Runewars Mega, Year 4: Drought
In those days very few humans had any talent for the magical arts. Still, there were a few among the Daqan who fancied themselves privy to future events, whether by methods of scrying or reason. Their petition to their concerned lords was one of avoiding war: they claimed that with Old Man Waiqar now amassed on the borders of Uthuk holdings, the two dark threats to life in Terrinoth would soon enter into a bitter struggle, thus annulling any real danger to humanity.
The Daqan Lords were divided. Of course, to believe that the horde would halt their advance was a fool’s hope. Andira Runehand would have pointed this out had she been present at court, and it’s possible that her voice would have been enough to sway the more timid lords. However, she was still in the mountains observing the tides of Uthuk reinforcements that were now free to march straight from the baked lands to the Lost City, and so her counsel was never given. And so the Daqan Lords were unprepared for the fourth year of the War for the Dragon Throne, which has come to be called by historians the Year of the Drought.
The year began violently. The more prudent leaders of the Daqan did their best to secure their frontiers by marching extra companies from their stronghold to Vynelvale, but there were few men to spare. For too long the Daqan had figured that they could avoid the coming storm, and they had too few standing regiments to fully occupy the city without endangering the defensive toehold that protected Frostgate and their very heartland.
Even those who expected an invasion had felt it would come no sooner than summer, as the Uthuk were likely to move their new troops to protect the Dragon Throne rather than gaining new territory. So when crimson troops spilled down from the mountains to the valley where Vynelvale stood, every defender was caught by surprise.
The battle was bloody, but not nearly so much as the Uthuk chieftain had hoped. The defending bowmen were able to wound many of the hulking chaos lords that acted as fleshy siege machines against the city gates, and once the demons had advanced into the city they found themselves harassed in the narrow streets by shielded footmen. The defenders were further encouraged when a rank of knights managed to flank around the city, charging through Uthuk lines to where a band of warlocks was trying to summon a firestorm down onto the city.
Despite the damage they were doing to the barbarians, the Daqan soldiers soon realized that they would not be holding Vynelvale that day. They did their commanders proud, retreating in an orderly fashion by another gate. Crimson banners replaced blue, and Vynelvale was taken. The Daqan leaders took stock of their losses, and though they were many, they were far better than had been expected given the size of the invading force. They had lost half their footmen and all their bowmen, but their knights were still standing—and in return they had killed half of the Uthuk’s chaos lords and all their warlocks. The barbarians may have taken Vynelvale, but their advance would likely be halted for at least a few months.
Now came the question of where to retreat to. The more obvious option was to retreat to the nearby stronghold, but with new recruits pouring in every day, the commanders rightly worried that there wouldn’t be enough supplies to support such a concentrated force. Instead, they marched their bruised troops east to the foothills where late the year before Daqan soldiers had driven a nest of dragons across the mountain. There they would camp until the troops had rested and reorganized.
As spring ended, the only other event of note was that the last of the independent cities fell. Dawnsmoor, which had longed to make an alliance with the Latari, finally welcomed a small group of elven sorceresses. Although the dragon throne had resurfaced three long years earlier, this was a sign to many of the independent peoples of Terrinoth that the conflict was truly beginning, and that there was no longer any person not touched by war.
The summer was one of the hottest in memory. Rivers were reduced to trickles, wells dried up, and even the great slender sea became slenderer. The Daqan soldiers were encouraged by their impressive showing in the battle for Vynelvale, but their commanders were greatly worried by the intensity of the season. They realized that if they were displaced from the foothills they would not likely be able to march to safety. The entire army was in danger of dying of thirst.
The Daqan commanders were not the only ones to realize this. Old Man Waiqar had long inspected the situation at the center of Terrinoth. He knew that his armies were the largest on the continent, but if he were to sit on the Dragon Throne he couldn’t simply toss them into combat and hope for the best. As it stood, the central regions of Terrinoth were contested by the Daqan and the Uthuk Y’llan. The Uthuk could either spend their time fortifying in preparation for his inevitable invasion, or they could spend time wiping the pesky humans off the map. Waiqar preferred the second option.
To this end, Waiqar instructed Grey Ker to abandon his spying on the human capital. In a nearby region there were many communities of razorwings (who have a long and natural antagonism towards humans), along with the same dragons that the Daqan had driven across the mountains. After spending most of the previous year raiding the treasure vaults of various minor Daqan barons, Grey Ker had just the right tool for this job:
Grey Ker played his new magic flute, whistling and dancing through the land until every razorwing and dragon in the region had heard its call. He then pointed the flute over the mountain, to where both the beaten army from Vynelvale and those who had driven away the dragons in the first place were camped. Within minutes the country was emptied. Grey Ker (who was a supreme dancer, though prone to overdoing it and thus exhausting himself) knew he would not discover what came of his efforts for some time, and he was further disappointed when the flute proved single-use (it disintegrated after an octave countdown). His dark mood was interrupted, however, by a mysterious blind man who introduced himself as a seer. He told Grey Ker that he was privy to the locations of all lost things, and revealed that nearby was a buried dragon rune—one of the very runes that had once decorated the Dragon Throne! Grey Ker listened to this news carefully, and decided to trust the old man (blind men were almost always trustworthy in those days, unlike these times when you must never trust one). He relayed his findings to Waiqar through the usual method—a magical pendant—and began to head south, towards a region that was often called “The Island.” I will divulge the details of this place momentarily.
To the Daqan soldiers across the mountain, the returning dragons seemed to be a sign from some dark deity. They were, of course, unable to tell that the creatures that lashed at them with talon and flame were in fact hypnotized. Most of the troops were still in a disarray from their retreat from Vynelvale, which rendered them almost entirely useless in combat. The armies took to flight, hoping to make it north.
Three companies of footmen, one of bowmen, and one of knights had managed to survive the assault of their vengeful flying enemy. None were able to survive that summer’s drought, and their blood quenched the thirst of carrion birds. The hundreds that had once been proud of their victory against the Uthuk horde were vanquished, and the Uthuk chieftain took note of their removal.
Andira Runehand and One-Fist met at the stronghold in the north to assess the remaining strength of their armies. What they found was that they had few troops ready to stand against the approaching horde—and surely it would approach now that the Daqan had presented a chink in their armor. There Andira remained for the remainder of the year, trying to marshal any remaining able-bodied man or woman who would heed the call to arms. Behind her was Frostgate, and behind that the Daqan capital. One-Fist disappeared one night, abandoning the humans for dead. Andira was inclined to agree with him.
One of the few regions that the Daqan still controlled was “The Island,” an ore-rich region that had been so named by being removed from the rest of Terrinoth by mountains and a wide semi-circle sea. The only access was in the northeast. As such, a small expeditionary force of Daqan footmen had marched unopposed into the region, claiming its mines. They were unaware that one of the mines contained a greater treasure than iron or gold.
Waiqar was already in high spirits, and was having a good chuckle about how clever he was to set the Uthuk and Daqan against each other when he heard the news from Grey Ker. Now he was presented a fine surprise: a chance at a second rune! He ordered Mad Carthos, who had taken up a position as the commander of all of Waiqar’s forces, to mobilize an army to The Island. Mountains and seas were of no concern to anyone who commanded a flying army.
The Daqan’s third battle of the year didn’t resolve any better than the first two. Without archers to bring down their flying enemies, the footmen didn’t last long, and those who tried to retreat succumbed to the heat as surely as their comrades in the west had. Waiqar was still unsure if there was really a rune buried beneath The Island, but Grey Ker was en route (which would take some time, as he had to make his way around the sea) to begin excavating.
Meanwhile, the Latari elves were still firmly occupied with the business of glacially preparing for war. Vyrah the Falconer—being no fairy-tale hero—spent the better portion of the year recovering from the wounds that he had sustained while trapped in Uthuk territory and then being batted over a ledge by a giant. He was relieved to learn that the information he had gained from spying on said giant and company was being put to use persuading those miscreants to join the elves rather than raiding them. Vyrah tried to have the diplomats make one of the terms of alliance be a formal apology for his broken legs, flatly told that his personal concerns were no matter when it came to raising an army.
While the elves were occupied with the business of procrastinating (as elves are wont to do, being so old and all), Waiqar was spending his autumn invading what remained of Greyhaven. The Uthuk chieftain had smartly left a large enough group of berserkers in the smoldering ruins of the city so that Waiqar could not simply march his troops on a straight path to the Dragon Throne. Waiqar suspected a trap, and so he only sent a small portion of his army: plenty of slow reanimates and skeleton archers, but just enough necromancers to raise the dead right back up to fight in the unlikely event that they should fall.
Sure enough, the chieftain had been more cunning than to leave the city all but undefended. The berserkers went into their usual rage (ineffectual against arrows), the undead entered the city, and the trap was sprung.
The magical arcs of lightning were so intense that they affected both sides. The berserkers were fried by their own master’s plan, and many of Waiqar’s troops were granted a second death. Fortunately, Waiqar’s necromancers were far enough to the rear that they were safe from the ploy, and they spent weeks happily reanimating new recruits from the heaps of dead that stank up Greyhaven.
While the Uthuk chieftain was busy rolling on his back with laughter at having stalled Waiqar’s magnificent army, there was one champion who was not quite so thrilled: Battlemage Jaes. The battlemage had recently been dispatched by the very same chieftain to search through the broken stones of Greyhaven for an enemy spy. Jaes found nothing but burnt corpses and bored berserkers, and left only days before Waiqar’s army showed up and unleashed a magical thunderstorm. Jaes did not take kindly to this (perceived) attempt on his life, and so he went into hiding. Finding the need for a champion, the Uthuk chieftain hired a man named Ronan of the Wild—a strange man who always traveled with his pet lemur. The chieftain reasoned that if the elves were represented by a man accompanied by a falcon, then he could be championed by this ragged specimen.
The Uthuk were marching steady numbers east, and the abominations that appeared in Terrinoth were some of the worst seen since the last Uthuk uprising millenia before.
As the Fourth Year of the War for the Dragon Throne ended, each nation (other than the Latari) had witnessed great changes. Old Man Waiqar was finally seeing his plans come to fruition, the Uthuk chieftain was more powerful than ever, and the Daqan Lords were facing extinction. And none of them could have predicted what the next year would bring.