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Sanamar Under Siege


Posted on 02-May-2005

by Alex "Ibn" Beckers

As the wall shifted, Antoine began to smile.

For the last two weeks, he had found nothing, and was beginning to wonder if he would ever be able to justify his King's trust in letting him join the expedition. While others had returned with arms full of molding parchment and dusty artifacts, Antoine had yet to make a single discovery. Until today.

Something about the edging on the bas relief had attracted his attention — something made it stand out from the decorative designs surrounding it. After carefully dusting the panel off, Antoine had placed both his hands on it and pushed with all his weight. Slowly, the panel had depressed, until it triggered some unseen switch with a satisfying click. That was when the wall behind Antoine slid out with a slow rumble.

Whoever had built these catacombs had a flair for the dramatic, he had to give them that.

As the secret door opened, a cloud of mold spores billowed into the corridor. Antoine coughed and covered his face with his sleeve. The torch in his other hand only barely managed to illuminate the dark tunnel beyond, but he cautiously entered, eyes wide. If he could find some new tome or relic, his favor with the King would be assured.

Two meters into the tunnel, the spore cloud grew thicker, and Antoine was astonished to see large mushrooms and other fungi growing out of a thick layer of slime on the ground. These growths were unlike anything he had seen before, even in those tunnels inhabited by the creatures that his people called "Thrungus."

He kneeled to take a closer look at one of the mushrooms. With his eyes cast down, he was utterly unaware of the things that stirred further down the tunnel. It was only when he heard a faint chittering and clicking that he raised his head.

By then it was far too late. When Antoine saw the black and purple thing coming towards him, he forgot all thoughts of kingly favor. When he saw the creature's pincers and claws, Antoine screamed.

*****

Bugs.

That's what they looked like. Oversized, bloodthirsty bugs.

As Seneschal Dalmour looked down from his post at the walls, he imagined a giant foot descending from the heavens and simply squashing them all, as he as a child had squashed ants near his family's estate in Viamont.

It had been nearly a month since the exploratory team had unwittingly unleashed this plague upon the land. Of the half-dozen members of that team, only one returned to the Royal Hall, dirt-smeared and raving about claws and eyes and blood. The tower sentries had sent out the alarm only minutes later — they had been lucky to get as many people inside the gates as they had before the swarm attacked. Elena du Furza had no explanation for why the Beacon had failed to warn them of the impending assault. Perhaps the creatures had somehow disabled it. One moment, the town was at peace. The next, they were overwhelmed by a force of monsters straight out of a Milantan folktale.

The monsters swarmed on the city, climbing the walls and slicing through the guards who bravely defended the town. Hordes of the creatures swarmed over the battlements, and if not for the mages, would have quickly taken the city. But the mages' powerful spells had repelled the vicious insects, and gave the King's forces time to regroup.

The creatures pulled back from their attack and instead ringed the city, preventing any hope of retreat or reinforcement. The knights of Eastwatch and Westwatch, assuming they were still alive, had no method of aiding the town. The King's knights watched and waited for the creatures to resume their attack, but the insects simply stood, as if waiting for a command from some unseen leader.

Sir Binwas Loc had been badly injured in the fray and was still unable to leave his bed. Many of the citizens of Sanamar had taken on the additional responsibilities of those who were injured, and Dalmour had been tasked with Sir Loc's duties. Now, in addition to his daily tasks managing the King's household, he was acting as captain of the watch. He had moved from barking orders to chefs and servants to giving commands to veteran soldiers. Ordinarily he would have enjoyed the time spent walking the walls, breathing the cold crisp air of this place. But when he looked down at the masses of alien creatures, he wished more than anything else that they had never entered that shimmering portal on Ispar.

The King commanded his scholars to pore through the ancient texts, looking for any reference to these creatures. There was little information to be found. However, there were a few hand-scrawled notes smeared in blood and grime that made reference to a swarm of vicious monsters known as "Olthoi." Being that this page appeared to be the least aged of the texts they had discovered so far, the scholars came to believe that these Olthoi were the beings responsible for the death of the culture that had once flourished on this land. The thought that these simple insects could destroy such an obviously powerful and learned society filled the people of Sanamar with a deep and intense dread.

Five days into the siege, the insects suddenly resumed their attack. Only this time, they did not try to climb over the walls. Instead, they began to dig through them. Had they continued, Dalmour had no doubt that Sanamar would simply have been destroyed.

But for some reason, the insects did not continue their assault. The attack ended almost as quickly as it began. Dalmour still didn't know why the Olthoi had suddenly stopped their digging and clawing at the gates — no one did. The sages had been studying without rest, but there were no answers. All that was known was what the guards on the ramparts saw: Three hours after they had begun their assault, the Olthoi froze as one. Half their number turned and sped off towards the East; the remainder seemed content to encircle the city and wait, delivering only sporadic and seemingly random attacks from time to time. The-

"Flyer!" A cry from the East wall interrupted Dalmour's thoughts. A winged monstrosity sailed over the ramparts, its wings buzzing loudly as it deftly sliced an arm off of one of Dalmour's men. It hovered over him, stabbing and clawing as he screamed and tried to beat it back with his remaining limb.

"Archers! East! Fire!" Dalmour cried, his voice hoarse with exhaustion. In the back of his mind a voice told him that his guard was beyond saving, but he held out hope. From the courtyard below, ten archers and crossbowmen raised their weapons and fired.

The volley was on-target, and the Olthoi screeched and writhed in mid-air. It dug its pincers into the unlucky guard, who was still screaming - Dalmour knew he'd be hearing that sound in his nightmares for a long, long time — and unsteadily winged its way back to the main swarm, weighed down by the struggling human it carried. It only stayed aloft for a few seconds before crashing down into the middle of a pack of purple and black chitin. Dalmour forced himself to watch as the accursed things tore the man to pieces.

They'd traded one guard for one flyer. Even if the odds were equal, the Viamontians couldn't survive those kinds of losses... and the Olthoi outnumbered them several times over. The magicians said that in the last two weeks these creatures had become active on all the Halaetan Islands. With their crystals they could see the swarms scuttling from the Cataracts of Sabella all the way to the Out-Lands. They were everywhere.

The stores of grain and other fruits and vegetables would hold up for a while yet, but the rations of meat were growing scarce. All the rabbits had been eaten and it was only a matter of time before the cows were gone. One or two residents had even tentatively raised the idea that the Red Bull would willingly give its life to save theirs, but the King brutally put an end to all such seditious talk.

The exhaustion of the siege was visibly wearing on the Seneschal's men. They stumbled at times and walked the walls with hollow, empty expressions. This siege would be the end of them in time — the despair alone could be lethal.

There were only two thoughts that gave Dalmour any reason to smile. The first was that the pathetic and beaten rebels in their dirty camp on Traitor's Island had almost certainly been overrun and slain. They had not the walls or forces to mount a defense against the Olthoi. It was a shame, he supposed, that Bellenesse would die under the pincers of these monsters and not by the hands of the King, but it was not a terrible loss.

The second thought was of the witch. He knew little about her, only the whispers that he had heard from the royal servants. The King and General Corcima kept him out of their private discussions with the woman, but there were rumors that she had magic that could help them. The King's council had been unusually secretive lately. Perhaps the witch had granted them some powerful aid already.

As Dalmour mused, he did not see the gates of the Royal Hall open, nor was he witness to what emerged for the first time under the sun of the new world. A gasp behind him made him turn; he followed his guardsman's gaze down into the central square of Sanamar.

There on the flagstones before the still-unfinished Hall stood his King, General Corcima, four of the remaining scouts, two mages... and four... knights?

These figures were wearing the armor of Viamont but were easily half a meter taller than even Corcima. They were broad at the shoulders and each clutched an enormous weapon in paw-like gauntlets. The strength required to wield such a weapon would easily be more than that possessed by any Isparian warrior.

As the people of Sanamar slowly gathered around the square, their murmuring and astonished stares only served to emphasize the shock of seeing these four massive individuals. Were these new allies? Animated constructs similar to the golems that roamed the wilderness? They stood utterly still, their armor gleaming in the sun. There was no possibility that these warriors were human — no human could be that tall, that massive, that... unnaturally still and silent.

Why were they here? The fierce grin on Corcima's face answered the question, at least: These warriors were going to fight the Olthoi.

With a word from the King, the group marched to the gates of the city — the four knights in front, Corcima and Varicci slightly behind, and the scouts in the rear. The mages clambered up the scaffolding to the ramparts. An expectant silence had fallen upon the city, with all — guards, citizens, even the remaining nobility — looking on, wondering if this could mark a turning point in the siege. Corcima looked up at Dalmour and shouted, "Seneschal! Open the gate!"

The silent crowd below erupted with cries of fear. The prowess of these four knights may have inspired confidence in the general and King, but to the people of Sanamar this plan was clearly mad. Open the gates? Let the Olthoi into the city?! It was suicide.

Despite his misgivings, Dalmour trusted his lord. He signaled to his men, who quickly removed the stout bar from the gates and began to swing them outwards. The chittering noises beyond swelled and the guards backed away, their fear overwhelming their training.

Over the growing din, Corcima shouted two words. "Knights! Forward!" The four enormous warriors strode through the open gates and, as one, brought their weapons down into the mass of gathered Olthoi.

Their strength was beyond anything Dalmour had seen. These knights, wherever they had come from, were more of a match for the Olthoi than any human soldiers could possibly be. They pushed the Olthoi back, deftly deflecting stabbing pincers and dodging spews of corrosive acid. They pushed towards the point where the swarm was thinnest, leaving a gap behind them.

"Mages! Clear the way!" Corcima ordered. The two spellcasters, standing atop the walls high above the fray, brandished their wands and shouted words of power.

"Quavosh quareth!" Two waves of energy slammed into the weak point in the Olthoi line, knocking the creatures backwards and creating a gap in the siege. Dalmour turned and saw the scouts sprinting at full speed through the gate. The knights held the Olthoi off as the four young men ran through the gap and then off towards the north. The Seneschal held his breath to see if the creatures would pursue — but they appeared to be entirely concentrated on the four warriors in their midst.

"Knights! Back!" Corcima barked another command. The knights made a fighting withdrawal, keeping the Olthoi away from the gates as the guardsmen hurriedly drew it closed. Dalmour made a note to speak to these men — no order had been given to close the gate. It was the correct action, but discipline must be enforced.

As the knights stood at rest, the Seneschal noticed that they were not undamaged by the fight. Their armor was dented and acid-scarred in places. One knight was missing his left hand, but he appeared to take no notice of it.

As Corcima and the King conferred in hushed voices, the healers came forward to tend to the knights' wounds. One knight's helm was severely damaged by acid, and as it was removed by one of the healers, Dalmour stifled a gasp. He knew this man — or rather, he knew the man that this creature had once been. It bore the face of Marcellus di Atragon, one of Corcima's lieutenants and a veteran of the wars on Ispar.

As Dalmour gazed upon what Marcellus had become and watched the knight's dull eyes stare straight forward, he felt his horror turn to pride. This knight had given his very body and soul to the cause of the King. Whether it was the work of the witch or some other magic, the people of Sanamar now had a weapon against their assailants. It would not be enough — even if every single Viamontian warrior could be changed, the knights would still be too few in number to defeat the besieging swarm. However, today's small victory brought a feeling that had long fled this city: hope.

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