Chaos Legion - War Begins
The Splinterlands was going to war.
Countless ships of countless varieties filled the southern port of Draykh-Nahka: barques and battleships, drekars and dreadnoughts, galleons and gunboats, schooners and sloops, and numerous other classes of vessels. Beneath the clear sky and the blazing sun, all those sails, masts, and hulls were a sight to behold.
Riklauniman Adrin’eth didn’t know a dinghy from a sailboat… at least, not before staggering across the flimsy, wooden bridge (a “gangplank,” he’d later learned) and boarding The Jewel of Lyveria, a massive, three-masted schooner with dark green sails and cannons along both its port and starboard sides.
The Jewel's captain was a gruff and swarthy woman named Alatariel Kestrel. She wore black leather breeches and a leather vest over an open-necked white blouse. Her jet-black hair was tied back in an untidy ponytail with a thin, hemp rope. She looked Riklauniman up and down as he weaved his way across the gangplank and onto the ship’s deck, where he grabbed a railing and stood, pale and sweating.
Alatariel eyed him speculatively. “Never seen a man’s face turn literally green before. Take you a while to get your sea legs, does it?”
Riklauniman shrugged. “I’ll let you know in a while.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Don’t tell me this is your first time on a ship.”
The deck heaved beneath his feet, and Riklauniman gritted his teeth and gripped the railing harder. “I’ll be fine.”
“Hell of a choice for a maiden voyage.”
He shrugged again. “What’s happening on Praetoria, what the Chaos Legion has done to our people… I won’t—I can’t—sit idle and let that stand.”
Alatariel stared at him for a long moment. Then she gave a little nod and turned to help her crew, who were busy preparing the ship for the voyage.
He shifted his attention to the surrounding armada. When word reached the splinters of the Chaos Legion’s invasion of Praetoria, a fleet from each set sail to gather at Draykh-Nahka, their ships filled with all manner of races, religions, and elements, each ready to defend their homes: Khymeria’s Order of the Silver Shield; the Uman of Azmare, escorted by merfolk and other aquatic allies; humans and goblins of Anumun; the Ferexia of the The Burnings Lands; and the Dark Eternals and Belurocians from Mortis. Joining them at Draykh-Nahka were the Gloridax.
Riklauniman was a ranger from Anumun. He’d devoted his life to protecting its forests and the creatures that dwelled within them. When the call went out for defenders to stand against the Chaos Legion, he hadn’t thought twice, setting out that very day on a tower griffin that carried him across the sea to Draykh-Nahka to await the arrival of the Splinterlands’ ships. When they sailed into port, he’d been assigned to The Jewel of Lyveria.
In retrospect, he probably should’ve stuck with the griffin.
As the deck rose and fell beneath his feet, Riklauniman tried to keep his mind off his churning stomach by counting the ships. There were a hundred, maybe more. Above them, winged creatures circled. Beneath the waves, dark shapes glided.
The Chaos Legion had done what nothing else could: unite the Splinterlands. They’d put aside their differences to join together and fight against a common enemy, and woe to the invaders who would soon feel the wrath that would fall upon them.
“Haul anchor!” Alatariel called. “We sail for war!”
Riklauniman leaned over the side of the ship and vomited into the sea.
“By the gods.”
On the horizon, the sky above Praetoria broiled with dark clouds lit by green flashes of lightning. Massive shadows moved in and out of them. Some looked like dragons. Others looked like nothing he’d ever seen before. From Praetoria itself radiated a beam of blue light, rising from Mount Praetorius and vanishing into the clouds. Silhouetted by the light, writhing tentacles rose from the Mountain of Ash and flailed at the sky. Visible even at this distance, whatever creature they belonged to dwarfed anything native to the Splinterlands. An Old God? Whatever it was, if it managed to force its way through the volcano, there would be no stopping it.
“Full speed ahead!” Alatariel shouted.
The sails slapped taught. The armada of the Splinterlands cut through the water. Riklauniman groaned. As it turned out, he never did get his sea legs.
The voyage typically would have taken two to three weeks, subject to the whims of the weather. However, the use of elemental water magic and aerial and aquatic allies to manipulate the currents of the air and sea hastened the fleet’s journey. All told, it took only five days and four nights. He’d spent his time alternately being violently ill and listening to Alatariel’s lessons on the classification of ships, nautical terms, and sailing.
One evening, as the two of them sat together, staring at the stars, he’d turned to her. “How is it that a good-looking woman chooses to spend her days cooped up on a boat with nothing but a few fish and a crew of smelly men to keep her company?” he asked.
She glanced sideways at him. “And how is it a man dresses himself in a woebegone tatter of leathers that hardly pass as clothing and chooses to spend his time traipsing through the woods in a tangle of dirt, brush, and leaves? And ain’t you ever heard of a haircut and a shave?”
He tugged at his beard and frowned. “I’ve been told it makes me look sophisticated.”
Her eyes twinkled. “Whoever told you that, my guess is they was just trying to bed you.”
“And what do they say when they want to bed you?”
She laughed softly and patted his knee. “Rik, if we live through this, I’ll let you know.” Then she dropped him a wink and disappeared into her quarters.
Now, on the morning of the fifth day, with the sky boiling above and the wind whipping and the waves rising higher and higher, Riklauniman wasn’t so sure she’d ever get the chance.
Along the distant coast of Praetoria, the ships of the Chaos Legion raised their flags and sailed forth. Around them, the water churned with the wake of massive beasts swimming just below the surface. Eldritch creatures swooped through the skies above.
They headed unerringly toward the approaching armada of the Splinterlands, apparently intent on meeting them head-on.
Rilauniman’s heart pounded in his chest. Where had the Chaos Legion found the resources to launch so many ships in such little time? Gods, their numbers more than equaled those of the Splinterlands.
His seasickness temporarily forgotten, he strode to the starboard side of The Jewel of the Lyveria, unslung his bow, and nocked an arrow. On either side of him, the crew loaded the cannons.
The Chaos Legion’s forces drew ever closer. He could see men, women, and other creatures on the decks of the enemy ships. He could see dragons and demon-like beasts soaring through the air above the blackened sails. He could see scales and the smooth sheen of flesh beneath the waves.
The armada of the Splinterlands sailed forward to meet them—his allies, his brothers and sisters, united in defense of their homeland. Swords gleamed. Hands glowed with the power of prepared magic. Theirs was a force to be reckoned with and a cause that was just. Riklauniman was confident they’d prove victorious.
He set his feet and his jaw and waited as the two armies approached one another. They had to be victorious because the alternative… it was unfathomable.
“Hard port rudder!” Came the command from Alatariel, and The Jewel of Lyveria turned sharply to the left.
Riklauniman was thrown against the gunwale and nearly went overboard, ending his part in the battle before it had even begun. Instead, his hip slammed painfully into the edge of the ship’s wooden hull, but he kept his feet and readjusted his grip on his bow.
The Jewel turned until its broadside faced the approaching Chaos Legion ships, and its cannons roared and exhaled billows of smoke. Riklauniman raised his bow and fired arrow after arrow in rapid succession. Several winged beasts fell from the sky and splashed into the sea.
The front rank of the Splinterlands’ armada opened fire with their cannons. Bolts of elemental magic hurtled through the air. A wall of flames rose before them as the Chaos Legion’s forces were consumed in a blazing inferno.
Riklauniman Adrin’eth lowered his bow and stared. Where once sailed the Chaos Legion rose a billowing wall of black and roiling smoke. Flotsam and jetsam bobbed in waves that ran red with the blood of the fallen.
Silence but for the wind and the flapping of sails followed. Then a cheer rose from the decks of The Jewel and the surrounding ships.
“We did it! We—”
A splintering of wood, a thunderous crash, and the prow of a massive Chaos Legion warship split through the wreckage and the smoke. Then another ship emerged. And another. And another. More and more.
So many more.
An ear-splitting shriek, and a flock of nightmarish beasts plummeted from the black clouds above. They streaked downward and slammed into the deck of the ship beside The Jewel, crushing its crew in their claws and tearing them to bloody shreds.
Leviathan-like creatures erupted from the waters all around them, tearing into hulls, slamming onto decks, and pulling the ships down into the depths. Sailors leapt into the sea, where they disappeared one by one, easy prey for the predators below.
One of the Chaos Legion’s ships, a black-hulled galleon with dark gray sails, sliced through the waves toward The Jewel of Lyveria. It scraped against the ship’s side with a terrible, splintering crack. Men, women, and beasts in dark steel armor leapt across the gap and onto its deck.
“To arms!” Alatariel shouted, drawing her rapier and leaping forward to meet the enemy as her crew drew their own weapons and raced to join her.
Riklauniman walked backward, firing his arrows as fast as he could draw them. When at last the Chaos Legion’s soldiers closed in, he dropped his bow and drew his longsword, blurring into motion. With the first swing, he separated a head from its body. On the backswing, he impaled the blade in another’s chest. He strode through the invaders toward Alatariel, cutting down all who stood in his path.
The crew, who were able sailors but not as able at melee combat, did not fare as well, and by the time he reached the captain’s side, the others had fallen. It was just the two of them fighting back-to-back as more and more of the Chaos Legion’s soldiers poured over the gunwale and onto the deck of The Jewel.
Riklauniman parried a blow and dodged another. A sharp pain cut into his thigh, and he grunted and went down on one knee. A sword rose in the air, poised to strike. He didn’t have time to raise his own in defense. The killing blow gleamed and cleaved the air in a vicious downstroke.
Alatariel’s rapier blocked its path with a ringing of steel, and she slammed her hilt into the Chaos Legion soldier’s face. Then she offered Riklauniman her hand.
“Just ask to buy me a drink,” she said. “If it’s you, that’s all it’ll take.”
She yanked him to his feet, and the two fought on. They were a lethal flurry of steel, a whirlwind of death, and all around them, the Chaos Legion fell, until the bodies piled around them, and they stood alone once more.
“Rik, I…” Alatariel inhaled, struggling to catch her breath.
But she didn’t get to finish. Later, that is what would haunt him. He’d never know what she’d been about to say.
A splash, and a rubbery, dark-green tentacle wrapped itself around Alatariel’s ankle. Her eyes widened in surprise. Riklauniman took a step forward, reaching for her. The tentacle yanked, and Alatariel’s feet went out from under her. She fell, her head slamming into the deck with a horrible, wet crack. Then she was yanked overboard, landing with a splash and vanishing beneath the waves.
Riklauniman stared. Around him, the armada of the Splinterlands burned. The air filled with the cries and moans of the dying.
Something massive and dark crashed onto the deck of The Jewel and spread leathery, bat-like wings. Its blackened skin was wet and slippery with mucus. It had no mouth, but its eyes were black pits ringed by teeth. Tiny, pink tongues waggled from their sockets.
The Jewel of Lyveria was dead in the water. Its crew and captain were dead as well. Riklauniman stood alone on the deck and faced the eldritch abomination as it spread its wings and roared. More tentacles slithered over the gunwale on both the port and starboard sides of the ship. Humanoid figures with the heads of octopi closed in around him.
Riklauniman Adrin’eth raised his sword, tightened his grip on its hilt, and prepared to die.
Something large and feathered, with the head and wings of an eagle and the stone body of a lion, dove from the sky. The tower griffin, his tower griffin, slammed into the eldritch abomination, talons tearing into flesh and shredding the creature's bat-like wings.
Riklauniman sprinted toward the griffin as the octopus humanoids charged toward him. He reached it and leapt onto its back, clinging tightly to its neck as it spread its wings and soared into the sky.
Below, the eldritch abomination flapped its shredded wings futilely, and the octopus humanoids glared up as he soared into the sky.
Riklauniman patted the griffin, but he was too exhausted to speak. He glanced over his shoulder. Smoke bloomed from the armada of the Splinterlands as it slowly sank into the waves. The few remaining survivors wouldn’t last long. Soon, there would be nothing left.
Even united, the splinters had been no match for the sheer might of the Chaos Legion. What would happen next, if the splinters isolated themselves on their separate continents and turned their defenses inward? If united they’d failed, how could they hope to win alone?
Riklauniman wrapped his arms around the griffin. The wind whipped his hair back from his face. He closed his eyes tight, remembering Alastariel’s crooked grin.
He had to warn them. He had to warn them all.
Chaos was here.
Collect special Limited NFTs related to this story at https://www.splintertalk.io/nfts/
Writer: Joey Shimerdla
Illustrations: Mateusz Majewski
Voice Acting: David Dahdah