Runewars Mega, Year 1: Raising the Lost City
As with most bad things in Terrinoth, the War for the Dragon Throne began with a horde of demon-worshipers pouring out of the baked lands like an overflowing skin of liquid sulfur. Their numbers were so many that centuries of scholars have debated how the deserts could bottle up such a host of restless souls. Some said that the Uthuk Y’llan tribesmen lived stacked beneath the sand; others that they marched out of an oily and steaming sea. A few maintained that the Uthuk simply appeared more numerous due to their vicious nature—that one Uthuk berserker was equal to fifteen of the freeshields who protected the Seven Cities. We may never know. The Uthuk are not as they once were. Neither are the Latari, nor the Daqan, nor Old Man Waiqar.
I get ahead of myself. This is the story of how the ancient Dragon Throne reemerged, and how one of the four great nations claimed it. It begins with Red Scorpion, a former bandit and current adventurer, her services sold to the Uthuk Y’llan and her mind piqued by the mysteries of the Crying Stones.
Terrinoth before the War was a fractured country. It had been united on at least three occasions, each time ruled from the ancient city that housed the Dragon Throne. During the fall of the last ruler—the “Misplaced King” Daqan—the ancient city disappeared along with its sovereign. It was old and common knowledge that whoever held eight of the old dragon runes would be gifted the power of the long-dead dragonlords (old women deprived of womb and eyes muttered these things, and even children know to listen when hags whisper). Such as it was: whoever held eight runes would rule Terrinoth.
The riddle to accompany the prophecy (all prophecies demand riddles. So say hags) was that when the Dragon Throne disappeared beneath sand and gravel, there were only seven runes accounted for. The Latari Elves had one enshrined in their White City of Lithelin, the Daqan Lords made a centennial honor of passing the stone between noble houses for safekeeping, the Uthuk had one stashed away in a stinking yurt somewhere—unprotected, but nobody sane entered the baked lands anyway—and Old Man Waiqar kept one tucked away in some black corner of his realm. The cities that grew on the periphery of the Dragon Throne each had one. They would have been the easiest sources for an opportunist or warlord to seize one of the artifacts, but as the total number of the runes fell one short of the promised power of the dragonlords, even Vynelvale, Greyhaven, and Dawnsmoor were able to keep possession of their stones for time recorded.
There had been expeditions into the desert where once the Lost City stood—of course there were. The notion of excavating the Lost City was a poignant one, and everyone but the birds tried it. But after a while, folks arrived at the conclusion that journeying into that desert was about as stupid as wandering into Waiqar’s elaborate volcanic fortress. The dangers of the place were only about half to do with the dragons, the primeval guardians and soldiers of the dragonlords. The other half had to do with the Crying Stones. These were remnants of the old city, and they were about the most haunted thing ever. Right at the center was a spectral bazaar, filled with ghostly haggling merchants and marching soldiers and children tailing their lumbering pregnant mothers, just going about their lives as if the kingdom of the Misplaced King had never fallen at all. It was disconcerting. Even more disconcerting was the tendency of people to go insane and join in on the pantomime until they died of thirst. It only took a handful of expeditions before folks got wise and just avoided the desert.
Not Red Scorpion though. She was clever, and figured that the Crying Stones were a sort of key. She had joined up with the Uthuk, drawing her pay from a grumpy chieftain who was impressed by her besting one of his best warlocks in the ring. The Uthuk were chomping at the bit, having relapsed into their old demon-worshiping habits a couple hundred years earlier, and they wanted nothing more than an excuse to unify the tribes and march out into Terrinoth the way they had done once before (and almost succeeded too, before Timmorran Lokander and his general Waiqar Sumarion had unified everyone else against them).
What Red Scorpion hadn’t counted on was how easy it was to raise the Lost City. She had counted on years, not months. A few inscriptions read and a few arcane puzzles solved, and the sand roared and the city shoved out of the guts of Terrinoth. She spent days searching the place. It was disappointing—the Misplaced King’s court wasn’t there to greet her, and the shadowy figures who had lived out their lives perpetually at the Crying Stones were vanished. She did, however, discover what she had claimed would be here: the eighth dragon rune. Out of loyalty to her masters she used an ancient portal to communicate her success to the Uthuk chieftains. Within days, hordes of berserkers and flesh-ripper demons had invaded and pacified the city of Forge, and had repurposed its furnaces from craft-making to war-making. But even as the Uthuk began to pour out of the baked lands on their bloody crusade, Red Scorpion found something even more interesting.
The brutal reign of the dragonlords had been enforced by their powerful enchanted tools. Deep in the heart of the Lost City, Red Scorpion found one of their greatest tools: a Summoning Rune, able to move armies in the blink of an eye. To this point, she had viewed the Uthuk as a nicety; a convenient means of humbling those uppity Daqan and Latari. Now, though, she saw a path to a better Terrinoth, one ruled by might and will rather than by the formalities of “civilized” races. She contacted the chieftain, relayed her plan, and soon the Uthuk Y’llan had gained not only Forge, but the Lost City itself.
For the first time in centuries, a single power held sway over two dragon runes.
News spread fast. The collapse had taken place a long time ago, and so the trade networks between the Seven Cities were well-established by this time. The ruling council of Dawnsmoor knew about the fall of Forge within a week, and the presence of an Uthuk army across the shallow sea that divided it from the desert within days. Soon the news had reached even the minor cities, and then the nations that lay beyond them.
The Daqan Lords were the first to respond. Andira Runehand, a longtime champion of the Daqan, pushed for mobilization. She had received her name when as a child she had been present at the Ceremony of the Passing Stone, in which her uncle (a baron) had taken guardianship of the Daqan dragon rune. She had reached up and gripped the rune with her bare hand. It had burned her badly at the time, and she had been punished severely for interrupting the ritual and embarrassing her uncle, but over time she had begun to develop magical powers that were rare in humans. Her hand still showed the mark of the rune, and she had fought as a leader of the Daqan against many minor threats.
Now she persuaded the council to take up arms. The city of Frostgate was persuaded to join the cause (the rulers of that city realized they had little choice in the matter), and the army marched out to begin to claim lands that had once been Daqan but were now fallow. A few lords made the case that they ought to march straight to the Lost City and claim the newly-rediscovered rune for themselves, but Andira counseled caution, arguing that the Daqan had forgotten the long war against the Uthuk in times past. They would need a large army to fight their ancient foe, and rash action would only hasten defeat.
The lords relented, though they insisted that their armies be led not only by Andira. To that end, they hired one of the most expensive mercenaries and adventurers who happened to be in the area, an orc named One-Fist. He was so called because he had a hook hand, though the cause of his disability was never revealed.
The Latari Elves, long safe in the great Aymhelin Forest, also saw cause to reemerge. They measured the situation and determined that the Daqan Lords were too young to remember the ravages of the Uthuk. Also, nearly forgotten to the east was Waiqar, the fallen general of the old hero Timmorran Lokander. The elves, especially their wise old leader Vyrah, were aware that Waiqar had been sending out his agents into Terrinoth for years, and had ambitions as powerful as any Uthuk chieftain. Following the lead of the Daqan, they made a quiet alliance with the nearby city of Nerekhall and began to spread their elite soldiers into regions they had never had particular interest in. They were shamed when their warriors, their weapons long rusted from disuse, were only able to rout a cabal of rogue wizards rather than eliminating them entirely.
At the same time, Vyrah (named “the Falconer” because he always traveled with and talked to a falcon) began talks with the independent Wizards’ Council that regulated magic use throughout the Seven Cities. The Wizards did not have their own military presence, but they were shifty and believed themselves manipulators of the future, though usually they could be bought for a few coins. The Wizards, also reeling at the speed of the Uthuk invasion, agreed to grant Vyrah safe passage to the nearby city of Dawnsmoor. Dawnsmoor was an ideal location from which to scout the growing Uthuk threat, as it lay across a narrow sea from the Lost City and would be difficult to siege. Thus, Vyrah found himself far from home, his eyes (and those of his falcon) searching for the instigator of this new crisis.
Vyrah, unfortunately, was right to be worried about events in the east. Waiqar had been watching the events unfold with detached interest. As the oldest living (in a sense) being in all of Terrinoth, Waiqar regarded it as inevitable that he would one day rule the entire continent. Ever since he had passed from life, dragging his army to the shores of the underworld and back, he had waited and watched and grown strong. Now he began to spread across the land like a curtain. The shadowed city of Tamalir agreed to join Waiqar’s domain when Grey Ker, one of Waiqar’s most trusted agents, dealt with a band of ruffians called the “Misty Bandits,” who had been plaguing the city’s outskirts for weeks. Nobody suspected that the Misty Bandits were one of Waiqar’s own creations, and soon the leaders of the city had been silently removed and granted the most precious of Waiqar’s gifts: unlife. In the nearby countryside, Waiqar’s agents persuaded a pack of hellhounds to join his cause, inciting them against the living who had driven them far from their natural hunting grounds.
Waiqar’s two agents, long groomed for the task of leading his armies out of the ashen lands and into Terrinoth, prepared for war. Having secured Tamalir, Grey Ker discovered old half-bured fortifications outside of the city and set to the task of renovating them. All the while, the numbers of undead grew as the cemeteries of Tamalir were robbed, and criminals and the unmissable poor alike were “drafted” into service.
Red Scorpion’s scouts reported that the other three nations had begun a pitiable march for the Lost City, and so she began to lay traps for the preening gentlefolk of Terrinoth. She called upon an old acquaintance, the Battlemage Jaes, who reported to the Uthuk capital within weeks, and made preparations for the defense of the Lost City by enticing rogue sorcerers with promises of forbidden research. Soon the Lost City was admirably defended and the main Uthuk force was well watched-over by the powerful Battlemage.
As the year ended, each of the four nations was busy harvesting the goods provided by their new acquisitions and raising new armies. The Lost City and its dragon rune had been found, and in a few short months the world would know nothing but bloody war.