A World of Winds
Acting Regent Ismal Al-Zaki closed the door to his private chambers.
“All right, Sircis, what do you want this time?” he demanded to the empty room.
Without any fanfare or special effects, a cat-sized creature snapped into existence in the middle of the room. It hovered in midair, a round body with a disproportionate mouth surrounded by multiple eyes, and an eel-like tail.
“Such a poor attitude towards the friend who’s kept you in power. How many gems sit in the mistress’s temple holding more suitable claimants than the child-emperor?”
Al-Zaki looked around nervously. He knew this section the palace was off limits to everyone but himself, and he knew the creature was speaking into his mind rather than aloud, but hearing the daemon speak the words was still unsettling.
“It is for our mutual benefit, as you yourself have said on many occasions,” responded the regent. Now, what as so important that you had to interrupt me while in conference?”
Sircis stretched its mouth in a yawn. “Good news and bad news. The bad news is that the agent in Bessel is captured, and one of the silly imps the mistress’s ally sent to watch him has been killed. The stormwall will come down within a month, at which point Ormward proxies are probably going to try to take the city somehow. And to top it off, the warband sent to retrieve the archives from the Deep Monastery failed. For the moment the mistress has decided not to commit to another attack, as the archives may have been removed already.”
Al-Zaki looked pained, “And the good news?”
“The good news is that conditions for an alliance have never been better. We may not have the details on what Amar and the djinn are up to, but we may be in a position to stop them. They’ve just sacked Celendil, and Antharos is going to going to be in an uproar shortly. Ally with them against the djinn. Then ally with the northern Molgravians against the witch-queen. That should stop any significant troop movements from the Ormward moving into the Empire, leaving you free to deal with whatever trouble they cause internally. Then send your most powerful fated to assist Antharos and retrieve the crown.”
Al-Zaki was a bit put-out. He didn’t appreciate having his foreign policy dictated by a little floating abomination.
“If Antharos is at war with the djinn, why should I get involved at all. I have enough problems to deal with domestically. Orifiel has more resources than I do. I’m sure she could deal with them.”
“Idiot!” the daemon shouted in his head. “The whole point is to recapture the crown. If the crown isn’t handled properly, then everyone dies, you and your little play-kingdom included. We’ve backed you as the person most likely to listen. Don’t disappoint us now.”
And with that, the daemon disappeared.
Meanwhile, in Antharos, the Nightborn Captain Kieran Airdan tracked an army south that he had no hope of defeating. His forces only numbered around a hundred; all the wardens he could rally from the Eowil-Gar Forest and the survivors of the Celendil garrison. Based on the tracks he was following, the enemy numbered in the thousands.
Messengers had already been sent to Eowil-Gar, Tinarathien, and Caralith advising them of the attack, as well as Captain Airdan’s intention to pursue, reconnoiter, and harass as possible. He’d even sent one horseman over the border to Kalathos to warn the neighboring kingdom of the danger.
This was a volunteer force. He hadn’t demanded anyone come with him after seeing the ruins of Celendril. Those blessed by greater power had apparently made a stand against the whirlwind of destruction and been blasted apart. Fire and wind had damaged large sections of the city, and Airdan could do nothing except watch it burn out.
The dead had not been left in peace. Bodies still littered the streets, hundreds at least. But many more were missing. From the survivors, Airdan surmised this was the point of the attack. Someone was building a zombie army and marching it into the deadlands. The dead patrols there had never done anything like this before, and Airdan wanted to find out why it happened now.
The little army tracked the undead into the wastes, gradually gaining ground. As they entered Death Valley proper they began to watch for the dead patrols, but none came. After a day of travel, they began to hear what sounded like alchemical explosions. Mounting a hill, they saw the zombie horde spread out on the flatlands beyond. There must have been at least five thousand of them. Not just the city, but smaller villages as well must have tallen.
The army was advancing on one of the ruins that dotted the deadlands. Airdan felt a pang of sympathy for whoever was holed up there, until he broke out the spyglass and saw that it was the dead patrols, the skeletons and possessed armor, firing some kind of alchemical crossbows at the approaching undead.
“Well that’s unexpected,” he muttered to no one in particular.
Apparently the zombies crossed a line that marked them as being in range for a different weapon. Airdan could see the streaks as small objects shot from the ruined tower into the approaching masses. As they struck they exploded, killing and maiming dozens.
The front of the horde collapsed under fire from the ruins and the army slowed as the rear ranks had to pick their way through the remains of the leaders. If the defenders could keep up the rate of fire, it appeared they might be able to hold off the horde.
As if reading his optimism, the explosions stopped, and fire bloomed inside the windows of the tower. Bursting through the wall, a massive dragon pushed defenders and weaponry alike to the ground below. Turning back to the ruins, blasts of lightning ripped from the dragon into the tower, over and over again, until there was no response.
As the zombies advanced, with no opposition this time, Airdan decided he needed to send another messenger.