Joined: 01 Jan 1970
|Posted: Thu Feb 05, 2009 8:33 pm Post subject:
|Wind, cold and biting rushed through the trees stirring leaves turned crimson and gold. Here and there the leaves lost purchase where they lived, and floated slowly to the ground to join the growing blanket of autumn color on the forest floor.
Only the leaves could have heard his barely muttered curse, but it was not sound he worried about. The winds would carry their scent. The air had been dead still less than an hour ago, when he had set the ambush. Now the increasingly unpredictable weather might cost him more men than could be spared. He did not bother to turn to check, he knew they were properly arrayed, and hidden, from sight at least. At this point there was nothing to be done about the wind, he could hear their target approaching. Only hoping that none of enemy in the approaching group had the ability to pick up their scent, he waited for the point scouts signal.
As he saw the movement through the trees, the grip on his bow tightened, flicking his eyes to the trees ahead, checking to make sure his sword and shield hidden behind trees a few paces in front of him had not shifted. He would have need of the enchanted blade this day, especially if the wind had betrayed their intent.
The call of a Whip-poor-will rang through the forest followed a half second later by dozens of cloaked figures jumping to their feet. Loosing as many arrows as possible in the time it took him to cover the ground to his weapons; he was not pleased to see the ambush had little effect in disorienting his opponents. Many of their number were wounded or on the ground dying, but they did not break rank. Their unfamiliar visage and his inability to understand their language made it impossible for him to tell if they were even startled.
No time for that now, it was started. Snatching his weapons from the ground he rushed forward. They assaulted both sides of the group, but despite their ambush both sides were met with organized resistance.
Laying into the nearest enemy, he called his men to him, the spread out attack meant to strike hard into a disorganized foe, would not work as well as meeting the lines of their enemy in strength.
Over the noise of steel and claws on armor and flesh, the other Centenar can be heard issuing a similar command, if not quite quick enough to keep a few of the men from falling to the unanticipated resistance.
Unable to spare any of his medics to go after the other company’s fallen, he calls for his battle casters to break the enemy line. Spells fly from the hands of his soldiers into the enemy, and quickly devastate the line in front of them.
Pushing the line forward in an effort to stop the enemy from healing each other, and almost all of them seem capable of doing so, he strikes out powerfully at those closest to him, felling them with single blows.
Then their leader is upon him, knowing that the other company has no battle casters, and his own likely expended their memories on breaking the line, they cannot allow the line to falter, and have their enemies get to their fallen to heal them.
Glowing white steel is matched with vicious serrated claws radiating their own energy, and it only takes a moment for him to realize that one hit to flesh and he will be unable to move his arms. He will be as good as dead. They did not expect one that could channel.
Only the quick hand of one of his battle casters keeping his arms free and his wounds healed keeps him alive.
Suddenly the creature is surrounded, as the other company finally pushed through to meet his in the middle. Outnumbers the giant red and black bug does not even attempt retreat. Felling and disabling his men with mighty blows and his accursed claws, the damn beast will not die. They manage to keep the beast pressed despite the losses, and finally the thing lays twitching on the ground, black chitinous armor over its red body cracked and broken.
The medics and those with the ability to treat simple wounds are rushing through the fallen, trying to save any they can. None of their specialists have the ability to bring the men back to life.
Leaving the healing to those trained for it, he moves to the single non-insect that was among the enemy. Keeling on the ground and watching impassively, as he had since the start of the fighting.
“What is your name?” he ask of the kneeling man, who just sat and stared at him. He was on the verge of asking again when he got a reply.
“Lathen.” He regarded the man for a few moments before pulling him to his feet.
“You are coming with us Lathen.” Lathen looked around worried, and then kneeled back down. “No. I will await my master’s death, and return to the hive to serve him as is appropriate.”
Shaking his head, he still did not understand what was going on here. But they had their orders. Any of the slaves were to be brought back for questioning; he just wished that even one would please at being freed.
“Specialist Jorn, take this man into custody he will be accompanying us back to barracks.”
“Yes Centenar Amith.” Jorn went over and without preamble pulled Lathen to his feet and dragged him off toward the rest of the company, ignoring the protests. He was also likely used to the drill with these slaves. They often tried to run, tried to get back to the hive that was situated on the wellspring, but nobody outran Jorn in the woods. Jorn had been with him a long time, since before the rangers were created, back when they were running scouting missions behind the Kurzinnor lines.
Centenar Kevin Amith gave his orders quickly, get the wounded on their feet, strip the dead, and get ready to move. He spoke briefly with the commander of the Black Bow company, who had scouting orders and moved his men out, back to camp.
Lord Antonin Carr sat listening to the reports from the various patrols. His greatsword, Troll Biter, resting against the unfinished wood table he sat at. His eyes studying the map arrayed before him as the patrol leader pointed out the sightings of the bug creatures.
Once Finished the Quintar was dismissed. Also at the table were Centenar Major Fallok, Centenar Major Rehon, and Wizard Ivelios. Fallok and Rehon between them had only 5 companies, both of Fallok’s being specialized units, with half or less the normal contingent of men.
“Well, at least the hive has stopped expending for the time being, even if our patrols and scouts can’t seem to figure out why.” Rehon pointed to the area of the map marking Badril’s rest. “I don’t think it is worthwhile to try to retake Badril’s rest, outside of the Arcanum circle, everything was evacuated just in time.” He looked to Ivelios, who thought a moment before nodding and adding, “Yes. Though we have reports that one of them can enter a circle of power, I doubt they will make a priority of getting into the circle, they have shown no interest so far. I believe Wizard Justin will have time to extricate anything of value there.”
As they continued, Lord Carr considered the initial contact he had with the insect creatures. They were intelligent, but only a few seemed to know how to speak any language that they could understand. They were not much for talking.
When he went took a small number of people to attempt to make contact with them directly after their very violent arrival at the wellspring, they were told in no uncertain terms, that ‘fleshlings’ were to serve, or die. Carr thought his response could have been more, diplomatic, but these were his family’s lands and he would not tolerate some creature trying to enslave his people.
The insects had a bite that far outweighed their bark, which was unfortunately accurate from the descriptions given by the adventuring class that had initially encountered them.
Whatever they were doing at the wellspring had started to have strange effects on the surrounding lands within the first few days of them being there. It was fortunate that the insects had not decided to leave their hive for the first few days. It had given time to gather all the military companies to surround the Well Wood.
Without the herdsbane around, they could at least meet the insects in force, though the insects had far superior numbers. They could not figure out how they continued to grow their numbers. He had sent a request for additional troops once it was confirmed that the herdsbane would not be an issue.
When the bugs attacked, the rangers, Infantry, Guards, and even some of the adventuring populace that had remained fought them. It was clear that numbers and strength were in the insects favor. It was clear they would not be able to fight them directly without additional forces. Lord Carr gave the order to evacuate civilians from the surrounding area, assurances given that once the problem was dealt with they could return.
A week later and the insects hive enveloped badril’s rest, they could slow them but their numbers were overwhelming. At that point things had raged out of control for weeks. Without the numbers to surround the hive, the bugs were running in and out unchecked, striking patrols, encampments, refugee camps. Sometimes everyone was killed, other times everyone was just gone, and they did not resurrect. No one was entirely sure what happened to them.
It took a great deal of effort by the Arctic Wolves to find out what had happened to an entire patrol of Thunderhawks. The bugs were in fact taking slaves. That was when they moved every refugee camp further away from the hive, and to a secured location. The old fortress that was being cleared and rebuilt by one of the knights was now filled with commoners, and soldiers. With the main body of the military forces directly in-between the hive and it to protect them.
The Nar’T’Keel had warriors with them as well, as they were unable to reach the wellspring to collect its water, and they currently relied on a solution provided by Lord Carr’s Knight for their fight with the chaos creatures. Providing the components from his own coffers insured the warriors could be spared to fight the insects, and it would help with finishing the negations with them once this problem was solved.
They had held that way for weeks, while the crown mobilized reinforcements. It was during those weeks that they started to realize that whatever the insects were doing at the wellspring, was causing the bizarre weather and problems with magic.
Wizard Ivelios, Justin, and An-Yi, had made several costly forays into the hive and surrounding area to figure it out. From what they told him the wellspring was causing ‘ripples’ in the very fabric of magic. They had little in the way of details, but every day it changed.
First it was the occasional spell failure, then entire schools of spells would not work one day and have two or three time the normal effect the next. Some effects lasted hours, some weeks. It was wreaking havoc on the spell casters, many of whom needed to rely on those spells to fight against the insects.
Ritual magic was also affected, he had a list of reports from the Wizards, but it was of little use to him. It was totally unpredictable, and the one thing they were all certain of, was that it was from whatever the bugs were doing at the wellspring. They were not sure how, or what but every day it seems to get worse. The effects gained power and distance every day.
It was two days ago that the reinforcements from the crown had arrived. Four Companies, over doubling their numbers. In the last two days they had tripled their patrols, needing the information to decide their course of action, and determine the true strength of the insects to attempt some counterstrike against them.
They got nothing useful from any of the few slaves they took from the insects. None of which were former citizens of Caldaria. So they had to rely on just what was observed.
As they discussed the information making notes and marks on the various maps, discussing tactics, resources, current magical effects of the wellspring ripples, a slow shudder ran through the ground. Lord Carr looked slowly around, and was sure that he did not imagine it as the others were also looking around with the same question.
Then it came again, a slow vibration causing the maps to shift just slightly on the table. Lord Carr exchanged glances with everyone else at the table, and everyone was silent for several minutes. Everyone at the table looked to the Wizard. Who shook his head, and excused himself, saying he was going to find An-Yi.
Wet snow clung to the white wool cloaks covering the three figures moving slowly between bare trees. Crouching low and waiting for any sign of being spotted before moving again, their progress becoming slower as they moved closer to their goal.
All three dropped to the ground, their white cloaks flaring out to cover them in the dark night and make them nothing more than white bumps in an otherwise featureless white blanket among the trees.
They watched as the insect inspected the ground, searching for signs likely the same signs that had brought them to the area.
Kelsa, and Terrem shifted behind him and he held his breath, watching the bug to see if he had heard them. It was still intent on the ground, and he restrained himself from turning his head to look behind him at them.
They had come with the army in early January, half to collect on their skills as mercenaries, and half to seek what fame and fortune might be found in these wild northlands. They got paid for information, and for specific tasks or bounties. This one certainly matched the description of the insects that spoke and gave orders.
His small group had been engaging in strikes and raids against the bugs for the last month. The Caldarian army had hit the bugs non-stop for days after the reinforcements arrived. Gaining back some ground and hemming the bugs in. But the numbers necessary to ring the hive stretched the defenders line thin, and that’s when they started to be able to make some real coin up here.
Inside the hive the number of bugs grew daily, regardless of how many were killed. He was not sure why the bugs did not just push back and break through the thin lines surrounding them, and he was sure that all those soldiers didn’t know either.
He had participated in a few strikes against the hive to try and push them back further, but they were never successful. The bugs did not attack, but they responded quickly and brutally to any incursion. The stalemate had been going on for just over a week now.
If they could find out what had brought this particular insect out, alone, it would certainly be worth something. Bounty on one of them was also significant; he wondered what a live one would bring in.
The thing finished his inspection of the ground and moved off at a quick walk through the woods, heading further away from the hive. Giving a signal to his two companions Jasyn rose to a crouch and followed. The others would follow him at a distance to minimize the chance at being discovered.
Jasyn followed the insect for hours, it was looking for something. He went over in his head what he knew of the camps and patrols in the area, it was days old but nothing was up this way. The camps and patrols that ringed the hive were hours behind them.
A few times he stopped to examine one of the areas himself, having Kelsa take his place shadowing the bug. At this latest stop he still saw nothing unusual, not for this area anyway. It was when he was looking a large reptilian print, almost perfectly preserved in the snow that it hit him.
The one thing in common in every area the thing had stopped were these types of prints, and the bg had left in the direction they led. They were not very old, but why was the thing looking for lizardmen?
He moved quickly to catch up to his companions, estimating that the false dawn gave them only a little while longer before they would have to drop much further back to follow this thing.
As he came in sight of Terrem he slowed and exchanged quiet words with him, informing him of his suspicions. Terrem shrugged, unable to provide any insight. They both snapped their heads back to Kelsa when a loud angry sounding screech broke the silence of the pre-dawn morning.
They had head that sound a few times in the last week, and none of them had any idea what it was. When they had gone to investigate, they never found anything unusual for the area. Kelsa took off at a run suddenly, and they only hesitated for a second before taking off after her.
Jasyn heard the insect bellow a similar sounding screech, it had to be the insect coming from in-front of where Kelsa was running between trees and brush. It sounded a challenge, and was answered in kind. Jasyn didn’t know what was going on, but he sprinted through the woods to catch up to Kelsa, Terrem followed.
As the insect came in sight to him, it was running easily through the woods, gigantic claws ready, calling its screeching challenge out into the woods, answered seconds later from deeper in the woods.
Suddenly a giant spectral blue lizard rushed into the insect, who without flinching ran to meet it. They tore at each other brutally, claw to claw. He had been told about the lizard, and with slow recognition he realized he had also been told about this particular insect.
The lizard struck the insect so hard that Jasyn could feel if from hundreds of feet away, wild swings took huge hunks out of nearby trees, many of which creaked, shuddered and then slowly crashed to the ground.
All three of them crouched low in the snow and watched the insect with its slightly shimmering claws cleaved into the spectral beast again and again, smiling as it howled. The lizard flicked in and out of existence as the insects claws hit it. Then just as suddenly as it had begun the lizard turned and ran. It did not make it far, the bug cut it down mercilessly from behind.
The bug had dozens of wounds from the lizard, but paid them little mind as he reached down and took the head from his prize. After it had secured the head to his armored plates it slowly rose to its feet and turned to face the three of them.
They all sunk a little lower trying to become unnoticeable lumps of white snow up against the trees. The energy running over its claws shifted to dark flickering shadows, and it ran directly toward them.
Dennis Fallok looked at the report again, he was unfamiliar with the two men who had made the report, but Centenar Major Kresh said that Jasyn and his small group had always been reliable, and surprisingly accurate in their reports. They had resurrected early this morning and given this information to them. One of their numbers had not, female wild elf named Kelsa. They hoped that she would make it back to camp in a few days, having escaped the insect that had killed them.
Fallok shook his head as he suspected that they would not be seeing her again. He paused as a tremor ran through the ground shaking everything laid out on the table in front of him. When it was finished he righted what had been disturbed and went back to reading the other reports. The tremors were a regular thing now, the mages indicating that there was nothing to be done until they could get to the wellspring. His latest report from them was that the interval between tremors grew shorter daily, and that closer to the wellspring they were stronger.
Sighing he tossed it to the side on a pile that he would later burn. He didn’t need a written report on what was obvious. It was one of the reasons they were keeping the lines back, they didn’t have the numbers to push further, and the insects seemed to be more concerned with keeping them out, than expanding any further. They were up to something, and the tremors were the results of that. None of the commanders wanted their men closer to that than they had to be.
Missives had been sent to their commanders, and Lord Carr was in the capital. No troops could be spared from the barrier gap, and the rest were home, or heading there. To push the bugs back they needed more, they could not hold the insects in with their current numbers either. There would be no aid from Zychuk, engaged in some internal conflict that he did not fully understand. They were sure they had the numbers to pull back and prevent the bugs from invading Caldaria directly, but they would loose everything past their defense line.
Two weeks saw no change in activity in or outside the hive. Regular reports came to him saying nothing. The only good news he received was that the Nykian’s were sending the legion; they had been brought back to Nykia when the barrier gap had been reinforced, and the defenses there no longer favored the Nykian cavalry.
But it would be another week before they arrived, Lord Carr had sent the information ahead of him, and was due to arrive in four days.
Centenar Amith stood at attention next to every other officer of equal rank in the camp. Lord Carr was meeting with the leader of every company, making final decisions before the Nykians arrived, reorganizing to make use of the devastating cavalry that would soon be available. What they didn’t know was how the insects would respond, they had not yet used a full cavalry unit against them.
Amith stood there for a long time as they went back and forth with strategies, occasionally one of the officers waiting there to come over and give some piece of information again. From their line they could not make out what was being said, but could watch them moving about the table pointing here and there as they argued.
The Nykians would arrive in the next day or two. The beginning of the new month would mark the start of their renewed attack on the hive. Things were finally about to tip in their favor.
The world shattered into a thousand shards of razor sharp glass which ripped through his very spirit. The last thing he saw through the haze of pain was chaos.
Offices that were one second standing in a straight ordered line were all tossed about as the land heaved and broke. The sound of the land snapping rent the air, striking everyone deaf, some permanently.
Ripples of magical energy rolled over everyone, followed by ripples in the ground. The land overturned carts, cracked buildings, and in some places heaved so violently that entire wagons were tossed dozens of feet. The magic washed over everything, slamming into people and objects with magical properties, and passing through others harmlessly.
Some fell to their knees screaming as the land shook around them, magic bleeding from their pours. Some were flung dozens of feet by a wave of energy that hit them and miraculously stood up unharmed.
Dozens of people like Amith slumped to the ground dead, some with nothing more than a surprised expression.
Sir Ansari rode his legion into the organized chaos that was a military encampment, from the first second he saw it he knew something was wrong. There were too many tents, and not enough men. Too much left disorganized, and too much uncertainty in the actions of the men. He gave orders to his legion to make camp, and sought out Lord Carr.
An hour later he was sitting at a table with Lord Carr, Centenar Majors Fallok and Ul’reston, Wizards Justin and An-Yi, listening to their reports of what had happened in the last two days.
They each described the event slightly differently, but all had the same basic conclusion. The insects had done something at the wellspring, and it erupted like never before. Sir Ansari knew what they were talking about, he had felt the effects two days away, though the earthquake seems to be more localized.
Everywhere things had been destroyed, transformed, and tossed about. Men and women were struck deaf, blind, or outright killed without a mark. Things tossed about, destroying buildings, animals, and people. Items exploded, melted, transformed, stopped working, or suddenly because enchanted.
They had sent men out scouting as soon as it had calmed down, and the closer they got to the wellspring, the more devastating the effect had been. Men and women obliterated, the land scoured of all magic and blasted flat.
There had been no sign of the insects for the last two days. None at all. Not even a mark that they had been there. They were still consolidating reports from the various camps that had ringed the hive. There were very few men left, everything within a ten mile radius of the well was destroyed, the very land changed. They suffered dozens of permanent deaths, and three of four times that many resurrections even this far out. They were just starting to recover, and trying to figure out what should be done. The wizards had just returned from the wellspring.
He listened as Justin and An-Yi described the new layout of the area, and how the wellspring itself was unchanged. There was nothing left to indicate what the bugs had done, or where they went. It was their belief that being centered on it, they had suffered even worse. They felt a buildup of magical energy at the wellspring, but there were no further ripples or earthquakes.
Sir Ansari took it all in listening to each of the gathered leaders and then discussed with them what the best course of action would be. By the time he headed back to his troops, the plan had been decided.
The Nykian legion spread out over the land surrounding the wellspring, scouting it for signs of the insects, and gaining a familiarity of it. They had gathered all of the remaining troops from the previous companies. The only Commanding officers left were those he spoke with yesterday. Centenar Major Fallok’s men had taken the least losses, and he was now temporarily in command of both the 1st and 2nd Royal rangers, though they now only comprised 3 companies, the Seekers had vanished they had been scouting close to the bugs perimeter, and none had resurrected. They were assumed wiped out in the wellspring eruption.
The plan was simple he would secure the wellspring, while the rest of the troops scouted the area and set up new camps, and began bringing the citizens back into the area once it was deemed safe.
For three days the legion camped in sight of the wellspring, with scouts in a double ring around the perimeter of it. The area was clear, and they started to make a more permanent camp within easy distance of the wellspring. The fourth day had their first sighting of one of the insects. A small scouting group, sweeping the area searching.
Sir Ansari lead a contingent of his legion out to meet them, wanting to test this enemy himself. They killed the bugs, but not without their own losses. Accounts of their skills were accurate enough; he doubled the numbers in his patrols.
He learned from Lord Carr that the military would make a few camps around the wellspring, with the closest being practically in sight of it. He had already started the construction of them, and rebuilding of the area for his citizens.
Sir Ansari approved of the haste with which Lord Carr moved to help his people, but was unsure of the young human’s wisdom in moving so quickly with such a volatile unknown entity nearby.
However his house had pledged aid, and he was here to provide it. He would not disgrace his house with failure.