The origin of an epithet [complete story posted]

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The origin of an epithet [complete story posted]

Postby Yucca » Wed Jan 27, 2010 3:29 pm

After coming up with a side for the Create-a-side thread(http://www.erfworld.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=1035), I decided to write a story set there. It will be posted in parts, I'll post them in groups over the next few days. Part one follows. Comments in the comment thread please.

1
Smelt was a horrid city. Whoever thought it was a good idea to have a city that specialized both in processing ore and freshwater fishing should never have been given the power to make that decision. Neither industry produces pleasant smells, and the combination was a nauseating aura that surrounded the city for hexes. The reek of rot and slag churned everyone's stomach. Regardless, it was the closest Citnalta city to Roe, and as such it was the first stop on Regent Taurus's goodwill tour.

“We were invited by your king. Did he not send word to you?”

“No,” the door warden replied, “no word has been sent that I should allow an armed stack of foreigners into the city.”

“I see,” said Taurus. And he did see. He saw the carefully blank expression on the warden's face. He saw the extra troops on the walls. He was a diplomat, so he kept his hand away from his sword, but he kept it as near as possible. “If you send for the governor I have no doubt he will give the the necessary orders.”

“I'm sure he will.” The door grate slammed shut almost before the words were said.

Maurice, the Bolerian tribal representative in the party, shifted uneasily on his mount.

“I know Murry,” Taurus replied. The reek grew deeper.

Barely audible behind the gate came padded footfalls. With a rush the gates flew open. Citnalta's chief warlord mounted on a blackdog charged forward at the head of a stack of pikers. Arrows rained.
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Re: The origin of an epithet

Postby Yucca » Wed Jan 27, 2010 3:38 pm

2
The winter immediately following the betrayal at Smelt came in fast and hard and wet. The half dozen spar-roes to make it back from Smelt were the last unit from either side through the mountain valley before is was snowed shut. The timing was deliberate, and Roe was forced to spend the opening of the war on the defensive.

Citnalta launched their long prepared fleet of Ironballoons, heavily armored flying troop carriers. Too fell quickly, but due to the timely arrival of Chief Warlord Escrow, Fro repulsed the attack.

The failure to take Fro stalled the momentum of the Citnaltian campaign. They began to fortify their position at Too, waiting for the Spring to bring them reinforcements, hoping that a thaw would arrive before Roe could mobilize their northern garrisons and bring them south.
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Re: The origin of an epithet

Postby Yucca » Wed Jan 27, 2010 3:38 pm

3
Bustle was still quite freshly popped when the Smelt incident began the war. As a noble warlord, he was technically eligible to succeed Taurus as Regent of Hedgerow, but taking that bet would have meant throwing shmuckers down the drain. That post would probably go to Chief Warlord Escrow or to General Cho.

Bustle was drilling the a-roes at Scarecrow. “Ironbaloons are heavily armored, even with your bonus most of the arrows you shoot at them will bounce off harmlessly. If we have our Aunt Flo with us her shockamancy might give us a way to overcome that, but it's unlikely that the casters will see much time in the field. Therefore they are not your targets. Let the spar-roes take care of them. The only exception to this is if they start unloading in range. Until every unit is on the ground the entire enemy stack is considered to still be airborne, so your bonus will work against them. Even then, you target the units, not the ironballoon.”

Spar-roes flitted back and forth in groups of 4 carrying wooden targets, moving in rapidly changing directions. No birds were hit, no targets weren't. The drill switched to massed volleys. Then to battlefield maneuvers. Finally to swordwork.

The last stack that was going to make up his group had just popped last turn. This was the last drill they would have before setting out to meet up with the other armies heading down to the pass.

Bustle enjoyed working with the a-roes. Their precision was a thing of beauty. With the exception of the high-defense-but-zero-attack ironballoon there wasn't a single flier anyone could pop that could withstand more than a few volleys from high level Rovian a-roes. Ground units fare better, just.

Noon. Our turn. Form up, move out!
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Re: The origin of an epithet

Postby Yucca » Wed Jan 27, 2010 3:39 pm

4
Day 30, year 982
The foothills only give a small movement penalty to my column. It will take 3 more days to get to the rendezvous point and another 4 traveling with the main army to be at the pass. I have two weeks worth of fresh-popped a-roes with me, two stacks of b-roes and a few boleros. We move in standard caravan formation and I have my spar-roes doing constant scouting hops. The mountains are starting to bend west, we'll hug their feet until the rendezvous.

Morale is high. Occasionally I overhear a Bolerian grumble about the fact I can't dance. Hey, I'm working on it. Short of that mostly playful gripe, the men are eager, anxious, and ready.

My own morale is high as well. Before this the only time I had spent in the field was when I'd be detailed to capture wild mounts for taming. I like it. I'm a warlord. I have an army at my back, the finest in the land. I need an army to my front. A foe to face. I am a warlord! I need a war! Shouting “fire!” on the training ground isn't enough. The poetry of the bow is ruined by the calm of the situation. The perfect arc of the arrow is wasted on strawmen.

I've heard that in the first attempt to take Fro the enemy ignored the threat that the spar-roes represented to the ironballoons. The little birds pecked away at the ropes until the baskets fell off the balloons, crashing to the ground and killing everyone inside. Chief Warlord Escrow is a genius. They lost a full quarter of their fleet that way before they retreated and came in without them, but the damage was done. What a sight that would have been!

A thaw is only two dozen turns away at most. General Cho and I will turn that valley into a meat grinder.
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Re: The origin of an epithet

Postby Yucca » Wed Jan 27, 2010 3:39 pm

5
“I just lost a spar-roe.” My henchman looked at me startled. “Another one. Sound the alarm, they're coming from the north and northeast hexes.” My henchman, Meadow, wasted no time. Nor did I.

“Battle formations. Face northeast. All stacks volley fire, watch your leader. Leaders, call your shots.”

At the same time Meadow was setting up the b-roes and boleros up front, but as the first units started descending from the mountains it was clear that they wouldn't have much to do. Bronyaurs, descending in ranks, dozens of them. “By the Titans,” I muttered as Meadow returned to my side. She smiled weakly, and failed to hide her nervousness.

“Ready!” I shouted, raising my sword. The a-roes in my stack bent their bows. They were the best I had, the only leveled one I was able to take from Scarecrow.

“Fire!” as I gave the command it was echoed by several of the other stacks. Arrows flew, straight and true and deadly. They found their marks, sinking into the bright golden flesh of the winged women bearing down on us. Bronyaurs fell. At least half of the first rank and many from the second hit the ground with force. Even before the arrows struck my sword was up again. “Ready! ... Fire!” It didn't break their charge.

The bronyaurs began to reply with their own ranged attacks. Their ranks split into columns and circled, firing broadsides and decimating individual stacks. “All stacks, fire at will!” I called out. I was losing soldiers fast, but so were they. Fliers fare poorly anytime they come up against a-roes in a long fight. Always.

Two warlords riding noncombatant flying mounts, unnoticed until now, descended on me. Meadow didn't see them coming, and she croaked quickly. They had orders to capture.

My sword slashed upwards and sank deep into the wooden mount. The rider twisted and brought a club down on my shoulders. I sank. As the world faded I saw the a-roes in my stack rushing in as they drew their blades.
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Re: The origin of an epithet

Postby Yucca » Thu Jan 28, 2010 4:08 pm

6
My hands were shackled. The ice cold bite of the metal bands was the first sensation that came to me as the world began to fade back in. It was one of the only things that cut through the numbness. I blinked my eyes into focus; a grey ocean spread out around me. Static peaks and rocky troughs.

Two warlords, either outlevels me. Two flying mounts, one slightly damaged. Ten bronyaurs. Ha! Only ten. That's what you get when you put fliers against a-roes.

Noon was fast approaching and my captors were almost out of move. They descended and started to pick out a campground for the rest of the turn. Anyplace to get away from the piercing cold of the wind. A calm spot between piles of boulders.

The bronyaurs alighted first, wrapping their wings around themselves like a short tunic. They shivered in the cold and walked carefully for fear of cutting their feet on sharp rocks. Two were carrying a third in a litter, and three more had limbs in splints and slings. They huddled together for warmth and made sure the injured ones were in the center. One shot up and began a miserable and solitary watch.

We came down then. My chains were unwrapped from the mount. It gave me a leash to move about. The mount had no move remaining, and I couldn't drag it over these rocks on my own. Not being mountain capable, I couldn't leave the hex without it.

There was no wood for a fire. No fire for heat. The warlords sat using their mounts as a wind break. They watched me closely and spoke rarely. I found myself a spot with some protection. Not much. Noon came and and I didn't heal. When you're captured you're on your captor's schedule. Rations didn't pop for me either.
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Re: The origin of an epithet

Postby Yucca » Thu Jan 28, 2010 4:10 pm

7
Some hours past with little happening, until the bronyaur watch changed . She stood at attention as she reported to one of the warlords. Her lips were blue, her jaw moved stiffly. Even at a distance I could see several of her wounds; a large bandage stretched across her chest.

“I circled the hex halfway through my watch and before I came down. No sign of anything in this hex or the others I could see.”

“Very good, dismissed”

As she left I stood and walked towards them. Shooting pain came up through my legs reminding me of their recent abuse. They saw me as soon as I began moving, and the watched my approach. Neither stood, neither drew their weapons.

“It's pointless you know,” I said to both and neither of them.

“You really think that we can't break through your army at the pass?” the younger one replied. “You have no idea the forces aligned against you. One tenth of our...” the older one cut him off with a sharp elbow.

“Needless to say,” the elder said, “nothing our army does is pointless.”

“That's not what I meant. The watch. Spare the poor bronyaurs from the wind up there.”

“Ohh?” he replied, “so a Rovian spar-roe can come find you? I think not.”

“No,” I replied, “spar-roes would do me no good here. I'm thinking of larger birds."

“HA!” he exclaimed with a chuckle, “So Rovian mothers still scare their children with tales of the monstrous “deep crows” do they?”

“Deep crows are real, and a one hex watch is pointless against them. If they want to croak us they will, a lookout will do nothing but croak a few moments before the rest of us. Once they're on you, there is very little you can do.”

“Pish and tosh!” the warlord said with a wave of his hand. “We've been moving through and camping in these mountains for ten turns now. We saw no evidence of deep crows on the way in and we won't see any on the way back either.

So no, we won't relax the watch so a spar-roe can come find you.”
“Ten days? You didn't fly up from Smelt?”

“I know what you're doing, young sir, and I'll feed you this one. I am Admiral Plant, and this is my son warlord Karac. I am in charge of the air defenses at SwanSong, and that is where you are being taken.”

“Wait,” I was worried, “we're not going straight east across the mountains for ten turns. Are we?”

“Yes,” Plant replied, “we're heading straight over the mountains to SwanSong. I'm afraid there'll be no rescue for you.”
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Re: The origin of an epithet

Postby Yucca » Thu Jan 28, 2010 4:12 pm

8
A cold night. Healing came with dawn. For most of us. The bronyaur on the stretcher met a cruel, shivering end before the dawn could save her. The others silently shed their splints and ripped off their bandages. Their golden skin once again glittering. Their gold ringed eyes held murder as they stared at me over their rations.

Plant gave me some bread from his ration. It was sweet and heavy. It was good.

I was hung over the back end of Karac's wooden mount, the chains around my wrists hooked to my feet. The gouge I had made in the mount during the battle stuck painfully in my gut. We took to the sky, the bronyaurs quietly taking escort formation around us.

The wind at that height chilled the metal of my bonds quickly, and the burning bite flared back. Numbness set in.

Since healing my captures seemed better able to handle the cold. Hours into the morning none of the bronyaurs had the same blue tint that they wore the previous evening. Karac and Plant stayed heavily bundled up and wore goggles for the wind.

Plant turned quickly in surprise. He stared at something behind the stack. Ice crystals clung to my eyelashes, but nothing could hide that expression. Terror, fear, panic. He was staring into the seven eyed horror that is a deep crow. I turned to see it myself. For a moment my expression matched his.
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Re: The origin of an epithet

Postby Yucca » Thu Jan 28, 2010 4:13 pm

9
A black bird sized to dwarf a dwagon. Its pus-yellow feet, scarred and craggy, tipped with talons as sharp as broken obsidian. Its midnight black wings were spread in a powerful downbeat, and the clouds swirled in their wake. Most frightening of all was the head. Seven ruby-red eyes perched above pair of mandibles that were stained with blood. The bronyaur broken in two and being pushed into the maw of the beast.

I stared.

...

...

...

Finally pulling myself away from the beast I whipped my head back around to meet Plant's gaze. He set his jaw and turned, his silent order brought the entire stack around with him. Everyone formed up. The bronyaurs and Karac each took a flank and Plant flew down the middle, screaming a challenge that was lost in the rush of the wind.
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Re: The origin of an epithet

Postby Yucca » Thu Jan 28, 2010 4:15 pm

10

[two beats of the creature's wings and it gained altitude quickly it dives back down and bowls into the formation of winged women they all croak plant rushes in with spear sinks one blow on a wing talon swipes mount out under him plant holds onto spear karac rushes in to save plant crow uses good wing and knocks karac unconscious i'm still shackled to karac's mount falling with it look up plant shredded by talons spear comes loose in puff of feathers]


[ground]
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Re: The origin of an epithet

Postby Yucca » Thu Jan 28, 2010 4:17 pm

11
Karac broke the fall. The wooden mount snapped loudly, driving splinters into my side, my face. My left shoulder broke, my right arm and leg were trapped under the shattered remains of the mount and its rider. I lay there for too long. Expecting the bird to land. Crush me hopefully, rip me apart probably.

Instead, feathers fall. Long wing-feathers from the beast gently flutter to the ground all about me. One lands close enough. Agony sings through my soul as I reach for it with my left arm. It covers me, mostly. Maybe the feather hides be, maybe it's full, but the bird doesn't come.

It doesn't matter. I will croak before the next dawn. The feathers might be warm enough, but I can already taste blood in the back of my throat. My head swims with pain and fate. This is where I end. To be croaked by a deep crow is an honor. With my final effort I move the feather off of my face. I hope to see the beast one more time.

A bright light.
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Re: The origin of an epithet

Postby Yucca » Fri Jan 29, 2010 9:46 pm

12
A bright light. Noon. I heal.

I heal?

There are no more enemy units in my hex, I am no longer captured! I heal when Roe starts its turn! Noon!

Healing major injuries is not a pleasant process. My shoulder knitting itself back together is more painful than getting it broken. Only it lasts a full minute instead of a fraction of a second.

But no rations.

I am no longer a prisoner so I heal on my turn, but I am not technically rescued, so no rations from my side. What fun.

I glance around quickly. The sky is empty, the deep crow has left. I'm still bound, but hopefully Karac has the key.

Back in fighting shape I easily push the shattered mount off of my chest. Karac too. I drag the back half of the mount to where Karac's pack landed. Thankfully it wasn't flung far from the crash. The key. And supplemental rations. In fact, most everything in the pack is useful. Except the pack itself, it tears apart at the seams as soon as I hoist it. Maybe I can fix it.

Food for a good number of turns, I won't starve. Cold weather clothes, I won't freeze. But the mountains give me a 100% movement penalty. I croak here anyway.

Then I remember. Two flying mounts. Plant's wasn't some cheap wooden flying horse, it was a carpet. It wasn't shredded with Plant himself, it fell before he was hit with the talons. We didn't cross any hex boundaries during the fight with the deep crow. Which direction was I thrown? Where did it land? I gather what I can and make ready to leave.

I have no weapon. A warlord needs a weapon, something to wear on his belt. The wing feather from the deep crow is longer than some blades I've used. I tie it to my hip.
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Re: The origin of an epithet

Postby Yucca » Fri Jan 29, 2010 9:47 pm

13
Ten days in the mountains. Ten turns of scrabbling over rocks taller than city walls. Ten days with nothing to show for it. Day 11 dawns.

“This is ridiculous, it's not even funny,” I mutter to myself. “But it's better than waiting around to croak.” Then, payoff. The carpet unrolled as it fell and caught the wind. I find it wrapped around and wedged under a boulder. It takes me the rest of the day to carefully unwedge it, but a few hours after sundown it is free. It's ripped, torn nearly in half by the bird. Made worse by flapping in the wind and being ground under the rock. All edges are frayed. It's missing almost 50% of its tassels.

Noon tomorrow... I fly.

Dawn comes. I mount up and take it to height. I need to survey the map as best I can to plan my route. A broad smile crosses my face as I realize that Admiral Plant did indeed rate a nice ride. The carpet is almost literally encrusted with minor magic items. Terrain charts, path optimizers, misdirects, and a much larger than average move score.

A small display of all the local territory pops up and my hex is marked. No one has ever taken the time to chart this deep into the mountains, so this hex and those around it have no terrain listed. They're just grey with coordinates. The wrong coordinates, some Citnaltian system no doubt. I'll have to change that when I get back.

I zoom out. As more of the map is shown, I am able to figure my position relative to sections are better known. I was lied to. We weren't headed for SwanSong, we were headed for the mountain valley by Smelt. We were headed for the battle. With the bronyaurs and Karac's clunky mount it would have taken two and a half more turns. This thing by itself will get me there before sundown.

Back to ground, load up the supplies I have left. Time to wait. Noon approaches.
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Re: The origin of an epithet

Postby Yucca » Fri Jan 29, 2010 9:48 pm

14
Noon!

My blood thrills in the rush of adrenaline as I throw the throttle wide open. The rumble of the carpet cannot be silenced by the wind this time, nor can my joyful cry.

“To WAR!”

I decide to circle back, just once, just for fun, just in time to see my mistake. Deep crows. Four of them. Just at a glance, one looks truly ancient. The wind fails to drown out their cries as well.

The throttle is as out as far as it comes, the carpet is headed south. I drop the pack, it tumbles out of the sky, scattering its contents as it falls. I lean forward and drop altitude.

If I can't show up at Smelt with an army at my back, a murder of deep crows will have to suffice. Let them shoot me as they shot Regent Taurus. Let them deal with these nightmares on black wings.

But deep crows fly fast, and my lead was small to begin. Four hexes to go until I'm out of the mountains and they're only three behind. The tattered edges of the carpet start to come undone. The holes grow by the second, and the lines of unraveled yarn trail behind me for a furlong. I'm not losing speed, but I am losing carpet.
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Re: The origin of an epithet

Postby Yucca » Fri Jan 29, 2010 9:49 pm

15
Fate smiles. Screaming incoherently I emerge into the mountain valley to find myself one hex to the northeast of Citnaltian reinforcement column. General Cho's army sits a half dozen hexes to the west. A thaw has come, but neither side can force its way past the other. Neither side can pay the price in units that that would cost.

I drop low, skimming the ground. I pull the deep crow feather from my belt and thrust it forward as if I'm ordering a charge. The midnight black gleams as it cuts the daylight, and I begin to sing the Anthem of Roe at the top of my lungs.

I shift course, directly for the reinforcement stacks. Several unlead Citnaltian stacks spot me and open fire automatically, but I'm moving far too fast for them to hit me. I cross into their hex but decline to engage. I take some hits, the pain pales in comparison. I rear the carpet back and clear their forts. There's nothing between me and my lines.

They were three hexes behind me, and gaining.
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Re: The origin of an epithet

Postby Yucca » Fri Jan 29, 2010 9:49 pm

16
The condition of the carpet forces me to slow it down to in order to keep in one piece long enough to reach my countrymen. It's already beyond repair, now it just needs to last long enough.

At my new leisurely pace I'm able to turn and see the show.

Four deep crows, including one ancient enough to have seen the world born, drove out of the mountains directly over the Citnaltian army. Unled stacks of bronyaurs engaged immediately, and they forgot all about the small little thing they had been chasing. The battle is brutal. The bloodlusting birds slaughter any ranged attacker that fires on them, then settle in for the rest. Not even the crunge, the nine legged heavy/siege unit were able to stand directly against them. I saw a stack of them cut down as they charged, led by a veteran warlord.

But attrition rules every battlefield. One bird fell, the Citnaltian chief warlord brought it down with a burst of magic. The ancient crow fell to a ramming by a crunge it hadn't heard approach. The other two circled and dove. Their hits slowly dropping.
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Re: The origin of an epithet

Postby Yucca » Fri Jan 29, 2010 9:50 pm

17
The carpet fell to thread not far from General Cho's tent.

“General Cho,” I saluted as I came to attention.

“Warlord Bustle, are those deep crows?” The general looked alarmed. Four, and even four that big. In the same hex? Enough to ransack a city.
I don't know how these words came to me. They don't really seem to make sense on reflection. But they stuck. “Don't be alarmed sir, just a little spring cleaning,” I replied calmly. “Should we join them?”

In the panic over the deep crows the Citnaltian fortifications at the hex border weren't manned. We pinned the terrified Citnaltian forces between us and the birds and forced them to pick their end. The general gave me an overflowing stack of high level a-roes to command, and we croaked every unit we could reach.
The Citnaltian army broke and routed. Some disbanded, others surrendered. Even warlords. The snow was pink throughout the hex.

One deep crow remained for us to deal with. It's wing had been broken, but it's jaws were still working. Most of the archers were out of shots. Ravel, the tribal chief of the Bolerians led in a stack of dance fighting boleros. They made that deep crow look like a jive turkey.

We pushed on to Smelt. The great towers of slag that made the walls were painfully undermanned. I command the a-roes in that siege, and any soldier who showed themselves on those ramparts tasted my arrows. The mare-roes beat down the gate and General Cho strung up the door warden who had denied Regent Taurus's entry.
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Re: The origin of an epithet

Postby Yucca » Fri Jan 29, 2010 9:51 pm

18
The campaign to take Rhino was longer. It is a story for a different day. General Cho fell during it. I had leveled several times by then. I was given command. I took the city.

As we were fighting in the south, Chief Warlord Escrow was retaking Too. It was a bitter struggle of attacks and counterattacks. Fro was the bigger city, but the occupying army raised the walls at Too and were able to rebuild them every turn. Regent Harrow croaked in defense of his city, but shortly before we took Rhino, Too was retaken.

Chief warlord Escrow was promoted to Regent of Too and Fro at the end of the war. To my surprise and to the dismay of many nobles at the capital, I was given the position of Regent of Hedgerow.

Regent of Hedgerow: Bustle, the Never Alarmed.
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