(This book, The Second Antinium Wars, a History, was widely sold across Izril in the years after the Second Antinium War ended. It has been widely criticized and subsequent editions included the Introduction section as well as substantive revisions to the text. The accuracy of the following narrative is not guaranteed.)
The tale of the Second Antinium War may not need writing in this moment. The scars of that great conflict still loom large in the public consciousness, and history may yet reveal details that shed new light on the events during and preceding the war. It is also true that history requires the removal of years to be viewed in an objective light.
However, I, Krsysl Wordsmith, do not wish to wait for the dust to have metaphorically settled. I began writing this book six months after the Second Antinium Wars had ended. I consider this historical narrative a first step towards a full record of the war as a whole. No other history has been written as of yet and one must be made now, before the details of the conflict fade from living memory.
Does it have inaccuracies? Yes! Bias? Perhaps! But my word stands on its own and I will be remembered by history as the first [Writer] willing to collate the scattered viewpoints and accounts of the war into a single, understandable story that future generations can use!
I will not bow to lesser writers or indignant critics who decry my work! I have worked tirelessly in creating a truthful account that is only colored by my love of people and continent. Regardless of the slanderous attacks on my reputation, I can assure you good readers that the following narrative is as true to fact as any history written. I remain humbly and accurately,
The Second Antinium Wars –
Our tale, dear readers, begins, as it always must, with the species that has become the bane of the civilized world, the nightmare that haunts Izril to this day. The Antinium. Once a distant threat, a mysterious bogeyman race in Rhir used to frighten hatchlings at night. No longer. The previous Antinium War of only eight years ago had seen the upset of power in Izril and the dramatic emergence of a new national power in the appearance of the Antinium.
Their six Hives and foothold in southern Izril remained a threat to all Drakes, Gnolls, and Humans on the continent. Only the hard-won peace kept any sort of balance between the races, and tensions between Antinium and Drakes remained at a boiling point as both sides prepared for what would surely be a second conflict.
Drakes do not forgive. And the Antinium had demonstrated their ceaseless appetite to anyone with eyes. The peace they had agreed to was only a reprieve. Now the world waited with bated breath for one side to loose the opening shot.
The year is 3 A.F. and Izril remains tentatively at peace. The Drake cities, humbled by the Antinium, have rebuilt and strengthened their garrisons. Meanwhile, the Humans to the north have waxed arrogant, untroubled in large part from the last war. Those pompous, tailless fools neglected to watch their borders, which is how the Second Antinium War grew into the mess it did. But I suppose not all the blame can be assigned to Humans. Some must rest on the Drakes who began the war as a whole. But I get ahead of myself. Some background is essential first.
Before the Second Antinium War began, the world as a whole was not at peace. It never is. And while recording the machinations of each individual nation would interfere with the narrative, it is important to note several events in the world which would directly impact the Second Antinium War in the future.
To begin with, of the five continents in the world, only Izril and Chandrar could be considered calm by any stretch of the word. Chandrar was still recovering from the collapse of the King of Destruction’s empire and nations were rebuilding. Or in the case of the emerging Empire of Sands, slowly growing their borders and absorbing smaller nations. However, such conflicts were small and thus Chandrar could be considered peaceful.
Similarly, Izril was at peace, although it was hard-won. The six Antinium Hives and the foothills in their proximity were designated as forbidden zones. The Drake cities sent regular patrols near the borders of the Hives, but for a few incidents where Drakes patrols crossed over the lines and disappeared there was no military action. Any Antinium found crossing the border were swiftly executed and while each incident raised tensions, no wider breach of the peace treaties had yet to occur in the eight years since. The continent was peaceful, even if that peace was a façade.
As for Rhir, conflict is a way of life in that continent, and the Blighted King’s forces occupied themselves battling the Demons as usual. No, it was Terandria and Baleros where momentous events were occurring.
In Terandria, the Necromancer had appeared once again. This elusive specter of death, the infamous outcast of Wistram, the fallen Archmage, had plagued the continent for over a century, leading armies of death against the living. He would destroy and despoil kingdoms, his undead armies beaten back only after much effort and then disappear before he could be slain, returning after years or sometimes decades. Each time stronger.
Now he had returned leading a massive army against the port-Kingdom of Desonis. He quickly overwhelmed the kingdom’s army but did not approach the capital. Rather, he seized a local port and vanished.
Speculation would run rife about the Necromancer’s whereabouts, and Wistram, fearing an attack, would prepare for a conflict with the Necromancer’s army. However, incredibly, news of the Necromancer was only a backdrop to the larger event occurring in Baleros. And that was the emergence of the Goblin King.
The Goblin King. To preface speaking about him, I will note the facts that have been observed about such individuals, few though they may be. Goblin Kings emerge every few centuries at most and each time herald destruction and death without fail. They appear to be a naturally occurring phenomenon, a rare individual born out of the Goblin population that has immeasurable talent, much like Goblin Chieftains and Goblin Lords.
However, while those lesser leaders of Goblins can lead small armies and be reasoned with, Goblin Kings are different. Each one is incredibly difficult to kill and lays waste to every civilization they encounter. They lead massive armies formed from Goblins that emerge from every part of the world and flock to the Goblin King’s banner.
Only the combined efforts of nations can stop Goblin Kings, which is why almost every nation in the world has signed a treaty which requires their aid in destroying a Goblin King, should one appear. Such is their threat that Goblin Lords are actively hunted down to prevent them from becoming Goblin Kings.
The race of Goblins itself is a threat, but one widely accepted as a reoccurring nuisance given the perceived impossibility of eradicating their kind permanently. Yet efforts have been historically made to coexist in peace with their kind. This humble writer trusts that the rise of the last Goblin King, known as Velan the Kind, will prove how futile that endeavor is.
In the year of 14 A.F, the Goblin Lord known as Velan the Kind had existed in a peaceful and even harmonious relationship with the nations of Baleros. While his autonomous tribe of Goblins was not recognized as a formal power by most nations in the world his company of Goblins was regarded as one of the strongest on the continent. It was rumored to be the fifth Great Company of Baleros and Velan’s own commitment to peace and trade had earned him the grudging respect of other species. It was hoped his example could be spread to Goblins worldwide, putting an end to Goblin raids and their threat as a species.
Unfortunately, in the waning months of spring, Velan the Kind fulfilled an unknown criteria and ascended or otherwise transformed into a Goblin King. Not much is known about the actual event—only that shortly afterwards Velan the Kind appeared with his entire tribe in the Balerosian city of Zexil and razed it in a single day. In doing so Velan broke eighteen separate treaties of nonaggression.
His army destroyed the city utterly and left no survivors. He then proceeded to execute every messenger sent to him and began razing city after city, his army growing with every battle. His only message to the confused leaders of Baleros was a single word, conveyed by a half-dead Courier.
Thus began the war with the Goblin King, as every company on the continent agreed to a truce to deal with Velan’s threat. However, the Goblin King was joined by many Goblin Lords and their tribes, creating an unassailable force. He seized and leveled the port cities on the eastern side of Baleros and proceeded to construct thousands of ships. He sailed from the continent in the beginning of summer, leaving only destruction in his wake.
That is the setting of the conflict, dear reader. Both the Goblin King and Necromancer occupied the public consciousness at the time. Yet it was the Clash on the Jessal Highlands that would begin things in earnest.
Five days after the start of summer, a Drake army marched past the Antinium’s border and laid siege to one of their Hives, catching them by surprise. The army had been formed by three of the Walled Cities and a number of lesser city-states for the sole purpose of exterminating the Antinium once and for all.
On that warm, humid summer’s day, the Antinium must have been desperate as a mighty Drake army appeared and proceeded to lay waste to one of their Hives, exterminating the Workers and Soldiers and using the rain-based tactics to flood the tunnels of the Hive.
And perhaps they might have succeeded in removing the Hive! I urge you to imagine it, dear readers. If they had succeeded in this first punitive strike then history might recall this as the day the Antinium downfall began. Alas, it was not to be.
“Wow. I thought this was supposed to be a happy story. Hey Klbkch, didn’t you say you were reading an appropriate bedtime story?”
Everyone looked up. The Antinium sitting in the barracks of the Painted Soldiers all stared at Erin as she crunched down on some popcorn. Klbkch, who had been chosen to read the book out loud, clicked his mandibles together gently.
“I was under the impression that this ‘bedtime story time’ event was to be undertaken without commentary, Erin.”
He looked around the room at the rows of silent Workers and Soldiers. They sat on the floor, each one cocooned in layers of blankets and pillows. Most of the Antinium had mugs of hot milk and honey in their hands, or bowls of popcorn. Some had roast bees, others fish congee—Erin had outdone herself in preparing for tonight. She had received special permission to come into the Hive itself and participate in the bedtime event.
She just hadn’t realized that this was the story Klbkch would choose to read out loud. Erin blamed herself. She should have offered to tell everyone the story of Winnie the Pooh, or Alice in Wonderland. Instead, they were reading about the history of a war.
“I’m just saying that it’s dark, Klbkch! Really dark!”
“I can request more light if you want.”
Pawn turned to Erin, solicitously offering her one of the lanterns scattered around the room. They gave the large barracks a comfortable glow. She sighed.
“Never mind. But are you all really enjoying yourselves?”
She looked around. Belgrade, Anand, Garry, Pawn, and Bird all nodded happily. Bird was playing with his pillow, pulling out feathers and identifying them under his breath.
“Goose. Goose. Goose. Oh. A duck’s feather. I am very content.”
“So are we. I feel warm and comfortable. It is a unique experience to have while resting.”
Anand nodded. He was swaddled in a blanket and crunching on some buttery popcorn. Erin turned to her right.
“How about you?”
She addressed a huge Soldier who was nearly engulfed by three blankets and six pillows. The Soldier’s head poked out of his cocoon of blankets, staring at Erin. It was horrifyingly cute or just…horrifying if you couldn’t see past their exoskeletons. Still, Erin thought the Soldier looked comfortable. He was certainly clutching his pillow tightly with all four arms. She smiled at him.
“Aw, okay. You’re good. But I still think this is really violent stuff!”
“Wars usually are. But as I was reading—this writer has a very objectionable description of our species. I was present at the battle and I do not believe the Antinium ‘trembled like the insects we are’ or ‘barely mounted an effective counterattack’. As I recall, myself and Xrn were the only two Prognugators close enough to respond. We marched on the attacking Drake army and found them dug into the area. They had created a kill zone with [Mages] and [Archers] and a wall of [Spearmen]. We could only assault them head on, which is what they desired. It was…unpleasant.”
“You were there, Revalantor Klbkch? Will you tell us the story from your perspective?”
Belgrade sat up eagerly, holding a warm mug of milk. Klbkch hesitated.
“There is not much to say. We charged. They held. We charged again. Still they held. And then we charged a third time and they broke. That was all there was to it.”
Klbkch shrugged awkwardly, almost embarrassed by the question. Belgrade looked disappointed.
“Surely there must have been more to it than that. The Drakes were ready for you, were they not? It seems incredible that they would be defeated so easily.”
His observation made Klbkch look down at the book. He casually reached down and tore out a page and crumpled it up into a fist.
“‘Cowardly attack? A victory of deceptions?’ This book is more inaccurate than I had assumed. No. That is not how we won. Yes, they were ready. Very well, I will relate the story as best I can. The Drakes had provoked our armies into attacking them by striking at our Hive. They had lured us into a trap with no good solution.”
Klbkch’s mandibles clicked together and he shook his head as he stared into the distance. His Antinium audience watched him, spellbound.
“Either we attempted to overwhelm their positions, which was not a given even if we threw all available forces into the battle—or we lost one of our remaining Queens. Naturally, we chose to fight. But the casualties were high. With every wave we sent in, Soldiers were cut down by the thousands by magic and arrow, unable to penetrate the Drake lines.”
He paused, and his mandibles lowered as his voice grew low. Every Soldier and Worker leaned forwards, hanging on his words.
“Xrn and I were desperate, waiting for reinforcements that were too far away, knowing the Queen’s chamber was being flooded, that we had less than an hour before her demise at best. At that moment, I—”
“Popcorn! Get your popcorn here!”
A low voice interrupted Klbkch. Every head turned as Erin marched down the rows of Soldiers, passing out large bowls of popcorn.
“I have hot milk and honey! Lots of it! And snacks! Would anyone like a hot fish or roast Ashfire Bee? Speak up! Or—wave your hands! You sir, you look like you need food! Don’t be shy!”
Erin offered a bowl full of fish congee to a Soldier and looked around.
“What? Am I being too loud? Sorry! I’ll keep it down.”
Klbkch cleared his throat meaningfully with a dull clicking sound. He looked around as Erin tiptoed about, ladling soup into bowls and passing around supplemental pillows. Soldiers gently held the pillows, feeling the softness against their chitin—an alien sensation. And they could keep the pillows? They didn’t disappear after you slept? Wonders never ceased.
At the head of the room, seated in the one chair, Klbkch opened the book and looked around. The Free Antinium watched him, waiting for him to continue. He nodded slowly.
“It was desperate. We had not expected this assault, and there were but seven Queens left. Seven out of what had been hundreds. You were all created far too late, but once the Antinium had more Queens than Hives. Once we were mighty. Now, we feared losing a single Queen and so we fought desperately. To save her. To save our kind. Xrn and I led this desperate army against the Drakes. If we had had time we could have rallied a larger force. If we had time, we would have destroyed them easily. But we were out of time. So we paid the cost in the lives of the fallen.”
His voice sharpened. Klbkch gestured, and the Antinium saw the twin swords at his hip shine as he unsheathed them. Klbkch stared at the silvery glow of his sword blades as he spoke.
“Antinium. Listen well. This is the tale of the first battle of the Antinium Wars. This is the tale…of how I met your Queen.”
He paused and looked around the room.
“Obviously I had met her before. But this was our first significant meeting which preceded the creation of Liscor’s Hive. I felt the need to clarify that statement.”
He looked around, shrugged, and began to speak.
Fire from the sky. Death below and above. Lightning blew apart a group of Soldiers as they charged towards the Drake lines; the earth exploded in front of a unit of frantically digging Workers and arrows cut down the rest. Klbkch and Xrn stood on the bluff overlooking the Fourth Hive and the Drake army. Klbkch shook his head as the tide of Soldiers broke against the line of Drake speakers.
“We cannot break their formation with a piecemeal attack, Xrn. And they are prepared for our tunneling; they have flooded every tunnel our Workers have dug.”
“And their [Mages] are too powerful. Too many. I cannot fight them at this range. If I focus on one, the others shield with spells and counterattack.”
Xrn agreed, clutching her staff in one slim hand. She conjured lightning and hurled it towards the Drake army. It vanished halfway towards her target and a flurry of arrows and spells shot towards both Centenium. The two Prognugators took cover behind a rock, and Klbkch’s mandibles clashed together angrily.
“Oath breakers! They violated the peace treaty! And they are about to flood the Queen out. Xrn, we must launch a full-scale attack.”
The azure Antinium turned to Klbkch. She shook her head.
“Impossible. We cannot order the Soldiers into that slaughter! They will break and run, Klbkch! They have their limits.”
“Then I will lead them myself.”
Klbkch grimly raised both his silvery swords with two of his four arms. The other two held daggers awkwardly. Xrn stared at him and grabbed his shoulder.
“Unacceptable. You are still not used to your new body. Don’t throw your life away, Klbkch! If you perish—”
“If I do, enact the Rite of Anastates.”
“You have died too many times! I will not lose you like Rehab or Mellika! One Queen is not worth it, Klbkch! Wait for Wrymvr! When he arrives we will crush the Drakes. But we cannot lose you! You are Centenium!”
Klbkch was silent as the two stood together. He shook his head slowly as he stared down into the battlefield below, where a storm was raining down into the entrance tunnels, flooding the Antinium Hive.
“I was Centenium, Xrn. I lost my form, my levels—we have seven Queens left.”
“And we have but three Centenium. Don’t go.”
Xrn pleaded with him, but Klbkch simply raised his swords. He looked sideways at her.
“Take out as many [Mages] as you can. Stop the rainfall. I will break their lines.”
He strode forwards, towards the head of the Antinium army. Xrn let her arm fall helplessly. She heard Klbkch shouting as the ranks of Soldiers and Workers turned to follow him.
“Antinium! The enemy is attempting to slay a Queen! They are destroying the Hive! They must be stopped! Follow me! Give no ground to our foe! Charge!”
He charged down the slope and the Soldiers charged after him in a silent wave. Xrn stood on the cliff, frantically shooting down the wave of spells that came from the Drake army, trying to protect the lone Antinium in the front. She saw Klbkch charging across the muddy ground, running into the wall of Drake spears. Then there was a flash of silver—frenzied fighting—falling Soldiers and Workers—
Chaos. The Drakes had not been prepared for a suicidal charge and their front line wavered as their [Mages] and [Archers] enacted a terrible vengeance upon the Antinium. Xrn raised her staff and tried to destroy the enemy Drake [Mages].
“[Venomous Snow]! [Thunderstrike Volley]! [Chaos Flamewheel]!”
Her spells blasted apart Drakes in robes, lightning and jets of fire arcing through Drake lines. But they didn’t break. And an arrow struck Xrn in her chest. She stumbled backwards.
She snapped the shaft off, ignoring the blood. The Antinium were wavering. She looked around in desperation and saw thousands of Workers standing around helplessly. Their crude bows did not have the range needed to strike the Drake army from this distance and it would be death to advance any further into the kill zone.
“If it is slaughter, then it must be. Workers! Prepare for a second charge! [Glorious Radiance]!”
Xrn’s spell made the Antinium shine like beacons. She pointed her staff towards the Drake army. She could not see the flash of silver among their ranks. Where was Klbkch?
A second wave of Antinium charged down the slopes, some of the Workers tripping and falling in the mud. Xrn raced down the slippery incline, hearing thumps as spells blasted the ground around her, hearing only the roar in her mind. Black arrows streaked down towards her forces—she waved her staff and they broke on a shield in the air. The Drakes were ahead of her now.
“Break their ranks!”
Xrn ran past a struggling knot of Soldiers being held at bay by Drakes with spears and swords and planted her staff in the ground. She concentrated and then thrust her fingers forwards.
The Drakes in front of her—and Soldiers—were blasted into the air. Xrn pointed towards the gap in the lines and the Antinium flooded through. Now the Drakes lines were collapsing, but there were still so many! Xrn struggled, fighting other [Mages] hand-to-hand, burning them with spells, until she heard a sound above the noise of battle.
It was a voice, a roar, a screeching that no animal or person could ever make. The piercing cry echoed and made the Drakes look up. Xrn did too, staring towards the north. And then she saw him. She breathed a sigh of relief.
“At last. Wrymvr.”
A dark shadow flew across the sky. A tiny shape—but growing larger with each passing second. The Drakes turned, their [Archers] sighting at this new threat. But then the singular shadow multiplied, and grew, spreading across the horizon.
“The Flying Antinium!”
Xrn shouted, knowing the Drakes had no idea what was happening. They were trying to form a second line to deal with this new threat, but the Antinium were closing in too fast. The dark shapes became visible now, and it was apparent that the Antinium weren’t actually flying—they were gliding down, hopping forwards like grasshoppers and propelling themselves forwards with their wings incredibly quickly. Only one figure, larger than the rest, truly flew, and he screeched again, a wordless scream of vengeance.
The Flying Antinium crashed into the Drakes from the side and Xrn raised her staff. The light from her eyes shone bright red, the color of battles and Drake blood. She shouted.
“Charge! Forwards, all Antinium!”
She ran forwards as the Soldiers and Workers crashed into the Drakes like the tide. This time the Drakes could not stop them. Xrn ran forwards as Drakes died, searching, hunting for any color in the black mass. And then she saw it. A flash of silver.
On that day the Antinium liberated the besieged Hive and the youngest of the Antinium Queens. Klbkch personally rescued her from drowning and she would later go on to lead the hive in Liscor. The Queen of the Free Antinium lived that day, and the Drakes learned to their cost what war with the Antinium was. It was sacrifice. The Antinium could not be broken so easily. And their retaliation for this treachery would soon engulf the continent in flames.
“Did it really happen like that? Truly, Prognugator Xrn?”
Xrn opened her eyes. She looked around the campfire at the other Antinium watching her. Tersk, Pivr, her Prognugator-Guardians and the other Antinium assigned to her escort were all staring at her. Slowly, the Small Queen looked around and then remembered the book she was holding. She nodded.
“That was what the battle was truly like. We triumphed, but barely. Were it not for Wrymvr’s arrival, we might have been too late to save the Queen.”
“And yet, it appears that Revalantor Klbkch took a great risk in attempting to save her. Did you not say that it would be more prudent to avoid risking his life—and by extension, yours—to save a single Queen?”
Pivr observed as he fanned his own wings at the fire, looking smug about the role the Flying Antinium had played in the battle. Xrn gave him a long look, which deflated Pivr quite nicely.
“Perhaps. But that would not have been Klbkch’s nature. It was a risk, true. But he has fought for the Antinium longer than your Queen has existed, Pivr. He understands sacrifice.”
“And yet, he disregards his worth. The Centenium are a unique group of Antinium that can no longer be reproduced, are they not? Surely Revalantor Klbkch should take his safety into account.”
Tersk spoke up quietly, polishing his armor. Xrn nodded. She played with her staff, twirling it and making the fire change colors as she stared around the night sky.
“Perhaps he should. But again, that is not his nature, Tersk. Klbkch, Wrymvr and I all served during the Second Antinium War. And while it is true Klbkch lost much of his strength and his original form, we three still defined the war. Each one of us led the armies of the Antinium. Wrymvr and I were unstoppable in battle. As we had been created to be. Klbkch was forced to lead through strategy rather than personally most of the time. But each of us claimed many victories through our strength.”
“So I understand. But I have never met Prognugator Wrymvr. Is he similar to you or Revalantor Klbkch, Prognugator Xrn?”
The Small Queen hesitated.
“…No. Wrymvr is different. He and Klbkch and I were all created to serve different roles. Klbkch was a warrior, meant to assassinate the Antinium’s enemies and fight on the front. I was meant to cast magic. And Wrymvr was meant to defend the Grand Queen. He was created to be undefeatable.”
“He must be the most powerful of the Centenium, then!”
Pivr looked up, his eyes shining. Xrn’s own eyes flashed purple with annoyance.
“He is a fool. But yes, he is strong. Perhaps that is the only thing this book gets correct. Wrymvr the Deathless was a threat. And in this war the Grand Queen released him from his role as protector. We unleashed him against the Drakes, as well as the Flying and Silent Antinium. It was enough to win a few battles. But unfortunately not enough. If we had more variants, more Centenium, then perhaps we might have won the entire war. But we did not.”
The other Antinium were silent as Xrn opened the book again. Only Tersk dared ask the question hanging in the air.
“What are the Centenium? Why were they created?”
Xrn stopped with her finger on the next line of the book. She looked around, at the other Antinium. They were so close to home, to their Hives. And yet, these poor copies of true Antinium would never know home, would they? They would never know the grandeur of the true Hives, the might of what the Antinium had been. She looked at Tersk, the finest warrior of his Hive. An ill-made clone of Galuc with armor. She shook her head and her voice was kind as she spoke to him, an adult to a child.
“The Centenium were made long ago, Tersk. Long ago, on another continent. For one purpose. The Grand Queen made many Antinium in many shapes to serve every role imaginable, but one hundred of us she labored upon, gave individuality to, gave names and strength beyond the rest. We were not made to be spent and replaced like the other Antinium. We were made to be one thing and one thing alone.”
“And what was that, Prognugator Xr—”
“Heroes, Tersk. We were made to be heroes.”
The battle on the Jessal Highlands ended in disaster. The surprise attack on the Antinium had failed, leaving only regrets and recriminations from the other Drake city states that had not been aware of the surprise attack. A request to end hostilities was made immediately, but the traitorous Grand Queen of the Antinium, no doubt sensing an opportunity, ignored the pleas of the Drakes and launched a vicious counterattack at once.
Within a day of the battle at Jessal, the Antinium armies were on the march again. The Black Tide rolled forth, but the defenders of the greatest continent in the world had not been idle in their preparations. Drake armies marched against the Antinium, armed with the knowledge of their inability to swim and weakness against high-level magics and warriors.
However, the Antinium had not been idle either. The second battle against the Antinium took place between an army led by Wrymvr the Deathless and an army from Pallass. It was assumed that boxing in the Antinium and flooding their position would decimate their army, but the Drake high command received the shock of a lifetime as new Antinium warriors overran their formations in minutes, slaying the [Mages] and throwing the army into disarray.
The Antinium fielded two new variants of their species in the Second Antinium War. Whether they always had such creatures or had somehow altered their own warriors with magic or alchemy is unknown and the subject of much speculation. However, the facts are clear: the Antinium had created a flying warrior capable of leaping across vast distances known as the Flying Antinium, and a stealthy infiltrator capable of camouflage and deadly surprise attacks known as the Silent Antinium.
These two new variants bridged the gap in the Antinium’s formations, allowing them to swiftly flank their enemies and mount surprise attacks on vulnerable targets. The Drake armies which had relied on [Mages] for superiority fell backwards as the Antinium willingly sacrificed hundreds or thousands of their flying warriors to take out [Mages]. Meanwhile, the Silent Antinium infiltrated army camps and cities, slaying high-profile targets in the night.
The news of the new Antinium was devastating for morale across the Drake cities. And indeed, the fear the Silent Antinium created was such that many cities locked down their gates, refusing to open them for fear of infiltration. And yet the Silent Antinium crept behind their walls, locked gates or not, creating a wave of terror across the continent.
What ended up stopping the Silent Antinium in main was not any one military action, but rather, the existence of another, opposing force on the Drake side. The Assassin’s Guild in the south of Izril took the existence of the Silent Antinium as a direct threat to their own way of life and put out a universal contract on every one of the Antinium’s assassination insects. Thus, a quiet war began where [Assassin] dueled assassin-bug in the shadows.
This hidden conflict would become known as the War of Sighs, kept mainly out of the public view. The only evidence of the battles in shadow and darkness would be the corpses of the Silent Antinium and Drake [Assassins] appearing on doorsteps or in buildings, slain where they had fallen. In Drake cities, inhabitants would wake up and discover dead Antinium gutted in the middle of a street or an [Assassin]’s head placed next to the bedsides of slaughtered Drake officials.
The most notable such event occurred at a meeting of Drake nobility in a private meeting room in the Walled City of Oteslia. The Lords and Ladies of the Wall conducted their meeting for ten minutes before an unpleasant odor led to them investigating the tables they were sitting at. They discovered the bodies of six Silent Antinium and four [Assassins] hidden under the tablecloths.
It is impossible to tell how many [Assassins] or Silent Antinium died in the conflict due to the elusive nature of both forces, and this writer has refrained from questioning the Assassin’s Guild on the subject out of personal concern for his own safety. However, it is safe to say that the costs were tremendously high on both sides, such that the Assassin’s Guild in the south of Liscor has yet to recover, unlike the flourishing Human guilds to the north.
It is simply another example of Drake integrity one supposes, that fewer Drakes have the inclination to stab enemies in the back. An honest Drake stabs from the front. But I digress…
The war between the Drakes and Antinium had taken a turn for the worse. While the Silent Antinium’s assaults had been blunted, the armies led by Klbkch the Slayer, Xrn the Small Queen, and Wrymvr the Deathless seemed undefeatable by all but the most famous of the Drake [Generals].
Zel Shivertail managed to rout the Slayer’s army in a pitched battle and the Small Queen’s army found itself attacked by multiple armies, stalling her advance, but Wrymvr the Deathless rampaged unchecked behind Drake lines. This monstrous Prognugator of the Hives truly deserved the title of ‘Deathless’, because despite concerted efforts by multiple armies, the Prognugator refused to be slain and actively hunted down Drake commanders during battle.
The Antinium pushed forwards, again relentlessly overtaking city after city. It was as if the first Antinium War had returned with a vengeance as the Drakes found themselves on the back foot once more. And this time their Human allies were too preoccupied in the north to send assistance. For you see, the Necromancer had landed to the north, and his arrival had heralded a plague that swept the Human cities while his armies grew in number.
Az’kerash. The Necromancer. The bane of Terandria and now, Izril. His undead forces were never as numerous as the Antinium, but where his personal army went the Necromancer left only death in his wake. Where other [Necromancers] have raised armies of tens of thousands of zombies, ghouls, or skeletons, Az’kerash created far darker armies.
His forces consisted of Draugr, advanced and incredibly powerful zombies, wraiths, Crypt Lords, wights, and worst of all, Bone Giants. This foul horde of abominations moved ever southwards, heading towards Liscor and despoiling Human lands on the way.
And for what purpose? For what reason did he turn his gaze so suddenly to Izril? This befuddled writer has no notion dear readers. Perhaps the Necromancer sensed the confusion caused by the Antinium, or had grown bored of Terandria. Then again, what rational thought can be ascribed to such a horror? It is enough to say he went south, and his undead armies distracted the Humans in the Drake’s darkest hour.
“Dead gods, this [Writer] really does drone on a lot. Doesn’t he realize how biased he is? It’s not as if the Humans had a fun time fighting all those dead, you know.”
Ceria complained out loud and Pisces broke off from reading the very battered book in his hands. Pisces sniffed in annoyance as he looked up from reading and glanced about the inn.
“I personally find it incredible how dismissive he seems to be of the Necromancer’s true intentions. Then again, I shouldn’t be surprised; Krsysl Wordsmith’s works have never been—how shall I put it?—particularly innovative. The best he can do is parrot other authors’ analyses and commentary.”
He sniffed again, but his audience seemed disinclined to support his opinion. Mrsha scratched at one ear as Lyonette held her on her lap. Jelaqua looked up from her cup, eyebrows raised, and Moore and Seborn looked up from their game of cards.
The inn wasn’t that full this late at night. Drassi and Lyonette were manning the inn, but their own guests were the Horns of Hammerad, the Halfseekers, Mrsha, and the five Redfang Warriors who were sitting at a distant table, jabbering to themselves. They had been having a rather idle night with Erin gone, until Pisces had produced the book and begun reading from it.
Since he was a good reader no one had minded—until now. Ceria wondered if she’d made a mistake in interrupting. Pisces loved to poke holes in other people’s statements and he wouldn’t shut up if he thought someone was wrong.
The half-Elf sighed as she sat at the table with Pisces, Ksmvr, and Yvlon. She eyed the book in Pisces hands and raised her eyebrow at the [Necromancer] she thought of as a friend.
“If you don’t like him so much, why do you have a copy of his book, Pisces? And why do you insist on reading it aloud?”
“It is impossible to point out the flaws in his arguments without first hearing them. Besides which, I am offended by the lack of knowledge in this room! Ksmvr has never heard a history of the Antinium Wars, young Mrsha and Miss Lyonette have received only the scantest of summaries, and as for Yvlon and Miss Drassi—”
“I know the history of the Second Antinium War you jerk!”
Drassi called out from across the room. She propped her hands on her hips and glared at Pisces.
“Every Drake knows the history! And I bet Miss Yvlon knows her history too!”
“I did study the war, Pisces.”
Yvlon raised her eyebrows at Pisces. He curled his lip.
“Ah, education. And did you receive your wonderful education from this book, Miss Drassi, Miss Byres?”
The two young women hesitated. Pisces nodded.
“I thought so. How unfortunate. This ‘historical narrative’ is riddled with flaws. Oh I suppose as a form of propaganda it has some merit, but as an accurate insight into the minds of those who fought in the war? Hardly.”
“If you’re so smart, you tell us what the Necromancer was thinking. You like dead things. Why’d Az’kerash invade Izril all of a sudden, then? And don’t tell me it’s obvious because that means you don’t actually know.”
Ceria growled at Pisces. She looked over at Mrsha; the Gnoll was yawning widely, not particularly interested by the debate. Pisces noticed the look and frowned. He eyed Mrsha and then twirled his fingers.
A wind blew through the inn, making everyone look up. Ceria glanced towards the windows, and door, but they were closed. Pisces smiled as the wind blew at his robes, and then flicked his hands.
“You want a story based in facts, Springwalker? Very well, I suppose I can oblige you.”
“I never said—”
Too late. The lights in the room dimmed. Ceria looked around as the light from the fireplace seemed to grow behind Pisces and his shadow grew large on the wall. Mrsha looked up as Pisces snapped his fingers and sparks erupted in the air around him. Yvlon shot back from the table, swearing, and Ksmvr ducked. Ceria just batted at a flurry of glowing embers that flew past her.
“Stop the illusions, Pisces.”
He grinned at her, the air around him aglow with lights.
“Atmosphere is important, Ceria. Besides, if I am to tell a story, I might as well do it justice. Now…”
He coughed and his voice grew deeper, more resonant. Pisces turned his seat so he was facing Mrsha and the Redfang warriors, all of whom stared at him with sudden interest. He gestured dramatically and the shadows on the wall grew behind him as he spoke.
“Az’kerash. The Necromancer. You want to know his true intentions? Why he truly came to Izril? Well then, understand he was no mere [Necromancer]. He was once an Archmage of Wistram, acknowledged universally as one of the greatest magic users of all time. And though he was cast out and his name besmirched, his power in undeath was unmatched.”
“We know that. Get to the point.”
Pisces glared at Ceria, but went on, his shadows transforming into a vast and hooded figure behind him. Mrsha stared at it with wide eyes as Lyonette hugged her reassuringly, seeing lurching and shambling forms moving across the walls. Pisces’ voice was a low echo throughout the room.
“While the Antinium fought, the Necromancer sowed chaos among the Human cities in the north. He marched south, his small army growing with each day from the dead. However, his target was never any lone Human city—no. He travelled south, towards the Drake lands with a purpose. Not simply to destroy.”
“Oh really? You’re going to tell us he had a plan? Did it involve getting himself killed?”
Ceria smirked at Pisces, making him stop and frown at her again. She smiled, and then stopped when she saw Ksmvr putting a finger in front of his mouth. She looked around and realized she was the only one not taking Pisces seriously.
“Go on. What did the Necromancer want if he didn’t want to just kill people? Did he want something the Drakes had?”
Jelaqua leaned over her table, looking casually interested. Across the room, the Goblins were pointing at the shadow illusions Pisces had conjured and trying to make their own with their hands.
He grinned, and the room went dark except for flickering lights around his face. Mrsha squeaked. Ceria sighed.
“The Necromancer? He desired the treasures of the Walled Cities, of course. Not what was contained in the cities themselves either. Oh no. What he wanted was the secrets of the walls themselves.”
“Hey Pisces? I know you’re being dramatic, but I can’t see, and I’m trying to clean up the plates. Can you make it a bit brighter?”
Drassi interrupted, waving her claw in the air. The room grew a bit lighter and Pisces looked put out. He cleared his throat meaningfully as the Drake walked around the room, gathering plates.
“As I was saying—the Walled Cities contain a powerful secret. Consider them, for a moment. The famous Drake cities whose fortifications are practically impregnable against attack. Constructed in the age of Dragons, a bastion for Drake kind. Why is it that no other Walled Cities were ever made in the millennia since? Were they truly the product of great magics or is there another secret to their construction? The answer is simple: there is a secret, and it is one that is hidden in plain sight in the history books. Although perhaps only a [Necromancer] would be able to see it.”
“Oh really? You know the secret of how the Walled Cities were built? Well color me impr—”
Ceria felt something wet splat into the side of her face and yelped, breaking off from her heckling. She saw Mrsha glaring at her, a paw full of tonight’s dinner—spaghetti and meatballs. She’d hit Ceria with a meatball.
“Mrsha! Stop that!”
Lyonette scolded the Gnoll as Ceria ate the meatball, resigned to silence. Pisces smirked victoriously and went on. Against the wall, armies of shadowy undead marched, pursuing fleeing Humans.
“Oh yes. The secret is out there. But as I say, hidden. Let us look at the facts: the last Walled City was built right as the age of Dragons ended. As the Dragons went into hiding and their species as a whole dwindled in number. The Walled Cities were meant to defend from Dragon and while many have fallen over the thousands of years that have passed, those that still stand have the same strength as they did in the days of yore. What magics could last so long? No—what materials could hold such enchantments without waning in power? Stone is weak compared to the onslaught of years. But what if there was another ingredient, another part of the walls that gave them their mythical strength? That is what Az’kerash discovered, what he desired above all else.”
“This is better than one of those street performances in the big cities.”
Jelaqua whispered to her teammates as everyone leaned forwards. Ksmvr spoke, his voice quivering with anticipation.
“What is this secret, Comrade Pisces? Tell us.”
Ceria resolved to kick Pisces if he didn’t have a good answer. The [Necromancer] looked around, his eyes glinting in the fire’s light.
“Why, Dragon bones of course. The Walled Cities are made with the strength of Dragons. The Drakes took the skeletons of their ancestors and placed them in the walls. That is why the Walled Cities are unique, why they are so powerful. And it is why the Necromancer marched south.”
At Pisces’ words, there was a gasp across the inn. Ceria froze, foot poised to kick. And then everyone jumped as they heard a crash of breaking pottery. Drassi had dropped the stack of plates she’d been carrying. She stared at Pisces, ignoring Lyonette as the young woman leapt to her feet to make sure Drassi wasn’t hurt.
“Are you serious, Pisces? Dragon bones?”
Pisces nodded, smiling in satisfaction as everyone gaped at him. He raised a finger, and the broken pieces of the plates danced into the air, neatly piling themselves up on a table.
“Of course I’m certain, Springwalker. I can’t verify the facts myself, as the Walled Cities’ secrets are jealously guarded, but I imagine the Lords and Ladies of the Wall know the truth. I wonder how those arrogant Drakes reconcile that fact? Perhaps they take comfort knowing they hide behind the bones of their ancient parents. Whatever the case…Az’kerash must have known, and so he marched his armies ever southwards, intending to form an army capable of razing a Walled City for himself.”
“But he failed. That’s the point, isn’t it? He never got past Liscor.”
Yvlon stared hard at Pisces, clenching her fists gently and rubbing at her metallic arms. Pisces nodded.
“Naturally, the Necromancer’s plans failed. His armies did indeed cross past Liscor while he besieged the city, and caused much damage to Drake lands, but he failed to achieve his goals because he failed to take into account the other factor in the war.”
Ceria looked around.
Pisces grinned, and the shifting mass of shadows on the wall behind him turned into the silhouette of a huge Goblin with a crown. The Redfang Warriors looked around, suddenly the focus of the room. Pisces opened the book he was reading.
“Indeed. The Goblins. Or more accurately, the Goblin King.”
Antinium in the south. The Necromancer to the north. It seemed like Izril was in chaos, but there was no despair in the tails of the Drakes as they fought back against the hated Antinium. The war was winnable, and indeed, if the Humans could muster some backbone, the Antinium could be defeated again. That was the prevailing mood. At least, until the Goblin King arrived.
Velan the Kind had conducted a bloody war in Baleros, but it has to be said that he refrained from leading his armies deep into the jungles of that continent. Rather, he consolidated his forces, calling mighty Goblin Lords and Goblin Chieftains to his cause, swelling his army. He must have known the futility of any advance—the Four Great Companies of Baleros were all united against him, and a vast host had been formed to destroy him. But before the Balerosian forces could clash with the Goblin Lord, his entire army vanished into the sea.
That was the Goblin King’s master plan. That was why he had seized so many port cities—not to create a foothold, but to flee across the sea, to an easier target! And the naïve commanders of Baleros, the much-vaunted mercenary companies had given him the time to create enough ships for his armies in their cautious advance.
Yes, this historian will say it if no one else will! If the forces of Baleros hadn’t dragged their feet so, the Goblin King might have been eliminated before he could attack Izril! For that was exactly where his vast armada sailed.
The Goblin King’s armies crossed the oceans from Baleros, winning two notable battles at sea. The first, against a fleet of Minotaurs sent from their isles and the second at Wistram. The overconfident Minotaurs had expected to destroy the Goblin King, but their ships were no match for his Goblin Lords and the Goblin King himself.
It must be noted that the Goblin Lords each possessed a might on par with any Named Adventurer, and the Goblin King himself was reckoned a match for all but the strongest warriors in the world. Speculation has been rife as to what would have been the outcome if a famed warrior such as Mars the Illusionist had met him in battle. Alas, the outcome of such a duel will never be known, especially because the Goblin King’s armies prevented any surgical strikes against the Goblin King or his lords.
Nine Goblin Lords sailed with the Goblin King, each of different ability. Some were infamous for their might, such as Greydath of Blades or the Goblin King’s right hand, the Goblin Lord [Shaman] known as Tallis the Stormbreaker. Others were less distinguished, but the true terror of their abilities was displayed in the second battle as a force from Wistram sought to interrupt the Goblin King’s crossing.
The Archmage Balkizat sailed against the Goblin King’s army himself with a small army of [Mages], determined to sink the Goblin King at sea where his army was weakest. There he dueled Tallis the Stormbreaker in a magical battle that lasted for nine hours. On the ninth hour, Balkizat was slain by the Goblin King’s [Shaman] and the forces of Wistram retreated, hiding behind their magical walls until the Goblins had passed.
The defeat of an Archmage of Wistram marked a turning point in the perceived Goblin King’s threat worldwide. Other nations that had viewed themselves as removed from the struggle began to respond to requests for military assistance. But that would come too late for Izril. The Goblin King landed with the bulk of his forces in Cape Heathshell on the northwestern edge of Izril. From there he began invading the Human lands with a fury that exceeded that of the Antinium and Necromancer alike.
Faced with this new and dismaying threat, the Humans finally roused themselves to definite action. Unfortunately, hubris still gripped their addled minds, which led to the disastrous decision by two of the Five Families to send an army against the Goblin King, as if he could be swept away so easily. A force of about a hundred thousand [Knights] and [Lancers] was formed and led by Fulviolo El and the famed twins, Petria and Ulva Terland.
This army met the Goblin King’s vanguard in a pitched battle three days after his forces landed. By all accounts, within ten minutes the Goblin King’s soldiers had routed the Human army and the Goblin King personally beheaded Fulviolo and Petria, while Ulva Terland escaped with her life. With a single stroke he broke the backs of two of the Five Families and obliterated their personal armies so thoroughly that less than a hundred survivors escaped the battle.
Despair had come for the Humans, and it was in the shape of Goblins it came, not from the Necromancer’s undead or the Antinium. The Goblin King’s armies rolled over all Human opposition, pushing towards what many considered the Human’s capital, First Landing, their oldest and grandest city on the continent.
Obviously, oldest and grandest is a relative term, since the Walled Cities predate the construction of First Landing by at least six thousand years, but it was the Human’s only claim to glory, and the metaphorical heart of their people. If the capital city of humanity on Izril fell, there would be no rallying point for the Humans.
Thus, the Five Families and every noble house within six hundred miles of the city gathered their forces for a desperate stand at the city walls. Eight Goblin Lords besieged the city for three weeks, leading charges that resulted in bloodbaths for both sides. But they were unable to take the city by sheer force of arms. At least, in the beginning.
The Five Families, the legendary founding houses that first invaded Izril from Terandria millennia ago are known to be fractious and distrustful of one another. However, as the Goblin King’s armies assailed the walls of their city and his forces ravaged their homes, the banners of all five families were raised in unison for the first time in over a thousand years.
Each of the five houses opened their garrisons and sent their scions to the front. Of their number, Lady Magnolia Reinhart and Lord Tyrion Veltras were most notable for their accomplishments during the war. It was Lord Tyrion who took command of the defense of the city, establishing his prowess as a military leader while Lady Magnolia marshaled the rest of the land’s nobility in defense of their home. And it was she who implemented a tactic born of sheer desperation as the Goblin King’s forces began to overwhelm the city’s defenders.
While every [Lord] had been called into military service at the start of the conflict with the Goblin Lord, the [Ladies] of the realm had refrained from taking part in the fighting, due to some Human notion of sentimentality. However, the desperation of the Human defenders finally spurred the female nobility to act. Two weeks into the slaughter, Magnolia Reinhart and every [Lady] in the city appeared on the front lines and lent their Skills during the battles against the Goblin Lord.
It is at this point that some explanations are required for readers unfamiliar with Human culture. It is a peculiarity of Humans that their female population, especially their nobility, refuses to take part in most battles unless specifically trained in combat. The idea of gender segregation is, of course, completely foreign to Drakes, Gnolls and most other species, but it remains a romanticized Human notion. And indeed, up until this point, although every [Lord] had taken part in the fighting, no [Lady] had entered battle in person.
Now however, the [Ladies] appeared en masse, going into combat with their personal escorts and lending their Skills to the Human warriors. Most [Ladies] possessed only the lowest-level of combat Skills, but as any [Tactician] worth their salt will note, the heat of combat rapidly increases one’s level and grants combat-based Skills. Thus, although weak, the Skills of hundreds of [Ladies] were multiplied across the battlefield, allowing the Humans to push back the surprised Goblins. It must also be said that the psychological impact of seeing their female nobility willing to risk their lives in battle strengthened the Human soldiers’ resolve, adding to their sudden strategic advantage.
This daring tactic surprised the Goblin King, as did the unusual skill and courage of the Human defenders, a rarity in their species as a whole. He quickly realized the nature of the Human’s comeback however, and enacted a plan of his own to destroy the Human’s vestiges of hope. The Goblin King ordered his vassals to target the relatively undefended [Ladies] as they hid behind the front lines. And there began the slaughter known to the world as the Sacrifice of Roses.
The Goblin Lords pinpointed the ranks of the [Ladies], leading charges in person to slaughter the helpless nobility where they stood. The defining aspect of the battle however, was that the Humans, uncharacteristically, refused to run when their death was imminent. Rather than flee and break the battle lines, they fought to the last woman, holding their ground long enough for their soldiers to enact blood vengeance on the Goblins who had pushed so far into their lines. One of the lesser Goblin Lords, Murmar, was confirmed to have been slain as the result of these defensive actions. However, the cost came at the near-total annihilation of each [Lady] targeted.
This valiant defense of their home at the cost of their own lives became a defining moment in the Human resistance against the Goblin King, an icon that demonstrated the courage of Izril even in the face of overwhelming odds. The Sacrifice of Roses became a rallying cry across Izril and has been lauded to this day as a defining moment of courage.
Perhaps too much so. If this humble [Writer] may be so bold as to interject his own opinion at this point, much has been made of the sacrifices of the Human nobility of Izril during the Second Antinium War. However, I would characterize their sacrifice as valorous, but not above that of any Drake or indeed, Human [Soldier]. Accounts of Ladies of the Wall participating and falling in battle are verified and recorded—why should Humans take more credit for what was, in truth, a rather costly and ineffective strategy employed in a single series of battles?
Lest I remind you dear readers, the Human [Ladies] of Izril only took to the front lines as a last stand. Is their singular moment of sacrifice worth more than any bereaved Drake family mourning the loss of a [Soldier]? It was an acceptable measure taken in a desperate situation, not, I feel, a moment of true heroism as has been claimed by others.
“Stop reading that.”
A hand reached down and closed the book in front of Lady Bethal. She looked up, surprised, as her husband, the [Chevalier] Thomast, frowned at her. She sat up in bed, looking around the tent they were sharing in the army’s campgrounds outside of Invrisil. The two had come to the battlefield to fight against the Goblin Lord’s army. Lady Bethal had declined Magnolia Reinhart’s offer of hospitality so she could stay with her husband on the night before the battlefield.
She had been reading the history of the second Antinium wars in a delicately-bound pink book in the bed her [Knights] had carried ten miles to the camp site. Now she closed it, her hands trembling slightly as Thomast looked at her.
“I was just reading, Thomast. Is that a crime?”
Her eyes sparkled with her infamous temper. Thomast, renowned for his silence and lack of temper in contrast to his wife’s moods, simply shook his head.
“Not a crime. But you know it’s not true.”
“It’s what’s written, isn’t it? That Drake [Writer] thinks we Human [Ladies] are cowards. And perhaps we are? Isn’t that why you’re sending me away, rather than letting me watch the battle?”
“You would not watch if I was in danger. You would try to save me and we might both perish. I can’t allow that.”
“Allow? I’m your wife.”
Bethal’s eyes widened and her nostrils flared. She sat up in her bed and Thomast carefully avoided meeting her eyes, as if she were a wild animal. He looked at her hands instead. They were shaking ever so slightly as they rested on the book.
“You are my wife. And this is a war. General Shivertail is commanding—he can’t have unpredictable elements interfering with his strategy.”
“I can take orders! I have fought in a war before, Thomast.”
“I know. And I know you can fight. But not this time. Stop reading about the past, please.”
He reached for the book. Bethal clutched it to her chest. She was breathing faster now, her voice rising in agitation.
“Why can’t I read, Thomast?”
“Because it’s not true.”
“It’s what’s written!”
“And it is not true. Bethal—”
“We fought, Thomast! All of us! We fought and we died and this arrogant worm of a Drake has the nerve to question our bravery! As if we didn’t know our soldiers were dying? But we still died, and for what? If this is how history remembers us, wouldn’t it have been better to run? To be remembered as cowards, but be alive? Rather than—than this?”
She hurled the book across the tent. Thomast sighed and stroked at his mustache.
“It’s not true. You know that. I know that.”
“And what about everyone else? What about children, what about people who read this book and don’t know the truth? How can he write this? How can—”
Her husband was silent, gently sitting still as Bethal shouted. She wanted him to yell back, but found it was hard to look at him. Her vision was—swimming.
Bethal reached up and found her eyes were full of tears. She wiped them away almost absentmindedly at first. But the tears kept coming. She tried to keep her voice steady, but it began to break.
“It’s—we knew what would happen, Thomast. Magnolia told us. She said—we all agreed. No quarter. No mercy. But we still did it. We—we—”
“I know. Love, I know.”
Thomast reached out and held Bethal. Her shoulders began to shake. She kept talking, stumbling, choking, but forcing the words out.
“I remember the banners. There were so many to begin with. But each time the Goblin King charged—there were so many Goblins. Each time he charged the banners disappeared. More and more of them. Just—missing. I was separated from the others in the fighting. And when the Goblin King retreated I looked for mother, but she was gone. So were Maisy and Lady Alvita and Eruvie—all gone. Father was gone and then the horns blew again and he charged and—so many. They were gone, Thomast. All gone.”
She began to weep. Thomast held Bethal, hugging her tightly. She whispered, tears streaming down her face.
“We held the line. None of us ran, not even when the Goblin Lords appeared. Even when they cut us down. I still dream of that night. I know it shouldn’t matter, but when I read this—”
“It is not true.”
Thomast said it fiercely. Bethal clung to him.
“Say it again. Louder, please.”
“It is not true!”
The [Chevalier]’s voice raised, and Bethal lowered her head. Time passed slowly, and her shaking stopped. Thomast offered her a handkerchief to wipe her face and blow her nose. Bethal did so, and then turned to Thomast with the smallest of smiles.
“Do you know how I first heard of you, Thomast? It was before we met at the ball at Magnolia’s estate. I must confess I had planned running into you. Although I had not planned to actually run into you, much less dirty your clothes. I was determined to meet you. You see, I had read the open letter you had sent to this Drake [Historian].”
Thomast knew what Lady Bethal was referring to, but he let her tell her story, stroking her hands. Bethal smiled up at him.
“I still remember what you wrote. Do you? I’ll repeat it. I memorized it by heart.”
“Tell me. What did I write?”
“You wrote to that horrible Drake. That Wordsmith. You said—oh, how did it begin? Oh yes, Dear Sir.”
I am writing to you in regards to the popular book you recently published, entitled The Second Antinium Wars, a History. I take issue with several passages within your historical narrative, most notably the paragraphs where you question the sacrifice of the [Ladies] of Izril during the Sacrifice of Roses.
I find it incredible that you would attack the deceased, much less from the safety of your quill, far from any actual danger. It appears that it is easy for you and others who enjoy the contempt of peace to criticize those who gave their lives in battle, knowing full well the odds against them. I hope you have a tenth of the courage it takes to stand your ground wearing nothing but a dress and holding a dagger against an oncoming Goblin army.
I trust you will retract your comments and issue a public apology swiftly as to avoid further disgracing this historical account. Your attack on the courage of the fallen is a disgrace to your class and to the truth. Species matters not. The honor and bravery displayed by Drakes, Humans, Gnolls, and every other species during the war should not be called into question, much less by someone who never fought in either war. I was there and I will never forget their sacrifice.
Thomast Veniral, [Fencer]
“I fell in love with you just a bit after reading that.”
“Mm. I regret writing that. I was young and it only put his back up. I was challenged to eight duels within the week.”
Bethal gripped Thomast’s hands fiercely, her eyes blazing.
“You were right! And that Drake will never admit it, but you spoke the truth. You were right, Thomast. Never regret telling the truth. And it was the truth. We knew what we were doing. We—”
Her voice broke again. And again Thomast held her. This time he kissed her gently on each cheek and then on her lips. Bethal’s voice trembled.
“That night the roses fought and fell. But we never ran. We marched on, through the rain and mud and death. So many of us. So few afterwards. And when the Goblin King charged we blazed and died like fireflies in the night. But we stopped him.”
Thomast embraced his wife. She sobbed into his vest.
“Thomast? Kiss me please.”
He did. The book lay on the floor, forgotten. But the pages went on, flawed fiction mixing with grains of truth to tell a story. Such was history.
Whatever the case, the defense of First Landing and the subsequent Sacrifice of Roses blunted the Goblin King’s attacks. The loss of the first of the Goblin Lords shook the Goblin King and he withdrew his forces after it became clear the Humans were too well-entrenched to uproot without sacrificing part of his army. Instead, the Goblin King ordered his Lords to conduct a campaign of fire on the landscapes, razing farmlands and smaller targets while he maintained the siege, intending to starve the Humans out.
The advance of the Goblins had stalled for the first time, a cause for celebration perhaps. But the cost was passing high. In cases where Goblins succeeded in overrunning or bypassing the Human lines and engaging the personal retinues led by said [Ladies], casualties were absolute. Over 60% of the [Ladies] who took to the front lines perished in battle along with their escorts.
Their deaths, along with their [Lord] counterparts, has led to a vacuum in the ranks of the landowning classes in the Human lands that has persisted to this day. Conversely however, those [Lords] and [Ladies] who did survive the Second Antinium War all obtained high levels and absorbed vast tracts of land into their estates.
And of course, the battle for First Landing was not yet over. The Human defenders might have faced months of deprivation and slowly dwindling food supplies under the siege warfare, but for an unexpected attack on the Goblin King’s armies from the Reinhart estate.
Magnolia Reinhart, one of the leading figures of the First Antinium War, led a counterattack from her estate on the Goblin King’s forces. Despite having committed virtually all of her family’s soldiers to the defense of First Landing, she appeared two weeks after the Sacrifice of Roses with another army a hundred thousand strong.
To the amazement of all, she drove the Goblin King’s army back with a magical army of constructs. She had summoned this vast force with the use of an artifact known as the Crown of Flowers. This artifact is known as one of the great treasures of the Humans of Izril, and is in fact rumored to be the very same artifact used to conquer the Drake cities when the invasion of the continent first took place thousands of years ago.
Not much is known about the Crown of Flowers as its powers are a well-guarded secret. Indeed, they are considered so potent that Magnolia Reinhart was forced to strike a deal with the Assassin’s Guild to ensure her life and the artifacts would not be targeted for the duration of the war. This was the first incident where she struck a deal with the Assassin’s Guild, but it would lead to her widespread employment of [Assassins] throughout the years following the Second Antinium War. But that is beside the point.
It is not clear why Magnolia Reinhart did not employ the Crown of Flowers as soon as the Goblin King’s forces reached Izril, but prominent [Mages] speculate that she may have in fact done so. The army summoned by the Crown of Flowers was comprised of powerful plant-based constructs which grew in power the longer they existed, ‘blooming’ into their full power over time. It may be that it was only after weeks had passed that the Crown of Flowers had been able to summon the army at this desperate hour.
Whatever the case, the interlude in the fighting had given the crown’s powers time enough to work. The army of constructs summoned by the Crown of Flowers grew out of the ground and assembled around the Reinhart Estate near First Landing and marched south. They attacked the surprised Goblin King’s army and, in tandem with the Human defenders, forced him to retreat.
This unexpected victory forced the Goblins back and earned Lady Magnolia the Reinhart the title of ‘The Deadly Flower Blooming in the North’. She had shown the Goblin King her thorns and his armies withdrew, giving the Humans some breathing room, however small.
The sudden retreat by the Goblin forces may have been due to the Goblin King’s absence from the battlefield at that time. Confident in the abilities of his Goblin Lords to maintain the siege, he had vanished from the battlefields. Reportedly, the Goblin King had rapidly moved south with a small force, entering the High Passes. There he vanished for eight days.
What he did during that time is largely unknown, but it is speculated he personally cut a path through the treacherous High Passes, fighting the myriad monsters that formed their lairs in that place. And after eight days had passed, the Goblin King appeared south of the High Passes. He had opened up a gateway between north and south Izril, bypassing the defenses of Liscor entirely. Thus, the Goblins were now able to reinforce their armies on both sides, giving them another strategic advantage over the separated Drake and Human forces.
A note at this point. While I have written exclusively about Drakes and Humans, it would be wrong to write further without touching upon the contributions, or rather, lack thereof by the Gnoll species during this time. The Gnoll tribes did indeed take part in resisting the Antinium advance and fought against the Goblin King in some numbers, but their presence was mostly seen in a defensive role, as with the First Antinium War.
The Gnoll tribes’ insular and cowardly attitude towards battle may have been seen most disgracefully in regards to the Necromancer, however. The Gnoll species as a whole has more reason than most to hate his existence—after all, the Necromancer earned his name over a century ago when he slew the beloved Chieftain of the Gnolls who some had labeled the first ‘King of Gnolls’. The Necromancer killed the Gnoll Chieftain Kerash and was thus dubbed Az’kerash, or ‘Slayer of Kerash’ by the Gnolls.
And yet, as his armies travelled south, the Necromancer faced little opposition from the Gnolls, who seemed more fearful of his advance than enraged. The Gnoll tribes contributed little to the defense of the land, and indeed, are conspicuously absent in most major battles of the Second Antinium War.
“We fought! What nonsense is this?”
Krshia’s paw slapped the book’s pages. The Gnoll [Shopkeeper] growled out loud and snarled at the text as she got up and paced around her apartment.
“We fought! We did! Not all tribes, but did all Drakes fight? No! My tribe fought, and countless others! We did not fear the Necromancer, no! How dare this Drake write otherwise? He calls himself a historian? I have seen more accurate histories written on shopping lists!”
She hurled the book to the ground and stomped on it before picking it up and checking it for damage.
“Hrr. I can still sell this, though. Perhaps I can even sell it for more if I rip out these pages. They would make good toilet paper, no?”
Grudgingly, Krshia flicked the book open and kept reading, although her tail was angrily thrashing back and forth.
Regardless, the Necromancer advanced south, largely undeterred by the war going on between Goblins and Humans. To my understanding he only clashed with the Goblin King’s forces once, and the battle ended as a stalemate between Az’kerash and the Goblin King. It appears both forces largely ignored each other after that, and the Necromancer exploited the fractured militaries of both Humans and Drakes by marching his army to Liscor unimpeded.
It was there the Necromancer’s armies besieged the Drake city and cut the continent in two. The Drakes could not assist the Humans and vice versa. Perhaps this was to aid the Goblin King after all, because it meant neither side could assist one another while the Goblins enjoyed the use of the High Passes. And meanwhile, the Necromancer’s forces spread out, heading south of the Blood Fields and harvesting more bodies for his army.
The siege of Liscor is of course a famous and heroic tale of defiance by the courageous Drake defenders and I fear I can do it little justice with only a few pages of writing. However, let us begin by saying that the Liscorian army had withdrawn around their city in advance of the Necromancer’s assaults, and held the walls of their city as the Necromancer concentrated the bulk of his forces in an attempt to bring it down.
Liscor had never fallen to siege once since its creation as a city-state. The natural geography of the city combined with their advanced walls and powerful army meant that they were able to repel most assaults with ease. However, the Necromancer had brought armies of powerful undead and the aforementioned Bone Giants to assault Liscor’s walls. The Liscorian army was forced to fight the undead on the walls and slew the giants only at great cost. And though the Necromancer’s giants failed to break Liscor’s walls, they had done such terrible damage that there was no hope of Liscor repelling the undead alone.
A truly grueling siege of Liscor began, as the Necromancer inflicted plagues on the city’s inhabitants, launched rotting corpses over the walls and personally unleashed his magics on the city’s defenders. It was an onslaught that would have felled a lesser city, much less a Human one in a single day. And yet, Liscor held on. Against all odds, they endured first one week, then two, and then four weeks against the Necromancer’s onslaught. Every citizen fought to defend the city, hoping against hope for relief.
And it came from none other than Zel Shivertail, the Tidebreaker himself. The Drake [General] had heard of Liscor’s plight and abandoned his battles against the Antinium to march north. He, the former student and friend of General Sserys of Liscor would not abandon Sserys’ people in their hour of need. Shivertail did not march alone either; three other Drake [Generals] joined him with their armies, and they cut a path to the Necromancer and assaulted his army at Liscor.
This climatic battle would be known as one of the most famous battles of the Second Antinium War. It began as Zel Shivertail’s forces attacked the Necromancer’s entrenched army around the city. Accounts of the battle have been verified and multiple perspectives have been recorded. To summarize the tragic opening to the battle, I will be brief.
On the first day, Az’kerash slew [General] Hekiss. On the second, [General] Vusso fell and two hours later, [General] Misa. Only Zel Shivertail remained as the Necromancer’s forces threatened to overwhelm both the city of Liscor and the attacking army.