Guest Post: Short Story from James A. MooreBy Caroline
The wonderful James A. Moore has written an exclusive short story for all you fans of the Fellein Empire. Did you love Seven Forges and can’t wait until The Blasted Lands is released? Immerse yourself in the mountainous world, and count the days down until The Blasted Lands is published, which is currently 38 days, 8 hours, 23 minutes, and 32, 31, 30, 29, 28…. seconds.
When Korwa Fell
By James A. Moore
Captain Merros Dulver glanced over at the rider closest to him as they headed for Fellein from the Seven Forges. The journey was a long one and he was tired of staring at the barren landscape. It was time for a distraction. The Sa’ba Taalor were mysteries, even after a few weeks of riding together, they spoke and they answered questions, but as often as not they asked questions and then rode away to contemplate what they had learned.
The one closest was a brute named Tusk. Under their armor and furs most of the people from the valley of the Seven Forges seemed large, but Tusk dwarfed the majority. He sported a great helmet like the skull of a beast and the mouth of that skull was decorated with teeth of all kinds. Real teeth, actually. A variety that boggled the mind. He didn’t much want to know what had happened to the donors of those decorations.
The man cast eyes his way, his face hidden behind both his helmet and the veil covering the lower half. The veils were there for protection from the weather and also because, according to Drask Silver Hand—the first of the people Merros and his fellow explorers had run across—neither Merros nor any of his people were ready to see the faces of the Sa’ba Taalor. That last was according to their gods. The Sa’ba Taalor seemed to have a very open relationship with their deities. Merros had never followed any of the gods very closely and to the best of his knowledge none of them had ever paid him the least bit of attention. He failed to see any sort of problem with that.
Tusk’s eyes gave of a faint silvery glow in the perpetual twilight of the Blasted Lands. “Yes, Merros Dulver?”
“Just call me Merros, if you prefer. I wanted to ask what your people believe happened here, in the Blasted Lands, to make them this way.”
Tusk looked at him for a moment and the monstrous mount he rode let out a sound that was suspiciously like a chuckle. The only reason that Merros could understand the strangers riding with him was because he had been “gifted” with the ability to understand them. He might have preferred that someone ask him if he wanted the gift before it was given, but that was hardly the issue. What puzzled him was the near-certainty that the predatory monster Tusk was riding on seemed to understand his words. Even the animals of the Sa’ba Taalor seemed to know more than they wanted to admit.
Sure enough, the eyes of the animal were looking directly at him and glowing under the masking helmet that hid half of its face. He suppressed the desire to shudder.
Tusk scratched at the map of scars across his hand and shrugged his massive shoulders.
“We are told that there was a war between two great countries. The war ended with the creation of these lands.”
Merros looked the man up and down. “That’s all?”
“I can tell you the full story if you’d like.” Tusk sounded rather amused by the notion as if he might be preparing to tell a bedtime story to a child.
Merros replied, “Well, I know what my people say happened. I want to hear what your people have to say.” He paused a moment as the warrior considered his words and because he feared he might not get the answer he wanted he added, “Or we can stare at the wastes around us and listen to the sound of the wind. I thought an exchange of stories might be more interesting.”
Tusk nodded. “I agree.” He called out in his language—Merros understood the words sometimes, and just then did not; he suspected they were speaking different languages, only some of which understood. He was not mistaken—and three other riders came closer, moving to nearly surround Merros. They did not come with harmful intent. They merely came because they had been commanded.
“Our friend Merros would like to hear how the Blasted Lands came to be. Which of you will tell him?” He looked to Merros and shrugged. “I do not tell stories well. I am not patient enough to tell them properly.”
Drask Silver Hands was riding on the other side of Merros and he roared laughter at that. “Do you hear? Great Tusk even bores himself!” They all laughed, even Tusk. That was a good thing in Merros’s eyes as he was currently stuck between the two men and had no desire to become the battlefield upon which they settled their differences. Tusk was a giant and Drask not much smaller. Worse, he had seen Drask fight and kill with terrifying efficiency.
“Swech!” Drask called to the rider at the front of them, a female with a thick mane of gray hair pulled into a tight knot at the top of her head. The resulting tail swayed with every move her mount made. She looked over her shoulder. Her eyes, like the eyes of all of Sa’ba Taalor, glowed. Still, Merros found the shape of her eyes enchanting. Too long without companionship, perhaps, but he liked the woman.
She gripped the saddle of her mount and spun herself around so that she faced Merros and the other riders. Most of the soldiers he knew would have promptly fallen flat on their asses had they tried that from the back of a horse, but she managed it with seemingly no effort, despite her armor and furs.
“Yes?” Her voice was higher than he expected.
“You have a way with stories,” Drask answered. “You should tell Merros how the Blasted Lands came to be.”
She nodded her head and leaned toward him across the back of her saddle. For that moment in time her eyes seemed only to see him.
“It was a long time ago,” she started….
It was a long time ago, before the Seven Forges rose from the ground and before your Fellein Empire existed. It was because of the Cataclysm that your empire exists at all.
Everything changed when the Blasted Lands were shaped. That is always the way with great events. When they happen the world is never quite the same.
Back then all that you see around you was alive. There were great plains of green grass and there were farms and herds of animals, but more than that, there was the sea and there was Korwa. Korwa was a mighty city. According to some of the gods it was the greatest city that ever was.
What? No, not all of the gods say that. The Daxar Taalor do not agree on all things at all times. If they did there would only be one god, yes? Why would there be seven gods if they all thought alike? But some of them say Korwa was the greatest city there ever was.
All the gods agree upon is this: Korwa was magnificent. Towers of steel and stone and crystal rose high into the sky, as high as the tops of the Seven Forges themselves. The city rested on a sea of blue waters and vast bridges ran across the waters to let visitors in.
Korwa was the heart of the first empire, you see. The home of most peoples.
But sometimes the best of things become the most treasured. And what is treasured most is often coveted. Who can say what makes a people jealous? A man or a woman might desire the love of one who is already spoken for. Or perhaps a piece of land, or a trinket is all that is required. In the case of a people there must surely be better reasons but those are lost now, as lost as great Korwa. Whatever the reasons, the people from outside the empire became jealous of the power and beauty that Korwa offered and so they decided to take it.
We do not know all of the details. We only know what we have been told. But I will tell you what I can. The soldiers of Korwa were very skilled, but they were outnumbered, for the people who sought to take the city came from many directions. It might be that there was more than one group, or that the group was very large. We know that the leaders were called the Overlords and they were very hungry. They came from the north and the east, and sailed across the sea in mighty ships. When they arrived, the ships let out thousands of soldiers and the weapons the Overlords created to either take Korwa as their own or to destroy the city.
Yes, that is correct. They planned to own Korwa or make sure that no one else would ever own it. No it does not make sense. On this we agree.
There were more threats. Korwa was home to the empire, yes, the seat of power, but the empire itself was vast and from within it came another threat. A country that was small and wanted to be bigger began conquering neighboring lands and then grew greedy. The people of that country were hungry, you see. They wanted all that they could have and they would not stop until even great Korwa was theirs.
The king of that land was related to the Empress of Korwa. That much is known. Beyond that, the gods do not agree. The country was called Felleis. Yes, much like your own empire, which rose from the ashes of Korwa. I suspect you already know this. But this is the story you wanted to hear. Now stop asking so many questions.
The old empire and the new empire. Together they might have stopped the Overlords. They did not fight together. They fought as enemies on the battlefield. It was while they were already engaged that the Overlords came to attack. Korwa looked to the south and did not cast their gaze far enough to the north to notice until it was too late.
The siege of Korwa was violent and very sudden. While the two armies fought the Overlords brought in their soldiers and attacker with great siege engines designed to knock down walls and warriors alike. They did not make demands. They merely attacked. Perhaps their plan was to injure and then demand surrender. Perhaps they merely wished to cause death. No one can know any longer.
The rulers of Korwa fought back. Though they were already in a war, they prepared for more battles. They had supplies and they had ships of their own. The great fleet of Korwa rode into the sea and fleets met and fought, and burned and died. “The sea was red with blood and fire,” that is what the god Wheklam said. Sailors died and no one had a chance to find their bodies. The war was too violent and the creatures of the sea feasted well.
I see the look on your face. Ask your question, Merros Dulver. Of course I know what ships are. Of course I know of navies and combat on the sea. Wheklam is the god of the sea. We have to travel to find the waters, but we know of them. Did you cross an ocean to get here? Yet you know of ships? And is this because you travel on them constantly? No? Good. Now let me go back to my story.
The war raged for almost a full year. The armies of the empires fought along the bridges leading to Korwa as the new forced the old back to the city. And even as they retreated to the city, the same empire had to fight against the attackers from the north. They tried their military methods and they were failing.
And as is often the case, the Empress turned to sorcery for her salvation. She called upon the greatest wizards of her empire to come to her and assist and they came, because the Empress was well loved by her people and because they wanted to live. They all wanted to live.
The spellcasters did what it is that they do. We do not have sorcerers in Taalor. We have gods. They react differently to these things, I suppose. Whatever the case, the mages gathered their powers and fought against the enemies of the Empress. The warships of the Overlords were pushed aside by waves that sank them and then swallowed the crews whole. The sea grew redder and the creatures of the sea grew fatter.
And while the wizards cast their spells they turned to the new empire and sought to destroy the armies of the usurpers. When soldiers fell they did not stay fallen. The dead rose from the pits where they were buried and they attacked the living, and for each that fell before them another soldier was born, lifted from death and forced to fight for the sorcerers of Korwa.
Once a weapon has been used, it cannot be unused. That is what Truska-Pren says. And he is a god, he should know. The Overlords were powerful magicians as well, and they set aside their navies and their soldiers and they began casting mighty sorceries of their own. They brought forth storms to shatter the ground. Fingers of air raked the earth bare, and lightning dazzled the eyes of all who lived within Korwa, until the sun seemed but a faint glimmer in comparison. The war machines of the Overlords were frightening things, but their wizardry was far greater.
Through it all, Korwa stood, the walls damaged but not destroyed, the people wounded but not driven down. The Empress waited in her tower and spoke to the wizards and made demands of them and they in turn obeyed her, for they loved her and wished to serve her until the very end.
It is not certain what happened next. Three gods have spoken of this and I will tell you what each has said, because each is a part of the greater truth. Even gods cannot see everything, or if they can, they cannot see with the same eyes.
Paedle, who only ever whispers, tells us that the Empress was driven mad. All that she had worked for was taken from her. Her husband and consorts killed, her children burned and broken by the lightning. Paedle says that the Empress demanded the greatest vengeance ever, a fire so vast that it would destroy all of the empire’s enemies. Perhaps that is so. Perhaps the wizards managed their feat.
Durhallem the Wounder says that the Overlords carried out their promise. If they could not have the jewel of Korwa, then no one could. And so they summoned the elements to shatter the island where Korwa rested and watched as the city that everyone wanted was felled like a tree. It is his claim that the new empire was so angry at the Overlords that they then sought to destroy them and in time they succeeded.
All I can say for certain is that the Overlords are no more.
Wrommish, who many say watches best of all the Daxar Taalor, said that both stories have some truth, but are merely singular sides to a jewel of many facets. There were enchantments on all sides and they came together as wind and fire can merge to become something greater and more destructive.
Here is what we know. Great Korwa fell and the oceans burned away. Vast armies were joined in combat across the land where we now walk and they were destroyed in one day. From time to time we still find pieces of the Old Empire and I have heard from your own people that some have come here in the past seeking treasures lost in the Cataclysm.
Where once there were fields and pastures of green there is now dust. The animals raised here are ashes and the orchards are ice. The people of Korwa are gone and when the winds are soft enough you can look down into the ground beneath us, through the glass that once was dirt and buildings, and you can see their bodies, broken and forgotten.
The war machines are lost. They are buried with Korwa, though from time to time you can hear the sounds of the great engines. That is what Wrommish says. Those vast devices and the remains of Korwa are locked together now, and they have become something we cannot know, we must not know. They have become the Mounds.
From life we have been given death. From peace we have been given war. From water we have been given ashes and disease. That is the legacy of Great Korwa and the peoples who coveted her beauty.
Merros took a deep breath and shook his head. At the end he had lost himself in Swech’s words and the meter of her voice. She was a gifted storyteller.
He looked to the west and saw the vast shapes of the Mounds and heard from deep within them the sounds of things that should not be.
“Have your people ever been to the Mounds?”
Swech shook her head. “That is forbidden by the gods.”
“Can you tell me about the Overlords?”
It was Tusk who answered, his voice gruff and his tone commanding. “No.” Merros turned to look at the man and found him staring back with narrowed eyes. Perhaps it was the wind that caused the sullen look. Perhaps it was something else. Either way Tusk made sure that everyone knew his position. “That is enough stories for one day. Later perhaps we will tell more. Tales and fables should be rationed, like all supplies.”
When he looked around Drask and Tusk were both moving away, calling out to each other in a tongue he could not understand.
Swech stayed where she was a moment longer before once more turning herself in the saddle of her mount and then riding away.