Enduring - Tome of Chaos Story
“My Lord, you shouldn’t be here,” Oswald whispered. “What if the Chaos Legion were to learn of your involvement?”
“You’re the one who shouldn’t be here, Oswald. If a Chaos blade doesn’t find you, then this biting cold surely will.” Jared stared into the dancing flames of the fire, watching the damp wood snarl and snap back at the blaze. It more than matched Jared’s own foul temper that threatened to break loose at any moment.
Oswald threw a blanket across his shoulders and sat down next to his master. “Today was not your fault, Lord. No one could have foreseen that the Chaos Legion patrol would have taken the route it did. We were fortunate to escape with our lives. Be thankful for that.”
“Thankful!” Jared balked. “I lost nearly a third of my force out there on those frigid plains. We should have been maneuvering outside the walls of the Spire Guard Towers tonight, not sat amongst gorse on the cliff tops in this damned gale.”
A wave crashed somewhere below them, and the wind howled up between a fracture of rock. Oswald shivered. “So, what do you propose to do?”
Jared gave a long sigh and scratched at his ear. There was a low garble of voices from the other side of the fire, and a soldier joined the gathering carrying a lute. He sat down and took a long swig from a steaming brew. Jared could see a fresh scar running down the fellow’s cheek, and his face looked drawn and tired.
“Sing us a tune, Saro. Something to liven this dark mood that lurks about our fires,” a young archer said.
“The hour is late for such a song, and we have fallen brothers out there. Their warm blood soaks this cold land.” Saro looked out into the darkness and plucked a string, twisting a peg on the end of his instrument.
“Play the Enduring, boy,” an old sergeant growled. “Let its words stir our hearts, so that the young’uns can find the fight inside ‘em again.”
Saro nodded and began to play a haunting tune. Jared felt his stomach lurch and closed his eyes as the lonely words were sung.
“We stand together, we stand as one,
To battle the dark ‘til dawn of sun,
When Chaos is gone, I’ll hang up my blade,
‘Til then we fight, our souls we must save.
“Steel cuts deep, and arrows will fly,
Our comrades fall and some may die,
But fight we must, our lands we defend,
‘Til our foes defeated, and ‘til the end.
“Blow your horns, and beat your drum,
The heralds are sent, pray more will come,
Grant people justice, a closing decree,
Peace over the land, one day we’ll be free.”
When the final note echoed away into the night, Jared swallowed the lump in his throat and slowly stood. “I’ll tell you what I propose to do, Oswald. I intend to take this lot to the Spire Guard Towers and empty it of the enemy. Mark my words, by the end of the week the towers will be ours, and the Ice Wall Inlet into Northern Bay will be back in Praetorian hands. I swear it by the blood of our fallen.”
With that, Jared stalked from the fire and walked out into the night.
Jared didn’t march his troops straight to The Sky Spires the following day. Instead, they made their way down a narrow coastal path to a small harbor and bay that the dawn light had revealed. After speaking with the harbormaster, Jared managed to secure enough boats for over half of his force. He left explicit instructions with Lieutenant Kizer and the others that remained behind to march across the land and arrive at Spire Guard in two nights’ time, when the moon was high and Jared’s own troops would be ready to join with them in a two-pronged attack. Jared’s contingent cast off and hugged the rugged coastline, staying clear of the jagged rocks that reached above the rolling waves.
Two days later, as the dawn sun crested the horizon, the tall towers of the Spire Guard came into view. White marble pillars reached into the sky, each one pocked with black windows and wearing round conical roofs. A gull cried as it circled above them, and the spray from a tall wave doused the soldiers who sat shivering beneath their cloaks.
Jared looked across to the tillerman. “Take us into the next cove, I don’t want anyone seeing the boats before it’s time.”
Around the next bluff, Jared spotted a fjord and directed the small fleet into the narrow inlet. They waited there for the remainder of the day, in the icy cold shadow of the steep cliffs on either side. By the time dusk had begun to blot the sky, the men were glad of doing anything to keep warm. At Jared’s command, they took to the oars with unbridled cheer, rowing the warmth back into chilled bones.
It was almost night by the time they reached the low pier that jutted out into the rolling swell. The soldiers quietly prepared for the landing, folding cloaks away into tight bundles and checking that swords and bows were ready. Jared took a hold of his own weapon, an iron studded club that was nearly as tall as some of the men. Gripping the handle tight, he heard his knuckles crack. The anticipation was all consuming, and he hoped Kizer’s troops had arrived above them.
The dockside guards didn’t even notice them until the wooden hulls clunked against the pier. Knives silenced their cries. Jared walked between the fallen, kicking their bodies into the sea, removing any trace of their deadly arrival.
“Now we secure the stairs to the cliff tops,” Jared spoke quietly. “Nobody moves beyond there before we hear the signal.”
“One short blast of old Kizer’s horn,” Saro grinned.
“The very same,” Jared replied.
Jared waited at the bottom of the stairs. He did not trust his bulk in the tight channels carved into the cliff face if it came down to fighting the enemy. Instead, he watched patiently as his men crept upward, shadows moving within the final glimmer of evening light. There were a few muffled cries as further sentries were disposed of, but for the most, their insertion remained undetected.
Kizer’s horn sounded not long after Jared’s warriors had disposed of the final guard. The remaining troops waiting with him on the dockside rushed up the stairs. Jared followed after them. He was breathing heavily by the time he reached the top and ran out into bloody carnage. Their silent attack that was supposed to come up against a few night guards and sentries had been met by the full force of the Spire Guard garrison. Jared could just about see Kizer’s company above the bobbing heads of fighting soldiers before him – they had already been pushed back and were withdrawing across the open ground.
“It’s a trap!” Jared yelled, backhanding a black garbed figure that hastily tried to stick his blade in the Ulund. “Retreat! Back to the boats!”
Jared’s men turned and ran back past him, some of them dropping their weapons as the enemy quickly enveloped them. Swinging his club about his head, he smashed it into two pursuing Chaos Legion soldiers, crushing their chests and throwing them back. His two Dhampir Infiltrator bodyguards moved in unison, cutting a channel through the enemy in a synchronized dance of death. Jared moved steadily between them, batting away anyone foolish enough to try and follow him.
The first volley of arrows from the towers found their marks with devastating accuracy. The fleeing troops were unable to see the danger that flew at their backs. Kizer’s company was all but a distant shimmer of torchlight upon the horizon now, and Jared found time to curse between smashing heads and battering bodies with his club. He let out a frustrated cry causing those around him to pause briefly. What had he been thinking? Attacking Spire Guard on his own with only a few companies of mercenary soldiers? Even with the addition of his own elite, private guard it was complete folly. He was a master of arenas, not a general of battlefields.
“Look out my Lord!” one of his bodyguards cried, diving across the front of him and rolling to her feet, throwing a knife at an enemy leveling his crossbow at Jared.
Jared grabbed another enemy from his feet and tossed him aside like he was nothing more than an empty sack of grain. The press of bodies were starting to hinder their movement now as his men continued to withdraw, slowing as they reached the clifftops. He was about to ask why they weren’t hurrying back down the stairs to their boats below when a bestial roar cut through the night air and chilled him to the bones. Turning, Jared looked up in time to see a large dragon open its great maw and breathe a funnel of red-hot flame down onto the dockside. One of the boats blackened before breaking apart, its wooden hull quickly burning and hissing at the cold water beneath.
“Anyone with a bow, shoot at that dragon!” Jared ordered. “And the rest of you, get down those stairs before we’re cut to pieces.”
The dragon screeched its fury at the sharp barbs that peppered its long body. None of them penetrated the thick scales, but they were enough to distract the beast and send it into a mindless frenzy. This gave Jared and his men time to negotiate the slippery coastal steps. Their pursuers hung back and let them flee, either content with driving them from the field of battle or too scared to pursue them when there was an angry dragon nearby.
The respite was momentary at best. The dragon, having become so enraged with the irritating sting of arrows, swooped along the cliff face, snapping at its tormentors as it went and scooping a generous mouthful of them from the stairway. Screams of the dying filled Jared’s ears as he went, sounds that were sure to haunt his dreams throughout the nights to come… if he made it out alive. Reaching the dockside, he ran back to the boats as arrows rained down upon them from the clifftops.
Almost falling into a boat, hands grabbed hold of Jared and helped him find a seat. He sat down, his legs feeling heavy, and turned to see the remaining troops sprinting to join him—many didn’t make it. Casting off, they quickly rowed out of reach of the archers and for the first time that night, Jared felt he could finally relax. The attack hadn’t gone to plan at all. The Chaos Legion had been ready and waiting for him. He was doubtful that fortune herself had found the enemy and warned them, it was more likely someone with a loose tongue, or maybe they had guessed at his intentions following the first skirmish only days before. What was certain, though, was that Jared was clearly no war leader.
“My lord.” A hand touched his shoulder, drawing his attention from the silhouette of the dragon against the moonlit sky. “Your aide is wounded––he’s unlikely to survive the night.”
Jared looked his bodyguard in the eye and gave her a nod. Shuffling his way across the boat, he sank down next to the still form of Oswald, wrapped in blankets. He lay a hand on Oswald’s chest and felt the faint rise and fall of pained breath.
“I’m sorry old friend, I should never have allowed you to join me,” Jared said, raw emotion catching in his throat as he wiped the blood from his friend’s cheek.
“I…w-would have come…anyway,” Oswald’s body shuddered.
“Shhh, quiet. Don’t speak.”
“Th-there are things…things that need to be said.”
Listening to the distant echo of the dragon’s roar as it chased them across the salt water, Jared sighed. “And some things that don’t. It would seem that ‘leader of armies’ is one title I won’t be adding to my collection. I’m an arena master, nothing more.”
“But fight…you must…and defend Praetoria.” Oswald coughed, and a string of bloody drool caught in the wind, flecking his beard.
“You can’t just recount the words of an old bard song to try and make me feel better about myself, this whole journey has been a catastrophe from start to finish. I dread to think of the blood on my hands––the lives I’ve thrown away.”
“When they’re defeated…then you can rest.”
“Don’t worry about me, I will find another way. It is you who should rest. When we return home, I’ll have my finest surgeons see to your injuries.”
A faint smile touched Oswald’s lips. “My body is broken…y-you must return without me.”
“Never! I won’t leave your side until I have righted this wrong.” Jared waited for his friend to reply, but there was only the sound of oars cutting through the water as his men pulled harder against the rising swell.
Oswald’s chest rose and fell one last time, his body unwilling to take another breath. A tear touched Jared’s eye – Oswald was no more. Rubbing a hand across the ache that had taken up residence in his head, he closed his eyes. He had run a fool’s errand and it had claimed the life of his closest friend. The Chaos Legion would pay dearly for what they had done, but how? He had shown that blade and bow couldn’t hurt them. It would have to be the arena. He’d grown up in the stadiums and knew everything there was to know about the business of gladiators. If he couldn’t beat them through brute force on the field of battle, then he would strike at their money pouches.
“Let’s see how their army does without coin. There’ll be some hungry bellies before long,” Jared growled to himself, turning to face the men rowing. “Take us back to Ulundin, there is much for me to do.”
Collect special Limited NFTs related to this story at https://www.splintertalk.io/nfts/
Story: Daniel Beazley
Editor: Sean Ryan
Narrative Lead: Joey Shimerdla
Character Art (cover): Candycal
Illustrations: HPL Game Design Corporation
Graphic Design: Tamer "Defolt" Oukour
Voice Acting: David Dahdah
Saro Voice Acting and song: AfterSound
Ending credits song: AfterSound
Post Production: INFLUX Pictures
Creative Director: Nate Aguila