Conflicts ranging from minor tribal skirmishes to protracted warfare continue to threaten nearly all life on Entrath. Influential personalities continue to push their agendas forward in an increasingly complex political and social reality.
|Her Majesty, Queen Grace Boldheart||Reese the Crustcrawler|
|Sight of the Sun||Ashahsa|
|Constantina||Monsuun, Shogun of Winda’jin|
|High Cleric Gortezuma||Xartaxis, Bishop of the Azure Fang|
“From the time I was a little girl, I knew that someday I would be a queen. This was not fanciful, make-believe child’s play, no. Stern-faced adults decided that I would be betrothed to Gabriel Boldheart, eldest son of King Henry XLIII, before I was able to count all of my own fingers and toes.
When we were finally old enough to meet and begin our tentative courtship, I told my future husband that I had one request above all others: that for each day of our lives as husband and wife, king and queen, he would always treat me with kindness. Gabriel made his pledge without hesitation, and has remained true to his word ever since.
My father was the Chancellor of the Academy of Cerulea, and he was determined to ensure that the future Queen of Carloth would be far more than a hollow figurehead. I studied the humanities with Rosencrantz, an elf scholar who had been teaching philosophy for nearly five centuries. My math tutor was renowned for inventing several analytical formulas, and my Hexing gem teacher was none other than Archmage Wrenlocke himself.
In addition to my schooling, my childhood and brief adolescence were spent preparing to be the mother to a kingdom. I was somewhat less prepared to be an actual mother, but barely a year after our wedding, Victoria, my eldest daughter, demanded to be unleashed upon the world so she could waste no time in conquering its mysteries. Soon after came Malcolm, I remember him standing on his tippy toes in his crib, reaching his chubby hands towards the ceiling, desperate to fly. And finally, quiet young Stuart, always seeming to converse with wise spirits only he could see and understand.
I have given all I have to give to my kingdom: my loyalty, my counsel, and my children who shall serve as the future monarchs of the realm. All I ask in return is the same thing I once asked of my future husband so many years ago: kindness.”
“Are you shivering, young pup? Here, take this shawl, wrap it around your shoulders. Yes, I feel the chill in the air as well, but it doesn’t bother me. Yes, those clouds do look menacing, but they shall pass, as does everything. The clouds may hide the sun, even for weeks at a time during a long winter, but that does not mean the sun has abandoned us. No, we may not know its true warmth on this cold afternoon, but the sun is always there.
So much of our lives are obscured by clouds, keeping what we know to be true hidden from our sight. It may be difficult to imagine the sun even still exists beyond the grim winter sky on a day such as this one, but you must remain assured that the sun shall never forsake you, young one. Nor the moon, nor the stars, nor the ground upon which we now sit that gives us our home.
This day, you see, is every day. No, I don’t mean to see today is ‘like’ another day, I mean to say that all days are the same day. All that is happening now, has happened in the past, and shall happen on days we cannot yet see, are all occurring at the same time, right now. Today you and I were born, young one, and today we shall both die. And today we shall both exist for all eternity.
This is why our people know such peace. Yes, there will be times when we must raise an axe to defend ourselves from an aggressor, but that is because they don’t understand that time does not exist, that all moments are but a single moment. There are those that hold the foolish belief that individual beings can improve their wealth or joy or power by stacking moments together and constructing them into some kind of recognizable shape. This is madness.
The sun exists for a billion billion years, young one. And so do you, and me, and your mother and father, and the cottonwood tree, and that groundhog over there, because we are all made of the sun. We are its light, its heat, its infinite resilience.
Look, young one. The clouds are moving. Do you see that hole in the sky, where the light is pushing through? You can remove your shawl now … you can feel the warmth of the sun against your fur.”
My first exhale upon my birth was no shriek, instead it was an extended note of pure musicality (that note being a perfectly toned C sharp, from what I’ve been told by those present in that exalted moment). I hath been a performer from that dawn thenceforth.
Despite my estimable inborn genius for dramaturgy, I recognized as a youth that my formidable talent was an insatiable monster, one that would consume me were I not to feed it with relentless attention to my craft. I devoured the art of the theater, my bones transforming into stage wood, my body an unassailable conduit for the poetry of the master tragedians. Even the death of my mother, a tale too brutal and wretched to articulate at the present moment, didst not dissuade me from my monomaniacal ambition to become Entrath’s greatest living thespian.
I endured the twin battering of love and calamity to finally attain my aspiration, a starring role in the legitimate theater. The critics, in their infinite jealousy, attempted to scrape their befouled claws against my tender flesh. I heeded not their lashing tongues, for from my perch upon the stage I could see the faces of the audiences, utterly rapt and held under my unyielding sway. With a mere flick of an eyebrow or quiver of voice, I could wrench the emotions I desired from any audience. Each of my bravura performances were met with deafening ovations, their faces saturated with the tears I had drawn up from their souls.
And yet, despite the success I deservedly earned, disaster would inevitably claim its pound of my flesh. Once I had a son, Arthur his name. He is lost to me, but not to the heavens, for he still draws breath. I didst lose my dearest one to the vagaries of wandering depravity, for my Arthur became a … the very breath of speaking the words sends daggers piercing into my being … a wandering minstrel!
He hath no concern for craft. He learns not from the masters, but from his own muse! He wanders the forests like a filthy beggar, strumming his lute in the hopes that passersby shouldst fling their coins towards his upturned chapeau!
Can you imagine a more potent humiliation for a mother? A bigger insult to a mistress of stagecraft? Is there no greater curse than a child who forsakes an education to follow his whims towards a life of vagrancy?”
“You stand in the presence of a High Cleric of Kog’Tepetl, show the proper respect. On your knees. Good, good, now back on your feet. There is a subtle distinction between deference and submission, gladiator, and you shall have to learn the difference if you have ambitions to dodge the political and social avalanches that follow in the wake of fame and glory. Gortezuma wants to help you, gladiator.
I have been watching your progress in the Arena with keen interest. You have won 83 matches in a row, yes? Ah, my apologies, 84 matches. That is currently the highest win count of any current gladiator, which makes you one of the most famous orcs in Ayotochi. Only 16 more wins and you will receive the honor of challenging one of the High Clerics to battle.
Emerging victorious from the arena is a formidable challenge. Of course, I don’t need to tell you that, you have managed to do it 84 times in a row. Still, defeating 16 more challengers shall be no easy task. If anything, the more matches you win, the more eager your opponents will be to beat you.
Gortezuma knows, for I was once where you stand now, gladiator. As I approached my own one hundredth arena victory, the more terrified I became that I would lose. Yes, you heard me, I used the word terrified. You know the feeling yourself, gladiator, do not bother to deny it. Your wide eyes betray you. With each victory your fame grows, yes, but so does the potential humiliation you will suffer should you fall in your next match, or the one after that, or the one after that.
During my own campaign to reach one of the five High Cleric seats in the Cathedral of Stone and Blood, as each of my opponents fell bleeding to the arena floor, I first sensed a wave of relief followed by a far more potent rush of fear. What if I were to lose to my 91st opponent? Or my 94th? What kind of agonizing torment would I be forced to endure were I to get so very close to my goal, yet fall short? Can you imagine it, gladiator? Each of your waking moments must carry the burden of your potential failure, no? I do not envy your position. All it would take is one slip on an unseen patch of mud, or a shift of eyes to the left when you should have looked right, and all of it comes to an end. And every orc that now has your name on their tongue shall forget they ever knew it.
Still, there is a chance, however remote, that you will reach your 100th victory, gladiator. At that time, you may choose one of the five High Clerics to battle against to try and earn their seat in the Cathedral. Perhaps the High Cleric you will choose is me. We shall see, won’t we? Yes, we shall see.”
Ah, yes. The Feralroot. Sure, I can take ya there. How does it work? Well, I do the diggin’ and you do the followin’. Yes? I got this specialized tunneling equipment I designed meself, I can take you through the crust of the planet underneath any place you want. When we get to where we’re goin’, I just start diggin’ up, and poof, we stick our heads up wherever we happen to be.
It might take us a few tries to dig out and figure out where we are, but I’ll get ya there, no worries about that, chum. There ain’t a patch of grass or rock on this whole planet that the ol’ Crustcrawler hasn’t dug under. Not sure why you’d want to go to the Feralroot, I suppose you have some kinda dealin’ to do with the damn elves. Ain’t my business, as long as you pay your fare. Up front, if you please. Mighty kind.
The Crustcrawler? Yeah, that would be me, that’s what they’ve called ol’ Reese for, hell, I don’t know, a century or so. I been diggin’ since I was little more than a pile of rubble, and don’t see myself stopping any time soon.
I spent my first few smooth-faced years in a robot factory. I learned pretty quick how to bolt arms onto a war bot, but construction is just one of my talents.
My foreman was always sending me out to the Great Machine Graveyard to rummage around for this or that bit o’ junk, and that place is surrounded by all kinds of nasty beasties. I discovered that it was safer to get to the junkyard from underneath. That’s when the light bulb went off: if I could get to the Great Machine Graveyard by diggin’, don’t it stand to reason I go anywhere I damn well please?
Yeah, I heard the stories about the golem that sits in the center of the planet. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s hogwash. Truth be told, I ain’t all that keen on finding out. I’m more of a horizontal digger, y’know? That’s where my expertise lies. I got no interest in some suicide mission to whatever nonsense lives in the core of the world.
Well, that’s enough ’bout me. Let’s get ya where you’re goin’, pal. Here, put these on, they’ll keep the gravel out of your eyes. Oh, and if there’s a cave-in, don’t panic. Just stay where ya are and ol’ Reese’ll find ya. Probably.”
The humans have this ugly misperception about the necrotic, that we are mere thralls to a single intelligence. No, that is not true. We are not shin’hare, our lives are our own. Still, each of us are awakened with a particular … ‘inclination’. The word is not terribly accurate, but no other in this language describes the idea. Some necrotic stumble away from the awakening slab and pick up a sword, others a dagger, and still others a tome of arcana. Whatever their ‘inclination’ suggests to them.
My ‘inclination’ led me to Naagaan, the largest necrotic settlement on this world. I wandered its meticulous streets, my bare feet aimlessly moving across paths embedded with polished Hexing gems that were rounded like cobblestones.
I was drawn to a majestic structure that shimmered bluer than any sea. I would later learn that this building was the Palace of the Windbourne. As I stared up at its spires, which were shafts of pure sapphire, I saw several figures flitting through the azure-tinged air. They were necrotic, soaring far above the cobbled streets on wings of pure magic.
This was where I was meant to be.
After my acceptance and initiation into the Order of the Windbourne, I donned the mask of the acolyte. All Windbourne agree to have their vision taken from them for a time. The wind has no eyes, yet it knows exactly where it wants to go and gets there with power and grace. When the wind encounters an obstruction, it either pushes it over or finds a new path towards its destination, undeterred.
The wind also carries things from place to place, sometimes from quite distant lands. It brings smells, tastes, and even words. An errant breeze has carried voices from the human realms, along with snippets of their scheming. From what we can discern, the humans are planning a direct assault on the Palace.
They are welcome to try. The humans will be lifted from their feet and crushed against the gem-encrusted streets upon which we now stand, then carried off on errant breezes to forgotten obscurity.”
“The enemy is dumb. Look at them out there. Wait, never mind, don’t do that. If you poke your head out of this hole, you’re likely to get it lopped off. So, just listen to them above us, tromping around in the mud in their clangy metal suits, their noggins encased in buckets they can’t see out of, swinging swords they can barely lift and blathering nonsense about their stupid king.
You are exceedingly fortunate to have been placed into my militia, young battle hopper. Unlike the majority of these nameless legions, you stand a chance of surviving this nonsense today. Because in my battalion, I’ll teach you that your head is useful for more than just keeping your ears attached to your body.
While I concede that overrunning the enemy with sheer numbers is a time-honored shin’hare strategy, I prefer a more subtle approach to battle. I’ve given a name to the tactics I have developed: The Three Ds. Digging, Decoys, and Diversion. Clever, no? Sure, you can kill humans by assaulting with overwhelming numbers from the front, but isn’t a surprise dagger to the back far more satisfying and effective? It also makes it far less likely for you to be disemboweled in the attempt, which is the element of the backstab that is eminently appealing to me.
Of course, to employ this more indirect approach requires the Three Ss: Subterfuge, Speed, and Sophistication. All of which I learned from my exceptional upbringing.
I was born in a brood chamber, just like you. Well, not exactly like you, I wasn’t squeezed out of a nameless concubunny into a pile of wriggling, squealing kits. I am a sire of House Winda’jin, the most respected of the shin’hare noble houses. I don’t expect one of the peasant class, such as yourself, to understand the various complexities of the nobility, but take my word for it, House Winda’jin is the epitome of shin’hare culture and political influence.
I was never destined to be one of the anonymous fodder, bred to die and rot on a battlefield in some backwater, no. I was raised from birth to be a leader, a general. Only one of noble origin, such as myself, could rise to the rank of shogun, for only we are capable of learning the ceaseless intricacies of warfare.
A common battle hopper such as yourself will never be able to grasp your indescribable good fortune to be placed in my command. The melee rages above us, I can see the blood of the fallen beginning to seep into our tunnel. The time is almost nigh for us to erupt from our subterranean refuge. You shall survive it, I promise, if you do everything I say and follow my commands. Remember the three Ds and the three Ss. Do not loosen the grip on your katana, even if your hands become saturated with blood.”
“Stop struggling, orc. Those webs have you bound tight, no amount of twisting and writhing shall free you. If anything, your exertions will make it more difficult for you to breathe. As you will no doubt discover in the few weeks you have left to live, air is the only luxury you have left to enjoy.
You have only yourself to blame for your situation, orc. You could have chosen to stay in Orcland, smashing rocks together or playing with your own filth or whatever you idiot creatures do with your time when you’re not trying to clumsily invade my homeland. Of course your raiding party would be captured, what other possibility was there? That you would succeed? Please.
I think I like you, orc. Your intense hatred for me is palpable, it’s right there in your expression. I encourage that. Praise Xentoth!
Actually, you are quite lucky. You may not believe that, given your current confinement, but it is true. You have been captured by the Azure Fang. I don’t expect an orc to know what that is. Indeed, there are even vennen who have no idea that the Azure Fang exists.
You see, we are a loose collection that is not officially sanctioned by the Inquisition elders. Of course they know we exist, they merely turn a blind eye. Of course, any vennen would question my devotion to the Spider Mother at their own peril. It’s just that the piety of the Azure Fang takes an unconventional form.
Xentoth is the Primal of Blood Magic, so her children believe that Blood Magic is the purest expression of her power. As one of her children, I believe that as well. But the Azure Fang is one of a number of outlier clans who take a more open-minded approach to using non-exclusionary forms of power. Such as sapphire Hexing gems, as an example.
After Hex first scattered its shards across and beneath our world, it was quickly deemed blasphemous for any vennen to use them. For unlike Blood Magic, Hexing gems are not a creation of the blessed Spider Mother. Over time, some become entrenched in these beliefs, while others developed a more progressive approach.
The Azure Fang believes that any tactic, even those considered profane by some, is acceptable as long as it is done in the service of the Spider Mother. The use of Hexing gems amongst the children of Xentoth is spreading, orc. Much of that is due to the values that the Azure Fang is working to foment.
In the few torturous weeks you have left in your life, orc, your body will be used to incubate and then feed my spiderspawn. I encourage you to use that time to consider all that I’ve told you. And stop squirming!”