BEFORE PART ONE
Snow swirled around the tower, an up thrust crag of black stone against the leaden sky. Dawn was minutes old and the tramp of armies below could be heard quite plainly.
Smoke curled from the braziers set beside the cannon positions as soot-stained gunners, sweating despite the cold, hauled their bronze charges forward.
Ragnar, a Lieutenant stationed in Castle Nochnoi stood facing north. Even five hundred feet up, at the top of his tower within the Northern wall, he could see the different armies below him laying siege to the wall. The bitter cold of Xamillian sorcerous wind ripped through him, but he could not abandon his post. His wife, hold up elsewhere within the tower was as safe as he could make it with her not realising he was being protective of her.
That is to say, not at all if they got in.
The tower shuddered. Grashnak’s orc’s had breached the outer wall before daybreak and his giant’s had brought battering rams and siege engines into the assault. Those of his loyal soldiers who still survived tried to repulse them from the lower parapets, but to no avail. No matter how many they killed Grashnak’s forces still came on. How he had managed to convince all of the tribes to attack the Northern wall at this point was something that confused Ragnar but his hatred of Grashnak ran deep.
The tower shuddered once again. A giant stone fell from the wall near to where Ragnar was stood. Grimly he smiled behind the face plate of his helmet. If he was lucky it would crush a half-dozen goblins or orcs when it landed. Perhaps, he thought, it might destroy one of the giants working the ram. A small victory, but that was all that Ragnar had at the moment. Adjusting the helmet he thought of where this was leading.
More stones fell. The cries of goblins and the screams of Ragnar’s men, the prisoners of the goblins carried up to Ragnar’s ears. He knew Xamillian’s sorceries brought the screams to this height, but that did not make them seem less real. Ragnar knew his pride had brought this upon him. Why had he not had a real chance to kill that damn Orc when he was in his presence? The scars on his hands ached at that thought.
As if his thoughts were a catalyst, the tower shook one more time and began to sway. Ragnar gripped the walls but knew the outcome. Ragnar brushed his long dreadlocked in his beard over his shoulders and then pulled the fur cloak around his body which was criss-crossed from head to toe with the scars of a thousand battles that he had been in.
Arnulf, one of Ragnar’s most trusted warriors approached him and looked down at the carnage. He had burning brands entwined in his beard and armour made from leather. “Now they seem to be getting a little bit serious don’t you think Ragnar?”
“Now this is going to be a fun day, Arnulf,” Ragnar said as he pulled out a huge axe. “Unless you happen to be an orc that is.”
Arnulf smirked as he pulled on his helmet. “If that Grashnak wants a battle this time then he has picked the wrong time to come here don’t you think?”
“So true my friend.”
“Oh now this is going to be a party,” a voice said from behind them. Both of them turned to see the mighty Dwarf Warrior Fergus Stormhelm. He stroked his beard as he looked towards the battlements not being able to see over them. “It makes me hungry and horny thinking of battling these damn green skins.” Fergus pulled a half-eaten chicken carcass from a sack held by the Halfling stood beside him.
Arnulf looked down at Fergus. “Do you want help up so you can see them properly little man?” he asked with a smirk on his face.
Fergus started to say something but was interrupted by the Halfling Benjamin Proudfoot. “Nobody tosses my liege………Except me!”
“Lord Silvermane will need to be told.”
“My lord!” a voice cried, hollow and echoing in the vast bed chambers of Silas Silvermane the Lord of Castle Nochnoi.
The old man awoke startled, reaching for his runic axe set reverently upon a weapons rack at his bedside, but when he saw Ty Kijada, his fellow clansman and Standard Bearer, he relaxed.
“My Lord,” the breathless soldier repeated, hands on his hips at the impromptu exertion, “They have nearly breached the inner gates my Lord,” he gasped.
“By Siggie’s beard, they have got that far tonight? Why did no one wake me earlier?” Lord Silvermane demanded, springing from his bed sheets and dressing quickly. “Gather my warriors together so I can talk to them for they will have to defend the gates to the end!”
“They are gathered my Lord,” Kijada said. “I hastened to inform you myself that they are nearly through but there is a strange ethereal mist wreathing their path.”
Lord Silvermane’s face grew dark as he recognised sorcery was afoot but not something that the orc Warlord Grashnak did but at least he was finally letting people know that he was alive. And that would please Ragnar.
Suddenly a bellowing horn sounded in the deep, reverberating stone and shifting dust motes from the low ceiling.
“The warning horns,” Kijada stated anxiously.
Grim-faced, rune axe clasped in his meaty fist, Lord Silvermane turned to his servant.
“Get me my armour,” he growled. “They are nearly through.”
After Lord Silvermane got prepared he proceeded to the last standing gate, his warriors gathered around him. They were all gathered around him awaiting the words from their illustrious Lord.
“My minions,” Silvermane said. “Our way of life is under threat from an outside force. We must prevail. We cannot let that damn Warlord stop us. I am cancelling his time in this world.”
Standing amongst the remaining forces was the Elf maiden Aariel Tallelm who was stood to the left of him. She adjusted the armour she wore. It did not leave anything for the imagination. Across from her was her half-brother the Lord of Luxor, Landon Tallelm, dressed entirely in silver plate mail. He looked regal especially when his companion next to him was concerned. Ronan was a typical brutish barbarian who stood up straight in a loin cloth and cloak.
“This Warlord Grashnak is a dastardly monster,” Lord Silvermane said. “He leads this group of miscreants against us, thinking that they will rise above me like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes.”
Commotion can be heard from outside the battlements of the castle as the warriors from up above joined Lord Silvermane’s party of adventurers.
“We must stop them before they over run this land with their evil ways.”
There siege towers closed on the walls. Lightning was shot from the battlements by some of Lord Silvermane’s wizards hitting several of the towers. One of them fell, crushing a hundred or so of the warriors of Grashnak’s army beneath them. The ramp of one of the other towers slammed down onto the battlements, sending warriors streaming onto the walls. Tired defenders struggled to hold the castles wall.
With a huge explosion of timbers and metal, the main gates crashed open. The massive battering ram hauled by hulking, giants lumbered forward was hurled aside as the opening appeared.
A screech was heard above the battle sounds. Everyone turned to see dark shapes in the sky above, four of them barely visible amongst the clouds. One detached itself from the group and spiralled downwards.
“Oh by my beard,” said Fergus as he adjusted his armour for the upcoming fight.
As it came closer the shape was revealed to be a dragon, its large black scales glinting in the lightning. Perched at the base of its long serpentine neck was a figure swathed in a rainbow coloured cloak, his face was hidden behind a tall helm.
“A dragon?” Fergus asked. “I haven’t killed one of them before.”
The dragon landed a short way in front of the party and folded its wings. The figure leapt gracefully to the ground from his saddle, tall and lean and strode towards Lord Silvermane, the cloak flowing just above the ground.
Kijada tried to stop him so as to protect his liege lord. The figure held up his hand and Kijada dissolved into ash. The figure removed his helm as him army came storming through the gate. It was Lord Silvermane’s estranged brother Xavian. He looked at his brother with a look of disdain as his army parted and his champion Grashnak arrived. He looked at Ragnar as he carried an axe in his left hand.
“Silvermane,” Grashnak said with his Orc accent. “Silvermane; It is time for you to be gone from this land. This is our time. You are but a relic of times gone by.”
Lord Silvermane stood and went to approach Grashnak but was intercepted by a scream from his brother. The force of Xavian’s scream, the actual, physical consequence of it, made Lord Silvermane stagger back. He went down on one knee but quickly he hauled himself upright again.
“Oh you can’t say that to my King,” said Fergus as he pulled a giant axe into his hands. He charged in but was intercepted by Grashnak who lashed out with his axe, cutting down Fergus with a powerful blow that sliced through his plate mail armour with ease. The two halves of Fergus fell to the ground, blood fountaining in all directions. Grashnak roared his pleasure as the blood flowed over his rippling muscles.
Benjamin looked down at his friend and openly wept as Ronan charged forwards, his face a mask of resolve as he swung a heavy axe in both hands. The blade chopped deeply into Grashnak’s side. He glanced for a moment at the wound; Grashnak raised his gaze to lock onto the eyes of Ronan. A feral grin touched Orc’s lips, exposing his teeth, as he reached out with a hand. Grashnak grasped Ronan around his neck and twisted viciously. With a sharp crack, Ronan’s body went limp and was thrown contemptuously to the ground.
He looked over his shoulder to his troops of soldiers as Ragnar and Arnulf charged in. Arnulf rolled under the swing of Grashnak’s axe and came up and slammed a burning poker into Grashnak’s eyes. At the same time Ragnar swung his axe and decapitated Grashnak where he stood. Ragnar picked up the burning head. He stared at the burning nimbus, and felt his pupils alternately contract and dilate with each hiss and flicker of burning skin.