Runewars Mega, Year 2: The Hunt
The winter was long—so long that some folks began to speculate that it was never to end. A few hedge-prophets declared it the end of the world, only to reverse their stories and preach deliverance when spring broke at last. The four nations, however, were cursing the winter long into spring…
Once in a lifetime, one season will grow so large that it will crowd out the other three, leaving the whole year recoiling. This is what happened in the second year of the Dragon Throne War, and spring and summer were destined to be much abbreviated. After months of preparations—minor strategic movements, rallied armies, and hoarded supplies—the inhabitants of Terrinoth were ready for conquest, and found themselves short on time and options.
Especially the Uthuk Y’llan. The barbarians were in a position that required uncharacteristic finesse. Their main army stood amassed around the once-independent city of Forge, and more tribes pledged allegiance to the Uthuk chieftain with every passing week. But to the east was their prize: the Lost City, garrisoned by the token force and a few hundred coerced sorcerers, the majority of them scholars rather than battlemages. If an army of Daqan or Latari were to arrive to claim the Dragon Throne, the current force could not defend the city even a month.
Though Terrinoth had many stretches of ancient highways, the northwestern segment of the continent was sparsely-populated, and thus only two roads spooled from Forge. The route south was long, passing over hundreds of miles of plains and terminating at Dawnsmoor, where the slender sea could not be crossed until it froze in winter. The road to the east, however, was short and perilous. It was an old road that had been abandoned for decades owing to its resident giants and dragons. The Uthuk had little time to spare, however, as their chieftain realized that they had to bring their main force to the City or they would lose it. So the Uthuk embraced instinct and embarked upon a potentially suicidal journey. They emptied all but a token force from Forge (a massive relief to the locals) and marched east to the mountains. There they spent a season exterminating the giants that camped at the foot of the mountains.
The Uthuk force was brutally efficient, taking so few casualties and pillaging the province so totally that the population of Forge was further dispirited. In an attempt to secure the mercy of their invaders, the Craftsguild of Forge presented their city’s great secret to the chieftain: a dragon rune that they had long hidden beneath the city. They had kept it secret for an age, both as a blueprint for counterfeit dragon artifacts (though this had never borne fruit) and as a forlorn hope that the same war that had descended upon them anyway would never occur. The chieftain was so pleased with this news that he immediately forgave the head of the guild (he remembered later, and had his head), for it meant that his people already held three of the eight required runes. In order to raise that amount to half, he consternated Red Scorpion by ordering that a portion of her garrison march to the city of Greyhaven. The Uthuk now controlled four runes. Red Scorpion mumbled to herself that they had barely a force to hold them.
Meanwhile, despite the recent encroachments of the Uthuk, the Daqan Lords were dragging their feet with meetings and debates on how to respond. Andira Runehand fancied herself a sort of prophetess in those days, seeing as how she had been personally touched by a dragon rune, and so she took a small force of knights and bowmen and marched them right into Vynelvale, promising protection. Though she knew she could not likely hold the city, she figured she was taking a practical gamble. She knew that if she did not seize the city, then the already-marching Uthuk would, as they had already to defenseless Greyhaven. In any case, if the Uthuk attacked Vynelvale and its Daqan defenders, the council would be forced into action.
While she saw to the defenses of the city, she had One-Fist spend the season overseeing the construction of a stronghold between Vynelvale and Frostgate, with intent to reinforce either city in the event that they came under siege.
Across the continent, Old Man Waiqar was raising a force of his own, drawing recruits from many sources. The legions assembled (or rather, re-assembled) by his necromancers were soon complemented by exiled vampires and allied razorwings. Waiqar was the first to recruit the monsters of Terrinoth, and he did so by taking advantage of their hatred for the men and elves who had driven them to corners far from settled areas. Waiqar endured a few awkward weeks of negotiations when his pack of hellhounds questioned his extermination of a nearby population of beastmen, but with the right bribes they calmed down.
During this period, Waiqar did his best to stay silent. His lieutenants, Grey Ker and Mad Carthos, rallied troops and scouted the land, but made no aggressive overtures towards the other nations. The Latari elves took notice of the rumbling in the east, but they were occupied with other matters.
For one, the Latari were trying to expand apace with the other nations, but were finding that their soldiers were rusty despite their experience. In order to get around the mountain range that hemmed in Nerekhall and the Aymhelin Forest, the elves moved against a small nation of beastmen who were occupying the western passage. Although their whistling arrows wiped out many of the beastmen, the remainder managed to seriously harm and rout the elves’ legendary Leonx Riders before withdrawing. The elves took the passage, but the retreating beastmen united with yet another nation of beastmen farther to the north, frustrating the already-slowed Latari.
Owing to their slow advance in the west, the Latari decided on a different tactic in the east. Rather than invading the mountains that they planned on using as a defense against Waiqar, the elves took to using their rangers and concealment magics to enter the local giants villages and whisper discontent.The better mammoth herds are in the valley, they murmured every night. Soon the giants decided to migrate north, to the territory that was growing ever-more crowded with those displaced by the elves. The giants were soon occupying the same space as a band of beastmen and two distinct covens of rogue sorcerers. The Latari hoped that this oversized new nation of monsters would not return to reclaim their lands.
Farther to the north, in the last of the Seven Cities to remain independent (Dawnsmoor for those who can’t be bothered to learn their geography), Vyrah the Falconer was growing worried. The Uthuk conquest of Greyhaven meant that they had possession of three dragon runes (he was unaware of the secret beneath Forge). He had utilized the many tools provided him by the Wizards’ Council in Dawnsmoor, and he saw that it was Red Scorpion who had caused this recent stir. He also saw that the Lost City was all but emptied of the attentive Uthuk soldiers—only some dumb flesh-ripper demons and the scholar sorcerers remained. Vyrah therefore decided that the risk was manageable, and to confront this Red Scorpion and hopefully gain some answers about the raised Throne.
There were few boats on the slender sea in those days, and Vyrah wanted to travel during that summer rather than waiting for winter (as all great heroes are wont to do), so he traveled east through a dangerous craggy land filled with irate hellhounds and then north across the pebbled desert, approaching the Lost City from the south. To his amazement, the terrain immediately surrounding the City had begun to bloom, bearing grass and fruit trees and happy little creatures without any source to tend to them. Vyrah assumed that Red Scorpion would have the answers to these riddles locked away in her head, so he continued his hunt.
As is only appropriate, the meeting between Vyrah and Red Scorpion took place on the highest tower of the Lost City, Vyrah having crept past its defenders and Red having been on the roof for reasons lost to history. Their exchange was brief, Red Scorpion refusing to share her research of the city’s vast library or the miles of winding catacombs and artifact hoards beneath. She looked at Vyrah, an old man—and senile as far as she could tell, given the way he spoke to that falcon of his—and she judged herself his equal. She drew her curved dagger and charged, and was cut down in three blinding strokes of Vyrah’s blade.
Vyrah was of course disappointed that he had not learned anything about the City, but his actions had longer-reaching effects than he realized at the time. One of the primary reasons that the Uthuk were able to extend their influence across Terrinoth, especially in the courts of the Seven Cities, was that myriad demon-worshiping cultists actively supported the return of the red barbarians. These cultists had listened to the subtle call of their distant masters for years, and inserted themselves into normal society as dignitaries and upright citizens. When the Uthuk Y’llan marched out of the baked lands and across the countryside, the cultists had revealed themselves as instruments of rising deities. The courts of Forge and Greyhaven, unable to defend themselves, were willing to choke down the lie for the time being, but upon the discovery of Red Scorpion’s body—slain in the very City that she had raised from the gravel and occupied with an army!—these cultists found their influence waning.
As I mentioned, Vyrah did not know this at the time. He was too busy hiding himself in the Lost City, shifting constantly to avoid the searching gaze of a hundred sorcerers. He secreted himself in the bowels of the City only to escape to its fertile fields or to search out a cave deep enough to avoid detection. He remained a nomad there the rest of the year, living in constant fear and determined to escape at first opportunity.
As enraged as the Uthuk were, their main force could do nothing about it until they could break through to the City. Though many of his advisers counseled caution, the chieftain believed that without Red Scorpion the City would fall. Though his men’s energies were spent on their giant-hunt, he ordered them to march deeper into the mountains, and to eliminate the pack of dragons that separated them from their goal.
Known for their disregard for personal safety, two full companies of berserkers charged into battle. Thinking themselves deities, they underestimated the creatures that had once served as enforcers to actual deities, and though some of them managed to clip a few dragon-wings, the rest were summarily shredded. The Uthuk warlocks tried to conjure up a firestorm, but had mixed results. The few who managed to ignite a spark only succeeded in preheating the meal.
As the year came to a close, three of the four nations began to seek allies among the many guilds and councils that had strung web-like alliances between the Seven Cities. The Daqan Lords, still annoyed with Andira for her march on Vynelvale, announced their alliance with the Wizards’ Council, and claimed that this was what they had been working on for the entire year. Waiqar maneuvered his contacts in Tamalir to become the master of the Merchant’s Guild, granting him additional resources to supply his expanding armies. All those who questioned who they were dealing with were silently removed. And the Uthuk hurried to cash in some of their remaining political capital before news of their defeat by dragons spread across the land, claiming a head position in the Warriors’ Guild.
Thus the second year of the War for the Dragon Throne came to an end. Tensions were high as news of Uthuk ownership of four of the ancient dragon runes spread. The Daqan Lords smothered themselves with assurances that they held two (Andira pointed out that they only held two because of her initiative in occupying Vynelvale, but her correction went ignored). Both the Latari and Old Man Waiqar only held one, but both nations had aims to correct that. Little did they know that the Uthuk had plans of their own.