Runewars Mega, Year 7: Uncommon Kinship
As the slow sixth year of the War came to an end, each of the four nations found their ranks swelling with volunteers (well, “volunteers” is a loaded term in Waiqar’s army). Hedge-prophets and scrying witches claimed that the coming conflict would dwarf the combined bloodshed of the last six years, and that as winter fell on the eighth year, a new lord would be seated on the Dragon Throne and Terrinoth would have its king.
Two theaters of conflict had emerged. In the north, each of the four nations had potential access to the country surrounding the Lost City. Old Man Waiqar held it for the time being, though he doubted he could hold it for long—the Latari had taken the mountain pass to the west, the Uthuk to the north were growing strong, and the Daqan could march their armies to a threatening distance within a few months. Waiqar hoped that he could spur the Daqan and Uthuk into fighting each other while he dealt with the elves, but as of yet those two ancient foes had been avoiding conflict. This was deeply worrying to Waiqar.
In the south, the conflict appeared larger but less complicated. There were only two sides, though both had huge armies and capable leaders. Vyrah the Falconer had recently taken command of the Latari forces in the region, and he had compiled a formidable force despite the Latari disarmament craze. Mad Carthos had been preparing for war in the south for years, and he had a plan: he knew that the Latari would strike first, so he prepared to offer only token resistance until they were well within Waiqar’s lands. Then he would strike with overwhelming force on multiple fronts. The mountains limited the Latari avenues of approach and hope for supply, so he was confident that the Latari would only gain temporary ground.
The only person in Terrinoth who seemed to not know that the coming conflict would take place around the Lost City and far to the south was Andira Runehand, who was marching her forces along the previously-ignored eastern coast. To do this, she had all but abandoned Daqan lands. This seemed a grievous error to Waiqar and the Latari, neither of whom had guessed at Andira’s diplomatic tact. In fact, she had spent the final months of the previous winter in discussions with the new Uthuk Y’llan chieftain council. She had pushed not only for a truce: she demanded nothing less than an alliance. She pointed out that Uthuk numbers and resolve were spent, and that even if they ravaged Daqan lands they could not regain enough lost strength to save themselves from Waiqar’s methodical advance. The chieftain council had received enough humbling to hear the truth in her words.
Andira argued that both the Daqan and the Uthuk Y’llan had been pushed to the brink of total annihilation. She asked, “Despite all differences, are we not both nations of humans?” There was much debate, and much hesitation, but both nations eventually agreed that in order to survive, they would have to unite. The Uthuk requested that they be given Frostgate, and in return they would cede their dragon rune to the Daqan Lords and protect their western lands from Waiqar.
The Uthuk spent most of those early months rebuilding. New Frostgate was still a shade compared to its namesake, but it would do for the time being. It soon attracted much of the same trade and guild presence that Old Frostgate had enjoyed.
Of course, this alliance nearly tripled the threat to Old Man Waiqar. He had been ignorant of the summit between the Daqan and the Uthuk, but when the barbarians had built a city adjacent to Daqan lands without response, it was a simple enough matter to deduce what had happened.
Waiqar was furious, enough to order loyal Grey Ker to leave The Island and make a foolhardy attempt on Andira’s life. Grey Ker was a spy and thief, not a fighter, but he obeyed his dark master regardless.
He got lucky as he crept past the sentries and into the Daqan encampment. He stabbed Andira in her bed and mistook her for dead. This underestimation cost him dearly—of course Andira slept under protective runes, and was only mildly injured. As Grey Ker turned to leave her tent, she slapped him on the back with her glowing blue hand, nearly crippling him with a blast of power. He flung himself at her in desperation. Andira was the better fighter, dodging his blows while casting powerful magics in his direction. Grey Ker refused to be defeated so easily: as he dropped to the ground, he tossed a dwarven firebomb into the room, igniting both heroes.
News of the death of Andira Runehand was meant to dishearten the ragged Daqan forces, but Waiqar was dismayed to find that it had the opposite effect. Andira’s forces were outraged, painting a blue hand on their banners and shields. Their preparations for war took on a feverish intensity. It was such a transformation that Waiqar could almost see the resemblance between these inflamed men and their berserker cousins.
Waiqar didn’t have much time to observe the Daqan response—anyway, they were not that near his lands, and surely they could not penetrate through the dragons that defended The Island. More important were the Latari under the command of Vyrah the Falconer, who had passed through a mountain to besiege one of his fortresses.
Although Vyrah was one of the Latari’s wisest sages and greatest adventurers, he was new to the profession of general, allowing Mad Carthos to use his outnumbered forces to great effect. Ordinarily, the Latari’s archers would have struck first with a barrage of arrows, but Mad Carthos drew them off with a diversion and delayed them for hours. The battle continued to go badly for the elves. Their were disheartened when they were outperformed by Waiqar’s zombies. Even worse, upon capturing the fortress, a few bands of elves made the mistake of opening the crypt that sat beneath the walls, and were scared off by the thousands of dispossessed spirits that poured out. The battle ended when Mad Carthos withdrew with most of his army, leaving the battered elves ostensibly victorious.
As I mentioned before, Waiqar and Mad Carthos had counted on the Latari invading in the south, and they now moved to divide their forces. The city of Dawnsmoor had so far been the most peaceful of the entire war, only hosting a small group of elven sorceresses, but now they found themselves invaded by dragons. The city fell in less than an hour. The elves now had the difficult decision of either liberating Dawnsmoor or reinforcing their forces in the south. Vyrah wanted the latter, arguing that his army could still push into Waiqar’s darkened homeland, but the elven leaders were worried that Vyrah’s army was doomed (and their spies reported that Waiqar now held six dragon runes) and so the army began to march north.
Meanwhile, the Uthuk were honoring their alliance with the Daqan Lords. The chieftains were longing to try out their shiny new horde, and they had promised to tie up Waiqar’s force in the north, so they attacked and captured Vynelvale. This could have been a devastating blow, but it was predictable and Waiqar had prepared for it—hoped for it, in fact. He retreated from the city before the Uthuk even arrived, and triggered a trap that he had left in the city as they entered its gate. He considered this immensely fitting, as he had drawn inspiration for the weapon from the Uthuk’s defense of the Greyhaven ruins years before.
Using similar methods as the lightning bomb that the Uthuk had employed in Greyhaven, Waiqar had left the Uthuk horde the gift of a communicable disease. After the foul haze had settled, the illness spread through the tightly-packed Uthuk troops like wildfire. Hundreds died in weeks, and their corpses were reanimated by the disease. Soon the region around Vynelvale was filled with corpses shambling south to join Waiqar’s armies.
The chieftain council had hoped to push farther south, perhaps even to the Lost City, but the disease proved crippling. Even more damaging, they realized that their stockpiles of food were running low. The Uthuk had been so occupied with fighting and the construction of New Frostgate that come autumn they had no harvest to reap. The Daqan had nothing to spare, as their own troops were going hungry even while on the march.
The Uthuk settled in and began to forage, hoping to spread out their forces enough to live off the land. Some were saved. Nevertheless, thousands more would die that winter, and any hope of retaking the Lost City, or betraying their Daqan allies (which of course they had been considering), was discarded as impossible. This was considered a greatly beneficial and merciful event among the Daqan, though they would never say it out loud.
The Daqan had little time to make snide comments anyway. The Island, which Waiqar had considered impregnable even without Grey Ker to assist in its defense, was their next target. The Daqan officers were wary: Waiqar was unlikely to give up a dragon rune without fierce resistance. Their concern wasn’t victory—they were following the plans that had been laid out by Andira Runehand, and many of the officers considered her to still be leading them in spirit—but that they couldn’t afford many losses if they were to act on the second phase of their bold invasion plan.
Thus, their goal was not to eliminate the dragons and wyrms, but to scare them off without a fight at all. The army lit fires in the hills and beat drums as they approached the nest. To a dragon’s sensitive eyes and ears, they must have appeared over one hundred thousand strong; the ruse worked and Waiqar’s dragons were routed across the mountains.
Despite food shortages, the Daqan had already seen a successful autumn. They could not enact the second point of their plan until winter, so they settled in for the time being, hoping that Waiqar would have his old hands full dealing with the Latari army on the other side of the valley.
Indeed, Waiqar was presented with a difficult decision. He only had enough reanimates in the valley to either crush the Latari that had earlier occupied one of his strongholds, or to march against the Daqan that now bordered him (it is true he could not cross the water, but even farther to the east a single regiment of Daqan footmen had struck an alliance with giants, and this is the avenue that Waiqar would have taken to fight the human lords).
The Latari were easily the stronger force, even though their performance at the stronghold had been a pyrrhic victory. Waiqar’s troops hit them fast and hard. Vyrah was getting better at his new career as general, and he managed to lead a small force to rout a few knights and wyrms, but the Latari were unable to hold against such a crush. The only ones who were able to escape were a few of the pegasus riders and Vyrah himself, who took refuge in the nearby steppes that were inhabited only by hellhounds and beastmen.
The stronghold was Waiqar’s again, and while Vyrah was wandering through the steppes, the second Latari army was finalizing the process of putting Latari-Waiqar borders right back where they had been at the start of the year. Namely, by retaking Dawnsmoor from the dragon army that had been terrorizing it for months. It was a peculiar fight, as both sides were mostly made up of formerly neutral forces. On Waiqar’s side, there were dragons and razorwings; on the Latari’s, there were giants and hellhounds and beastmen. It was a costly fight, but the Latari carried the day. Vyrah the Falconer wouldn’t hear the good news for weeks, and he spent that entire time growing an ulcer from worry that his defeat had permitted Waiqar to run amok through Latari lands.
He would have been greatly relieved to know that, instead, someone was running amok in Waiqar’s lands.
The Daqan officers carried out the second phase of Andira’s plan, waiting at The Island only long enough to allow winter to set in and freeze the seas solid. Then they had gathered their forces and nervously shuffled across the ice, trembling at the sound of every loud crack in the thin crystal that separated them from a black and freezing death. Then they had assaulted the remains of Greyhaven, exterminating the large garrison of undead and seizing the dragon rune that was fortified there.
Thus the seventh year of the War for the Dragon Throne ended. The Daqan were invigorated by the boldness of their ploy (and by the fact that it worked at all, rather than depositing them at the bottom of the sea). They made camp in the ruins of Greyhaven for the winter, hoping that the next steps in Andira’s invasion plan would be as successful.
Old Man Waiqar and the Uthuk chieftains were terribly grumpy; Waiqar because of the loss of three dragon runes and the Uthuk because they were starving to death. The Latari were grumpy too, but this is because of their elvish nature and not due to any actual disappointment.
All indications—every hedge-prophet’s mad ranting, every witch’s bird-eye and cat-gut scrying, and every university secularist’s educated guesstimating—spoke to the war’s conclusion the very next year. Each nation stood poised to win—other than the barbarians, who were glad to have survived at all. Every eye in Terrinoth turned to the Lost City, and every mind wondered who would be seated on the Dragon Throne the coming winter.