The First Antinium War had raged for over four months after the initial assault and resistance of the Drake armies when the Antinium began to realize that the continent would not so easily be taken.
The Black Tide had swept across Issiysil much as they had done on Rhir, but unlike the Blighted Kingdom, the Drake and Gnoll species had no great enemy in the Demon King to fight against. And in the face of the Antinium’s invasion, in time the warring Gnoll Tribes and Drake cities put aside their longtime rivalries to unite against a common enemy.
The eventual alliance of cities and tribes that formed under General Sserys’ command took months to come together, all while the Antinium were conquering unchecked. Had the alliance come together at the start of the Antinium Wars, or even after a few months, the Antinium war machine might never have been allowed to grow as large as it did.
Sserys eventually managed to unify every standing Drake city and forge a tenuous agreement with the collective Gnoll Tribes—essentially a non-aggression pact that allowed the Drakes and Gnolls to focus solely on the Antinium. Thus, Sserys was named High General and given command of the entire war against the Antinium.
It must be said that despite his high level and strategic expertise, even Sserys and the best [Strategists] on the continent were hard-pressed to even slow the Antinium. The Queens reacted with such speed and decisiveness that catching their armies off-guard was difficult, and without issues of morale or lapses in communication, the Antinium possessed fewer weaknesses to exploit than conventional armies.
Yet, if the Black Tide was relentless, there were still bastions which even the endless numbers of Antinium Soldiers could not wear down.
The Gnoll Tribes, Walled Cities, and Sserys’s army were the indomitable pillars that could not be broken down however many times the Antinium attacked. But cities burned and floods of weary Drakes and Gnolls fled eastward, another target for the Antinium to exploit.
General Sserys could not abandon the civilians to roving Antinium war bands, and so the Drakes were forced to fight defensively. One small mercy seemed to be the limit to the number of armies the Antinium could field at once; with the few Queens in each Hive, they were unable to scatter their armies and perform the simultaneous lightning-strikes as had been so devastating in Rhir.
However, the Drake forces were clearly at a disadvantage, and meanwhile the Antinium were continually pushing north, towards the last bastion between Drake and Human lands – Liscor. Sserys was aware of this danger and directed ever more armies north to hold off the Antinium while he attempted to evacuate the lowlands, but his armies were slowly being fought back by the Black Tide.
Two events of note changed the balance of power during the First Antinium War. While [Strategists] and [Tacticians] have continually argued the implications of each engagement, from a historical perspective the Antinium were always winning. But the emergence of a second leader who would prove vital during the war and the famous Accord at Liscor both helped tip the scales back towards the defender’s side.
The city-state of Geir lay directly in the line of the Black Tide, but had thus far escaped any major conflicts with the Antinium. However, after one of Sserys’ armies suffered a major defeat, the Antinium suddenly advanced on the city, striking within hours of their last battle with the speed that had so dismayed Drake [Strategists].
The few [Scouts] monitoring the Antinium front reported seeing the Antinium swarming the walls, heedless of the defensive spells exacting a toll on their army. Like many other settlements, the defenders mobilized too slowly to push back the Antinium and their gates were dragged open within the first hour of fighting. After that, all visual reports ceased as the scouts were forced to retreat as more Antinium pushed the frontlines forward yet again.
Communications ceased as the Antinium armies continued onwards, and it was assumed the city was overwhelmed. However, two days after the attack, a lone Human Courier – Mihaela Godfrey – broke through Antinium lines from within and delivered a message to General Sserys. It came from a young Drake [Lieutenant] stationed within the city and reads as follows:
“To anyone who may read this,
My name is Zel Shivertail. I am a Level 15 [Lieutenant] in command of Geir’s remaining forces, as I believe all higher-ranking officers are now dead…
We have been attacked by a vast Antinium army which overwhelmed our walls. The attack happened with such suddenness that most of our warriors were lost within the first few moments. I managed to rally what few soldiers, guardsmen and civilians I could and retreated into the keep.
The Antinium broke through the stone walls, but the city was built on an ancient dungeon. We have barricaded ourselves within and the Workers have yet to tunnel through the enchantments…
They are relentless. With each hour more Soldiers attack our positions. We have set up killing corridors and are using what few [Mages] we have while our warriors rotate. Everyone, Drake and Gnoll and the few Humans with us are fighting.
I have sent our one Courier out, in hopes that she may reach someone who will bring word to General Sserys. Please tell him we are still alive, and not to send reinforcements. The enemy is too well-entrenched here. All of us know our lives are lost, but we will keep fighting and divert as many Antinium against us as possible.
We will hold this place so long as a single one of us draws breath. I beg only one thing of those who would follow: avenge us. Scourge our enemy from these walls and reap a hundred bodies for the fallen.
We are here. We will fight until our last.”
At first, many believed Shivertail’s message to be a trap set by the Antinium. But records indicated that Geir had indeed been built over a dungeon of considerable size and magical strength. That there were still survivors shocked those in command, and Sserys immediately began exploring options to support the beleaguered survivors of Geir.
Written recollections suggests that as many as three hundred assorted [Soldiers], [Guardsmen] and civilians with assorted classes escaped into the dungeon, due in no small way to Zel Shivertail’s quick thinking. The Soldiers prioritized fighting those with combat classes, allowing a large number of civilians to take cover during the attack.
Perhaps the Antinium believed that the survivors would be easy to rout, and indeed, they might have been were it not for the explosive leveling that occurred as the desperate people fought an increasingly deadly defensive battle against the Antinium Soldiers, who found themselves unable to advance down the narrow corridors which equalized the numerical superiority enjoyed by the Soldiers.
This, combined with the magically impenetrable walls, gave the survivors of Geir a fighting chance. Their situation was no less dire, but they were able to resist being overwhelmed on the first day, and the next. And as the fighting continued, a miracle occurred.
Forced to fight with their tails to the wall against impossible odds, the defenders of Geir leveled up almost daily and gained unusual classes such as [Stalwart], [Defender], and [Lineholder] among the warriors, and [Survivor], [Fighter], and [Protector] among the civilians. A few even gained rare classes like [Slaughterer], [Blood Berserker], and so on.
This explosive growth is widely known and accounted for by [Tacticians] of Drake, Human, and occasionally, Gnoll species when laying siege to well-fortified positions, but the Antinium were clearly unprepared for this eventuality. They hurled more and more of their Soldiers into the battle until eventually, the dead grew to be so numerous that the defenders were able to construct impromptu barricades out of the slaughtered Antinium.
For over a month, Zel Shivertail led his increasingly high-level defenders against the Antinium, until the day they managed to push out of the dungeons and retake the keep.
This had been the moment Sserys had been waiting for. He personally led a mounted group of elite soldiers to the rescue, driving a spear into Geir while two armies held back the Antinium long enough to retrieve the survivors.
The daring success of Sserys’s actions and the retrieval of over forty Drakes and Gnolls with levels over 30 was hailed as a heroic victory throughout the continent. As the leader of the defenders of Geir, Zel Shivertail was awarded multiple accolades, not least for his own achievement in the face of dire odds. From a Level 15 [Lieutenant], Shivertail grew to become a Level 39 [General] after his battles, one of the most incredible growths ever recorded in known history.
Shivertail was immediately given a command of his own; he assembled an army around the survivors of Geir and led his soldiers on to several notable victories, not least of which was the second defense of Shivering Falls and his retaking of Geir later on in the war.
His defensive abilities—born out of that deadly siege—allowed his army to fight off far larger forces than his own and even push back the Antinium at a number of key battles. Shivertail became hailed as ‘Tidebreaker’, in reference to the Black Tide’s failure to overwhelm his army time and time again.
More important than his prowess as a general was the fact that at last a group of people had survived one of the deadly Antinium assaults. Geir’s story became a rallying cry and brought new confidence and hope to the citizens desperate for any good news.
Sserys is known to have been especially heartened by this event, and began to rely on Shivertail as one of his most trusted generals. He wrote in one entry in his private diary:
“…talked with him at length. I still cannot believe young Shivertail managed to do what he did with so few numbers. But I have seen his willpower and daring on the battlefield and have every expectation that he will rise to the occasion as this damnable war goes on..
It has taken some doing, but at last I have commissioned some armor fit for him. Yet he refused my gift, claiming it would be better suited to someone of a lesser level. He has also forgone any magical weapons, as his Skills allow him to fight with his claws with far more efficiency than even experienced warriors.
I must confess, I admire his humility, but I cannot lose such a valuable young [General]. He is an icon among the soldiers, and he gives me hope we may win this war yet…”
Sserys’s cautious optimism would soon be rewarded, for the Antinium chose that moment to launch their most daring offensive yet. They diverted every active army not engaged north, towards Liscor, one of only two gateways to the northern Human territory, in hopes of cutting off any possibility of reinforcements and encircling Sserys’s forces.
This attack on General Sserys’ own home would normally have provoked an overwhelming response from the Liscorian Army and the General himself, but countless Antinium armies were sent to slow the massive force Sserys attempted to bring to his home city’s rescue.
Liscor found itself under attack by a huge Antinium army, but uniquely, did not immediately fall to the Antinium onslaught. Like the Walled Cities, Liscor possessed above-average magical defenses upon its walls which allowed it to repel the Antinium host countless times. Yet the Antinium filled the region around Liscor, with so many bodies present that it seemed as if the ground really was water to the hopeless Liscorian citizens.
Sserys, desperate to save Liscor, pushed ahead with his armies, fighting countless desperate battles to find himself at the southern entrance to Liscor. But there his progress halted. The Black Tide met him with overwhelming numbers and encircled his back, cutting off any hope of retreat. Suddenly, it was Sserys who was trapped as both his army and Liscor were surrounded by the Antinium forces.
No other Drake commanders were close enough to come to Sserys’ aid, and Zel Shivertail, commanding the bulk of the Drake forces, was fighting back a huge push from the Antinium front and could spare no armies to break the siege.
The Drake armies were forced back and cut off, and Liscor teetered on the verge of collapse as the Antinium continued their relentless siege. It would be no exaggeration to say that the fate of the Drakes hinged on retreating with Sserys’ army mostly intact. Without it, the Antinium would be able to completely overwhelm the stretched Drake armies already.
But the Antinium had no intention of allowing Sserys to retreat. They launched an all-out assault and Sserys made his stand against one of the mountains.
The hour was just past dawn, and the Drakes had endured yet another massive assault that had seen tens of thousands of Antinium Soldiers charging their defensive lines without regard to their own casualties.
Sserys was preparing to rally his troops for a final charge. He had been pushed back six times, but he considered his army’s only chance for survival was to push to the gates of Liscor. There they might be able to hold out long enough for Zel Shivertail to muster a force to come to their aid, but the Antinium had formed a literal wall of bodies that continually replenished itself.
As Sserys prepared to give the order, he heard a horn call in the air. He relates the moment in his personal diary:
“…and in the midst of my despair, I heard it. A battle horn, a call to arms. Not from my camp or the endless Antinium horde, but beyond, to the north. That is when I saw the Humans. They swept down the pass, an army as great as any that ever marched north against us. [Knights] and [Adventurers] riding on warhorses, ranks of [Soldiers], and countless mages raining fire and death on the Antinium from behind.
It was glorious. And in that moment, I saw a young woman at their head, raising a sword. And I knew this battle could be won, and ordered the charge. Not towards Liscor, but into the center of the Antinium army.
For Liscor I would die. But that was not this day. And we broke the Black Tide between us, Drakes, Gnolls, and Humans all striving together for glorious victory.”
The arrival of the Human forces at Liscor was a complete surprise to both Sserys and the Antinium Queens. The long history of enmity between the indigenous Drake and Gnoll populations and the Humans, beginning when the first Humans landed on the continent from Terraria, meant that even while they fought against the Antinium, the Drakes were more concerned that a Human army might attack their forces than that they might come to their aid.
Too, the fractious Human city-states to the north were just as divided as their Drake counterparts. Unless a Drake army was marching north, the Humans refused to work together. That such a massive army – of over a hundred and sixty thousand Humans – had arrived in Issiysil’s darkest hour can be accredited to one person: Lady Magnolia.
The young Reinhart had not spent the many months during which the Antinium Wars had raged silent. Although her initial warnings had fallen on deaf ears, the scion of the Reinhart house slowly gathered influence and support, seizing the power among her family in a swift and bloodless coup and using her power to force or persuade cities to lend arms towards a relief army.
The Antinium’s growing threat alarmed many prominent Humans, and with the full might of the Reinharts behind the effort, a Human army was formed and sent south just in time to break the siege of Liscor.
It is unclear how much the young Magnolia Reinhart invested into the war effort, but every Gold-rank and Named adventurer in the North was offered exorbitant sums to act as vanguards and special units, and elite warriors from each city were sent to fight with heavy investments of both supplies and arms, indicating that this was no token force. The Humans meant to throw the Antinium back into the sea, starting with Liscor.
The Human attack occurred under the guise of mass-concealment spells that nearly drained all the mages in the force. However, their surprise attack was so devastating that countless thousands of Antinium died in the first moment as the army dropped its enchantments and charged into their unguarded rear.
While Human and Drake tactics share many similarities, there is a marked difference in army composition. Humans heavily favor mounted assaults with armored cavalry as opposed to Drake armies which usually have small mounted regiments. Additionally, Human armies favor a mass-attack with mages before launching their first assault.
Thus, the Antinium found themselves hammered repeatedly by countless spells before the bewildered Workers and Soldiers observed a stream of heavy cavalry charging into them. At the same time, Sserys launched a devastating attack of his own, and the Antinium lines began to break as the army struggled to fight on both sides and hold off an attack from Liscor as the defenders began to sortie.
The siege of Liscor broke as the Black Tide found itself hammered from two fronts. The armies of General Sserys blockaded the southern exit while Lady Magnolia’s Human armies rampaged through the lines of the Antinium, blasting apart their ranks with magic to great effect while armored cavalry mounted continuous charges to break the advancing Soldiers.
Numerous Human [Lords] and lesser nobility were present at the battle leading their respective commands, but unusually, Lady Magnolia Reinhart was spotted on the field herself, inspiring troops from behind her house’s personal, elite, guard. While the Lady Reinhart did not participate in any of the fighting, her presence on the battlefield was a significant break with typical aristocratic behavior in the nobility.
The battle around Liscor raged for several more hours, but the balance of power inevitably shifted towards the Drakes and Humans. The Antinium retreated in chaos, leaving countless dead and both armies to celebrate.
Whatever initial misgivings the Drakes might have had about Human aid was set aside in the face of their timely arrival. Magnolia Reinhart was again instrumental in acting as a buffer between both forces and deciding on a course of action as both sides’ commanders debated how to press their advantage.
The end result of the battle for Liscor was a huge blow to the Antinium forces and a new ally in the form of the Human coalition army, which would go on to secure numerous victories against the Antinium. However, Lady Magnolia Reinhart would return north after the battle, having lost her taste for war in that first battle. This came as a relief to many of her personal aides and those affiliated with the Reinhart house, but also to General Sserys as well.
“I sought out the young lady Reinhart after the speeches and celebrations were finished. I wanted to thank her personally, but to my surprise, I found her wandering amidst the fallen. Many Humans gave their lives, and I saw her staring at their bodies for a long time among the Antinium.
I believe she wept, and vomited, although I only rejoined her later. All I know is that while she accorded me with every courtesy and behaved to the utmost standards of her Class, her face was pale and she seemed unsteady on her feet. I did not take much of her time, and spoke with her later, after she had recovered herself.
I must confess, while I take little pleasure in the discomfort of young Reinhart, I am relieved to see her thus. Had she half the cunning, bravery, and skill on the battlefield as she did in the realm of politics, I fear we would be soon be in greater danger from the Humans than the Antinium.”
Despite Sserys’s fears, Magnolia Reinhart was still instrumental during the rest of the Antinium War, if not as a warrior or commander, then as a diplomat. She convinced wavering allies to commit to aiding embattled armies and campaigned ceaselessly to maintain the pressure on the Antinium.
It seemed the war was won, or so the [Messengers] and [Runners] shouted from every rooftop. Both Drakes and Humans had allied, and even the Gnoll Tribes had sent a smaller force of their own to push the Antinium back. This coalition of forces – dubbed the Southern Alliance – joined together to push back the Antinium time and time again in resounding victories. The sieges on two more Walled Cities were broken, and the Antinium lines were pushed back until their Hives were in striking range.
However, this was not the end of the Antinium Wars, merely a lull in the fighting. The Queens had indeed withdrawn their forces, but not to retreat. Instead, they launched a second massive offensive as the three joint armies drew closer to their position, deploying their secret weapon in the war: the Prognugators.
Perhaps the so-called Prognugator class had not yet been ‘born’ in the Antinium Hives, or their movement to the front lines signified the desperation of the Antinium Queens. However, as the Drake, Human, and Gnoll forces approached the hive, they found themselves suddenly under attack by overwhelming Antinium numbers, acting in even greater and more deadly concert than before.
Suddenly, the Antinium armies were using advanced tactics and strategy not seen before during the war. While the Antinium had always employed basic strategies and formations, now they launched sneak attacks, flanked weak targets actively, and laid traps and feinted, much like any force led by a competent commander.
And yet, the Antinium had no visible commanders on the front lines, no observable [General] which archers or mages could aim for. It was only after a decisive battle in which an Antinium vanguard broke through Human lines and slaughtered the [General] in command did witnesses report seeing an Antinium who looked like a Worker, yet wielded swords and fought like a warrior with classes.
This was the first sighting of the elusive Prognugators, one of the sub-commanders of the Antinium. They appeared to be ordinary Workers or normal Antinium until they displayed their unique abilities on the field. These included strong fighting capabilities – at least on the level of a Silver-rank adventurer – and keen strategic insight. They would pretend to be ordinary Antinium while they secretly led the armies, only to reveal their true nature when in danger or at key moments.
Once Sserys and the Human commanders learned of these Prognugators, ever effort was made to hunt them down and destroy them. But despite several reported kills of the Prognugators, it seemed they were immortal.
In one battle, a spear-wielding Antinium would be slain by arrow, but only a week later he would reappear, fighting with the same vigor as before, completely unharmed. It was as if the Prognugators were endless, and the bewildered soldiers began to fear these immortal Antinium as unkillable nightmares.
However, the Prognugators could die. Reliable accounts, including one by Sserys himself, describe the [General] and others killing the Prognugators in single-combat, only to see them appear again, apparently weakened. While it was not clear from afar, Sserys reports that after he slew a Prognugator who fought with dual swords and daggers the first time in a close match, the Antinium was noticeably weaker the second time they dueled, and actively avoided Sserys in the third battle they met in.
It seemed that whatever claim to immortality the Prognugators had, it was not infinite. Repeated deaths led to a final ‘death’ as it were, and their ranks eventually thinned as they were repeatedly sought and destroyed.
Of the six Prognugators, only three apparently ‘survived’ the end of the war. Klbkch the Slayer, Wrymvr the Deathless, and the Small Queen Xrn were sighted after the First Antinium War and even during the Second Antinium War*. It is speculated that their repeated deaths or perhaps their failures to secure victories may have led to their demise at the hands of their Queens. Other theories include a limit to the number of times the Antinium are able to revive such individuals, but whatever the case, the eventual death of half of the Prognugators led to a far more cautious approach in their deployment.
*As of writing, Klbkch is the only Prognugator confirmed as still living – he resides with the sixth Antinium Hive in Liscor after the peace treaty following the end of the Second Antinium War.
And yet, the damage caused by the Antinium’s second advance brought even the combined Human, Gnoll and Drake forces to a standstill. The Antinium fought desperately to keep the armies from taking even one Hive, and eventually the true power of the Antinium began to tip the scales of balance back in their favor.
Antinium Soldiers, despite their weaknesses, were extremely efficient and impossible to break from low morale. Exhaustion did not seem to be a factor for the Antinium; some fought until they literally died of exhaustion, but the same could not be said of the non-Antinium forces.
Sheer exhaustion from continuous battles wore down the Drakes, Humans, and Gnolls, leading to repeated defeats as weary soldiers faltered under the ceaseless advance of the Black Tide. Suddenly, even the advantage enjoyed by the three races began to erode as more and more Antinium marched out of their Hives each week, a consequence of their high birth-rate.
The battle lines stabilized once again, but this time it was to the detriment of the Drakes. Sserys grew increasingly worried as more and more defeats occurred among his armies, writing in his journal the fears he refused to share with those under his command.
“Again, and again they come for us. Are they endless, or do these ‘Queens’ bear children so quickly that they can replenish their armies in weeks?
The Humans fight far more bravely than I would believe, but even with their army, we cannot keep fighting as we have. In a month—perhaps less—we will lose this war.
That is unacceptable. We must act decisively to end the war now or resign ourselves to death. It is time again to gamble with the fates and risk all or nothing. If need be, I will lead the charge myself into the heart of one of their Hives. If we must sacrifice an army to take the life of even one Queen, it may be worth it.”
Sserys’ proposal to launch a suicide attack was unanimously rejected by the war council, but it became clear that without some decisive action, the war would be lost.
Nine months after the beginning of the Antinium Wars, the true weakness, the crucial weakness of the Antinium was discovered by chance in an engagement with a patrol of Humans that found themselves ambushed by over fifty Antinium Soldiers and Workers.
The ambushed Humans quickly fell to the Soldiers, but one [Hydromancer] cast a [Rain] spell in desperation. She perished, but a relief force found that the area the patrol had been ambushed in – a natural valley – was filled with not only the corpses of the lost patrol, but all the Antinium. They had drowned attempting to climb the muddy embankment and sank beneath the waters.
This development largely went unnoticed until the [Strategist] assigned to the army reviewed the patrol’s report. She quickly sent a message to the highest-ranking mage in the army, and the experiment was duplicated on a larger scale the next day.
The results were immediately apparent and decisive, and it led to the Antinium army’s eventual complete defeat and the changing of the entire war. It was a simple discovery, yet vital, and it was this:
The Antinium cannot swim. They are unable to float, and despite being able to hold their breath for an extended duration, they perish of suffocation like any other species.
At first, General Sserys dismissed the reports coming from the Human army as impossible, an error in judgement. He and other Drakes had to see the Antinium drowning in person before they would believe.
In retrospect, the Antinium’s weakness appears obvious, but not so to those who had fought against the Antinium at the time. In Rhir, the Antinium had battled the Blighted King’s armies with little places that were located next to water, and their departure across the sea tricked the world into believing they were able to swim. What sane creature would travel across the oceans without the ability to even float?
Yet the truth remained: the Antinium could not swim. And with that discovery, their endless numbers suddenly became not only manageable, but a weakness.
The Drake and Human armies suddenly pulled back from their offensive charges and adopted a wholly defensive formation. They placed heavy groups of pikes and defensive soldiers towards the front, all to buy their [Mages] enough time to cast [Rain] and other weather-related spells to flood the battlefield. [Geomancers] and [Diggers] built floodwalls to contain the water, and formed natural valleys to drown the Antinium in.
This general strategy required constant adjustments as the Antinium armies actively tried to avoid just such a scenario, but the results were dramatic. Entire armies of the Antinium perished, and they found themselves unable to advance into certain areas for fear of being drowned out. The Drake armies even created artificial lakes to halt the Antinium’s progress in some areas.
While the Workers could drain the waters given time, the ability of the Drakes and Humans to set the battlefield forced the Antinium on the defensive. In the course of weeks, the Antinium had been pushed back all the way to their Hives by the attacking armies, and there, for the first time, the Queens were finally in direct danger.
Sserys led the first attack on an Antinium Hive. He recorded the battle in his diary:
“That first assault was the most harrowing experience I have ever gone through. Antinium filled the tunnels, fighting savagely in that confined space. The tunnel walls kept opening up around us as the Workers tunneled around to hit our flanks and rear, and they came at us without pause, desperate to defend the Queen that must surely lurk below.
…We cannot face them. No. I have pulled my forces back and ordered every mage in my army to cast as many water spells as possible. We will flood the monsters out.”
That was exactly what Sserys’s army did. For four days and four nights, the mages cast endless [Rain], [Downpour], and other related spells, flooding the Hive with water.
It is believed the Workers in the Hive labored desperately to drain the water into side-tunnels and other passages, but even their efforts eventually failed them. The Antinium launched constant attacks on the Drakes above, but by the end of the fourth day the water had reached the mouth of the Hive entrance, and after three more days of waiting, [Divers] were sent in. They found the Hives full of dead Antinium and the drowned Queen deep below.
One Hive had fallen, and the continent celebrated. Yet the cost of that battle did not go unnoticed or unwarned of. Mages specializing in water magic warned of the effect the spells would have on the weather, and Sserys himself banned this tactic except as a means of last resort.
“Dead gods, I have never seen such horror. The entire Hive is dead. We know that now. All within are drowned and rotting—over a hundred thousand Antinium, possibly twice or three times that number. All dead.
We burned the ground to ash, and then filled their tunnels with water. We made it rain until the world seemed as if it were naught but mud and rain. And the cost has taken its toll.
I remember this land. It was green and lush, but now the ground is a swamp of death and the sky is cloudless. The mages tell me that this magic has interfered with the weather. It will not rain here for decades. While it is a flooded place now, soon this will become an arid wasteland, fit only for the dead we have entombed.
Never again. Not if I can help it. This war has made me sick, and I am tired of it. Let us finish this once and for all if we must.”
True to the mage’s predictions, the site of the Antinium Hive has since become a dry desert, and both vegetation and wildlife have died out in a fifty mile radius around the place of the former Hive.
And yet, this victory over one Hive was not only decisive, but the first chapter in the final saga of the war. Emboldened by the destruction of one of the four Hives the Antinium had built, the Walled Cities and Human alliance decided to form a grand coalition army – dubbed the First Unified Army – to assault the main hive of the Antinium and end the war in one quick stroke.
Almost every commander and leader was in support of this plan, as every side had grown weary of this ongoing war. Sserys himself volunteered to command the army, and only a few dissidents opposed this strategy.
Among them was Zel Shivertail. The second-in-command argued that the Antinium were too dangerous to fight, even with their weakness exploited. But his voice was lost and overruled by Sserys himself, and the First Unified Army set out towards the Antinium Hive nearly one year after the Antinium Wars had started, one of the largest armies to ever march across Issiysil.
It was at this moment that the Antinium did something unprecedented. They attempted to sue for peace. Antinium [Workers] bearing white flags approached armies en-masse. While they were often cut to ribbons, many survived and the letters they bore were all identical. The Antinium Grand Queen – a position that was entirely new to the Drake and Human leadership – requested an immediate peace treaty between the Antinium and the rest of the continent.
These terms were unanimously refused by the leaders, who felt that they now had the upper hand. Rather than make peace with the Antinium, it was infinitely more preferable to destroy them all at once, and so Sserys’ army was given complete authority to dispose of the Antinium in any way they saw fit.
[Couriers] and [Mages] kept the army in almost constant contact with the other cities as the army approached the main Hive where it was believed the majority of the Queens and the Grand Queen of the Antinium resided. Only a few Antinium forces challenged the army, and they were quickly destroyed.
Sserys encircled the Hive with his army and made camp, assuring the cities that they would destroy the Hive on the next day. His forces settled in—
And were all gone by the next day.
It was an almost completely silent night, punctuated only by a few [Message] spells that seemed to have been cast by accident. But as the Drake and Human leaders waited for Sserys to report in as dawn broke the next day, they found that no mage in the army could be reached, and none of the [Couriers] sent the night before had returned.
Many spells have been attempted, witnesses interviewed, and even the Antinium have been questioned, but to this day, there exists no record, no evidence of what transpired during the night. No spells were cast, and no alarms were raised among the cities. But every member of the army, including non-combatants like [Cooks] and [Porters] disappeared without a trace, leaving behind neither bodies nor clues to what had happened.
Only one record remains of that night. General Sserys’s diary. The latest entries record the First unified Army settling in, Sserys’ proposed tactics for beginning the siege of the Hive, and a final entry.
“This is the hour of my death.
We have been attacked in the night. We were prepared, although not for the amount of Antinium that emerged. But our defenses were solid, and we fought them back and began the siege early.
The Antinium came at us, limitless numbers of Soldiers and Workers, but we destroyed them by the thousands.
We met them in the tunnels and pushed them back. Soldiers and Workers both emerged…we melted them, blasted them apart…we were winning. I believe it was just past midnight when the Antinium pulled back and we believed they were making a final stand.
They arrived as we were pushing towards the central hive. Our night scouts reported sounds and then—silence. Slowly, all the camps around my headquarters stop reporting in, even forces with tens of thousands of soldiers. But even as I sent [Runners] and mage spells demanding reports, I received only silence. No one returned.
Something is moving in the tunnels. Something is underneath us. They are waiting, systematically destroying my army in the cover of the night. Already they are attacking the edges of the camp.
I do not know what kind of enemy we are facing. I only know that they are Antinium, but of no kind we have witnessed before. They are some new breed of Antinium, some secret weapon of the Queens.
Thus far we have not recovered any bodies intact for me to describe. To destroy these new varieties of Antinium, our soldiers and mages have had to dismember them. They do not stop.
Zel must be told. There are more Antinium types than just Soldiers and Workers. We cannot defeat them. I hear my warriors fighting and dying. We will make a stand here, but I know that I will not live to see the dawn.
I regret leading these good soldiers to their deaths. I only hope that we will do enough damage that the Antinium will continue to sue for peace.
…I am tired. I can hear them coming for me.
Alas, this is the place where I part ways. If I could go home once more—but no. Goodbye. Let my death have meaning. I will die as I lived: a soldier.
‘Oh sunfilled skies, let me ride again on the fields of battle in another life. To Liscor, and the world, fight on. May we one day know peace.’
—Sserys of Liscor
High General Sserys’ journal and his corpse were both found in the remains of the First Unified Army’s encampment twenty four days later. After the initial loss of contact, the allied city-states waited with increasing concern until, seven days later, it became clear that the Unified Army had been destroyed, and no survivors remained to bear word of their defeat.
After the city-states accepted the fact that Sserys and his army had been lost, they immediately began organizing a second, even larger army to investigate the site of his demise. This second army, entrusted to Zel Shivertail, was given explicit instructions not to attack the Hive, but only to gather information and immediately retreat. Constant, 24-hour contact was maintained between the army and the city-states as they approached the seemingly inactive Hive.
The Second Unified Army found the encampment of the first mainly intact; no damage was reported to either the fortifications or even the tents established. Indeed, even high-level [Scouts] could only detect faint signs of violence and tracks leading into the Grand Hive.
No soldiers of the First Unified Army were found besides High General Sserys; speculation abounds to this day as to their fate, but it is most likely the soldiers were first killed then processed as supplies within the Antinium Hives.
Only General Sserys’ corpse remained, lying in his command tent, fully armored, sword still grasped in his hand. The [General] had died fighting, with traces of Antinium blood upon his sword. His cause of death was a single strike to his heart which tore through both enchanted armor and bone to reach it.
The Second Unified Army collected Sserys’ corpse and his diary and immediately retreated. The city-states argued and debated what to do in the face of this new information and mysterious new breed of the Antinium. It was feared a third offensive would drag this war out even further, but it never came to that.
To the great surprise of all, the Grand Queen of the Antinium still sued for peace despite the massive losses suffered by the Southern Alliance. [Strategists] speculate that this was a pragmatic move; although the Antinium may have destroyed the First Unified Army, the Second would doubtless cost more lives and resources, and leave the Antinium prey to another attack if the Human Coalition entered into a combined assault.
Whatever the case may be, the First Antinium Wars ended with a signed accord by the Walled Cities, the Grand Queen of the Antinium, and the Human coalition led by Magnolia Reinhart. Further hostilities would be limited to a few instances of adventurers straying too near to the Antinium Hives until the famous Goblin King’s rampage coincided with the assault on Liscor and the surrounding area by the Necromancer Az’Kerash—
(At this point, Ryoka Griffin stopped reading. She left this book behind to journey to the High Passes, and has since not reopened it.)