The battle of Saerun Road had a wide front and was a chancy affair. The sun had risen and set once already and the battle was still going strong. It must have been a majestic sight from one of the warships that rode the skyways, the newest weapons to join the arsenals of the Five Nations. To see armies maneuvering, fronts colliding and the knights charging, to hear the snap of the catapult’s coils, the impact of missiles on walls and the thunder of exploding magics, to feel the terrific tremor as a sunk warship shatters on the earth and the scorching heat of the raging fires that consume forests, castles and men in equal measure. This is what this battle was like, the battle that would see Cyre broken, the first nation to fall in this war.
The cyrans were fewer, tired, almost beaten but what they had, they used well and they defended their land and their homes. The battle this day could go either way but tomorrow or the day after that proud Cyre would fall. Sweat, blood and desperation, bloodmad predators closing on wounded prey. The very notion of one of the five nations falling sparked tears in some, numbness in others and even madness. In the unchanging routine that was killing and dying over shifting borders, raids and reprisals, a battle won for each one lost for the last hundrend years, the destruction of a kingdom was a world-shaking event, one whose ripples were sure to change Khorvaire forever.
The 5th Brelish Legion, including my century along with the 19th Thran Phalanx were the vanguard of a flanking maneuver ordered by the Generals. We were to breach the enemy line at the village of Colmar and force the cyrans to roll back from that section of the Saerun Road or be caught in a hammer-and-anvil maneuver. I was there at the first battle of Colmar, my century given the honour of the front line. We were stopped cold by cyran heavy infantry, veterans all, warforged all, the linchpin of cyran defence. It was a magnificent clash and the first exchange belonged to the cyrans. The Legate called artillery and militants from the 2nd Army’s Mage Cadre to break the deadlock. Another front opened in the chaos that was the Battle for Saerun Road. In the lull after the first push, we waited and rested at the rear, my flesh soldiers collapsing from exhaustion on the damp earth as the warforged manned the pickets. It was then that Captain Paren ordered me to scout the ruins of a tower atop a hill, six bowshots away that could be used by the enemy to set up an artillery battery.
“There are no men that can be spared to take that hill Centurion, lead a squad there to ascertain potential risk to our rear and pray that you find none.”
I didn’t like Paren, that pampered noble for whom officer rank was a privilege of birth. Still, he had acquitted himself well so far and his concern was valid. A squad he said but my men were exhausted and would need all their energy and spirit for the next push against Colmar. My warforged didn’t need rest but if I took even a handful of them to their deaths, my century would weaken and men would die that otherwise could live through this. It took me two heartbeats to calculate the odds and the risk and set off alone at a trot. Warmek, my second, would take over for me if I did not return.
Strangely, the sky began to change rapidly after I gained the hill. Storm clouds like I’ve never seen before gathered and silent lightning could be seen dancing within the gray canopy. The wind blew with fury and I thought that I could hear words. The goliath soldier was the first living man I saw atop the hill. A decarch of the army, a mercenary serving in the Foreign Legion, he had also been sent here to scout the ruins. Another captain was worrying over this hill it seemed. The other one, a scrawny half-elf, wasn’t one of us and I challenged him, “I’m an apprentice on a quest for my master,” was his surprising reply. He must have been a disposable apprentice for his master to send him in the middle of a battlefield. Shock and fear at the clash of armies in the distance, the fires and the distant screams and clang of metal was written all over his face. Still, if it wasn’t for him, the human hiding in the bushes would go unseen by both myself and the Decarch and he wasn’t alone either. His brother, as it turned out, was also in hiding.
Still, the revelation of their presence wasn’t as alarming as the attack of the two aberrant humanoids, hideous creatures with circular, fanged and multiple nested mouths and an extra pair of arms. The monsters sniped at us and retreated on opposite sides of the ruined tower as huge insects burrowed out of the earth and swarmed all over the human swordsman. Priorities were clear, take command, survive through this, sort out the mess later.
“Whatever your loyalties, we are allies of necessity. You have to accept my command if we are to live through this,” I shouted to the men of this unlikely squad as battle was joined. I was sure of the decarch but the apprentice didn’t inspire confidence and the two humans were both devoid of any mark or rank and wary of two obviously Brelish soldiers. The implications were clear but didn’t matter at that moment. Our enemies were crafty and their strengths and numbers were unknown while we were only allies out of necessity. The monsters proved to be the only ones, which was a blessing since it took a combined effort to defeat one of them as the decarch held the other alone.
A voice could be heard during the battle, coming from nowhere and everywhere, ominous, sibilant, portaining doom. We were bewildered, confused but we fought on. Once the sniping enemy fell, the swordsman rushed inside the tower to get behind the second monster that was retreating steadily even as it was hacking at the sturdy goliath. The decarch kept the pressure on. By the time I entered the tower to flank the monster, other events had taken half of the squad out of the fight. There was magic inside the tower and one of the brothers, the swordsman, was trapped within it. A manacled prisoner also was inside and it must have been the object of the swordsman’s attention when he was trapped. I gave no thought on this as I rushed to help the goliath dispatch the last enemy.
After all out enemies lay dead, I witnessed a feat of magical aptitude as the apprentice neutralized the harmful magic that had trapped both brothers with a stone he produced from a pouch. The magic was like a mark on the stone floor and I knew then that I beheld a dragonmark. The apprentice trapped the magic in the stone, the task that his master had sent him to accomplice. When the dragonmark burned bright, we all heard words of the draconic prophecy spoken in our minds. This was a strange day but everyone present was a veteran of a lifetime of war, one way or the other. Each was numb inside and the priority was to establish who are your allies and who are your enemies. Men who had seen death every day of their lives, who witnessed missiles and magics decimate scores of soldiers, who had sacked, burned and pillaged were not impressed with words spoken in their minds.
That’s why with the foes dead and the business with the dragonmark concluded, it was time to establish our loyalties before dealing with the strangeness around us. After a few well-made observations and questions, the two humans were revealed as soldiers of Cyre, as enemies. The swordsman gave me his right hand in a warrior’s clasp at the cusp of this revelation and I took it to negate his good swordarm, thinking him a fool for doing so. Before I could track the movement, his left had unsheathed his off-blade and brought it to my neck. A gentle tap between his legs told him that my hammer would crush any hopes of fathering children should he go through with his cut. The standoff was tense for a minute and could go either way but in the end we agreed to finish our business here and kill each other on the field of battle. Our loyalties clear, the strangeness around us prevailed and forced us to think first of survival.
Me and the decarch set about freeing the two chained humans. The goliath acted as if he knew these two were here, it must have been why he was sent to this place. We had managed to free but one when a new player entered the scene. An elven woman stepped out of a portal, followed by two warriors and a decarchy of zombies.
The newcomer made us an offer. Mallora was her name and demanded to be given an object that seemed to describe the apprentice’s stone. I positioned the squad, most didn’t need orders to take their place and tried to stall for time but it was no use. Mallora attacked but out position was good – not the best, but good enough. Everybody fought well and even Mallora’s secret weapon – the zombies exploding at her command and inflicting the chill of the grave around them – wasn’t enough to overcome us. I delivered the deathblow to one of her warriors and that’s when the storm above broke, the voice was heard a last time in a crescendo of rage and the world was lost to me.
The world shuddered and Cyre died in what would be called the Day of Mourning. When the others awakened, I was not among them and neither were Mallora and her surviving warrior.
Four years pass by and events are set in motion that will see the five of us reunited. The two brothers, members of House Orien, are sent to the Brelish town of Fallcrest to negotiate a patronage of a local business. They travel to the town, meet the owner and make their offer. The archer adds a veiled threat in case the offer is refused. It seems that the brothers conform to the favoured Dragonhouse method of doing business – threats and coercion.
Kronos is also a resident of Fallcrest and he still studies at the feet of his master. The day comes when he explores the lonely tower in the river island and at the basement of a ruined tower, he finds a rusted warforged, unmoving and unresponsive. He recognizes the warforged as the one present at the tower in the Last Battle, the one that disappeared. A strange disk lies near him and an open compartment on the warforged’s chest lies open, ready to receive an object in the shape and size of that disk. Kronos inserts the disk in the chest-slot and the warforged awakes! As he gets up, creaking and shedding dust and cobwebs, a liquid darkness begins oozing into the room. Kronos hurries up the steps and the warforged follows him. Both return to the town in Kronos’ boat, leaving behind them a mystery for another day. Despite all efforts by Kronos, the warforged maintains an exasperating silence. The apprentice cannot know that the warforged is engaged in an intensive information upload that leaves him no resources to devote to other functions, even speech. In the end, the apprentice takes him to his master’s residence where the master, despite his annoyance at his apprentice, gives the warforged a room. Night falls on Fallcrest.