That dark shadow that had stretched out like a flock of birds below the storms, drew ever closer to the tower. It broke apart at about a mile from the fortress, and began to ooze around the fortress to surround it on all sides. The soldiers of the tower could make out shapes in the shadows moving this way and that, but they weren’t sure if their eyes played tricks on them or not.
Once the tower was completely surrounded on all sides, and the storm had settled over the surrounding land, did the shadows finally disperse and reveal the true might and awesome power they were up against.
Row upon row of soldiers lined up in groups of 100, each one standing in an attack stance, waiting for the signal. Behind them were more than 5,000 archers, their bows cocked and their arrows at the ready. Behind them were siege towers, catapults, trebuchets, and even several battering rams. They had indeed been set on taking this place.
These were not mindless brutes or greedy, bloodthirsty creatures. No, they had been bred for war like Tristan had said before. Every so often a human officer or a demonic beast led a section of the army, barking off orders to its troops. Roars, growls, thunderous pounding, and demonic screams rose up from the great seething mass before the stone walls of the fortress. Many of the men cried out in terror and fled their posts. Others stood their ground, brought the others back to their posts, or quietly prayed to Eschua for strength and mercy.
Kurznak stood on a lowered platform of one of the siege towers for all his troops to see. He bellowed and roared in all directions. The cacophony of the army stopped suddenly; all was deadly quiet. The soldiers on the parapets stared at them in horror and amazement at the sheer size.
Lord Malak’s troops stood waiting for the command. They were restless, as was in their nature, but they had been trained well. This was their chance to prove to the “Master” that were willful followers, obedient to the cause and his dark will.
General Kurznak surveyed the battleground as Strax hobbled up the last flight of steps to the platform that the general had claimed as his personal command post. “The troops are ready, general,” he huffed and hissed out the words, “all, is ready.”
General Kurznak did not turn around to face him but instead looked over his shoulder, nodding in approval before looking back at the mighty fortress. He admired the craftsmanship and power that radiated from the very stones of the tower. “It will be a hard won fight for this place, but with the Dark Lord, and Lord Malak’s command, nothing will stop us.” His toothy grin was not lost on the shaman, and he smiled through his yellow fangs as well.
“Yes general, it will indeed,” he stepped closer to the edge so as to see better around the general.
“It is time to show the Free Races that this world is no longer theirs. It is time for them to live in shadow.” With that General Kurznak raised his hand for a second, before flinging it into a forward motion. The signal was sent out to all sides of the fortress. The trebuchets launched their first barrage.
Feyraven’s soldiers watched in horror as they saw what was flying in their direction. It was the mangled bodies and parts of the many villagers and farmers who were slain along the way to the fortress from the wastelands. Heads rolled across the ground, who bodies bounced around like rag dolls, and the many parts gave off a stench that caused most soldiers to panic and grow sick. Fear swept across many of their faces as another wave rained down over the walls and inner courtyard.
Men ran around screaming, covering their eyes, and ears. Images of the faces that looked up at them, pleading for help from their corpses broke down the spirit of the fortress.
Then the fire came…
Connor looked over at Lord Orin and Brother Thomas, “Thank you for letting us join you in the festivities. It feels good to laugh and smile after what we have been hearing about in the cities.” He lowered his voice and his expression turned to worry.
Agnes patted him on the back, “Connor we don’t know yet if all reports are true, some or most of the news may only be gossip.”
Berwyn leaned forward after taking another sip of the wine, “What news do you speak of? We haven’t heard much in Dushuan or Aldcross.”
Connor looked around for a moment and then leaned forward, “Well, in order to hear the truth of what is going on across Anoria its best listen to the gossip of merchants. They are the ones who are always traveling always seeking the latest information.”
Agnes set his glass down, “Yes that is true, just yesterday in Aldcross I overheard a merchant from Mudhaven talking to a local merchant. It seems that there have been reports in the bogs of large amounts of goblins and orcs gathering forces.” He pulled off his low brimmed sandy colored hat and scratched the back of his head for a moment. We he found the spot he was looking forward he continued, “It also seems that there was gossip running around about a fortress appearing in the Mosshaven Ruins, and that the goblins and orcs were there training and forming an army.”
Berwyn and Lord Orin looked at each other with concern. They had a heard the latest reports from the gnomes to the north in Geldwheel of the same thing. Whispers of Shadowlords appearing around Anoria and gathering up the goblins, orcs, and other fiends into armies were also turning up. Lord Orin fold his hands together as he set his elbows on the table, “Agnes have you heard of anything about ‘Shadowlords’, in your travels by chance?”
That question raised an eyebrow on both of the merchants they thought it over for a moment or two before Connor’s face lit up. “Yes, I have heard of these’ Shadowlords’ from various people in the pubs.” He stopped for a moment and thought back over what he heard. From what I have gathered there is one in the Mud Bogs, I assume he built the fortress in the ruins. Supposedly there are a few some where in the south and a few to the east.” His features saddened and even seemed a bit fearful. He leaned closer to the table, “They say that the Shadowlords are in the service of the Dark Lord…”
Halfgrim gagged on his drink and spit a bit out onto the table, “…the Dark Lord? What rubbish is that? He was defeated in the Great Cataclysm ages ago by the Eschrehim I thought.” He turned to Brother Thomas who, he noted, seemed to be deep in thought and gave no hint to whether or not the dwarf was right.
The priest listened intently to the merchants for he knew all of this but he wasn’t sure what the public knew yet. A scroll had come in from Nemalia addressing all of these rumors and for the most part they were all fact. He looked over to Lord Orin who was also watching the priest and waiting for his take on the subject. “For the most part, “he paused a moment and looked around. Most of the patrons had gone to be for the night or were engrossed in their own conversations. “For the most part, the rumors are true. Just believing for Abydos I had received a scroll reporting on the happenings of Anoria. I didn’t say anything yet because I wanted to confirm what the people knew before I divulged the information I have.”
Lord Orin nodded that he understood and Berwyn sat back and crossed his arms, listening intently. Halfgrim continued to nurse his drink and occasionally look around the room. He didn’t like that the priest didn’t say yes or no to the Dark Lord being dead. That struck a cord deep in his soul for the last time the Dark Lord was around, he had taken 100s of dwarves and Halflings and twisted them into goblins and other creatures. He ate at him of the possibility of that demon prince still being around.
Brother Thomas took note of Halfgrim’s demeanor and sadness swept over him for he knew what his people had gone through. He turned back to the others and thought for a moment of how to tell what he knew. “Well, I guess the best place to start is with the rumors of the goblins and orcs amassing in large bands or even small armies. From what the Priests of Light have gathered is that where ever a Shadowlord has appeared so has a fortress and an army. The Shadowlords are indeed in the service of the Dark Lord,” he turned toward Halfgrim who looked up, “although he was defeated in the Great Cataclysm, he was not destroyed only sent to the Realm of Darkness with most of his minions.” He laid a hand on the dwarf’s shoulder, “I am sorry friend that you had to hear it, but you must know the truth. He had indeed been wounded but the sacrifice the acolytes made bringing about the Great Exile is what saved him.” Not a sound had been made around the table, and, the priest noted, not around the room either. Some folks had moved to a closer table while others stayed where they were at, but otherwise all eyes were turned toward him.
Halfgrim looked up at the priest, “It is alright Thomas, and I always had a tugging in my heart that deep down he was still around. I felt him in the shadows and in the darkness of this world that we have faced in years passed. I just couldn’t come to grips with it, I guess.” He looked away for a moment; the realization that the Dark Lord was bringing more pain to this world was almost too much to bear. He looked around at his friends, both new and old, the Dark Lord had taken so much from his people in the past but what will he do now?
What are his plans for this world, and will the Almighty save us once more with his Eschrehim?
Will the angelic warriors return once more?
He knew not a single answer to any of those questions, but he knew he would face what ever is to come with his friends by his side and him by their sides. “I am ok, but I wonder if you could tell us anything more about these Shadowlords that the Dark Lord has raised up? What is different about these Shadowlords compared to his minions in years past?”
Agnes and Connor had heard various rumors but they leaned in closer all the same. A few of the patrons that remained all came up and pulled out chairs to sit on around the group. They all looked at Lord Orin first for permission and he nodded his consent, “It is ok folks, come on in and listen up. What we are talking about concerns all of Anoria, and if you have heard anything new or otherwise that is about what we are talking about feel free to speak up.” He waited for everyone to settle before turning back to Brother Thomas, “Go ahead Thomas, they all have a right to know the truth. It is time for the veil to be pulled away and the best way to start is right here, right now.” He leaned over towards his friend and put a hand on his shoulder as he spoke.
Brother Thomas looked around the room at everyone in turn before coming back to gaze into Lord Orin’s eyes. He saw a great sadness there, but also, in the background, he saw strength and willingness. He knew that Orin would not turn back for his home, no matter the circumstances. “Alright then, let me see…you asked about the Shadowlords, right Halfgrim?” The dwarf nodded his head in response. “Well, there are at least 5 Shadowlords that the Priesthood has been able to discover. Their exact whereabouts are unknown just the general region we have been able to gather so far. To the north in the Mud Bogs there is at least one, and your reports of there being one in the Mudhaven Ruins confirms that. There are rumors of one somewhere to the east near the plateau, but we have nothing confirmed yet.” He stopped for a moment to take another sip of the wine; the power of the drink washed over him and he was able to gather his thoughts more clearly now. “There is one; we have no doubt, in the Wastelands for that is where the bulk of the Dark Lord’s creatures now reside.”
Halfgrim thought it over for a moment of where the Shadowlords are appearing and what pattern they might contain. So far though, there was not enough information to determine what it was they were planning.
“We also have learned that a large number of ice trolls and frost giants are gathering in the Frozen Straits. So we are guessing there is one there too, but we don’t have enough information yet so priests and warriors are being sent out to each area to check on the whereabouts of these Shadowlords. There is also one in league with the black dragon, Eesakar. We assume that they have rebuilt the golem city to their needs for a base of operations.”
Berwyn couldn’t believe what he was hearing; he had known of only one or two but so far Brother Thomas had mentioned 5 Shadowlords. They all had armies of goblins, orcs, trolls, and other denizens, and they all had fortresses. It sounded like they were preparing for an all out war on Anoria, but those dim-witted goblins and orcs could never be organized for something of that magnitude. “Brother Thomas, its sounds like they are scattered throughout Anoria, isolated from one another. If that is true, then they couldn’t really be a true threat could they? I mean they don’t have allies nearby to bale them out.” A confused look came across his face as he spoke those last words as he tried to get a grip on what he had said.
Brother Thomas turned to him as the other patrons in the tavern all began to murmur, “It is true that they are far apart from each other, but make no mistake each Shadowlord has raised up an army of enormous numbers. Orcs, goblins, trolls, and giants are just to name a few, but there are also hobgoblins, bugbears, humans, dragons, and other fiends. They are all…” He stopped as Halfgrim interrupted him.
“Forgive me for interrupting you, Thomas, but did you say humans? How could there possible be humans in their ranks? No one would ever want to be allied with those creatures.” He chuckled at the preposterous idea, but quickly stopped laughing when he saw Orin’s face.
Lord Orin looked upon Halfgrim with sadness in his eyes, “It is indeed true my Dwarven friend. I have heard of the reports myself; there are indeed humans among them. Many of the Shadowlords are humans or an abomination of human and something else.” He lowered head as he finished for he knew that one of their very own people had left Helmcross and joined the Shadowlord in the north.
Brother Thomas listened to Orin speak before he continued, “Yes many of the humans…”
At that moment a gangly fellow in a uniform came waltzing into the room, “Sorry to interrupt the conversation everyone, but we have come into view of Abydos and will be landing within the next hour. The captain asks that everyone return to their rooms now and gather their things for departure.” He bowed, and waltzed briskly back out of the room.
“Well that is a fine how do you do, now isn’t it?” Halfgrim growled as he took another swig of the wine and his frustration melted away. “You got any more of this stuff, Theos old buddy?” A big grin spread from ear to ear in anticipation.
“Sorry my friend that was the last bottle and it was saved for your friend.” The bartender shrugged as he sipped on the last bit of his own glass. He licked his lips and then stood up, “Well gentlemen, I guess this is farewell, I bid you all a fond fair well, and I pray to the Almighty that you find what you are looking for.” He bowed in turn to everyone as they all stood up and raised their glasses to their new friend.
They all took one last swig of their wine and then slammed the glasses down on the table in unison. Orin’s group took turns shaking the merchants’ hands and then the bartender’s hand before Theos grabbed up all the mugs and glasses and hurried off to the bar.
Agnes turned back to Orin after watching Theos leave, “Well Lord Orin if you and your friends aren’t in a hurry we would like to buy you a drink before you leave Abydos, will you be there long?” He picked up his coat from one of the pegs on the far wall and swung it around his back and onto his shoulders.
Lord Orin looked to Brother Thomas for the answer; he figured the priest knew better than he did on the subject. Brother Thomas nodded and then turned to the merchants, “I don’t see why not, we have some business at the university and then we will be leaving after that,” He shrugged as he thought about it, “So I am guessing no more than a day or two, we hope.” Thomas wrapped himself up in his cloak and leaned onto his staff as he began to walk toward the door.
Agnes and Connor grabbed their things and followed the others into the hallway that led down to their rooms. Connor and Agnes whispered about business for a moment or two before Connor thought of something and hurried up to the group of adventurers. He cleared his throat so as not to startle them and they all stopped and turned around, “I almost forgot to ask you guys, where are you staying while in Abydos? So we can buy you that drink we promised?”
They all looked to Brother Thomas who by now had his hood over his head again. Brother Thomas reluctantly took it back down and then looked to Connor, “I suppose the Blind Gryphon Hall in the Northern District on the first level. It is closest to the university where we have business.” He nodded and began to put his hood back on but Connor caught him off guard.
“Which hall? The east one or the west one?”
Brother Thomas didn’t know there were two of them now, he knew it had been a few years but he didn’t realize it had been that long since he had last been to Abydos. “What do you mean east or west? Did they build a second one?”
Connor smiled, “It has been a while since you have been to Abydos I take it. In both the southern and the northern districts there are at least two taverns and inns.” He crossed his arms and grinned at Agnes, “Recent times have made Abydos a very busy and wealthy city. It is so busy now that the first level has 8 taverns and inns, and there are several more on the top level as well.”
Not completely surprised by its prosperity since it is a major seaport and merchant hub, Thomas slid the hood back over his head. He began to turn before he answered, “We will be in the Blind Gryphon East if there is room; otherwise you get the idea.” He smiled and bowed before continuing on to his room. Agnes and Connor bowed and turned down another hall and headed for their room as well.
“It will be good to get back on solid ground, even if it is only for a while. I am not looking forward to our next voyage whether it is on the sea, land, or in the air. Give me a horse and I could go for a month trekking across the land.” He shook his head as he approached his cabin door.
Berwyn chuckled at his brother’s meager problem, “You, brother, are hopeless. A man who towers over most and reigns over all the Northern Reach, and yet a ship ride can bring you to your knees.
A fist the size of a melon whipped around and knocked Berwyn into the opposite wall. Lord Orin walked over to his brother who slumped on the floor rubbing his jaw and smiling. He leaned over and glared at him, “I am not weak, I am just not used to ships, be it at sea or in the air. Got it, Brother?” His fists were clenched tightly together as he waited for a reply.
Berwyn put up his hands in defense as he laughed, “Alright Orin, alright; you never could take a joke could you? I am sorry; now help your poor brother up, will you?” He raised a hand out for help as he stumbled to get up.
Lord Orin began to laugh himself as he reached down, grabbing his brother’s hand, and jerked him up to his feet. “Poor brother indeed, you should show better respect for your family heritage.” He gave out a great howl that had a few people up and down the hall peaking out their doors.
With that they headed to their rooms and started packing their things up. An hour later they all met up on deck above the forecastle. From there they could see all of Abydos and what a site to behold.