Runewars Mega, Year 5: Scattering the Horde
The Uthuk chieftain was emboldened by the Year of the Drought. The Daqan Lords had been beaten to the verge of submission, the Latari apparently had no stomach for warfare, and Old Man Waiqar would surely be outmatched by the sheer numerical power that was now flowing east through the red corridor. The chieftain’s head was full of shifting plots, and his warlocks were powerful after years of access to the libraries of Forge, Vynelvale, and the Lost City.
Unfortunately for the chieftain, this is where my tale twists, and the people of Terrinoth find themselves trading their terror of one horde for terror of another.
The chieftain of the Uthuk Y’llan had done everything humanly (and demonically) possible to secure his gains. He had purchased the loyalty of the famous warrior Ispher, one of the rare lizard-folk (rare owing to their warrior culture, in which only the strongest survive the creche), and tasked him with overseeing the defenses of the red corridor. Ispher had raised rabble to the south to act as a shield against the Latari, and garrisoned a strong force in Forge. In the east, Ronan of the Wild had estimated (with help from his lemur, who possessed superior skills at cyphering, as all lemurs did back then) that Waiqar’s current army could not be prevented from taking the Lost City. So he had overseen the partial evacuation of the city, and both massed his troops north in Vynelvale and constructed a stronghold in the mountains. The plan was to permit Waiqar to take the City and its Dragon Throne. Once he had settled in and spread out his forces, the Uthuk would invade simultaneously from the new stronghold and from Vynelvale, and deal a crippling blow to the Old Man.
The first indication of the vulnerability of their borders came when one of the prime champions—Spiritspeaker Mok—of the Latari managed to bribe the same rabble that Ispher had previously incited. The famous Vyrah the Falconer would have liked to perform this task, but he found that his run of bad luck was only half spent (having healed from his wounds, he was dispatched to the Velvet Plains, where he was able to put down a minor peasant uprising but was stabbed in the gut in the process, and forced to lengthen his recuperation).
Ispher argued for a preemptive strike against the Latari, but the chieftain correctly identified his own plan as more diabolical, and so Ispher was only permitted to station a large army in the valley that led to the north. And so, rather than devoting their efforts to defending the red corridor, the Uthuk mobilized to deal a fatal blow to the Daqan.
Uthuk warlocks had pilfered much knowledge from the library of the Lost City, including the location of a peculiar shortcut—a magical path through an otherworldly forest. It began near Vynelvale, skipped over a couple hundred miles, and ended near Frostgate. The dragonlords had possessed many such shortcuts, and this was one of the methods that they had controlled so large a continent with so few soldiers.
Now the Uthuk chieftain took advantage of this enchanted path, bypassing Andira Runehand’s defenses entirely.
The Uthuk were able to remove the nominal defenders within hours. They then set to burning and murdering the entire population of the city, leaving Frostgate little more than a pile of cold stone and smoking charcoal.
Andira was nearly overcome with desperation. The chieftain’s plan had been brilliant: what remained of the Daqan military was now trapped between two large Uthuk armies. When attacked, the Daqan would be left with no one else to defend them. A messenger arrived to let her know that she had been granted formal command over the Daqan armies, and that the Lords would stand behind all of her strategic and tactical decisions. She found this immensely funny.
At about the same time that the Uthuk were burning Frostgate and surrounding Andira’s forces, Waiqar moved to seize the Dragon Throne. He came with extra troops in the event that the Uthuk had left a trap (you’ll recall the Uthuk ruse at Greyhaven), but they were unnecessary. His undead legions, necromancers, dark knights, razorwings, and dragons made for an easy coup, and soon he occupied the City that he had long sought.
In the west, Ispher’s concerns were proven valid when the Latari pulled off some stunning logistical acrobatics. They force-marched their troops directly into the valley that Ispher’s army guarded. Ispher saw the elven leonx riders and forest guardians and realized that his force could not hold. He made a tactical retreat, hoping that the elves had marched their capacity for the year.
Under normal circumstances he would have been right. But the elves had been resting for long enough, and they didn’t want to allow Ispher to raise new forces. So they marched harder and longer, skirting the red corridor and Forge (both of which Ispher had assumed they would strike at first) and walking straight into the baked lands and the Uthuk capital.
Ispher realized that regardless of how this fight turned out, he was done for. Even though it was not his fault that the Latari were here in Uthuk lands, no chieftain could retain status if he permitted such a failure of a commander to live. So Ispher gritted his teeth, patted Flop one last time, and marched out onto the dusty plain along with his men.
The Uthuk were badly outnumbered, but Ispher had been in battle on a number of occasions, and his presence alone meant that the battle could go either way.
The men (and demons) did Ispher proud. Berserkers were flinging themselves against Latari lines, doing traumatic damage before being brought down by dozens of cuts. Chaos lords were swinging their great fists and sending leonx riders spilling from their mounts. And in the middle of it all, Ispher and Flop were hacking at their enemies with blade and claw. Ispher fended off a pack of beastmen on his own, then weathered a leonx charge. He was still on his feet and fighting when pegasus riders descended from the sky to bring him down.
At the end of the day, both sides had taken dire casualties. But it was the Latari who had enough warriors on their feet to claim the victory. The Uthuk capital was fallen.
The Latari would have liked to pursue the Uthuk as they retreated to Forge, but their soldiers were finally too exhausted. The elves began preparations for the following year, hoping that the Uthuk had finally run out of tricks.
Far to the east, Andira Runehand heard news of the two Uthuk defeats. They had lost not only the Lost City, but their own capital! She sprang into action, mobilizing forces and sending messages for reinforcements. After a few rousing speeches, she marched on Frostgate, determined to put an end to the barbarian menace that stood on the very doorstep of Daqan lands. As they marched into the countryside around Frostgate, they were filled with dread at the sight of the once-great city. Andira made sure to channel their fear, instilling them with grim determination at the knowledge that a similar fate would consume every one of their homes if they did not carry the day.
Though her troops were encouraged and insistent on victory, Andira was worried. Her forces outnumbered the barbarians, but only by a slender margin—and Uthuk fighters were born superior at combat. Also, the Uthuk had been given three long months to settle in, and would have all the natural advantages that came with playing the defense.
The battle started badly, with demonic flesh-rippers charging straight into the Daqan lines and shredding an entire company of footmen before Andira had even blundered her troops onto the field. In response, Andira’s bowmen rained hell down on the enemy lines, occupying them long enough for charging knights to reach and impact the Uthuk infantry. This ploy failed badly when it turned out that Uthuk berserkers were quite good at pulling knights from their horses. Soon, large swaths of the Daqan army were routed and fleeing for home.
Andira rode back and forth, exhausting both herself and her horse. She worked at this tirelessly, rallying many footmen and knights back into the fight. Eventually the barbarians began to give ground, and a company of knights showed uncanny resolve, charging a second time into the fray and putting more of the demons to the sword. As the battle waned, it was apparent that the Daqan had won. Barely—they had lost five of every nine men—but it was a victory nonetheless.
The leaders of the Uthuk warband had been killed in the fighting, and their soldiers had no idea of how to access the magic passage that had brought them here from Vynelvale. Instead, they retreated in every direction, but they found nowhere to go. Local militias were able to handle them, and the Uthuk attempt at an eastward push was ended.
Despite now owning the Dragon Throne, Waiqar was in a grumpy mood. He was disappointed to find that the Lost City contained only a single dragon rune, which meant he controlled an impressive total of two, out of the required eight. “Two!” he fumed to Mad Carthos and Grey Ker through their magical amulets. “Even the Daqan Lords still have two!”
Old Man Waiqar knew that most of his work remained before him, and so he spent the last months of the year bargaining with councils and adventurers. He finally managed to purchase a third rune, which he ensconced in one of his strongholds. This was such good news that he launched an impulsive assault on the stronghold that Ronan had built to the west of the Lost City. This came as a surprise to the Uthuk, who had not been expecting yet another attack. It was even more inopportune, as the Uthuk had been preparing for a new wave of recruits but now found themselves lacking any region in which they could muster.
While Grey Ker journeyed to The Island to begin excavating for a promised dragon rune (and was sidetracked on the way for a wrestling match with the famed Ebony Giants—a contest that proved that Ker was, in the language of the giants, “Strong like ox!”), Mad Carthos had remained in the south, preparing armies along Waiqar’s border. Waiqar was watching the expansion of the elves, and it was more than a little worrying to him that they had managed to so deftly unseat the Uthuk chieftain from authority over his own home. The elves had been mustering an army in the south too, and Waiqar was wary of the true slippery nature of elves.
And that is how the Uthuk Y’llan went from being the greatest empire in the land to being the smallest. Nobody bemoaned their removal, but to most it felt like they had hopped out of the cookpot and into the fire, for neither the rule of necromancers nor of elves seemed particularly appealing to most folks. At any rate, the war was far from over, and those who appeared beaten were far from defeated.