8/18/2022 at 0:30
The Second War of Night, Part XVI: The Shadow Rising
In the wake of Memonaransa, while many scrambled to acquire information on the Sword of Truth and others continued pouring their efforts into developing weapons and defences against the Shadow, the Tarean mountains groaned as the battlefield's southern front found itself reformed by the will of the Earth, narrowed into a deadly funnel intended to bring down the hammer of wrath when next Czjetija's forces made a push forward. Undeterred, Murgraxis stirred from his vigil at the rift and hastily deployed more forces to the front. The Empire, by now well drilled and efficient, mobilised in turn to meet them, and the familiar clamour of armies meeting in battle could soon be heard throughout the world.
Yet something was off about this skirmish. Though the numbers committed by the Shadow General were as vast as any prior effort, the Shadowbound Dragon seemed wholly uninterested in the result, ignoring the clash below as he ascended on wings of black night and dark dread, propelling his colossal bulk west, toward the settlement of Hubride. Countless attempts had been made to evacuate all of the Three Widows villages, but still many workers, townspeople, and villagers remained defiantly behind.
As the Dragon's long shadow fell over the settlement and he boasted of the weakness of Lanos and the doom awaiting Hubride, people flocked in droves to its defence. Spearheaded largely by Enorian, many hoped to save the Trolls even as they shouted angrily in response to the General's boastful claims. But no battle would come. The Shadow Lord opened wide his maw, raining down a flood of impenetrable wrongness upon the settlement below. Shadowrot poured forth from his draconic jaws, foetid flame and sickening fire which instantly destroyed the adventurers standing sentinel. The torrent spread through the village like wildfire, devouring every man, woman, and child that had dared to stay behind, spreading into the mines and over the hills and into every nook, cranny, and crevice it could find.
Smoke and ruin and filth were all that remained of Hubride, and Murgraxis, snapping shut his maw with a crack of finality, simply altered course and drifted back toward his perch amidst once-Sterion. Neither boasting nor prophesying further harm, he fell silent, the calamity wrought in his passing bespeaking all that needed said. With their General's work done, the shadowspawn hordes regrouped in a rearguard formation and retreated back to the Primal Eye.
~ ~ ~
In late Khepary, after the Unbound Lord had taken leave for Spirit and left the defence of Enorian in the Maelstrom's capable hands, sudden pressure radiated in waves from the heart of the Primal Eye, forming a raging vortex of midnight tendrils. The frothing, murderous rampage of Ohlsana's limitless spawn stilled to an eerie silence, the singular will of Immortal Darkness commanding rapt attention from Her copious host as each seemed to turn their gaze toward the breach, the air alive with electric evergloom, crackling in anticipation of something unknown and unseen. Stone and metal screamed in anguished protest, the fabric of reality dividing Prime from Shadow shuddering as the rift-arch, already sundered and profaned by invaders, yielded in full, collapsing on itself with a haunting elegy of defeat.
Whispers spilled from within the conquered breach, a chorus of rasping, preternatural sibilance ceaselessly repeating itself with maddening reliability as the gaping hole between worlds churned like a maelstrom of black waves. As the pressure at the heart of once-Sterion climbed to further levels, the pinpricks of violet fulgence, once tiny specks of blacklit motes, grew. Umbral silhouettes now bestrode the breach, and the stillness of the shadowspawn fell away, the countless aberrations infesting Sapience roaring and hissing and jeering as one voice made of thousands.
Most knew this could mean only one thing: the rest of Ohlsana's Generals were coming.
Legions of shadowbound poured forth from the dark-without, the towering form of a Titan driving them forward. General Diyomexas dwarfed his soldiers, the mighty core of the colossal shadow eld whirring in place of his heart. The Shadowbound Dreikathi scarcely bothered to acknowledge Murgraxis and immediately marched east, his purpose laying beyond the Sapience shores.
Black fire belched virulent smoke into the air with the coming of General Isalemei, the corrupted Djinn accompanied by General Azgon, a fallen Akkari clasping a twin-bladed manta stained black with foul magic. Brief conference with Murgraxis ensued before the two Generals and their forces marched briskly towards Enorian and set about establishing a staging camp in preparation for war.
Next to pass through the breach were Generals Sanaz and Saglozol, each garbed in flowing robes of midnight. The Naga cast a critical eye over the military arrangement in Sterion, while the Memory Eater conferred with Murgraxis in the primal tongue of the Shadow. Apparently satisfied with their assignments and goals, the two Generals turned away from each other and simply disappeared, fading from sight without sound or sign of their destination.
At the head of another host of soldiers, General Mazgal was next to enter the Prime, his rocky Earthen form shaking the ground with each advancing footstep. General Telorach joined the Unyielding Earth, coagulating black matter forced into the monstrous, intimidating form of an Ascended Shadow Beast. Accompanied by their assembled troops, the two Generals spared no time for Murgraxis, immediately taking leave from Sterion and marching southward. Reaching the Dry Plains, the pair quickly established a command post in view of Spinesreach and began organising their forces in preparation.
Some moments of quiet passed before groaning wood and creaking bark resounded from within the breach, corrupted nature lamenting every footfall of General Jokach. The ancient, withered Durdalis moved forward with a ponderous gait, its craggy body swathed in toxic moss and smoking, putrefied vines. Limbs the size of tree trunks supported its bulk, hordes of twisted fauna following behind. It shared only a fleeting conversation with Murgraxis before ambling away, turning its sights on the Ithmias. At the edge of the ancient woodland, Jokach paid little heed to the trees and flora soughing in protest at its encroachment, marshalling troops to a staging ground in the earth.
The next General arrived through a silver gateway splitting the air as living darkness writhed about its outer edges. Reality parted to receive General Agrimarha, the corrupted Ankyrean Adherent. Manifesting the presence of Misery Incarnate, the Adherent glowed with mortalfire, draped in an aura of tangible dread which only deepened as the portal snapped shut behind her. Unlike her fellows, Agrimarha quickly motioned beside Murgraxis, choosing to remain in defence of the Shadow's front lines.
Without warning, the the paean of war sung by the indignant, battle-hungry shadowspawn reached its dreadful coda, the rubicon of a harrowing requiem gasping out its final throes. Murgraxis stepped back beside Misery's Adherent, the gaping maw of Czjetija yawning open ever further to permit the ingress of yet more legions of darksworn soldiers. As the last of this host poured in, the soldiers bore profound and stark discipline, driven by primal fear and unvoiced terror as their eyes trained anxiously whence they came.
As one, spawn and soldier fell to their knees, and for a moment, the breach froze, its motion stilled by an authority indelible lingering out of sight and sense beyond the other side. A glance of trepidation passed between Murgraxis and Agrimarha, and they each took another step back. Entwined streams of black and violet surged forth from without, a torrent of twilit effervescence converging into the form of Shadow General Irgech. Irgech, known by the discomfiting moniker "Angelbane", radiated profane might and terrible strength, a penumbra of nauseating non-light shrouding him in its black embrace. Clad in thick plates of shadowsteel, the General barked commands at both the Dragon and the Adherent, who hastened to obey. Then, as the sky above burned black with his presence, his voice called out in tones of undeniable dominion: "Find it."
While the Shadow's Generals fanned out across the world, Irgech deliquesced to naught but inky blackness, a pillar of evanescent shadow surging skywards at speeds defying perception. His ascension pierced cloud and stratosphere alike, puncturing even the membrane of the firmament like a single violet star amongst a stately canvas of gold, lingering high above the world with unknown but undeniably bleak intent. Low keening pitched from the heart of the Primal Eye, the immense pressure finally relenting in the throes of a turbid, ice-rimed wind. Though calm and order returned in the wake of the Commanders' arrival, it was an eerie, unnatural stillness, pregnant clouds gathering above and about the northern region with ominous, dire portent of battles yet to come.
And come they did.
Mazgal's troops were first to mobilise, their swift deployment a fell tribute to the renowned military minds of the Earthen. Driven forward by the aid of Telorach, they poured into Spinesreach with deadly intent, cutting down almost two hundred hoplites and forty loyal Spirean guards, as well as dozens of adventurer citizens who battled bravely to defend the gates. Though caught by surprise, Strategos Kagura soon rallied the forces and struck back while others hurried to throw the switch on the prime Storm Caller pylon, calling the wrath of Tanixalthas to their aid. The city lurched under a thunderous sonic boom and soon, arcs of brilliant blue electricity tore through the streets, striking ruthlessly at the shadowspawn and leaving none alive.
Isalemei and Azgon were next to organise a sortie, deploying forces into Enorian in order to test their defences. Expecting an attack after the assault on Spinesreach, Sryaen and Benedicto reacted instantly, diverting forces to the Landward Gate and dispatching bell ringers to the nearby belfry. As the clash began, Enorian met them with courage and valour, none more brave than young Everet who fearlessly charged the shadowbound as they invaded his home. Though he fell to a shadowspinner, his bravery shall never be forgotten by his Templar kin. Bells rang out with their righteous peals and tore through the invaders without mercy or hesitation, and the city held, having lost under twenty guards and only four knights.
Duiran was hit next, the corrupted Durdalis Jokach dispatching troops through the western Ithmia and into the Council proper. The fortified Durdalis troops at Duiran's entrance put up an incredible defence, holding the line for far longer than expected while protecting the citizens from harm. Yet, eventually, their numbers dwindled and the line broke, the resultant surge of shadowspawn cutting down dozens of councillors in mere moments. As they faced the mirror, the invaders rampaged, dispatching almost fifty guards and a hundred and fifty troops in their assault. Regrouping with the aid of Enorian, bell chimes once again sounded, and the combined strength of mettle turned back the advance.
As the initial assaults stilled, Sapience's defences held fast, shaken but unbroken. The dust from the conflict began to settle over the lands of Enorian, Duiran, and Spinesreach as leaders took stock of the losses, saw to their dead, and started to prepare for the next inevitable siege. Yet through the invasions and the battles, all remained calm over the Mhojave, the lands of Bloodloch mysteriously untouched by the Shadow's Generals or their soldiers.
In the week that followed, only a minor incursion into Enorian took place, though the cities remained on high alert, suspicious of what was to come. Overhead, all who turned their eyes to the moon observed the long shadow of General Irgech silhouetting the sky-dome. Shaping blackness in his hands, with the coming of the Howling, the sun flickered wan, losing some of its radiance. And when noon arrived, the makings of his dark star imposed a mantle of un-light across the firmament, eclipsing the daystar with its oppressive gloom...
Penned by my hand on Quensday, the 23rd of Khepary, in the year 504 MA.