The Horsemen are Coming
The Hellbourne General uttered a curse.
There, sitting in his chambers, he plotted. Anguished cries could be heard from the heroes and soldiers who were being tortured and devoured by his minions. His nostrils were full of the sulfuric scent of the surrounding fire pits but he had not yet tasted the blood of his foes. The Legion cause still burned brightly. Continue reading The Horsemen are Coming
Raising their armies, each marched toward the appointed place. The vanguard of each host saw the other; the leaders knew their foes sought the same treasure; and each spurred the other to hasten all the more. At dawn, the two forces found themselves arrayed across the open field. In its center, Grimm stood, emaciated, mad, laughing with daemonic glee.
The armies charged, almost unbidden by their masters. Sorceries and spells of all manner crackled in the air. The blast of Man’s weapons, the howl of beast warriors, and the screams of the dying all filled the place with the symphony of a massacre. Ophelia and Jeraziah both watched in mounting horror as their people hurled their lives away on the field of battle.
At the climax of the butchery, a crack like thunder deafened the assembled armies. For a moment, all fell silent. The ground shook and rumbled and split open where Grimm had stood. Flames and ash and lava spewed forth. The stench of sulfur flooded the glade. At the pit’s edge, a claw emerged. Then another. And more. Pulling themselves up from the inferno below came daemons by the hundred, returned once more to Newerth.
The Hellbourne had come again.
Unlike her brother, Ophelia had inherited her father’s gift for war. From the deep forests, she planned grand strategies, communing with the Beasts through the spiritual gifts given to her by her mother. Under her leadership, the Beasts struck at every weak point across the Legion’s domain; daring raids brought the horrors of war into heartlands long untouched by violence.
The unwitting fratricides fought for a decade in ever-worsening strife. On each side of the shifting borders, the dead mounted. Great pyres burned, mass graves were dug, sad laments and bitter howls echoed. In the deep fever of war, King and Queen alike were visited in a dream by their father. Haggard and changed, half-forgotten by the children, still they knew him and his voice. He promised each victory over the other if only they would find him where he waited, in a glade lost in the wilderness. He beckoned.
Yet unbeknownst to the young King, the Beasts now had a Queen. Halfborn, gifted with Man’s insight and the natural understand of the Beasts, Ophelia was hailed by her new people as the avatar of the Goddess Earth. She remembered little of her time among the humans, but she witnessed firsthand the brutal violence they brought against the Beasts. She watched the Legion burn forests and slaughter the young, saw their cruel new weapons melt the flesh from creatures’ bones and blast the sacred stones of their lairs to splinters.
In time the boy became a man, and the Legion began once more to assert its greatness. Jeraziah was not the warrior his father had been, but had learned great wisdom in his youth and prized knowledge above all else. Under his watch, the sciences flourished, and new weapons gave Man a new edge over Beast.
When at last the conspirators’ sight returned, day had broken. They found the King gone–vanished into the wilderness–and so too the Queen and Princess. Terrified that anarchy would be loosed upon the Legion, they swiftly recalled the hidden Prince Jeraziah and crowned the stripling king. For the disappearance of the royal family, they blamed a Beast assassin, and vowed to keep silent what they knew.
Ambushing the Queen as she left the King’s bedchambers, the conspirators fell upon her guard. But even as they did, the Queen raised her hand and shot forth blasts of lightning, destroying guard and assassin alike. The survivors watched as she shimmered and changed, her shape shifting for a moment to that of a terrible bat-like Beast. With a piercing shrike, the monster raised its hands once more, and all around it were struck with blindness.
Shifting once more, now into the form of a giant cat, the thing known as Sylvia swept through the castle toward Ophelia’s room. Awakened by the tumult, Grimm staggered into the hall and saw the Beast race away. He grabbed his battle-notched sword and pursued.
Grimm cornered the creature in his daughter’s room. The giant cat’s jaws were closed, tenderly, about the girl, who in turn had wrapped her arms around its massive neck. Grimm raised his sword for slaughter, but in that moment looked into the Beast’s eyes and knew, knew it was Sylvia, knew what he had done, the abomination he had committed. He fell to the floor, retching and wretched, as his wife and daughter bounded into the night.
For the first time in decades, Man had been ceding lands to the Beasts, falling back to the older fortresses and more defensible boundaries. And, with the death of their leader and the failures of the new Queen, the Scouts had begun to drift back to their distant reclusion.
The King fell once more into grief, but some part of it lifted when Queen Sylvia presented him with a beautiful newborn daughter. Ophelia was a clever child and mischievous, and soon won the hearts of even those who loathed her mother. For a time, the conspirators allowed their affection for the child to cloud their vision of what was coming to pass. They hoped, indeed prayed, the girl would soften her mother’s heart or bring renewed wisdom to the King. But none of this passed.
Grimm’s wise councilors dared not risk his ire by speaking out against the Queen. Trusting their master, they hoped he would soon realize her fell influence. But when she grew big with child, fear gripped their hearts. They knew that once she had borne him a child, she would conspire to kill young Jeraziah and set her own spawn as heir.
In secret, they stole the Prince away and brought him to a distant monastery of scholar-priests where he would be secure. In his bed they put the corpse of dead peasant boy of similar mien and with magic and craft disguised the differences between them.