Part 21: The Changing Tides of WarChapter 20: The Changing Tides of War
While King Lich regaled Rurik with tales of Ardania and Great King's campaigns (The evil mage had a 'sattelite dish' on his lab. What is a 'sattelite' anyways?), real effort was put into making Ashwind dale more livable.
The shard still was a burning hellhole, Tormentors were all but finished.
In fact, the place felt safe enough for elven settlers to appear and start mucking around.
There wasn't much left to kill: the Duke of Hell, a few mobs of imps and those fire elementals that Wolves passed on their way to Ainadra.
Speaking about the wolves... the first foe they encountered in Ainadra was a demonwood, same as anywhere else. And their staves could be mistaken for axes...
The message from Amberon was unmistakable.
Yes, this is the Amberon that I defeated. Still pompous, still not that bright. If the United One is so powerful, why does he need the likes of Amberon to protect him? Sure, he might need proxies because the gods sealed him in Ardania...
I have... I have no idea who or what that is. It's so... disturbing
Take your time. We'll find who that was once I destroy his citadel
"Some say that once upon a time the Black Archer was the leader of elves in some other world, and that he came to Ardania either seeking his fate or running from it. Others believe that it was he who taught the Arethi elves the dark secrets they know, but later left them to wander the world offering his service and his skill with a bow to any who possesses enough gold to hire. When being asked how he should be named in a contract, the Black Archer always says: "Lord Keeper. That's the only name I have left."
(From "The Overall Description of Everything" by Master Altus Bumblegate)
And elves just seem to be lining up to serve me instead of Amberon The Other
The mercenary in from of him was, indeed, an elf. Gaunt face, short white hair, and strange armor in gold and green. He also had an impressive bow slung over his shoulder.
I don't care much for serving, but you are the one paying. And I have nothing else to look for but payment. So we'll do well
Oh, I have no doubts. If I managed to, well, manage an ogre and a rrat prince, I'll deal with an elf. So, how do I call you?
Lord Keeper is the only name that I have. It will suffice
Well, ser Keeper, there's a new dragon nest where lake Deadlin used to be. I don't want it there, so would you kindly take care of it?
Another dragon nest (and, naturally) a dragon was destroyed in Long Shores... and out popped an elder witch. Currently extremely displaced, she was quick to offer her services to King Lich VI.
If I find just one more witch in a dragon's nest, I'll start assuming that this is their natural habitat. I wonder if this one is going to be as much of a pyromaniac as the last one
It didn't take long for Lord Keeper to find the offending dragon. It took one well placed arrow to pierce the dragon's eye, kill the brain, exit through the other eye, and repeat the process with other head.
As the lifeless body fell to sands of (former) lade Deadlin, Lord Keeper advanced to loot the lair.
Another dragon that was lucky to encouter elves without particular archery talents, was attacking a temple city devoted to Krypta.
Krypta's cultists were caught between a rock and a hard place (or dragon flames and lava flames) and didn't have where to go. Still, there was much running around done elves with faces painted white and nails done in black.
Some might think that Shadow Spiders aren't that scary. After all, you shouldn't be afraid of some shadows. I hate to disappoint you. Their shadow web holds even tighter than the usual , and their shadow mandibles can easily penetrate any armor. - from travel notes of Wild Monsters, by famous researcher Sir Alen Vidborough
Shadows, huh? Well, if there's one thing that hastens to melt against the radiance of the Sun is the shadow. Wolves, charge!
It was a simple enough transaction and King Lich hoped that he wouldn't (un)live to regret it later on.
"There's always a great contest for joining the Dragomort troops. Every Svart boy dreams of becoming one of the sky knights and adding his name to the list of the test pilots of mortars.
Dragomorts are the most mobile and universal Svart troops. They can do anything: raid their enemy or help their friends, reconnoitre or secure air supremacy."
(from "Chronicles of New Worlds" written by Master Vardies Teleran)
Four Elite Guard bearers lowered King Lich's throne in a field and the monarch took his seat (he never sat in a throne that was carried as much out of respect for Svarts as from painful experiences with goblin throne bearers). He waved his bony hand to the assembled Svarts to start.
M'lord, I have seen our forces and found them lacking in support. Prospectors might be good at prospecting and making crows talk, but they still fire simple arrows and can't get away fast enough.
Back home, we had a solution for that, but it was not something we had here
But I'm nothing if not a legendary smith, and I have spent time productively. I observed the ghost ship, and I sent a merchant caravan specifically to inspect the Flycraft of Order
We have made many observations on the process of mechanical flight and...
And behold ye the Dragomorts!
A line of five dots appeared in the sky, getting nearer and nearer. Soon, the onlookers were able to distinguish shapes of Svarts flying in what seemed to be giant upturned thimbles.
Goblets, sir, they're modeled after goblets
Yes, the Mark II Goblet has four Svartmagical engines and can easily carry a Svart in full battle load for miles. Each Dragomort is clad in light but strong armor, and he can crouch in the Goblet for additional protection
And the real beauty is in their armament
The Svarts, all shining steel and slightly crested helmets, each held a long tube in their hands that seemed to be connected to the tanks on their back.
The Silver Sigurd runelock is a thing of beauty, it is. It fires a mixture of mana provided by the backpack and Dragomort's contempt for the target, and believe you me, Dragomorts have a lot of that. The weapon is too cumbersome for ground troops, but once you're flying... well, see for yourself
The Dragomorts, still in the sky, aranged into a firing line and opened up on a row of simulated targets pumpkins on a stick. Each shot found purchase, splattering orange everywhere. King Lich idly wondered what would happen if they used goblins.
Then the flyers aranged themselves in a continuosly moving circle before moving to another target line. A Dragomort would fire every time his side of the circle turned at the target. Again, pumpkins were mercilessly slaughtered.
With His Majesty providing enough materials, we could make more and more of them. And if m'lord deigned to cast invisibily of them, we'd probably be unstoppable!
Master smith, this truly look admirable. Begin training as soon as possibe
If Wolves of Helia had known about Dragomorts, they would have requested their help as soon as possible. Dragons and their annoying habit of flying out of staff reach was annoying.
Alright, you prissy little elves. Disperse! You have shown yourself incapable of running a city here, so beat it!
The Exemplar strode to the top of the Hill and looked down on the Duke of Hell below.
You might be Duke of Hell, but I'm Count of Fist and Baron of Pain! Come meet your doom, you relic!
When the two titans crashed, ripples could be seen in lava pools leagues away.
Another Examplar pumped his fist in their direction.
Yes, brother! Show him who are the news lords of Ashwind Dale! For Krolm and King!
Then he resumed tearing apart a dragon den.
I feel like it's almost extortion, especially since everyone else is virtually bankrupt. If only they understood the fact...
Bah, you mages are pompous like that. If Mallacir had the least bit of sense, she'd be offering truce and honeying her words with thousands of barrels of mana
But apparently one Examplar that effortlessly destroyed forts, skeleton armies and weathered magical bombardments isn't enough of a threat for her
Old Trolls would have been happy to help the Exemplar, especially considering their current stuck situation.
Meanwhile, Cecinia had witnessed the most beautiful and heartbreaking thing of her life: the death of a rainbow dragon. His pearlescent scales twisted and cracked under the relentless assault of fire elementals, and his bright feathers turned to ash as he fell to the ground.
She could do nothing to help him, as she was far, far away. She tried to reach out with her healing powers, but it was in wane: they only spread out a certain, if small, distance around her.
Another trinket! Why must Krolm wex me so?
As the dragon wasn't kind enough to attack the Wolves (and get himself killed), they decided that the interests of Helia and King Lich VI would be best served by doing some exploration.
This included finding an Adamantium deposit that wasn't flanked by lava.
People of Toporsk, you will relocate to what I believe to be a slightly less dangerous place and mine Adamantium there! You have endured Ashwind Dale a lot longer than anyone could demand or would demand if they were sane
In all seriousness, your decision to settle in land of lava and demons mystifies us all
So, what did Krel do with that obscene amount of money we paid for the mana he didn't really need?
Too busy prancing around with yer king to read spy reports? He did what could be expected of him: bought new equipment for his troops as well as giving them higher ranks
That only means more expenditure for upkeep and wages!
Well, maybe he hopes to sell more mana to us. Or maybe he has high hopes for those rogues
Well, this is tempting, but I don't know if I can spare the mana right now...
The fight was rigged from the beginning: after all, every punch thrown by the Exemplar sapped some life from the Duke to heal the Svart warrior. Eventually, after many, many punches thrown, the Duke was bleading all over and his massive horns were broken.
The Duke saw where this was going and tried to slink away with his tail between his legs.
Unfortunately, his retreat took him straight in front of another Exemplar.
Meanwhile, the Exemplars to the east had just enacted vengeance on the last fire elemental implicated in the slaying of the rainbow dragon and were about to turn their attentions to the nearby Svart city.
It was also the time when Dragonmorts had their first trial in battle. Fighting a demonwood who had the stupid idea of attacking a city dedicated to Krolm (filled with barbarians who carried large and sharp pieces of metal) wasn't that hard, but they did. Bolts of mana and disdain cracked branches and burst wood, and the malevolent tree was down.
Well, this will be our artillery support, I guess
Back in Ashwind Dale, entire planes of lava imploded, leaving behind swathes of dark soil, which soon bloomed with gently swaying grass.
King Lich figured that troops would be happier crossing grassy plains than lava pools.
"Sky Ships of Arethi are more than just war machines - they are the sign of magical superiority of the elves and the manifestation of the High Truth."
- From the "Servants of truth" by High Keeper Teyaran the Rigorous
Cecinia stared incredulously at the elven ship, its engines warping reality and keeping the craft afloat. It took her a few seconds to remember her invisibility and she returned to the task of slinging magic at dragons.
I once read a book about not wasting heavily armored elements in one off attacks, but massing them for a decisive, mobile surprise attacks.
This would be easier without teleportation misfires
Hopefully, this will be enough for the invasion of Ainadra