Fallen Blades

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By: Morwen Posted on: April 15, 2007

Sheer darkness of a starless night settled over the barren cliffside. Along a snow-covered ledge a single file of cloaked figures crept upwards noiselessly. Sight was limited as the raging blizzard howled and clashed against the rocks, mixed with the echoing roar of some wild beast; a mountain lion, perhaps.

Leading the group, a tall Rajamala pulled her hood closer against her cheeks. A strong gust of wind blew open her cloak, briefly exposing the vague shapes of a short dirk and coiled whip underneath. Reaching back, she checked her quiver and bow with numb fingers, and squinted down past her followers. Seven hundred feet below in the shadows, a steep and narrow pass lead into the Barony of Dun Valley.

It was the 13th of Mayan, 385 AF. Only four weeks earlier, Ashtan, Mhaldor, and Blackrock formed a most unlikely alliance and waged open war against the Vertani, following the destruction of Thera. Since then the once-powerful invasion turned into a hasty retreat. Many had perished on both sides during the subsequent skirmishes, but the Vertani, with their limited supply of troops, suffered the worst. Diplomats were sent to Shallam and Hashan to seek an alliance with little success. Even Hingar himself could not persuade Solar Stormcrow, the sultan of Shallam, to send the much-needed reinforcements.

While neither cities acceded to official military aide, a sizable army of two thousand volunteers from both cities joined the remaining Vertani troops, checking the rapid advancement of the Ashtani and Mhaldorian forces.

After losing yet another fortress to the Ashtan onslaught, Daq Makul, one of the surviving Vertani generals, a brilliant and courageous tactician, pulled what is left of his troops from the smoking ruins of El’Jazira and retreated towards the snowy passes of the Vashnar Mountains, evading pursuing mercenaries along the way.

Days after wandering along the treacherous mountain paths and beating off occasional assaults from small bands of Naga assassins, scouts returned and brought news of a negligently defended Dun Castle. Makul saw the opportunity and took it, knowing the cowardly and imbecilic nature of the orcs and ogres defending the site. The retreating army was desperately in need of supplies, rest, and protection; Dun Castle could provide them all.

It happened in a flurry and ended almost as quickly. The raucous mob of Thalagoran orcs and ogres were no match for the elite volunteers and Vertani soldiers, whom with ease cut down and chased the fleeing mob all the way to the castle entrance. The iron gates were speedily rammed ajar by six tall and muscular berserkers of the House Jydav. Five hundred heavily armed Vertani, Shallamese, and Hashani warriors rushed through the breach, decimating the ogre knights within.

The castle was taken within minutes, with few losses on the side of the attackers, although Sir Eolethar Ravenhart, the Shallamese paladin commander, was among those slain in battle. The castle itself remained undamaged for the most part, save for a battered gate and a few Thalagoran huts which were set on fire by straying meteor arrows.

Among the few who escaped was Vukub Ysin'zhu, the Ogre Baron, who snuck past the Hashani sentries in the darkness of the night and arrived at a Mhaldorian encampment at the foot of the mountains.

Makul knew that the newly captured castle could only serve as a temporary residence for his exhausted troops and that the pursuers would soon catch up and lay siege to them. But when he saw from the rampart of the castle the dark mass under Mhaldorian banners that draw closer to the valley with every passing hour, he saw little hope; but Makul was not one to give up.

The Mhaldorians vanguard, consisting of four hundred infernals and apostates, filed in triple columns and begin to march slowly down the slippery path, with perpendicular cliffs surrounding both sides.

With the dense coniferous jungle and the grey tower of the castle within their sight just beyond the mouth of the cliffs, the Mhaldorians hurried on. Just then, massive boulders in the size of a full-grown troll dropped from the sky, crashing down onto the wide-eyed soldiers at the back of the columns. Cut off from the rest of the army, the routing troops trampled over their comrades and fled towards the clearing in the distance, only to see, to their horror, cloaked figures emerging far above them on top of the snowy cliffs.

The Dawnstriders and Serpentlords rained arrows down with speed and precision, drowning the frenzied sea of moving bodies below. Trapped on both sides by the valley walls and blocked in the rear by the boulders, corpses of dark knights piled all the way to the end of the pass. Those who escaped the arrows of the Serpents were incinerated by the Vertani mages that awaited them before the jungle.

It took nearly two days for the invading army to break through the boulders and enter the valley, stepping over their fallen predecessors. The ensuing battle and the final siege lasted four days, during which the Vertani fought valiantly against an overwhelming number of foes in what may be the bloodiest campaign since the Fall of the Empire.

Makul and his fiercely loyal followers fought to their end, having broken all their weapons and shields against the flesh of their enemies. The Mhaldorians claimed a costly victory, after losing about two thirds of its five thousand men, a casualty made even more embarrassing upon discovering that during the two-day delay before the siege, Makul had already sent half of his Vertani guards and nearly all of the volunteer forces through the cliffside path while the general himself and his royal guards stayed behind to hold off the Mhaldorians.

The survivors, masked in dust and blood, arrived at Shallam one week later, led by a young Vertani Lieutenant named Daqsool. Having heard the full account of the preceding events from many of their own, the Shallamese offered their support and sent forth some of their guards and labourers deep into the hills of Dakhota. Thus began the construction of a new and secret Vertani settlement which would be known as Tir Murann.