The Past is a Foreign Country (Forgotten Realms)

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The Past is a Foreign Country (Forgotten Realms)

Post by Imperial Overlord »

Time grinds everything down. Even the stars die. Things that are built to last are worn down by winds and rain. So it is with all things, even magic. Even spells designed to last forever fail.

They are eroded not by wind and rain, but by disjunctions and wild magic surges. New spells disrupt old patterns and existing spells fray. Gods die and the Weave flies into chaos, weakening the spells that don't fail altogether. A new goddess of magic is born and the Weave is renewed and the spell fails further as the forces feeding it and the stresses upon it are not quite the same. Again gods die and again the Weave tears and again it is renewed and again the spell's structure twists and tears. It's structure becomes unbalanced and unstable as its ability to manage the tremendous amount of energy flowing through its structure fails. The fabric unravels and energy bleeds away.

Collapse and dissolution. Long yellow grass sways gently under a warm breeze. The sun burns down from high in a blue sky marked with a few shreds of clouds. The temperature is just shy of scorching, moderated by a slight breeze that makes the heat almost bearable. The earth heaves and shudders for the span of a heartbeat and then, without opening or closing, spits out a man.

He rolls over and slowly, painstakingly, gets to his feet. He blinks several times and raises a hand to shield his eyes. The man is tall, with an long face and a hawk nose. His black hair and beard were both short. He wore a faded black robe belted by a sash of scarlet silk. He wore a sword belt over the sash and from it hung a short bladed stabbing sword of the kind that had been used to win close quarters combats on countless worlds.

He surveyed his surroundings. He was alone, on rolling plain of high grass dotted with stunted trees. Before him, perhaps two hundred yards away, a yawning chasm opened in the earth and spread out, covering several miles of barren earth. In the same direction there was a line of distant mountains. He turned in the other direction and saw a hill blocking his view of the distance. That was . . . . right.

Some kind of magic had been used, one which had either by misfiring or by intent shifted him through space and time. Perhaps displacement, but temporal stasis was a possibility. Or stasis and confinement. His thoughts felt heavy and slow and the battle felt like it had been years ago, even though it was his last set of coherent memories.

His cadre was walking behind a block of spear men as they came down the hill. Four soldiers flanked him, carrying big wicker shields covered with bull hide to shield their charges from missile fire. Trailing him were two more men with heavy crossbows and enchanted bolts, snipers primed to take out enemy spellcasters. Ahead of them a massive army was advancing across the plain, outnumbering the rebels by nearly five to one.

The enemy soldiers were lead by hereditary warrior-nobles, the rank and file made up of conscripts and volunteers stiffened by a sprinkling of long service veterans. Somewhere, behind the ranks, was a small group of priests who would "advise" the commanders with advice that would be very hazardous to ignore. With them, under the priests' command, would be the enemy wizards. The comparative sparsity of enemy spellcasters was one of the few advantages the rebels had.

"That's a lot of bastards," said Ezzarin. Her cadre was just to the left of his. "And soldiers to our farm boys and planters' daughters."

It wasn't quite accurate. A lot of the enemy army was conscripts and their own ranks were bolstered with veterans and mercenaries. The farm boys and planters' daughters had grown up in a frontier province where raids were increasingly rare but it every adult was part of a militia. "We always knew they were going to outnumber us," he replied, "but not all the numbers favor them."

He started heading up the hill. It was clear some time had past and the land had changed, but it appeard that however much time had past he was still in the same place. As he crested the top of the hill, the distant lines of the plateau came into view. Below sprawled more rolling fields. Fields under cultivation.

Humanoid figures, too far to recognize at this distance, were engaged in harvest. Wheat, he thought, not that he really knew much about agriculture. He was city-bred, a wizard and a spy, despite his adopted homeland being a nation of farmers. There were others, overseers or straw bosses, on horseback supervising.
Had they won? Or had they lost? Time had past, that was clear. The sprawling network of chasms and the blasted landscape was all too likely the results of the magic unleashed during the battle, but that didn't tell him who had won. That didn't tell him if his country was free or enslaved.

He invoked the dweomer that allowed him to see the energy flowing through the Weave, the patterns of magical flow glowing bright now in his vision. The Weave was thinner than usual, but faster flowing. Something off to the right, several miles away, glowed with immense necromantic power.

The Weave around him was twisted and kinked, the power flow throttled and diminished by the battered pattern of the Weave but not damaged beyond his ability to work magic. He brought his spells to the front of his mine, inventorying and readying them. He still had most of his magic, but the abnormal flow might affect their manifestation.
His hand went to his sword. He wasn't a warrior, but he knew how to wield a blade. It might be better to hide his sash with his magic uncertain, but it might be better to find out now from a few farmers if it would cause him to be hunted like a dog.

Besides, the sun was high in the sky and he was thirsty. He was carrying spells for war, but was still spy enough to know how to ask questions and how to tear information from the skulls of the living and the dead. He began walking towards the farmers.
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Re: The Past is a Foreign Country (Forgotten Realms)

Post by Grimnosh »

This should be good, though I would enjoy some more of Nalifan.
You know, its remarkably easy to feed an undead army if all you have are just enemies....
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Re: The Past is a Foreign Country (Forgotten Realms)

Post by Imperial Overlord »

The rebels marched under under banners bearing the image of a leaping flame, a new symbol and a new god for a new country. The fire of liberty, the flames of Kossuth, and the might of the great volcano all in one. The old gods were cast aside. One did not rebel against priests and god-kings just to kneel down before the same gods.
The rebels were farmers who bore heavy tax burdens, but they were farmers who had to depend on themselves and their neighbors for defence. Some could afford a hauberk of mail or scale to go with their helmet, shield, and gambesons of quilted linen, but many had to make do with lesser gear. The spoils from a sacked city and a broken occupation force had bolstered the rebels supply of war gear considerably. Most now wore steel armour of one type or another and bore a sword or axe as well as a long spear.

The cavalry flanking the infantry on either side were few in number, but better equipped. Planters' sons and daughters, they wore harnesses of brigandine or mail reinforced with steel splints. Steel khopeshes and flanged maces hung from their saddles opposit their bows while they gripped both shield and lance in gauntleted hands. They possessed the wealth and the leisure time to train for battle as well as the close proximity to gray orc and gnoll tribes that demanded they fight to preserve what they had. For generations they had lead their communities in mutual defence, spending their own blood to do what the army that demanded so much of their silver would not. Some were cruel and despotic and some were kind and open handed with regards to their power and their neighbors but none were soft.

Walking at the fore of the army were two dozen wizards accompanied by a handful of priests. All but one of the priests were young, the sole exception being a middle-aged convert. Censors containing burning incense dangled fom brass chains as they preyed softly. One of the wizards turned and raised his hand. Signal flags were raised and the army slowed to a halt.

"Let the bastards come to us," said Mustal, his shieldman to the left. The middle aged veteran was burned a deep brown by the sun and possessed a hook nose that would have done a hawk credit. He had been fighting for the cause almost as long as his charge had been alive, cutting throats in ambushes and raiding at night. They had worked together, successfully, on several occasions. "Sun's high up now. Time will put it in their eyes while we rest up from the march. They can tire themselves out coming at us in this heat. It's almost like we know what we're fucking doing, eh?"

"Impossible," the wizard replied. "We don't have the guidance of the gods, remember?"

"Hah," replied Mustal. He raised his water bottle and took a sip. "Don't know why their cavalry is holding so far back. It's almost like it's another army."

"They want the infantry to soak up our spells. Let the conscripts do the dying. Once we're engaged they'll hit us in the flank with more knights than we have soldiers and crush us."

"It's a good plan," replied the veteran. "We have a counter to that, right?"

"What is it?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know?"

"It's a surprise. And to keep it a surprise, not even I know what it's going to be."

"I hope I don't fucking die because our generals got too fucking fancy."

"May the Red Knight bless us and keep us."

"May she indeed. Nothing about Kossuth?"

"That I do know about. He's about to do his part. Watch."

"Can't see that much from here."

Apprentices and soldiers placed large brass braziers in front of the wizards at the army's vanguard. Alchemical concoctions were placed within and then the soldiers backed away as the apprentices spoke their own spells. Flames jetted forth, spewing like fountains as the wizards began casting their own spells. The fire began to twist and swell. The elementals broke free from their braziers, pillars of fire that consumed the grass around them as they touched the earth.

Intense orange light bathed the front of the army as a thirty foot tall giant made entirely of flame stepped out of the air. The priests continued to pray. The giant roared, a sound that mixed the howl of a hurricane with the sound of of feast's worth of bacon sizzling on a giant iron skillet. It raised its lance of fire to the sky and they pointed at the enemy army. Fire itself advanced.

The wizard knew this was a ploy. The rebels' best conjurers were at the rear, not at the front.

It wasn't long before he was noticed. The workers were mostly paying attention to the grain, but the overseers were less focused in their attentions. One saw him and gestured to the others, pointing him out. He wasn't close enough to here what they were saying, but the range was closing. He still had the majority of his spells with him and was confident enough that he could make them work with sufficient effectiveness to cook everyone in front of him if he had to.

They waited for him to come to them. The workers, he noticed, slowed their pace. Several of them weren't human. He had been too far away to see them among the wheat stalks, but now that he was closer he could see there were several gnomes, bearded subhumans barely taller than his waist, working away at the grain with sickles. One of them eyed him warily while the rest averted their gazes. He matched the gaze of the bold one. He looked away.
He approached the overseers. Both were human, one of them clearly Rashemi with tanned skin, a broad face, and short brown hair and beard. The other was sun burned and blond, probably Chondathan, with longer hair and beard. Both were big and muscular. The had several weapons hanging from their saddles, including whips and clubs. One did not use a whip on free labourers.

Both of them avoided meeting his eyes as he approached. "Mighty wizard," said the Rashemi in a respectful tone, "this is the land of the family Erigazzor. With respect, may I inquire to your purpose here?"

Recognition and deference. Extreme deference and more than a little fear. "Traveling," he replied. "I have been away for some time." That was probably true and probably an understatement. "I am returning home."

The two overseers looked at each other, exchanging glances. "With respect," said the Chondathan, looking down, "there are few other houses in the region and I do not recognize you. Is it possible that you are lost?"

A potentially dangerous answer. "My travel was disrupted by strange magic," he replied. "Would it be too much to ask for hospitality of the house?"

"For a traveler who is a Red Wizard?" said the Rashemi. "Mighty one, our lord would insist on offering it. Thazalhar can be dangerous, especially a night. I will ride for the house at once so that a proper welcome can be prepared.
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Re: The Past is a Foreign Country (Forgotten Realms)

Post by Imperial Overlord »

He couldn't see worth a damn, but the clash of weapons and the screams of the wounded came through the din clearly enough. Dust choked everything, turning the struggling masses of men into dim shadows. In its way it was merciful. That meant he couldn't see what was happening Mulhorandi cavalry. The survivors, however few that turned out of be, would be lucky to hold onto their sanity. Witnesses would probably fair only a little better and so he was grateful for anything that kept him from their ranks. The zulkirs had outdone themselves with that particular horror, he just hoped that their leash didn't break.

The downside was of all the damn dust was that it was hard to pour flaming death into the enemy when it was impossible to tell friend from foe. The elementals had been badly mauled by enemy magic by the time they had hit the front lines, but enough of them had made it to the enemy front line to tear them up. It didn't take many huge pillars of living fire to devastate an infantry formation. The Red Wizards had followed up with a sustained barrage of killing sorcery which had slaughtered what was left of the front ranks and broke the second. Then the rebel cavalry had charged the disordered ranks and after them came the rebel infantry. The battle line was a fucking mess. After the first fireball he hadn't been able to find a clear target. Hopefully they were winning.

"Thay! Thay and freedom!" At least the shouts were right.

"We're flanking to the right!" he shouted to his cadre.

"What if Pharoah's cavalry pushes back?" asked Mustal. He had seen, at a distance, the beginning of the catastrophe that was consuming the Mulhorandi cavalry. He was fortunate enough not to understand all that he had seen.

"If we see any of Pharoah's cavalry it's because they're so disorientated that they ran away in the wrong direction. Let's find some enemy that isn't hopeless entangled with our own boys and girls and kill them."

"From your mouth to the Red Knight's ears," said Mustal. "Eyes sharp back there!" he shouted to the trailing crossbowmen. "You see a priest or wizard, shoot first. Kill the motherfucker!"

"You keep the shield up old man," replied one of them, "we'll see to the murder. It's what we do."

"Impudent asswipes," grumbled Mustal. "Old man. I'm not even forty."

They moved around the flank of the battle as the Mulhorandi lines collapsed under the Thayan assault. The broken formations had been hammered by the cavalry strike and hadn't managed to reform as the rebels slaughtered their way deeper. The arrival of the Thayan infantry had made reforming and striking at the sides of the cavalry wedges impossible. The battered and demoralized troopers had begun to break and flee, only to be pushed back by the spears of the command group and the still uncommitted reserves. This had turned the Mulhorandi lines into swirling chaos and finished any chance of rallying the troops as they bled away anywhere they had space rather than face the hacking khopeshes of the cavalry or the thrusting spears of the infantry meat grinder.

It was also clear that as grievous as those wounds were to the Mulhorandi army it was not yet finished. The command group at the center rear and the vast reserve formations, numbering more than the entire Thayan host, were still arrayed for battle. Light flashed from the sky, crackling bolts of lightning and streaks of fire that detonated to form hellish infernos. It would be easy to say the words and step into the sky to join the wizards hammering the Mulhorandi army but to do so would be to abandon the protection of his shieldmen and snipers.

They passed three wizards waving bone staves over the dead and the corpses slowly rising to their feet. The dead were being formed into a new regiment with which to continue the attack. They arced past the dead to where the edge of the Thayan formation thrust their spears into a Mulhorandi mob. The mob was bleeding away at the edges, flowing through the gaps in the formation behind it. Soon they would be dead or gone and the Thayans would be spear to spear with fresh troops.

Or perhaps not. He spoke the initiators of a spell of wind and storm and ice and winter. Razor shard ice slammed into shields, punched through light armour, sliced through flesh, pierced organs. Red blood spilled into the dust and soil. The formation shifted, fresh men taking the place of the wounded and skidding on fresh frost and pieces of ice.

Thuds marked the impacts of arrows on his guards' shields and on the ground around them. He unleashed the second ice storm he had prepared and decimated the archers. The survivors retreated into the dust storm and vanished. The wizard moved his cadre ahead a dozen yards and extended his arm.

"Here. Along this line, it'll cut through Mulhorandi lines without getting our people."

"Unless they've punched through deep," said Vorick, one of his shieldmen.

"Only a guess, but yes," said Mustal. "Best guess."

He invoked another spell, one of clouds and mist and poison and death. A dark clouded bloomed into existence in front of them and then drifted foreward into the enemy ranks. It left choking death in its passage and fear in its wake as soldiers broke ranks in attempts to escape their comrades' fate. "Our path."

The toxic cloud vanished into the blur of battle, obscured by the heavy dust and the press of men. A man fell burning from the sky, screaming as he plunged into the Thayan ranks and hit with a heavy thud. Light flashed, from and towards the Mulhorandi ranks. Sometimes death could be cleary seen in the wake of the killing spells.

The cadre stepped over the bodies of the dead and dying. No one was eager to step into the wake of the deadly cloud and the panicked attempts at escape had shifted the battlefield in the Thayans favor. Friendly troops were closer than enemies and the friendlies were advancing.

"Tempus's eyes and arse, this is going to get us killed," muttered Vorick.

"Losing will get us killed," said Mustal. "Look at them. The Mulhorandi have lost their taste for this."

An enormous series of fiery eruptions rose into the sky from the ground ahead of them. Hot air blasted away the dust, clearing the air as well as turning the ground into a crematorium.

"That standard!" shouted Mustal. "Ahead. Look!" Glistening gold and suspended in the air by magic, the hawk headed man surmounting the solar disc was three times the height of a man.

"Horus-Re," the wizard breathed. "The household standard."

"Pharoah Himself," said Mustal. "Or a prince at least. And the household. Priests, wizards, bodyguards."

"Victory," said the wizard. "Victory and freedom."

As the Rashemi rode away the Chondathan spoke. "We don't have much here, mighty wizard, but we do have water if you thirst."

"Yes," he replied. "Thank you."

The Chondathan lead him to a pull cart with two barrels of water along with several boxes of food. He picked you a laddle and handed to the wizard. He took the ladle and dipped into the water and drank. He did it again and then again.The wizard put the ladle down. The Chondathan called out. "Dovrik!" A lean young man, tall and broad shouldered with long dark hair and stubbled cheeks, stopped cutting wheat.

"Sir?" he asked. He was bare chested and tanned in hot sun, with a smattering of scars on his chest and arms and dozens on his back.

The Chondathan turned to the wizard. "I can't leave these slaves unsupervised. They'll start lazing off the moment the aren't under the eye. Dovrik will lead you to the house. He's a good lad."

"Thank you," replied the wizard. "That will serve."

"Any other service I can provide, mightiness?"

"No, thank you."

"This way, mightiness," said Dovrik. His Mulhurandi had a thick, rasping accent. The slave started walking. The wizard followed after him. Slaves were often ignored, but often had the critical skills of listening carefully and not being seen.

"How far?"

"Far. Nearly a hour. We're in the outer fields. They be far from the house. The land be newly retaken."

"Reconquered? From Mulhorand?"

"No, mightiness. Taken back from the waste. Made good again."

"How long have they been bad?"

"Not know, mightiness. Been that way since I was born."

"I see. And any threat from Mulhorand?"

"No, mightiness. They fear you too much. Red Wizards be too strong."

"Who leads the Red Wizards now?"

The slave looked at him strangely. There was something loaded about that question. "Tell me," he commanded.

"Szass Tam," Dovrik replied. "Szass Tam as always. He rules the zulkirs and the zulkirs rule Thay."

He nodded. "And our armies are still strong?"

"Yes, mightiness. Many soldiers living and undead. Many subhumans as well. Thay's might is feared by all."

"And your masters? The overseer called you a 'good lad' but your back is a mess of whip scars. That's disobedience or cruelty. Or both."

Dovrik looked away. "I was bad. Been good. Years now."

"You don't want trouble. That's smart. I won't make any for you." Which was, of course, both a reasurance and an implied threat. Don't talk and it won't go bad for you. If the boy was bright enough to pick up on it, which he probably was. Slaves got used to seeing threats everywhere. They were too vulnerable not to.

"Thank you, mightiness."

Ahead of them was a manor house with several out buildings. They were white with red tile roofs, the manor house being three stories tall with small windows. A tall grey stone wall surrounded the household, topped with iron spikes. The wall was close to ten feet tall and their were round objects impaled on the spikes. "Are those severed heads?"

"Skulls. Old skulls. Death magic guards the house. The dead do not sleep easy here."
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Re: The Past is a Foreign Country (Forgotten Realms)

Post by Imperial Overlord »

The din of battle grew louder as the mass of men fighting and dying around the standard became clearer and more distinct. Whether it was pharoah or a member of his household beneath the banner of Horus-Re it was clear that pharaoh's household guards were defending him with great ferocity. A fog of protective magic enshrouded them, but it was failing. If the flank were to be hammered with war spells, one or more would likely get through and gut the household guards. Gut pharaoh.

A man stepped out from the battling multitudes. He wore a gold pectoral over a white linen robe. A mantle of golden light shielded him from harm. His skin was dark and his beard was long and white. His staff was distinctive, short and ivory, topped with four upswung golden horns. The staff was as well known as the face whose features he could not clearly make out. Of course pharaoh had sent him. What other mage was as loyal or as mighty?

Two crossbow bolts struck his teacher's protective aura and vanished in explosions of blue-white flames. Mehen Zorah was completely unharmed, his mantle undimmed. He was already chanting. It gave him no pleasure to kill his old teacher, but war was war.

A hundred darts of magical fire, each one a different hue, materialized and flew towards Mehen Zorah from all directions. The arch-mage was chanting his own spell as he was enveloped a torrent of prismatic flame. The golden aura was consumed, but Mehen Zorah was unharmed.
Mehen Zorah finished his spell. Ideas are the bones of the multiverse, matter and energy its' meat. Concepts, ideas, belief, and information are at the core of reality. That is why Faerum can have multiple sun gods because the gods are not literally the sun but associated with solar concepts. That is why language is key to the arcane and its sister arts psionics and divine magic. Abstract principles, analogies, metaphors, associations, and symbols form the bed rock of the universe and of all spellcraft. Magic is an art based on writing, body language, symbolic ingredients, and the spoken word.

Mehen Zorah's spell included words of condemnation. Exile. Punishment. Imprisonment. Judgement. It ended not with complex formula spoken in an esoteric language, but a clearly understandable sentence. "Rathos Sephet, I name you, I judge you, and I cast you out for all time."

And then nothing.

Nothing until his awakening in the dirt, with a head full of fog. Of the several variants of the Imprisonment spell he was familiar with required time and specific knowledge of the target, which tended to make it a poor choice for battle sorcery. If, on the other hand, one was as good at magic as Mehen Zorah and knew almost every powerful Thayan wizard's name and face then perhaps the shear unstoppable power of the spell made it worth while to encompass before battle.

"And you undoubtedly died," Rathos whispered. "And I, the vanquished, live. Somehow I think you would have prefered it that way. You were so disappointed in my choices, my treason, weren't you?"

"Mightiness?" asked Dovrik.

"Nothing, nothing of any concern," said Rathos. The passed through the black iron gates, close enough to clearly see the skulls impaled on spikes. They were old, bone half covered with scraps of leathery skin and flesh. He needed none of his painstakingly acquired skills to sense the necromantic power lying ready, not dormant, in those death's heads.

Several people in kilts or long tunics were working in the large and well kept yard. Two fountains flanked the path to the front doors and trees with pleasant smelling blossoms dotted the lawn in what Rathos was sure would turn out to be a complex, ordered pattern. One fountain featured swans and mermaids, the other dolphins and muscular men.

There was a small party assembling at the steps of the house. They wore brilliantly coloured silk and linen, with elaborate embroidery. Almost all were bald. Rathos approached.

A man in blue silk robe embroidered with silver cranes stepped forward. He was bald and heavily built man with crowsfeet around his eyes. "Welcome to the House of Abar Ariz. It is our honour to offer you our hospitality, mightiness."

"Thank you," Rathos replied. "I am pleased to accept your generous offer. I have been away for some time and it is pleasing to return to Thay. I am Rathos."

Abar nodded in acknowledgement. "This is my wife Lallara," he said, gesturing to the woman who was fractionally taller than him. She wore her dark hair in a elaborate, towering arrangement maintained by jewelled pins. She was garbed in an emerald gown shot through with golden rays eminating from a solar disc. Four servants, with long dark hair and duskier skin attended to her. She inclined her head just slightly and her demeanour remained cold.

"My daughter Tholan," he said gesturing to a bald teenage girl wearing tall riding boots over cream coloured breaches and a white linen tunic. Her bare arms were tanned and muscular. The servant next to her carried a sheathed, straightbladed sword with the hilt pointing to her.

"And my son, Barer." The boy was shorter and slimmer than his sister, maybe ten or twelve. He wore a knee length white tunic and his hair was short stubble.

Rathos inclined his head. "A pleasure to meet you all."

"Mighty one, you look like you've been on the road for a while. Take advantage of our hospitality. Enjoy a bath. I will send my barber to you. We will have your clothes laundered while you bathe and then we can enjoy eath others company in a civilized fashion."

Rathos smiled. "I would like that."

Abar clapped his hands together. "Then it shall be done and you shall learn that although we receive few visitors in Thazalhar, our hospitality is second to none."
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