CHRONICLES OF ESTRIA:  The Battle of Channer’s Glen  [ Part I ]

By Stuart Thaman

 

“How long will it take for reinforcements to arrive?” Lina demanded, pacing back and forth in her command tent.

            The man, one of her generals whose name she could not remember, trembled visibly in front of her. He was a competent man and had the army’s trust, but in the grand scheme of centuries, he was inconsequential. Lina glared at him, waiting for an answer.

            “It will take-” he began, nervously casting his eyes everywhere but on his queen.  “Out with it!” Lina barked. “How long?”

            “At least two weeks, my liege!” the man snapped, his words jumbling together in his haste. The general fell to one knee, hoping desperately that Lina’s wrath would not mean the end of his life as it had for his predecessor.

            Surprising, Lina did not respond. She continued to pace, but her lips did not move. In stunned silence, the general knelt and waited for his next order.  “Come with me,” Lina finally said, brushing a lock of hair from her face. Like an obedient dog, the general scampered after her, making sure not to follow too closely.

            Lina’s iron-shod boots clinked on the hard-packed dirt as she marched, but the sounds were soon lost to the din of battle. All around the command tent, the battle for Channer’s Glen raged, and Lina’s small force from Estria was losing badly. Half a mile east of the tent, the high walls of Chancol rose up from the forest like a towering beacon of grey stone.

Lina wanted the city badly. In order to lay siege to Chancol, she needed to take the glen first, but the pesky troglodytes who lived there were proving harder to exterminate than Lina had planned. “How many men have died?” she asked the general cowering behind her.  “More than half the force, my lady,” he yelled back over the sound of a black powder cannon firing nearby.

“Good,” she mused, just loudly enough for the man to hear. She could feel the strength of all those lost souls whirling in the air around her. She called to them gently and they responded, rushing into her fingertips like tiny glimmers of candlelight.

“What?” the general shrieked, realizing what was happening. “It can’t be true!”

Lina had planted a number of rumors in her army and the city she had left behind, each one telling a slightly different tale of her magnificent powers, but none of them substantiated. Necromancy, as well as her vampirism, was a crime punishable by death.

Now was the time. With her army falling all around her, she needed to show them her true power. She needed the troglodytes of Chancol to witness her true strength. She needed them to bow.

Turning on the general with fire in her eyes, Lina beckoned him forward. “Are you willing to serve?” she asked the man, grabbing him by the breastplate and holding a jeweled dagger to his throat.

The man swallowed hard. Fear danced in his eyes, but he nodded.

“Good,” Lina whispered. “Now we show these wretched beasts the real meaning of obedience. They will know fear.”

Lina’s dagger slid through the flesh of her general’s neck without any resistance. She drank in the man’s life, consuming it voraciously, until nothing but black ash remained at the end of her blade.

“Now you will serve!” Lina bellowed into the air. The leaves nearby shook with the might of her voice and for an instant, the battle seemed to cease as time stood still.

From the aether just beyond Lina’s dagger, a creature stirred. A wraith, one of the most powerful denizens of the lower planes, answered the queen’s call. The creature was small and humanoid in form, but Lina fed it all the disembodied spirits lingering from her army. The wraith ate and grew, doubling over on itself several times, and always rising to stand taller than it had been.

When time began to flow once again, the towering wraith stood just a few feet in front of Lina. Fire spewed from the beast’s ethereal shoulders and head, though Lina could barely see the creature’s torso far above the trees. It held the form of her late general, though only the man’s shape. Its simple mind was formed of emotion in place of logic and it knew only one master.

Kill these filthy swine, Lina thought, sending her will into the towering menace. It responded with a flurry of emotion the queen could only describe as pure, unlimited rage. She conjured the image of a troglodyte to her mind and sent it as well, imprinting the awkward humanoid’s form on the wraith’s singular awareness.

At once, the wraith moved forward, crushing trees and humans alike with each thundering step.

The wraith only spoke one word of the human language – one Lina had taught it over the years she had spent earning the being’s loyalty. 

With a fiery breath that shook the earth and sky, the wraith crashed down on the troglodyte’s army with cataclysmic force.  “KILL!!!”

            Lord Elador, High Magistrate of Chancol, watched the events unfolding in Channer’s Glen through a still pool of water one of his mages had turned into a scrying surface. As the chief political officer for the grand city, it was his duty to keep the people safe. Elador was an old man, nearly seventy of age, and he had kept his people safe for decades.

            The perils of the world had approached his doorstep once more.

The battle raged in the scrying pool, but the troglodytes seemed to be holding the upper hand. Elador smiled. He had allowed the strange humanoid creatures to settle in the glen outside Chancol for just such a reason. His city was peculiar, of that Elador had no doubt, and with that peculiarity came a host of enemies. Permitting the troglodytes to settle in the glen created a buffer, another layer of security, and Elador enjoyed watching that buffer in action.

            Elador moved his magical vision to the strange commander of the army, a human like himself, and watched her inside her command tent. He could practically feel her trepidation as she paced back and forth under the low cloth ceiling. Another man was with her, but he appeared weak and unfit for command. Unfortunately, the mages of Chancol had not bestowed the power of hearing upon his scrying pool, so Elador had to guess at what the two were saying.

            “Sir,” someone said from the back of the vaulted chamber, pulling the magistrate’s attention away.

            “Yes?” Elador responded. He turned to see the newcomer, the only other person he ever permitted in the scrying room.

            The man, a tall, strapping figure with sun-touched skin, was Elador’s only son. As a magistrate, Elador was publicly sworn to celibacy, but even the most honorable of men had their indiscretions.

            “The army from Estria has been nearly routed,” Saveus replied.

            Elador smiled. “I see that,” he said. “The troglodytes have bred greatly since they came to the glen. Their numbers alone are enough to crush such a small force.”

            Saveus nodded, but his face showed anything but mirth. “Our runner has returned from Estria,” the man continued, obviously unnerved. “Their king has no knowledge of the force fighting in the glen. King Arias claims no responsibility for this attack.”

            “Oh?” Elador asked.

            Saveus produced a parchment scroll from a pocket on his leather vest and unrolled it before his father. “This woman,” he began, pointing to the hand-drawn picture. “Her name is Lina Arias. She has been missing for some length of time and the king has offered ten thousand pieces of gold for her return, but our men aiding the troglodytes say she is not their captive.”

            Elador furrowed his brow. He loved the interweaving political plots which ran the city’s politics, but this new development was entirely unexpected. “This woman is King Arias’ daughter? She leads their army!”

            “There’s more,” Saveus continued. “The king believes she is under the control of a necromancer or some other dark magician. She could have brought powerful allies.”

            The floor of the scrying chamber shook violently, nearly knocking both men from their feet. Eladore rushed to the scrying pool and peered into it. His eyes went wide when he saw the colossal beast Lina had just summoned.

            Lord Eladore’s voice trembled when he spoke. “Call the mages,” he commanded. He thought he heard the wraith’s distant voice echoing from Chancel’s high walls. “Gather the army!”