Chapter 57: The Dreadland War

Red sunlight bled over the ruined earth of the Dreadlands. A cold western wind blew through the trees. Thin strong hands gripped the hilts of steel swords and hardwood shafted spears. Sharp eyes watched over the scarred earth of the the western hills. Four hundred elves, half-elves, and Erudites stood in formation among the trees of the eastern grasslands. Leaning heavily on his staff, the ancient wizard Al Kabor barked orders to his two elven generals.

The thud of ethereal hoof beats shook the ground as Loral Ciriclight rode past the lines of elven warriors. The setting sun shone off of his golden armor. Illumina, Loral's planar horse, breathed hard. Even the beautiful white mare understood what was to happen and tension strained in her lean muscles.

Loral rode west. Tunarian scouts hunted north and south in the woods. Loral cut between them, riding across the ancient war-torn lands between the two kneeling Iksar statues that guarded the lands for seven hundred years. The massive walls of Karnor's Castle loomed ahead.

Loral guided Illumina through the broken roofless ruins on the southern wall of the old castle. He cleared the last broken arch and stepped out onto the open courtyard of the western entrance of the castle. A small army of adventurers waited, their own eyes turned west. North of the band, another forward unit of thirty armored elves also waited. A large Erudite armored in shining plate armor and wearing a blue hood stood tall and strong at their head.

Loral gripped the hardwood handle of the plane-forged warhammer, Daninulaer, and whispered prayers of armor, strength, and protection. He patted the side of Illumina's head, scratching behind her ears. The white horse snorted, dark eyes filled with concern. Loral whispered a word and the horse faded back to her own astral world. Silence again fell over the night.

A deep rumble shook the earth. The elves and adventures stood straight, their muscles tense. The cold wind of the west blew in gusts, whipping cloaks back over the broad shoulders of the warriors of light. On this wind, a dark female voice whispered dark and ancient words of the worlds of Hate. The soothing voice sank into their skin like poison. Few understood the ancient language of the lower beasts but all felt the heavy weight of them as the words continued their whisper on the western winds.

They saw the ogres first. One, two, then ten thick bald heads appeared over the crest of the hills to the west. Moonlight reflected off of their wicked weapons. The shining helms and ebony skin of dozens of dark elves appeared within the hoards of the ogres.

A black cloaked dark elf stepped up onto the crest of the hill. A band ofleather held his thick white hair in a pony tail. Tall boiled leather boots studded with steel barbs dug into the snow of the hill. One sharp red eye surveyed the scene at the front of the ancient castle, the other eye, milky white, sat in in a deep scar on his cheek. He tossed back his fur-lined black cloak to the snowy ground revealing black plate armor. He drew a wide red-glyphed sword in his right hand and a long thin dagger in his left. The commander roared and the battle began.

The armies crashed together like water on rock. Blood exploded into the air from a dozen instant mortal wounds. Elvish blades cut deep into the thick skin of the ogres while massive war-hammers caved in steel helms. Dwarven berserkers dressed in patchwork planar armor cut deep into ogre legs with notched axes. Waves of magical fire exploded from the fingertips of robed wizards, rolling over the western attackers.

Through it all, the sultry female voice slipped through the winds, filling the forces of good with terror and the forces of evil with strength.

Loral's vision slowed. The deafening crash of steel on steel dulled to a low rumble. Loral felt like he was underwater. Details of the battle shined out in slow motion. A dark elf swordsman stabbed a beautiful elf paladin through her back and out her chest. A dark elf warrior cried out in agony, his chest and face torn apart from over a dozen barbed razor-sharp arrows. A barrel-chested barbarian swung a black-headed club low, snapping and folding an ogre's lower leg at a horrible and unnatural angle. Another massive ogre pinned a Vah Shir under one massive boot and burst open the cat-warrior's head with a huge overhead strike of his stone-headed warhammer.

The black-armored dark elf commander waded into the battle with his swirling-runed blade in one hand and his thin dagger in the other. He cut low with the sword, severing the hamstring of an unsuspecting barbarian warrior. He parried a sword strike and then stabbed the attacking human in the kidney, the wound gushing dark blood onto the stone ground. His single red-eye blazing, he raised his the heavy blade and cut through the steel armor and spine of the erudite commander leading the elvish army. The mortally wounded erudite whirled around only to meet the dark elf commander's thin dagger as it pierced through the scales of his plate armor and into his heart.

The elves retreated east while the adventurers regrouped to the south. The dead lay in an ocean of blood and the wounded screamed out into the night air. The dark elf commander, covered in blood from head to foot, turned and fixed his one red eye on Loral. He grinned, revealing file-sharpened teeth and Loral shivered.

The commander roared and cut in with his thick runed blade. Loral blocked with Daninulaer's thick hardwood handle. Loral swung the hammer's head into the dark elf's chest in an explosion of energy and fire. The dark elf stabbed Loral with his thin wicked dagger. Blood ran down Loral's golden armor at his side. Loral smashed his shield into the dark elf's face, sending the dark elf staggering back. With a huge swing, Loral crashed the ethereal hammer into the commander's head. Another explosion of fire and power sent a rain of blood over Loral's face and armor. The headless black armored corpse collapsed onto the ground.

Loral gasped for breath and put a hand on the wound in his side. A sapphire etched with tiny glyphs shined from around the dark elf's neck. Loral took the commander's thin dagger and cut the cord. The cleric examined the gem and tucked it into a leather pouch at his waist.

A human in leather and chain ran up, blood caked in his hair and streaked across his dented breastplate. He pointed down at the dark elf's smoking runed blade.

"May I?"

"It is all yours, my friend." Loral smiled.

"Huzzah!" The man scooped up the blade and rushed east after the hoards hoping to bathe his new treasure in the blood of his enemies.

An ear-tearing roar echoed off of the western mountains and rolled east. Deep rumbling vibrated Loral's teeth and bones. Panic filled him. Loral wished to flee, to gate away or use his Tunarian idol to return to the church of Felwithe. Some horrible and morbid curiosity kept his eyes west and soon he saw what his primal mind feared.

Huge wings of yellowed bone hanging with tatters of black rotted flesh extended across the dark sky. A long skull filled with sharp bones and teeth that curled and twisted into hideous brambles rose over the crest of the hill on a long spined neck. Black eyes sunk in like the deep pits of hell. Loral's panic increased ten fold. The Tunarian priest had seen many horrors of the outer worlds but very few were as terrible as this demonic dracolich.

A single word in his mind broke Loral's paralysis. "Run." Loral drew his magical bridle and called for Illumina. The horse exploded from an ethereal cloud and soon the white horse ripped the ground as they galloped east. Behind them, the Dracolich thundered closer.

The sound of battle echoed from the trees to the east. Loral wheeled around a large gnarled oak to behold another crashing melee. Before he had a chance to decide where he might best fit in, fate took over.

The stone head of an ogre's hammer smashed into Loral's breastplate, reopening the dark elf's wound at his side. The hit sent Loral flying off of Illumina's back and crashing to the ground. Loral tried to inhale and felt his ribs shift out of place. Instead of a breath of air, Loral heard a wet whistle and felt pressure continue to press in on his chest. Blackness overtook him.

Loral woke to the bright light of midday. Juror's lined and bearded face turned towards him as Loral blinked and took in his surroundings.

"You look pale."

"I owe you my life once again, old friend." Loral saw the grim look on Juror's face. "What has happened?"

"Lanys T'Vil's army and her demonic beast were not her only tricks. The dark queen called forth a rock behemoth on the shores of the outpost. Hundreds died." Juror's gray eyes turned and looked hard at Loral.

"We lost the city of Firiona Vie."