hand can interrogate him and break him. If Amarian wants to prove her loyalty to us, then she can bring us Rodin Fornsform from the clutches of Sorsbrent."
"You would act against our allies?" Warren asked sceptically. He did not see the wisdom in risking the ire of the new Queen of Gilneas.
"Our allies?" Louis Oudinot said, barking a laugh. "Instead of killing Herman Aranas they protect him! The Queen is no friend of the Hand. Regardless, mister Greystone. Inform Amarian Zeshuwal that she can utilize her talents to bring us Rodin Fornsform."
That evening, Warren and Amarian were walking through the woodlands around Zanzifos, trying to decide what to do next. Warren still did not trust Amarian, though she did not seem to mind too much.
"We could try persuading Jammal Hildebrand to release him into our custody. He certainly owes me a lot as it is."
Warren Greystone and Amarian Zeshuwal stood facing one another. Struggling with his awkwardness, Warren tried to puff out his chest as he talked to the Benefactor, but found it a step too difficult.
"Persuasion. Perhaps." Amarian said with a smile. "Or we could simply cut a few throats and do things my way. That sounds a lot better to me, you naive boy."
"Don't call me naive." Warren grunted.
"Oh so sensitive." Amarian sighed. "But if we are going to get out hands on Rodin Fornsform, then we'll have to follow the army towards Ginchar. Because he is no longer in Zanzifos."
Amarian Zeshuwal suddenly went still. Warren wondered why, then heard a rustling in the trees. He drew the dagger that Amarian had given him, and swung around just in time to see a tree walking towards him.
"Hold!" Amarian said, grabbing Warren by the wrist. "Is that you, Talah?"
The tree-man bowed deeply to the Benefactor.
"Mnesthes öpö." it murmured in a reedy voice.
Richard de Marmont held Painbrand tight, peering out through the shadows and out at the streets. They were empty, and had been for days. Food was scarce, and he found himself using Painbrand to persuade those who had it to offer it up to him.
Several people halted outside the mouth of the alley, and de Marmont's grip on Painbrand tightened. Perhaps they had food. They turned and looked directly at him. Then he realised there was something wrong with them. The strangers lumbered through the alley and down towards him. One of them had eyes shining bright gold.
"Bring him to the citadel!"
Richard de Marmont lashed out, but he was weak, and they restrained him easily. When the one with the golden eyes took Painbrand from him, he kicked and yelled, but then was knocked unconscious.
When he awoke, he was was cold. His eyes fluttered open and he knew then that he was in the accursed throne room out of the darkest of his nightmares. It was here that his sin had been birthed. He began to weep, but was dragged to his feet. Tobijah Kruel towered above him.
"It is time for you to be reborn, my son. To become one of my Esarim. Then you shall have your sword back. And your soul."
The maniac cupped de Marmont's face in his hands, and bent low to kiss him on the forehead. Kruel reeked of death and rotted flesh.
In Sorsbrent, Nicholas Damasus pleaded with Arinre for one thing repeatedly. He begged her to send the fleet of Henlinn to Kul Tiras, to help Janus DeMeza liberate Kul Tiras.
She had lost her fondness for Janus DeMeza since the man had abandoned her at Zanzifos, though stifling admiration for him was not as easy.
Word trickled in from across the country of other matters. Cemal had taken command of Soben with his uncle's death outside Zanzifos. He was now Count Cemal Soben, and pledged his fealty to Queen Arinre Greymane unconditionally.
There was no such pledge of fealty from Braent; the Duke Braent had sailed away with Janus DeMeza to Kul Tiras. In fact, no word at all came from the city.
Eventually, it was brought to Arinre's attention that the pagan army in Silverpine was still fighting against the Holy Light under the banner of General Mordred. It would be a political embarrassment if they continued to do so. Perhaps Herman Aranas could order them to withdraw, though Arinre secretly worried that the High Priest would use such an army against her if the pagans won in the north. Would Dalaran be called in against her if it won its war?
"No, I don't." Barbaria Friendly replied, cutting Magyver's hopes and dreams off cruelly.
They were outside of Ginchar with their agents, having followed the Sorsbrent legions there. The army's presence had turned into a siege against the heretic occupation of the city.
"The Underdeep you speak of will be the the most well-defended entrance to the city now. If Tobijah Kruel made it his home in years past, he will know it better than we. To try and use it to infiltrate the city would be foolhardy. Don't tell me that didn't occur to you, Magyver."
"You don't have much faith in the Mass of McGowan, do you Barbara?"
"They say it's the motion of the ocean, Magyver, not the mass of the ocean. But you've got neither."
"What if we disguise ourselves as heretics? Or converts?" one of the Nightstalker agents chipped in from the side.
"What? Who do you think you are? Actually, I don't think I even know your name." Barbara said, rounding on him. "Do you have one?"
"W-What?" the agent mumbled.
"A name, mother-meeter. Do you have one?"
"Say what again, mook. Say it one Four-godamned more time."