Posted by zero on behalf of maningrey
A mist formed over the battlefield in the valley, mercifully suppressing the stench, but by mid-day it would be awful. As yet, the sun had not yet risen over the high encircling mountains where the camps lay, and the night sky above was clear – a good omen for today’s push. Tribune Argentum, most junior of the officers in the Third Claw, contemplated the vastness of infinity from the camp at the mouth of the valley. The eladrin had extracted a cost, but were now holed up in their precious spiral tower. Tomorrow, the gates would be breached, the fortress cleansed of their alien filth, and the borders would be secure, as the emperor had commanded.
Behind him in his tent, closest to the main army as befit his low rank, he could hear the rasping and brushing as his ape-slave Gort worked to clean the blood off and polish the scales of Thraxus’s armor in preparation for the assault. The tribune tasted the air, and his tongue recoiled from the stench it sensed. He wasn’t sure which smelled worse – the taste of battle or the taste of the ape-slaves. Useful creatures, if simple. He couldn’t bring himself to believe the rumors that some clans had begun breeding for intelligence. What nonsense! No true dragon blood would waste time on such a vain pursuit. Next they’ll be teaching them runes or High Speech!
A runner arrived, summoning him to the general’s tent. A staff meeting at this hour? Involving him? Odd. He buckled his uniform back into proper order and headed towards the command tent.
Inside, the scene was grim. The senior tribunes were present and he’d been the only junior summoned. A suicide mission? The thought crossed his mind only briefly. Were they not on the very cusp of victory?
General Tiber lay on his nest, bandaged after his wound of the day before. Had the clerics been unable to heal him? The general looked dull in the scales, certainly, but his voice was strong. “Tribune Argentum, step forward. Protocol demands this.” The other tribunes looked uneasy, but moved to let him pass.
“What is your command, my general? Speak and it shall be done.” It didn’t matter what, weakness here could be fatal, both to his career and his life.
“The final assault that breaches the tower must succeed. This can only be assured if the charge is led by the Blood Royal. My wound was too great for the priests to heal, so this must be either the work of the White Head,” – the White Head of Tiamat being the god of dumb bad luck – “or it is a sign from the Father that you are favored.” His tongue flicked the air. “You are the fourth born of the emperor’s third brood.” This marked Thraxus as a distant nephew. “18th in line for the Platinum Throne. Congratulations. Go to the shrine and offer the sacrifice. The attack begins at dawn.”
The next three candle marks were a blur of activity between the anointing with sacred oil and briefings with the field commanders.
Suddenly, he was on the line, the blood lust rising as the positioning horns were blown, steady beats from the great battle drums echoed across the vale, scattering the few carrion birds drawn to the feast. He signaled the attack as siege engines hurled their missiles overhead. The line surged forward.
The controlled chaos of battle reigned.
Then they were before the great inner gates. The ram was brought forward as archers and spellbinders suppressed the defenders in the windows.
BOOM! The gates shuddered. His guardians, elite troops sent to ensure he arrived at this point alive, moved aside and watched him.
BOOM! The great carved doors cracked, but held. This was it, his moment of glory, arranged by the Father for him alone. He leapt up as the ram drew back a final time, grabbing a hold with one hand.
BOOM! It was one motion – he raced forward, roaring as the doors sundered inward. “For Bahamut and the Emperor!”
From the outside, the army surged back as titanic energies drawn from the deepest, oldest parts of the Feywild were called forth. The Tribune and his guardians ran along the ram and leaped through.
With a roar and a magical backlash that slew a hundred warriors, the Spiral Tower vanished, leaving only a pit.
Inside, they confronted…an empty great hall. Not a single elf or eladrin faced them. Odd. Behind, a swirling rainbow of color blocked the entrance as the doors hung from shattered hinges. One broke loose and collapsed with a bang. It echoed, but brought no response.
Thraxus spoke first, as befit his rank. “I claim this tower in the name of Bahamut and the Emperor!”
“Tribune?” one of the bodyguards gestured to a wide, curving stair, leading up into the tower. After a nod, they began their ascent.
“Are they all dead? This is some foul fey witchery, I’d bet my dewclaw on it,” said the other guardian, the more talkative of the pair.
It turned out that the top of the tower was not won so cheaply. They encountered Fey beasts and a handful of eladrin and elven guards, but the two Paragons of the Emperor’s Finest battled through – wounded, but victorious. Thraxus did little beyond trade a few blows, so well did his bodyguards fight together. Inwardly, he fumed at their insult in keeping him from harm. Wasn’t he a tribune? Wasn’t he trained at the finest academy? Blood Royal?!
Bloodied and exhausted, they reached the top of the tower. His guardians fell defeating some horror he couldn’t even name. Vowing that he would see their broods honored for their sacrifice, he pushed open the final door, licking the blood off his sword for dramatic effect. He was told eladrin were put to fear by such gestures.
He needn’t have bothered.
In this upper room, he found a graveyard.
All around a great summoning circle, the mighty sorcerers and wizards lay unmoving, killed by the magicks they had unleashed to move their tower. Madness!
“Congratulations. You have won, spawn of the dragon.” The voice was barely audible, but one eladrin pulled himself up by a pedestal where ornately carved stone branches cradled a great black orb.
Thraxus slitted his eyes and expanded his frill in surprise. “Do you yield, fey one?” Their language was Draconic, for the eladrin arcanists spoke the True Speech for their magicks.
Pale beyond death, blood leaking from his eyes and ears and mouth, the wizard supported himself and clapped his hand on the orb. No! Thraxus roared, leaping forward and unleashing a bolt of lightning.
At least, he was about to when blue fey fire washed over him and he saw no more.
A weak chuckle escaped the wizard as he slid to the ground. “You are immortalized in your victory, but you’ve lost everything, as well.” He coughed, sight fading. “This is nature’s balance.”
Death claimed him as the statue, intricately detailed, roared in silent eternal defiance.