Before the Darkest Hour

The Battle of Snake`s Mouth

9th-13th of Ches, 1374DR

On the 9th of Ches, High Chieftain Renoz of the Seven WInds gathered the Arkaiun Clans on the banks of river Talar, just south of the Wyrmbones. Not waiting for the chiefs that were looting the countryside of north Halruaa to return, he ordered his youngest son, Uthmal to remain with 5,000 horsemen in the Swagdar, and started his advance across the Bandit wastes with the bulk of his vast gathering. The horde was well spread out in several waves in order not to drain the scattered wells and pools of melt-water.

The force numbered over 120,000 riders with over 360,000 horses, strung out in 12 groups of 10,000 each, each with camel-drawn baggage carts and all linked by fast moving messengers as the Arkaiun army crossed 250 miles of barren gravel plain. There would be no storytelling of this outstanding feat beside the clan fires, for nothing went wrong. It was the way of the Nar-rider, that were used to the harsh conditions of the Swagdar – to an Arkaiun audience , eager for personality and anecdote, it would have been routine.

On the 12th of Ches, the horde spilled into eastern Lapaliiya, and prepared to cross the Dun Hills. As the forces of Renoz approached the Sheir Pass known as the “Snake`s mouth” that led to the Talar shallows, the Lapal commander of the hastly assembled army of the cities of Lushpool and Shiertalar ,Kyasur the Prince Royal, made a fatal mistake. He had a chance of launching a surprise attack when the Arkaiuns were on a rampage of looting. Instead, perhaps to win time, he sent a satrap – Yalal`tar of Lushpool`s Elemas tribe, to discuss peace terms with Renoz.

Yalal`tar promptly defected with the information that Prince Royal`s forces were waiting at the far end of Sheir Pass. Renoz sent a third of his force led by his eldest son, a Crinti named Nekyal the WItch Born, across the goat trails and ravines of Dun hills to surprise his would-be ambushers. There, the Lapal cavalry, packed between ridges, was overwhelmed by arrows and a massive Arkaiun charge. Lapal horsemen turned and trampled their own foot mercenary companies and city militias. When the dust of battle settled – bodies “piled like logs” lay scattered for 20 miles along the valley that drops to river Talar shallows.

On the 13th of Ches, Nekyal brought Kyasur`s severed head before Renoz, pronouncing his victory and saying that the way to Sheirtalar lays open.

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Gathering the Flock

The 4th of Ches, 1374DR; The Sky above Halruaa

Sandath knew he would find his master in the pleasure cabin of the skyship`s aftercastle. The aging jordainni banged the knocker on Tethyrian bluewood door and paused for a few moments before opening it. The smells of incense and sulphur mingled with smells of body sweat as he crossed the entry corridor lined with heavy silken tapestries. Finally he stepped into the windowless, half-lit room where his master lay sprawled on a low recliner, casually peering into an ancient tome layed across his lap – his alabaster skinned body naked as the day he was born. From a sea of pillows and silken sheets that owerflew from a large bed in the darkened back of the room several pairs of lustful eyes were watching him. He felt uneasy as he felt their gaze on him. Though his master was keen on collecting extraplannar flesh toys, Sandath was circumsized as a part of his jordainni training.

Turning to face his master, the jordainni spoke – „My lord Protarch , we have docked with the Nightwing “. Not sparing a single look to Sandath or his harem of Pleasure Thralls from Evergold, he strode to the room`s exit, dimly lit by daylight seeping through the curtains. Braclets, earings and neck chains jingled as a fine silken robe of bright yellow and red flew from a hanger to wrap itself around the wizard as he walked pass Sandath and into the corridor leading to the Skyship`s sundeck. Sandath had no choice but to follow in his master`s footsteps – although the jordainni was centuries younger then his master, he had difficulty keeping up.

The pale blue sundeck of Netheril`s Hope gleamed like ice under the afternoon sun, here and there crew was seen manning their posts. A flutter of powerful wings could be heard above the main mast – one of the ship`s manticore riders was making a swoop until the beast and rider disappeared behind the starboard railing. First to greet the wizard was a tall creature of sleek but muscled build, every inch of his manner and equipment revealing his extraplanar origins. „Our lord is on deck!“ the creature growled to the surrounding crew – „lower the bridge to the Nightwing !“ The crew obeyed. The only person that they feared more than their wizard patron was their captain – a Gish named Ra`aas Ji`li`kaii.

Immediatly a silvered bridge emerged from the port railings propelled by the Weave itself to touch against Nightwing`s starboard side. The two skyship`s glided side by side in the clear heavens above Halagard, they were different from eachother as night was from day. Nightwing was as Shar to Selune of Netheril`s Hope – its form revealed darkened skeletal creatures bound to the outside of its black hull, and packs of robed silluethes standing on its deck. Three figures emerged to step onto the bridge, ready to board Netheril`s hope . The first of the figures was the necromancer Tinias of Halagard. Tinias was on his own path to immortality, as shown by the pale skin that was once a rich color of dark olive, his beard he dyed with khol, to hide the yellowish grays. He was clad in robes of woven gold, heavy necklaces lost in their folds. Behind him followed his Jordain advisor Melek, last to step on the bridge was a Servent of Mystery, Hoster Drajin – the highest ranking priest of Mystra in Halagard`s Pearl Temple.

After he stepped onto the deck of Netheril`s Hope , Tinias the necromancer made a courtly bow to his host. Sandath watched in trepidation the sphynx-like features of his master. Although the two wizards corresponded occasionally and had their Towers within quarter of a mile apart as the lake gull flies, they hadn`t met in person since the fall of the Great Wizard Akhlaur – but what were years to these men that counted time in centuries. Finally, in accordance with High Netherese costum, Sandath`s master spread his arms and opened both his palms facing his golden clad guest.

As he accepted Tinias`es short lasting embrace the wizard spoke – „No amount of perfume hides the stench of the grave, Tinias“. Disturbingly, the necromancer remained outlandishly serious as he tried to grimace his thin, painted lips into a laugh revealing a set of yellow teeth – „ You noticed? My dear Elderic the Protarch , is this your way of wooing me? I would be a dull plaything, really… “ Now it was Elderic`s turn to laugh, as he gestured Tinias to stroll with him along the deck. The wizards departed, while their escorts remained a respectful distance behind. When they reached the broad forecastle, Tinias broke the silence – his features bent into a semblance of a smirk. „ So I must ask you Elderic, have you and Iantyr undone Zalathorm`s Palace? “ Elderic`s features remained troubled, his gaze fixed on the manticore rider making another swoop around the skyships. „ I can tell you this – the last two persons that asked me that same question are now locked in stasis atop of my tower. But nevermind the past, tomorrow we hold the Council right here in Halagard. I`ve called all the surviving Elders that wish to join us.“ Elderic`s gaze now fell to the sprawling city of Halagard hundreds of feet bellow as he continued through a grin„ Offcourse, I also sent a message to Greila, Matteo and Meldrathar to stop us if they can. “

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By Word and Wind

The 3rd of Ches, 1374; Halruaa, Halarahh

Illuminated by faint hues of the Weaveglow, Greila Sontoin strode regally through the murmuring throng assembeled in the Great Temple of Mystra in Halarahh. With her each step, the crowd parted before her, staring as she passed. For some of the assembeled priests and mages alike this was the first time they laid eyes on one of Mystra`s highest of servants. The High Priestess hadn`t left her Temple at Mount Talath for over a decade.

Her face was sombre, her stride was graceful as she walked along the debris-strewn marble floor, and her stare was fixed at the Mother of All Magic`s toppled statue that lay burried beneath the pile of rubble in the center of the great nave. Keeping a respectful distance from the old matron, walked Meldrathar Gath, the Magister of Azuth. Last to pass through the gap formed by the crowd, like wolves passing through a pack of sheep, were the feared Magehounds of Halruaa.

The procession stopped as Greila reached Mystra`s broken statue illuminated by the last rays of bloodied western sun. The only clear feature that remained of the marble collosus was a half-burried head that peered almost judgingly with its one visible eye into the crowd. High Priestess ascended a shattered marble column and raised a single silver star in her right fist. The crowd fell silent as she begun to speak, her voice reaching effortlessly all corners of the Hall. „What we witnessed today was an abominable use of the Art. I have watched your Wizard war unfold and fear that now, more than ever, Halruaa stands on the brink of Oblivion – as Netheril`s twisted tribe did before you. I will stay in Halarahh to personally hold the Mother`s Court and bring justice to forces behind this tragedy. Until that fleeting balance is restored, no Kingsmoot will be held, but the rule of Halruaa will rest on the shoulders of Matteo the Jordaini- king Zalathorm`s advisor. I cannot force you to acept this condition, I can only ask this council to see the reason of my words and swear by Wizard`s Oath to uphold my decree. If anyone among you wishes to raise his objections – speak now.“

No one uttered a word, but after a few moments of silence, a person among the assembled pushed to step forward. “By word and wind, sun and star, by the sacred flames of Lady Mystra and the magic She grants me, I swear that I shall accept Your court and the rule of Matteo until your ruling on this matter is carried, so say I, Procopio Septus, apprentice to Iantyr of Halarahh.” With these words, the wizard turned and pushed his way back through the crowd towards the temple gateway, his Jordaini advisor scurrying after him – as if to flee the clamour that rose around them.

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