I am writing this from memory, as I sit here in my dwelling. The last few days were full of pain and discomfort, battle and fear.
But also victory and satisfaction on a dark fate diverted. We had prevented the worst from happening. At least for now.
It had been a time of peace and quiet on Atys for a long time.
Life had followed its normal course, almost as if Atys had fallen into a deep sleep and only lazily turned restlessly from time to time, dreaming of things to come.
Or perhaps visions of the past plagued the worlds dreams. Who was to say?
There was something reassuring about the silence that lay over the World-Plant, something that allowed conflicts such as the struggle for resources and possessions, but hid everything else under a cloak of tranquility. Homin life became monotonous. Everything was normal and quiet. Nothing really important endangered the routines of life.
Until that fateful day.
Once again it was market-day in Fairhaven and the Guild of Traveling Merchants welcomed their customers as always, to lively bartering and a general good time. Larann, its Guild-Master and his business partners had their hands full, to cope with the demand.
Then a message arrived that would end all peace and quiet.
As I strolled across the footbridges of the capital of Naw Trykoth, the sun-drenched waters splashed gently under the planks and the footsteps and voices of the market's many visitors echoed in the clear air.
I loved the market. Here you were sure to meet many friends and acquaintances, because hardly any homin would miss the opportunity to make one or the other good deal. Here you could buy the finest things craftsmen and - women had to offer and marvel at the most wonderful toys and gadgets.
Today however I had no specific goal, except to buy some sweets and meet and catch up on some gossip with friends. It was a beautiful summers day in the Lakelands.
Flags and Ribbons had been put up. In the evening colorful lights were to be lit and fireworks had been announced. People of all lands were gathered and smiling at each other and no-one suspected the horrible news that a pair of exhausted feet was just now carrying into the city.
I too suspected nothing and as I walked across the last footbridge towards Windy Head Pontoon and the stalls of the traveling merchants, a blue glow caught my eye amid a crowd of market patrons.
As I approached, I glimpsed a certain item in-between the gaggle.
I recognized the scepter of the Governor of Naw Trykoth.
There she stood, Ailan Mac'Kean. The successor to the tragically murdered Still Wyler. She was accompanied by two watchmen, belonging to the Guild of Try. The official guardians of order of Aeden Aqueous.
The Governor was taking part in an animated conversation with Larann, the headsman of the Traveling Merchants, and ignored the curious glances of the surrounding homins. As much as I was able to overhear, their conversation revolved around an important shipment from Pyr.
Something about trykeri Amber Cubes that had been discovered in the Desert.
As I was doing my best not to listen in, someone bumped into me from behind.
A young Tryker, in dirt stained clothes, pushed past me. Panting and struggling through the crowd in front of us, he made his way straight for Larann, who seemed rather surprised to see him.
“I… we… we… we…” the young man groaned and leaned forward, holding his heaving chest to catch his breath.
The governor gave him a cool, slightly contemptuous look, for interrupting her conversation.
“Master Larann!… Our caravan… We were ambushed!” said then the breathless one, “Down in the Roots!”
All eyes turned to the messenger of misfortune and visible discomfort seized him as he recognized who he was standing next to. The fair haired head of the governor had turned to him and her intense gaze now held his like a gingo's one held that of a yubo.
“Ambushed?! Who attacked you?!”
Larann's gaze switched back and forth between the two, seemingly unable to say anything.
The young merchant visibly writhed under the intense scrutiny of the governor.
“It… I'm sorry, I… I did not notice you, Governor. The… the shipment… It is lost.”
Mac'Kean only now seemed to notice her effect on the boy and put on a friendlier face.
“Now, now… calm down. And then tell us what happened. From the beginning.”
Larann handed a water-skin to his colleague and after a few deep swallows the young man went on.
“Actually everything went quite well. We left Pyr with our mektoubs as planned and made good progress. Even in the Prime Roots everything went well, at first.”
He shook his head in frustration.
“Actually, we should have suspected it. Usuallly a crossing of the Prime Roots never goes so smoothly.” With trembling hands he took another sip from the skin and continued in a low voice.
“We were in the middle of the Elusive Forest when they came!
Kitins! They were suddenly everywhere.
Everywhere I looked ... kitins! The clicking of their legs was so loud and … they terrible screeching - and then the screams of my companions ...”
Tears came to his eyes as the people around him stared.
Shocked from their day to day routine.
The word "kitins" had startled them all.
“They were... I ... I just ran away. - I just wanted to get away. Away from these... these...”
The governor laid a comforting hand on the young man's shoulder who was looking at his feet in shame..
The voices of the bystanders now began to rustle like leaves on storm-tossed trees. The word "kitins" fell over and over again, whispered and hushed. Like a bad curse, that everyone feared would summon these evil beasts, when spoke too loud.
The rest of the conversation between the unfortunate trader and the Tryker state official was lost in gaggle of fearful voices.
A chill ran down my back.
The kitins had deliberately attacked a well secured caravan and destroyed it, it seemed.
Jena protects us.
I myself had taken part in many journeys through the Prime Roots and even alone I knew how to find my way down there. Kitin attacks and fights with them were not uncommon, true, especially if one was careless. But the apparently targeted attack on this caravan and especially with such overwhelming force that it literally wiped away guards and traders ... that was new.
It did not bode anything good.
The voice of my cousin Nuvad, the head of the Order “Argo Navis”, echoed over to me and and I spotted his white armor as he too made his way through the crowd. A questioning look in his eyes. When he reached me, I briefly told him what I had heard. His face darkened as I spoke. He too suspected something bad was about to happen.
Other members of the order joined us and soon the discussion was in full swing. Many speculations were raised and discarded, but there was one thing we agreed on.
“Never again a Great Swarming!”
A short time later a notice was posted on the walls of Fairhaven and the other capitals.
The leaders of the four lands were calling upon all Guilds to lend their arms to reclaim the important lost cargo. Glory and fame would await any who would participate in this adventure.
And would stave off the threat of a rising Swarming, prevent the beasts from gaining a foothold and help protect hominkind.
The “Argo Navis” would do everything in their power to prevent the worst.
That night, sleep did not come to me. My thoughts circled around an event that had happened years ago.
A few months after my arrival in Yrkanis, coming from Borea. A cruel death and an unsolved mystery had gone down in history. An Amber Cube, frozen kitin and an unfortunate Wise-Man of the Zorai. Who had been killed over the mysterious item, before it was snatched away.
Would these be similar Amber-Cubes?
Even more pictures danced before my inner eye.
Kitins in all their cruel shapes and colors, as they stormed the bark of Atys. Dark and menacing. Ghostly pale and deadly.
Weeks of danger and fear, dearly earned fame, many souls lost and some scars that would always remind me of the first swarming I had witnessed. Whole regions had been inaccessible for weeks on time. Leaving Yrkanis alone had been impossible. Only teams of veteran warriors had dared to venture forth into the wild as the Verdant Heights had been overrun by the monsters.
Someone had told me, that this too had started with minor incursions into the lands and some trouble on the Prime Roots. Young and inexperienced as I had been back then, I had huddled behind the city's defenses and had hoped for the best.
Luckily the elder warriors and mages had been able to cull the hordes and drive them back into the darkness from whence they had come.
This time, years later, I myself am an accomplished warrior. But still I felt a cold fear, deep within my chest that night.
Would it come to such a swarm again?
Only time would tell.
“Jena, let your light shine and illuminate our path,
So that we may see the dangers that line it and oppose us.
Hold your protecting hand over Atys and give us the strength to defend your creation,
If the old enemy should threaten it again.”
Today Jena was well-disposed towards the homins.
And Ma'Duk did not abandon his followers either, as it seems.
There is still the sweat on my forehead as I write these lines and the smell of blood, bile and acid from the kitins permeates my home. My hands still tremble with strain, but I will not find peace until I have written down what I have experienced.
A large army of homins, said to be about one hundred and thirty to one hundred and fifty, bravely volunteering warriors, were led by three Rangers into the Elusive Forest of the Prime Roots this morning. To search for traces of the lost caravan.
The bloody remains of some poor Mektoubs were quickly found and we were able to follow the trail of death to the established Kitin-Hive down there, known as the “Underwood Woe”.
Apparently the insects had dragged some of the caravans animals into the interior of their burrow as food for their nasty larvae.
Since the item or items the Ranger Scouts were looking for weren't in the bags on the beasts-of-burden found outside, the precious cargo must have been dragged inside the cave.
So we decided to go in. We would try and storm the hive from the front. Huge dark Kinrey stood before the entrance and the original plan was to lure them out and slay them one by one. But, as so often, some intrepid soul wandered too close to them and they attacked. Plans, huh?
Determined and with a courage that hardly any hominid ever knew, we pushed into the dark opening, to face death and its harbingers within the weird, green tunnels. It was hard to fit more that a few of us into the narrow confines of the tunnel. A hindrance that the kitins seemingly ignored, as the literally flooded the passageway. Nearly overwhelming us with sheer numbers, smallish Kidinak coming from the walls and scuttling between our legs, cutting us down mercilessly.
Many fell under the onslaught of the monsters into the literal thicket of huge, spindly legs.
Many lost sight of what was happening all around us and to my shame, I too must confess that a few times my sword erroneously struck homin armor instead of insect carapace.
I hope these brave warriors will forgive me, since a true target was hard to make out in the crowd of homin and insect bodies. We walked over the corpses of many abominations and the unconscious forms of fellow warriors alike
It took three attempts, between which we all took the blessing of our gods to regain our strength and regroup, but finally we succeeded in the impossible.
Their numbers seemed endless. For each one we slew, two fresh creatures seemed to take its place. But after what felt like an eternity, their numbers thinned and one of the Ranger Scouts eventually managed to get through to the carcasses of the pack-animals without being spotted by the kitins. He rummaged through the torn bags of the pack-animals while the fight raged around him. I am impressed by that Trykers skill and courage.
He found the governor's amber cube and other, unfortunately broken containers of knowledge.
Slowly we retreated from that hellhole, fighting off stragglers and those few beasts that had managed to sneak up on our support troops and healers from behind.
The splinters of amber that had been found were distributed among the homins and the all important cube was brought back to its owner.
I declined a token of this battle. My memory will serve, for all its worth.
Who knows what these cubes will be used for one day?
But be that as it may, the homins have proven once again that they can defy the beasts. Side by side, Karavaneer and Kamista fought. Jena and Ma'Duk, grant this unity in the hour of greatest need, should it ever occur.
“Never again a Great Swarming!”
As I finally reach my abode in Yrkanis, with aching limbs and unsteady movements, I am still covered in sweat, smeared with the blood of insects and fallen comrades-in-arms.
I dropped straight down on my bed, as soon as I had reached it.
I don't give a Gingos ass if my sheets will be stained.
I need to rest.
Every movement hurts.
Every bone hurts.
But, it is a good pain.
I wince as I pick myself up again, after a few fitful hours of exhausted sleep. There's still a lot of pain that hides under the exhaustion, ready to pounce on the slightest provocation.
My thoughts wander back to the battle, as I look down my body and fall into the routine task of slowly and carefully taking off my armor.
With trembling fingers I struggle to open its clasps and knots.
The new dents and scratches on my armors surfaces will be cherished and will remind me of this day for a long time.
Almost the worst case had occurred. The kitins had tried to swarm.
The leaders of the Four Peoples had again sounded a call to arms via their heralds and many had followed the call.
Slipping off my left vambrace, I have to grin as I think back on the reaction of a cheeky Tryker to the patriotic song I had sung as the army had gathered to march into battle.
He threw a half-rotten fruit at me, but well... he had later fought bravely beside me and so I will not resent his disapproval of my art.
Not everyone likes my people. That's the way it is.
I quite like the lyrics though.
I had sat down composed the song shortly after the first proclamation of the heralds:
“Matis, stand together!
Matis, fight together!
Destroy the enemy!
Destroy the monsters!
Your swords ready to taste blood!
Your souls ready to trust one another!
Your eyes ready to see the greatest evil!
Your hearts intertwined in a web,
that even the sharpest sword will not break through!
Go on homin and do your duty today!
Destroy the evil!
In the name of Jena, for the good of Atys!
Go on Matis!
Be pride and example to all!
Matis, stand side by side!
Matis! That your courage may forge the way!”
So the the army of Matia had set out for the Abyss of Ichor, on the advice of a Ranger envoy, whose scouts had told him about unusual numbers of kitins appearing there.
As soon as I arrived at the Karavan shrine at “Saprun Watch” by the small sap lake, I met some members of the Illuminati Jenae. My former guild.
They were out gathering precious materials and obviously didn't know about the danger yet.
Just as I was about to explain, our small group was attacked.
From the corner of my eye I noticed something green speeding towards us. It threw itself at my friend Chloe in a ferocious attack.
With an inhomin shriek something crashed into me also. It's terrible force nearly knocking me down. As I struggled to stay upright another beast jumped at Gazeto, the older Fyros warrior reacting with lightning speed, facing the beasts head on.
Three almost man-high kirostas, determined to kill us all.
With a few strokes of our swords and some spells, the beasts were dispatched. They were not much of a threat to us.
Then however other, bigger beasts followed. They outnumbered us and we held them off as best we could, until the “Alliance of Honor” arrived and helped us defeat these kitins. Brave warriors of Matis, though with a somewhat stained reputation.
However, it was only then that I became aware of a huge hole in the bark opposite the shrine.
As I watched, a horrible, chattering sound emerged from the opening and the far shore of the sap lake suddenly teemed with greenish, slender, chitinous bodies.
With a speed belying their huge forms another small group of even bigger beasts shot from the hole and threw themselves upon us.
So shocked were we, we barely were able to hold our position under the onslaught.
Fortunately, more and more warriors, mages and healers of the Matis guilds arrived and they fought desperately for the Karavan-Shrine at the lake. The monsters seemed intent on destroying it and all its defenders.
At first, the situation seemed to be under control and the insects were fought down. But then they suddenly rose by the hundreds from the entrance to the lower levels. It was carnage!
The kitins overran the army of Matia and tore at homins bodies as if they were straw-dolls. The images of severely wounded homins will haunt my dreams for a long time.
Only with luck we survived this second, massive attack.
One or two homins had managed to escape the mass of insects and healed their comrades as soon as the beasts turned to other targets. Killing off the normal fauna that surrounded the lake and had not yet fled the vicinity .
We struggled to defend the shrine against constantly attacking small swarms of insects. Often I fell and often my final death was only prevented by the hands of a capable healer or the protection of the shrine. There were just too many. After long minutes of futile battle desperation set in and we had no choice other than to seek shelter in the shrines small magical protection. To stay there until the beasts tired of running against its impenetrable, invisible walls.
The huge insects cruel claws furiously scratched and tore at the magic of the shrine but were thankfully unable to penetrate it. The blood-stained mandibles of the horrible insects spat cruel sounds at the homins tightly huddled around the shrine.
The chitinous beasts hatred for all soft life was almost palpable.
Only inches away from my face I beheld the slavering mouth of a huge Kirosta. I could smell its foul breath and feel it, strangely cool on my skin, even through my helmet. Like an unholy wind that caressed my face. The insects eyeless head moving in a slow, weird sway from side to side and up and down. Its legs unable to come closer to us, but somehow forced forward by some sense of proximity or evil drive to slay that which was in front of it. It was almost as if the beasts knew we were near exhaustion, that we were struggling to keep still and as close together as we could inside the Shrines protective Magic.
They could smell or fear.
They wanted to eradicate us.
There were about twenty to thirty of us, huddled inside the holy aura. Its magic permitting no harm to come to us within its circumference. But all of us knew, that to set one foot beyond the invisible border, would mean a horrible death.
We endured for long hours, close to desperation.
Every attempt at a breakout was cruelly punished.
Every push forward was cut down by razor sharp claws and cruel pincers.
So we stood. Face to face with the enemy. Grimly aware that we were trapped by our duty to defend the shrine and the world above. For if this breach was left unchecked, the beasts would surely swarm up to the surface and would breach the upper bark from below. Encouraged by our failure and cowardice.
But finally the troops of the Fyros and Trykers fought their way through to us, the besieged warriors. As I learned later, they too had been attacked by kitins, in their homelands. Not as many as down here, but the fights were hard enough to delay them in reaching the site of our desperate stand.
At first, these warriors homins tried to rush to our defense, sure of their own strength. Emboldened by the victories they had won on their way down into and trough the Prime Roots.
But the large number of kitins surprised them too, and the monsters mercilessly slaughtered them.
I closed my eyes against the massacre. Their screams and the shocked gaps of my fellow captives ringing in my ears.
But again a few escaped the claws and mandibles and managed to revive their comrades.
Their second assault was more coordinated and they managed to pull the kitins away from the shrine and bind them into a vicious battle, near the shores of the sap lake.
Elated by their bravery our smaller force finally rushed out of the protective perimeter and took the distracted Insects by surprise. With a united, mighty push we manage to beat them back into the hole they had emerged from and suddenly … the battle was over.
Or so it seemed.
After a few short moments of calm and tentative thoughts of victory the ground began to shake. The soft bark of the Prime Roots tore open and two humongous Kizarak Swarm-Queens emerged, accompanied by a truly titanic Kirosta.
They seemed to strengthen the morale of the drones that again emerged in droves from the ground around their legs, but also the determination of us homins.
Tapping into our last vestiges of willpower we, the children of the New Lands fought against the monstrous and terrible enemy. Never giving up hope.
Back and forth the fight went.
Over, trough and around the sap lake, surging between the shrine and the opening in the ground.
After what once more felt like hours, we finally managed to get the better of the roiling masses of smaller insects and were able to concentrate all our remaining strength on the Titans.
The beasts held out for a long time and even tried to flee, but the now near victorious homins saw their chance and took it, as the first behemoth came crashing to the ground.
It was a long, tough struggle, but the huge beasts finally thundered into the muddy ground of the Prime Roots and their disgusting blood seeped back into the bark that had spat them out.
At the end of our strength and nursing many wounds we dragged ourselves home.
Not knowing if this victory was final or just the prelude to even greater, even worse battles against the hereditary enemy.
I just noticed a message from my good friend Muetze.
He invites me to join him in the warm waters of Pyrs bathhouse. To dispel the strains of the fight and discuss what we've experienced. I did not even notice him among the warriors. There were so many of us, fighting, struggling, almost dying and coming back to life. Falling again and straining to get back up. Keeping friend and enemy alive in the face of a common, far greater threat.
Yes, I will go to Pyr.
My whole body still aches with exhaustion and my limbs tremble with effort as I shrug out of my armors chest-piece and place it on its stand. How good it feels to slip into clean, soft clothes and how I resent the task of later on having to clean my armor.
I activate a holy pact of the Karavan and a few motionless, senseless moments later I find myself in the desert, near Pyr.
I slowly limp towards the city.
In the streets of the Fyros capital there is great joy to be seen and heard. People are celebrating the victory over the kitins. To have averted the threatening disaster of a surface swarm.
They are singing and dancing in the streets. Its beautiful.
My ears snatch up a song , sung by many rough, yet melodic voices coming from the tavern near the well in the old part of town:
“We are going forth!
For the glory of the Empire!
We stand by each other as soldiers!
Brothers and sisters, together for the truth!
Share with me your fire that I may burn with you!
Keep my ashes, so I may return to you.
My soul into Ma'Duk's hands, that he may keep it.
My heart to the Emperor, that it may bleed for him!
Let us go forth to battle!”
A catchy text, concise and precise. Like a Fyrosian ax.
Slowly I limp down the stairs to the bath proper, where my friend is already waiting for me.
A warm bath will do me a world of good now.