The Tale of Zuka (WIP)

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The Tale of Zuka (WIP)

Postby Zuka Zamamee » July 17th, 2007, 5:51 pm

Well, it appears as if I'm going to have to post my WIP version of this, as my computer that contains the next seven chapters is a thousand miles away in Tennessee. I hope you all enjoy this, and that it will give you a little insight as to why Zuka is the way he is. Enjoy!

\\//\\//\\ The Tale of Zuka //\\//\\//

Throughout my 738 years of life I’ve seen much, learned much more, and done things that any mere mortal should not be entitled to do. I’ve learned love and heartbreak, happiness and hatred, friendship and loneliness, trust and betrayal. I’ve killed countless innocents and destroyed entire civilizations in the hopes of reclaiming a part of my former self, a shadow that exists only to taunt me. But despite all of my attempts, I’ve found nothing but despair and failure. Read this, and read it well, for I write here my only confession.

My past is as unclear as my future, and the present is murky to say the least. I know not where to turn, and so I turn inwards, to myself, for answers to my many questions – but within myself, I do not find the answers I seek, I find new questions. All I know of myself is known second-hand, and all I know of you is that you have intelligence enough to read this without fear, if not without trepidation. Before I tell you of myself, there are a few things I must tell you about yourself, whoever you may be…

One can never know oneself. To know oneself is to know all of existence you shall ever perceive, and knowing all existence is impossible, since all eventualities cannot be foreseen. It is thought by most and likely by you, that courage is absence of fear. This is incorrect. A fearless man charges into battle unaware of his impending death and the consequences of this. The courageous man charges into battle knowing all too well he might die, but is willing to sacrifice himself for the good of others, or for his own good, depending upon his views. Either way, he fears the possibilities, though he strives to overcome the self-doubting nature that all sane men have.

In all the planes there is only one power, which is power itself. It may take on different forms, work to different agendas, and as often as not will contradict itself, but know this – power is power, and power will corrupt and destroy the heart, body, mind, and worst of all…the soul…

If any of these had occurred to you before now, my apologies for stating the obvious. Otherwise it would do you much good to keep these in mind as you read this, for you will no doubt think less of me by the end than you did when you had not realized I existed at all…

\\//\\//\\ The Beginning //\\//\\//

Many seasons ago, over a dozen lives of men as I count it now, life was peaceful throughout. Goodness and fulfillment seemed to have permeated from the very fabric of existence, bringing with it peace everlasting and joy beyond comprehension. This was Syl’arboreth, City of the proud and the free, the wise and the strong, the fools and the weak. All were welcome, all were content, and all were anchored to this place by a love of life within its league-wide walls, protecting it from any conceivable evil. At the edges, two gates, one East, one West, remained constantly open and unguarded. There was no need for guards, soldiers, or servicemen. There was no need for the walls – they were merely a symbol of the strength of heart that was all too present in the great City. Never had any war neared the walls, never had a bowstring been drawn inside them, nor had armor been donned, or sword been sharpened.

There was no cause for battle with Syl’arboreth, since none were refused entry, none were turned away, and none would long for anything while within the massive walls. It had always been such, and it was believed throughout the realm that it would always be so. Wars would be fought, kingdoms would fall, but Syl’arboreth would always remain constant, as if frozen in time. There were many such Cities, though Syl’arboreth was the greatest, the most renowned, and the seat of the High Councilor Fel-Toch, ruler of El’th’norann, Guardian of Peace throughout the land. They marveled in their own magnificence, as they expanded constantly, no man, dwarf, or elf wishing to remain outside the walls. Then the Darkness came…

By now, I was only eight years old. I was old enough to remember the rumors that were afloat about war, which came from travelers and merchants. The rumors held it that a massive horde of demons and undead, so giant as to seem a continent of hell fire and steel, was sweeping across the lands. At first, I thought little of the rumors. There had been peace for generations upon generations, and no demons had been reported in over half a million years. But over the course of the next eight years, the absurd rumors were slowly becoming a grim reality. Thousands of refugees were beginning to pack into the walls of Syl’arboreth. Our food supply was stretched thin, and riots soon broke out when the cost of food inflated threefold. Multiple times High Councilor Fel-Toch attempted to calm the dissent, but the arrival of more homeless refugees and orphans and the strain it placed on the fragile economy was too much for any single man, even Fel-Toch, to deal with.

It would also do good to mention that at this time I was engaged to a high elf named Itarildë Calaelen. She was a prominent sorceress, and I an excellent swordsman. We were inseparable, even through the hardships both Syl’arboreth and ourselves faced. Our wedding was arranged to occur when these events began to unfold. We postponed and waited for the turmoil to calm down. This was, perhaps, one of the few mistakes I regret.

Around this time, news of the war’s progress reached Syl’arboreth. The Cities of Naba’galisk, Halkashiv, Ruun’aald, Tom’balk’auh, and Pok’uagh had all fallen in the wake of the horde’s onslaught. These defeats were a crippling blow to our morale. All hope had seemed lost. However, High Councilor Fel-Toch was prepared for this situation. The following day, he issued a proclamation stating that all males above the age of 15, including refugees and orphans, were to don armor, take arms, and report the following day at the East Gate. For the first time in its history, Syl’arboreth was preparing for war.

I donned my father’s mail and full plate and brandished my sword. I reported to the East Gate while Itarildë reported to the Academy of Sorcery. Fate, it seemed, had destined us both for war…

\\//\\//\\ The War //\\//\\//

The group that had assembled at the East Gate was the most pitiful assortment of troops that one would have ever seen. They were undisciplined and they milled about aimlessly. Less than a quarter wore leather jerkins or boiled leather armor. Fewer still wore mail, and even less wore plate. Many had brought improvised weapons, such as hammers or pitchforks or crudely made spears. Few, such as myself, even wielded a true weapon of war. Fear and uncertainty could be easily read in their eyes. If any professional soldier had been present, they would have certainly died from laughter.

Soon afterwards, a band of seven hundred men and elves riding noble steeds joined us. They were the remnants of various Cavalry units from the other Cities, the only true professionals present here. While disgusted by the state of their soldiers, they nonetheless took charge and ordered us to march north to Pok’uagh. Scouts had reported an enemy force massing there. There was no doubt about their intended target: Syl’arboreth.

After three weeks of hard marching, devastating ambushes, and a harsh summer heat, the sight of Pok’uagh rewarded our perseverance. However, the scouts had underestimated the numbers of demons and undead here. There was easily triple the originally forecasted number. Regardless, our leaders pressed us on to attack. Our archers fired, filling the skies with arrows. Many demons fell from the first volley, but when they raised their shields to the skies, even less fell during the second and third volleys, and hardly any fell from the fourth.

Our lines then surged forth, clashing with the demons and undead. I was in the midst of it all. For the first time in my life, I witnessed first-hand the violent, chaotic, and brutal truth of war. Many foes were slain or crippled by my sword, a testimony to my skill with the blade. By the end of the fourth hour, our victory had come at a tragic price. Over half of our army lay dead or dying. The cries of the wounded filled the twilight skies until one couldn’t think straight. Of the seven hundred horsemen, less than two hundred remained battle-ready. At the very least our ill-equipped troops now had mail, plate, swords, spears, and crossbows at their disposal. However, I couldn’t put off the sinking gut feeling that this high of a casualty rate was necessary if we were going to win this war.

The following year, we had won two more decisive victories. Morale was high again, and, for the first time since the war started nine years ago, victory was plausible. However, what was kept away from the public was the fact that we had lost seven other battles, and our troops were at the breaking point. Of the number of troops that we began with, less than a fifth of that number comprised of our surviving military. It was a closely guarded secret that Syl’arboreth was doomed to certain annihilation unless something was done…fast…

Naturally, I was present at every single battle that occurred. I would often come out drenched in demon blood and guts intermingled with my own blood and that of my allies. I was swiftly promoted multiple times for my heroism and courage. Within a year, I went from a rank-and-file nobody to Commander of the Silver Legion. It was a grand name and a grand title for a poorly organized, ill-equipped, and undisciplined group of four hundred troops. I had twenty horsemen at my disposal, each of which greatly despised my achievements. Within a few months, I shaped my men into a well organized, heavily armed, well armored, disturbingly obedient, and frighteningly disciplined unit. When my Cavalry officers saw the transformation the army went through, they promptly took back their earlier statements and later became close friends. The Silver Legion naturally became the most effective combat unit of Syl’arboreth. They suffered little or no casualties in combat, making them almost mythological.

Around my eighteenth birthday, my request to join the Academy of Sorcery was granted by Fel-Toch himself. Itarildë was there, and I longed to be with her. Though a part of me yearned to stay and join my brethren in battle, I knew my place was with Itarildë. Together at last, she taught me many spells and counterspells. Because of my high elf heritage, I quickly learned then mastered what I was taught. And not a moment too soon, either…

The horde had located Syl’arboreth. All legions were called back into the city to defend it, and for the first time in its history, the gates were closed. A month long siege ensued, draining the city rapidly of our precious food supply. Frustrated, Fel-Toch ordered the legions to march through and meet the enemy in combat to break the siege. Legion after legion of warriors, spearmen, and archers marched into combat to break free, but these brave men and women only found death. Finally, Fel-Toch ordered all Cavalry and Sorcery units to advance under the protection of the Silver Legion…my brothers.

The charge of the cavalry units, backed by fireballs, lightning bolts, and ice shards, broke through many ranks of the horde while the Silver Legion fought the stunned enemy in our wake. Itarildë and I both fought side by side on warhorses, annihilating any enemies we could hit. An hour into battle it seemed as if victory was possible. But when I turned back to take a look at Syl’arboreth, my heart sank as if it were attached to a hundred ton weight.

Syl’arboreth was in flames.

I looked around for the first time since the battle started. Many of the cavalry units now lay dead or dying. Spellcasters were suffering the same fate. The Silver Legion was the only unit faring well. They, my former men, were marching and fighting as one unit in the protective formation of the phalanx, just as I had taught them before. At this time a snarl caught my attention, and I turned in time to see a Pit Fiend’s claws shred my horse to pieces. I collapsed off my horse, disappearing into the sheet of hell fire and steel.

I fell into complete and utter darkness. My body was never found.

\\//\\//\\ Akanzel //\\//\\//

I don’t recall how long I was unconscious. Nor do I recall how I got to the underground onyx-forged fortress that I was imprisoned in. The precious stone walls, ceilings, and floors were dark, shiny, and cold to the touch. The place seemed deserted, almost as if life itself had ceased to exist in this area. When I surveyed the room, I was startled to find another already there, clinging to the shadows of the corner. The figure, a male with long, sable hair and eyes as cold and devoid of life as the fortress itself, silently strode towards me. A black cloak enshrouded his frame and effectively disguised any weapons that he might’ve been carrying. I was wary about this man. There was something… different… about the eyes, the unnaturally graceful gait, and the very aura that surrounded him, but all too quickly I became entranced by these eyes until I could not see the very danger I was in. I quickly realized that I was not entranced by my own free will; instead, this strange man before me was using a spell.

“I am glad to see that my efforts bringing you here have not been in vain. It would’ve been an awful waste of precious lives, resources, and, most of all, time.” The tone of his voice when he spoke the last word was laced with poorly concealed frustration.

“Who…who are you? Where am I? Wh-?” I tried to inquire more about this man and this mysterious location, yet the words would not form. Against my will, I closed my mouth and spoke no further.

“I suppose you have many questions, Zuka of Telemnar. And I will not disappoint you: I have many answers, including the ones you seek. But I will begin with the first. I am Akanzel D’vano, the Master of V’lauk. I am a Pit Lord with many magical capabilities, including the ability to shape shift. Another magical spell would be why you were unable to sense me until I made my presence known to you.”

I stared in horror at this demon, unable to fathom why I was spared for small talk. I tried to run away from this apparition, yet my muscles were frozen in place as though I were paralyzed. The spell he was using easily broke through my meager defenses.

“As to where you are, the answer should be obvious. You are in the underground onyx fortress of V’lauk, my personal stronghold,” Akanzel continued. “The armies that you and your elves have fought against are mine. They are present even here, patrolling these corridors. Reach out with your mind, and you’ll find them.” I did so, and to my surprise, I found them. Hundreds of them. Finally, he let up the spell that had been placed to silence me. I immediately took the chance.

“You…you are the one who orchestrated all of this? The genocide? The pillaging? The countless other crimes committed against my people? And for what cause? Glory? Conquest? Bloodlust?” I was seething in anger. The one who had been responsible for the deaths of my friends, comrades, and countless innocents lives was now standing before me. If it weren’t for the paralyzing spell I was certain I would’ve killed him right there.

The Pit Lord’s eyes remained fixed on me. “Of course I orchestrated it; no other demon had the courage to do so. I did what was necessary…what I had to do. I did it for you, Zuka.”

“Me? Why me?” I was bewildered. Why would he waste his time searching and killing thousands just to find me?

Akanzel chuckled to himself. “I am certain that you are expecting me to reveal some great secret, some greater truth that will shatter you to your core. No, Zuka, there is no such thing. The truth be told, there is only you.”

“Only me? There were others out there. The countless elves and humans that were slaughtered are worth far more than me. Surely you could’ve…”

“No Zuka, there’s only you. Now come, we have an empire to forge, and there is still much to do.”

\\//\\//\\ The Dream //\\//\\//

This demon, Akanzel, was unlike any I had seen before. He was awe inspiring yet terrifying, charismatic yet sinister. He wielded considerable power, both in martial and magical aspects, but seemed to be a far superior commander than anything else. Akanzel led me out of the bedchambers I was imprisoned in. I was startled to find four more humans waiting outside. They were clad in boiled leather armor and cloaks as dark as a moonless night. Each held a massive greatsword of steel darker than obsidian, the blade tips dug firmly into the ground. I half-expected them to be rescuers coming to my aid; however, I noticed that their eyes were much like Akanzel’s, both devoid of life and chillingly sinister. The Pit Lord was quick to introduce them to me.

“Zuka, I wish for you to meet those that serve directly under me. The first is the Pit Lord Shanu van Ageisina, the one closest to you.” Shanu nodded his head slightly and grunted. “He is a masterful tactician and the Commander of the E’Toro Legion. His legion is comprised of Pit Fiends, Demonic Archons, and Dreadnaughts who serve as our vanguard. It was he who led the assault on Syl’arboreth, and he who killed your warhorse to bring you here.

“Next is Barglom Voro.” Barglom, the largest of the Pit Lord group besides Akanzel himself, growled audibly. “What he lacks in brains he makes up for in brawns. He is the Commander of the R’Lan Legion, comprised of Riderless Demons, Winged Imps, and Skeletal Warriors and Archers. They are our cannon fodder.

“And finally, the blood brothers: Iskhani and Karzna de Fanel.” The final two demons nodded in approval in what they saw in me. “They are the Commanders of the N’Naru Legion, which is comprised of our vampires and aerial units such as gargoyles. They are our scouts, often serving as our eyes and ears in battle.”

Akanzel turned back to face me. “These Pit Lords are the commanders of my three best legions. There are many other legions under my command, each comprised of a myriad of races, but none are as fine as these. Perhaps you too shall someday command your own legion and help to make our dream a reality.”

I was silent and, on the outside, remained calm. On the inside, however, I was fighting an intense battle against my own self. I was revolted by the idea of ever leading an army of demons and undead. I couldn’t bear the thought of leading these…things…against my own kind, against my own blood. Yet somewhere, deep inside, I heard a distant voice. It was soft, almost unheard, but it was present. The voice calmly reminded me how I took the Silver Legion, a piss poor assembly of men and elves, and forged it into the best fighting unit in the history of El’th’norann. Even if Akanzel gave me a legion of Riderless Demons, who were supposedly uncontrollable, insane, and highly destructive, I held no doubt that I would be able to lead them effectively.

Finally, after much thought, I looked up at Akanzel’s macabre eyes. “You chose me because you know of my reputation. You know how I took an unqualified band of recruits and turned them into the most formidable and effective fighting unit that Syl’arboreth had at their disposal: the Silver Legion. And now you want to know if I can do the same for you.”

“For a lack of better words, Zuka, yes.” I felt my heart sink…slightly. “But I have far better uses for someone of your resourcefulness. I want you to assume the coveted role of The Destroyer. If you accept, you shall become my personal agent, bound to me by faith, loyalty, and the love of destruction. You shall even become what very few spellcasters in my ranks are allowed to be: a necromancer.

“With your capability to create undead and mine to command them in combat, we shall be unstoppable. The foes that fall by our blades shall rise again to join our ranks. We shall push our forces across the lands, gaining strength by the day and conquering much valuable territory. The times of Man, Elf, and Dwarf have finally come to an end, and we shall usher forth the time of the Demon and Undead. And you, Zuka, shall be my greatest masterpiece yet.”

Again, I contemplated what I heard. Then, as if by an instinct that had been dormant for eons, patiently waiting for this opportunity, I answered him with a final question.

“What would you have The Destroyer do?”

\\//\\//\\ The Long Fall //\\//\\//

That day, Zuka of Telemnar had died. In his place, Zuka Zamamee, “The Destroyer,” was born. The new Zuka was a shadow of his former self, a being that was a mockery of everything that he had fought and killed for. I embraced my new life with much enthusiasm. My emotions were cast aside as I took up the mesmerizing studies of necromancy. I no longer felt pain, happiness, sorrow, joy, fear, or empathy. I felt nothing at all, as if I were empty inside. All of life’s meanings became meaningless. I served only to create undead and command them in combat. Necromancy was now my life.

I strived to become the best necromancer that had ever lived in El’th’norann, but the competition was fierce. Twelve other necromancers were well ahead of me in studies, and fifty more were being trained. If there is one thing that Akanzel fiercely believed in, it was the philosophy of the ancient elf Temeraire. Within the first week of my indoctrination into the demon army, I became familiar with his writings, specifically his essay about the necessity of struggles between the strong and the weak.

It was a perfect principal of pupil versus master, soldier versus commander, and friend against ally. This essay was the primary influence for my next action: to eliminate the competition. One by one, I plotted the demise of each of the twelve necromancers above me. I killed them, slowly and painfully with poison and magic, and drained their souls and infused them with my staff for later use. After the death of the necromancers, I quickly gained control of their armies.

By daybreak, my task was complete. I was the most powerful necromancer in Akanzel’s army. He was impressed by my willingness to sacrifice others for my own gains, and gave me direct command of the lesser undead legions. Soon afterwards, some of the younger necromancers plotted against me, but they were swiftly dealt with. Some would be found hanging from the ceiling from their own intestines, missing most of their organs or limbs; some would be found brutally tortured, beaten, and distorted before their eventual execution; still, some were never found at all.

For longer than I care to count, this cycle continued. Plot. Treason. Murder. It was a never-ending struggle that ensured that only those fit to survive would lead the armies into combat against our enemies. Before long, I became so consumed in my studies and plots that I eventually forgot who I was. The slaughter of Syl’arboreth, Itarildë and our plans, my very own family…everything. To tell me I was once Zuka of Telemnar was as foreign a concept to me as describing the physics of planar travel to a simple peasant farmer.

By now, I was a full 680 years old. I had learned centuries ago that by combining my prowess in necromancy and my close affinity with and understanding of death, I could literally become immortal. I continually evaded death, delaying it further and further until I was partly immune to natural death.

Now, due to my unwavering loyalty, Akanzel granted me complete control of all undead legions, including the infamous N’Naru Legion. Karzna and Iskhani were assigned as advisors despite their initial protests. Later on, I became Akanzel’s right hand and now had the chance to demonstrate my true capabilities as The Destroyer.

It seemed that fate was about to intervene again in an unexpected way…

\\//\\//\\ Predicament //\\//\\//

“I have a message for you, Lord Zuka.” I was leaning over an onyx carved desk pouring through my notes, diagrams, and sketches. There were multiple tomes of human, Orcish, Elvish, and Dwarven anatomy scattered about when the voice interrupted me. It came from a lower ranking Pit Fiend, one hardly even worth my time. I nonchalantly waved my hand, indicating that he could continue to speak, while I went back to my work. “Lord Akanzel requests your presence at once. He says that it is urgent.” I continued to ignore him. I was intrigued by what I was reading. “Lord Zuka?”

“Yes, yes, I heard you, you imbecile. Now get out of my sight.” The Pit Fiend bowed his head before walking out of my personal study hall, shutting the thick obsidian door behind him. I exhaled forcefully, annoyed that Akanzel wished to see me now. My studies were important to the continued survival of our armies. I knew that our legions of demons were starting to dwindle from constant warfare, and since I was the only necromancer under his command, Akanzel had assigned me the task to solve the problem.

My solution: abominations. Thousands of them. In theory, the practice of combining the bodies, minds, and strengths of many races would produce the perfect specimen. Accomplishing the task, on the other hand, was another matter. Evidence of the failed attempts surrounded me. Corpses were strewn about. Some of them had exploded when I attempted to bring them into Unlife. Others didn’t respond to the magic, or fell to pieces after a short amount of time.

Finally, I made my way to the throne room. The throne room, a combination of onyx, gold, silver, and other precious rocks, was large enough for an entire city to surround the throne itself. Inside were thirteen sable and gold tapestries hanging from the ceiling to just above the ground. There were five on each side with three against the opposite wall. Each tapestry stood for each legion under Akanzel’s command, with the names of the Commanders written in gold. The three against the opposite wall were E’Toro, R’Lan, and N’Naru. Akanzel was seated in the dark throne and was flanked by Shanu, Barglom, Iskhani, Karzna, and several lesser Pit Lord commanders.

Akanzel noticed my approach and motioned me forward. “Come, Zuka, join us.” His voice seemed to drown out from the vast emptiness of the room, the same emptiness that threatened to consume us all. I obeyed and hurried over. I then noticed that the Pit Lords surrounded a massive map depicting the entire lands of El’th’norann. There were multitudes of pins in the map: black indicated areas controlled by Akanzel, red indicated human settlements, green indicated Elvish settlements, and blue indicated Dwarven settlements. I crept closer and found dozens of small pieces indicating infantry, aerial, and naval units. They were scattered about, indicating last known positions and an overall strategic picture.

“Zuka,” Akanzel’s voice resounded again, catching me slightly off guard. “We were just discussing our latest battle plans. It seems as if there is a…complication…as of late. Take a look for yourself.” I studied the map closely, trying to identify the problem that Akanzel was speaking of. Towards the middle of the map was a mountain chain that ran north and south. Nearly a dozen black legion pieces were stationed on the western side of the mountains, indicating where our forces were located. In the center of the mountain guarding the pass was a single green dot, indicating an Elvish city, and beyond the mountains lay scores of green, red, and blue dots. Four green legion pieces comprised of the army that occupied the mountain settlement and kept us from overrunning the other settlements.

“Moon and High Elves have taken position at the ancient fortress. Both races have formidable sorcerers and wizards, and their infantry are highly skilled. They have the advantage of higher ground and a fortified position. All of our previous charges have been halted cold in their tracks. The E’Toro and R’Lan legions are marching to the mountains as we speak, but I’m afraid that even then they won’t be enough.”

I listened intently to Akanzel as he spoke before I voiced my own opinion. “We have a dozen legions there with our best two legions a day or two away. Obviously, we can’t charge up the mountain slopes because the Elves would slaughter us. And you can’t go around the mountains since they run up and down the length of the continent. There are other passes, but your forces would be split and weakened. If we abandon this position, the Elves can strike the heart of V’lauk. So you must win this battle. And you know who can win it for you.”

Akanzel flashed a rare smile. “You are correct, and your foresight is formidable. Our enemies are right to fear you.”

“Then if you want this battle to be won,” I continued, “send me. Alone.”

Shanu’s eyes widened in bewilderment. “Absolutely not! It is suicide!”

“Let him speak, Shanu,” Akanzel growled.

I ignored Shanu’s interjection. “A legion can be spotted a mile away. Their position is easy to locate, and it doesn’t take much of a genius to predict where they are heading. But a lone, single figure can slip undetected through their perimeters and bring ruin to their troop’s morale.”

Akanzel’s cold eyes remained transfixed upon me. His lips slowly moved as he contemplated what he heard. “I can see the wisdom in your suggestion, Zuka. Very well, your wish has been granted. You will leave as soon as practical. It appears as if our enemies are about to experience a new definition of hell.” Shanu and Barglom traded glances as Iskhani and Karzna growled.

I had won Akanzel’s approval in a battle that would determine the fate of El’th’norann and won a victory for myself.

\\//\\//\\ Clash of the Titans //\\//\\//

I left the underground onyx fortress of V’lauk immediately, not wanting to waste a single moment preparing. All I brought with me was my obsidian staff and my sable fur cloak, the only equipment that I needed that wouldn’t weigh me down. I trekked through the many miles of the extensive underground caves, carefully picking my path by following the footprints of the R’Lan and E’Toro legions. When I finally emerged from the underground labyrinth, I saw, for the first time in centuries, the night sky, moon, stars, and the outside world. I had expected to be elated or surprised or in awe. Instead, I was severely disappointed. As far as the eye could see, the world was nothing but a desolate wasteland. Trees and vegetation and wildlife were absent. The ground was broken and poor. I shrugged to myself before continuing onwards, hoping to arrive at the mountains before the legions did.

The next few nights were spent hiking across vast territory in an attempt to catch up to the legions. I guided myself by the stars, the footprints of the legions, and the occasionally pillaged village or town. The badlands slowly shifted into hilly grasslands. I could easily locate where the legions had been marching, and I hurried my search. A fortnight after leaving V’lauk, my perseverance was rewarded by the sight of the E’Toro and R’Lan legions. However, I had to make haste because the mountain chain was on the horizon and rapidly approaching each night. If I didn’t catch up to the legions, then they were going to carry out their original suicidal mission: to charge up the slopes of the mountain heedless of the dangers of the spellcasters and archers waiting for them.

When I finally reached them, the legions had just rendezvoused at the base of the mountains. I quickly located their leaders and revealed to them the new change in plans. They were angered that they wouldn’t face the enemy directly in combat, so I quickly amended the original plan. I assured them that once they got my “signal,” then they could begin the charge. Reluctantly, they finally agreed to the amended plan. It was yet another small victory for myself.

The following night, I began to scale up the mountain, masked by the darkness of the night and the cloak that covered me. Their sentries were spread out too far, allowing me to slip by undetected. After several hours of scaling up the mountain, I finally caught a glimpse of the enigmatic fortress. In its prime, the fortress had magnificently white walls eighty feet high and fifty feet thick, towers in the shape of dragons, hundreds of portcullises and firing slots for archers, and two massive oak gates on each side of the pass. Now, the fortress’s glorious design had long faded until it was nothing more than a crumbling mass of stonewalls and wooden gates.

I climbed a little higher until I reached a nearby ledge. It provided me with the perfect vantage point: I could see the fortress in its entirety while the Elves inside the fortress were unable to locate me. Smiling to myself, I rose up both of my arms and silently began to chant arcane words. I drew upon the arcane forces, channeling them as I had learned as a sorcerer, and tapped into the element of fire. Motes of red-hot energy gathered and swirled just outside of the eastern gate. The motes of arcane energy formed into a single point, reaching the critical flashpoint temperature in a fraction of a second, and combusted violently into flames. The flames ignited the rotting gates instantly and glassed the stonewalls.

Before the sentries cold blow their horns, I channeled more energy into the flames and guided the torrent through the fortress. The flames raced through the network of hallways and chambers, consuming all available oxygen and devouring the soldiers it found. Within moments, the walls were ablaze as the stone melted from the intense heat. There was panic and confusion within the fortress as soldiers, officers, and spellcasters attempted to discern what was occurring. The walls exploded in a hellish fury of molten magma and superheated globules of glass, showering the area and setting ablaze the buildings, troops, and miscellaneous objects within the perimeter.

From the western pass, I heard the drums and thunder of the multitudes of legions, all of them eagerly howling and baying for blood. The commanders had received my signal and were preparing to storm the remains of the fortress. I guided the torrent to the western gate and incinerated the once proud steel and oak mammoth into a pile of ashes. I then used the torrent to form a fiery barrier around the fortress to prevent the troops from escaping. The only entrance or exit was the western gate, which led directly into the path of fourteen legions of demons and undead. With nowhere left for the enemy troops to run or hide, the surviving legions waited for their impending deaths within the hellish, smoldering remains of their once proud encampment.

The slaughter of the surviving elves that night foreshadowed the fate of El’th’norann, for it was then that The Destroyer was truly born.

\\//\\//\\ Betrayal //\\//\\//

For forty years, the war dragged on, consuming many villages and towns, fortresses and castles, kingdoms and provinces. None were spared from the slaughter. After each battle, I took the time consuming task of creating undead skeletal warriors and mages to join the ranks of our ever-expanding armies. The original fourteen legions that I led over the mountains and into the lands of the elves, humans, and dwarves had quickly multiplied into thirty-two. Most of the known realm was under our control, and only one last City remained: Syl’arboreth.

Akanzel was pleased with the war’s progress, so it came as no surprise when he granted my request for more legions to be joined under my command. With forty full-fledged legions, I utterly annihilated the remaining settlements, save for Syl’arboreth. The infamous Silver Legion, my former brethren, was no longer a band of four hundred troops; instead, it was a full legion of six thousand veteran troops. It was for that reason alone that I was wary about any direct assaults on Syl’arboreth. Even since my abrupt departure, they were still as mythological and capable as they were centuries ago, if not more.

I cautiously calculated each possibility to ensure that we would inflict the most amount of damage while suffering minimal casualties. In the mean time, our massive legions surrounded the league-wide walls and formed an effective siege. For months, I debated about whether to starve them to death or to meet them in open combat. Akanzel quickly grew impatient, then frustrated, and finally infuriated with my indecision. Seven months after the siege began, a winged imp messenger clad in a black cloak arrived at my command post carrying a single letter. I inspected the letter and found that the seal was unbroken. Its contents nearly stopped my heart cold in its tracks when I read it.

You are to be relieved of your command, effective immediately. Report back for immediate debriefing.

I was seething in anger and disbelief. Akanzel wouldn’t dare! I didn’t struggle to rise through the masses after all of those years, lose my soul and all hope of redemption, and conquer most of El’th’norann just to lose my command due to a prolonged siege. I shredded the letter and crumbled its remains before using it to fuel my campfire. Silently, I vowed to myself that I would kill the bastard for the injustice he had inflicted upon me.

It was then that a magnificent idea dawned upon me that would allow my ultimate revenge. “You, imp! Be of service and gather my legion commanders. Tell them to meet here at once.”

“At once, Lord Zuka.” The winged imp took flight and relayed the information. Within minutes, my commanders were at my command post.

“Commanders, it appears as if we have received new orders,” I spoke calmly. “We are to return to V’lauk immediately.”

“That’s madness!” The interjection came from K’launm, a recently promoted Pit Lord in charge of a non-important auxiliary legion. “We cannot simply abandon this position! The enemy is at the breaking point! Their supplies are thin and they are resorting to eating sewer rats and each other. Victory is at hand! Why the sudden change in orders?”

Silently, I noted to myself to have K’launm hung the moment we returned to V’lauk. “Akanzel has demanded it. I don’t know the reason why,” I lied, “but I am most displeased with his timing.” Several other Pit Lords growled in agreement. I had them hooked, and I continued.

“So, I ask you all this: where does your loyalty lie? Does it lie in the ‘Supreme Ruler’ of V’lauk who uses his minions to advance his goals while he remains far away in relative safety? Or does it lie in the Ruler’s greatest general who has led the hordes through countless victories and knows the hardships, dangers, and perils they face on a day to day basis?”

The Pit Lords were stunned, but quickly broke their stupor and murmured to each other in a great commotion that caught the attention of the troops outside. What I had suggested was more than heresy…it was treason. But any doubt of my commanders’ loyalty was washed away when Iskhani and Karzna both stood and bellowed out their fealty.

“We shall stand by Zuka until the very end! Our legions shall fight under you.” More Pit Lords swore their fealty, and before long every last one of my commanders had bowed before me. Finally, the time for revenge was at hand. Our legions packed that night and melted back into the shadows, making haste to get to V’lauk.

I wish that I could have been there to have seen the faces on the Elves when they awoke the next morning and found that the demons and undead that had besieged them for seven months were suddenly gone. Regardless, curiosity would have to wait. The legions marched for two weeks until we crossed the mountains, and they marched for another three days until we reached the underground entrance to V’lauk. I could taste the sweet sensation of revenge on my tongue, and I fearlessly marched my legions in.

With forty full-fledged legions of seasoned troops, V’lauk’s meager defense of twelve legions and three auxiliary legions stood no chance. I did not have time to spare leading my legions into combat, so I assigned Karzna to do the job for me. There was no doubt that Barglom would lead the defensive forces, so there was little to worry about; the Pit Lord was an incompetent imbecile at best.

With Iskhani by my side, we charged to the throne room of P’leik, hell-bent on slaughtering all we found. A path of carnage and destruction was left in our wake. Finally, we stormed the throne room and found Shanu and Akanzel waiting for us.

“Ah, Zuka, my trusted general, here at last to rectify an ancient wrong and exact revenge upon us. I have done well sending the letter, I see.” Akanzel was calm and placid. It appeared as if he had been expecting this all along. “You are here seeking my head, no doubt. Well, you shall find that I am no easy foe.”

In the blink of an eye, the Pit Lord launched a barrage of fireballs and thunderbolts, too fast for me to comprehend how he had done it or to give me a chance to counter it. I was paralyzed with uncertainty and watched helplessly as the spells rocketed towards me.

My view of the spells was suddenly blocked when Iskhani dove into the path of the projectiles. The fireballs and thunderbolts pelted the Pit Lord. Intense heat and crackling energy washed over me, and I felt hundreds of pinpricks all over my body. Iskhani fell to his knees, his body charred and smoldering. The once proud and strong Pit Lord, the one who had been my finest commander and a close friend, crumpled on the ground, let out an agonizing howl, and died.

Revenge and hatred coursed through my veins as I seethed over Iskhani’s death. Using a small bit of magic, I quickly teleported behind Akanzel and unsheathed my dagger. I knew the anatomy of the demon’s body quite well, and I stabbed the behemoth in a vital pressure point, forcing him to collapse helplessly on the ground. Shanu charged me, but my skill in magic was vast, and I seized the joints in his knees, causing him to collapse too. Moments later, my legions arrived and carried off both Akanzel and Shanu. Three hours later, all resistance had been dealt with swiftly. To ensure that no other reprisals would begin, I ordered gallows to be built in the throne room, right behind the throne itself.

I stood silently at the grand throne as the remaining legions (thirty-two, as I counted) filed in and stood in formation around the throne. Karzna took his place beside me when all the legions were in place. There was no doubt he felt the loss of his blood brother, and I pitied him.

“Behold, for a new chapter in the history of V’lauk is being written!” Karzna bellowed out at once. “Akanzel’s reign is no more, and Lord Zuka will now be our leader. All hail Lord Zuka!”

“All hail Lord Zuka! All hail Lord Zuka! All hail Lord Zuka!”

The chorus of the legions reverberated and echoed in the throne room, a feat that I thought impossible. Karzna turned towards me again. “The Alliance of Cities is no more. The Elves and their allies are in disarray. Most of the known realm is under our command. And all of our legions bow before you, Zuka, the new Lord of V’lauk.” Karzna then handed me the obsidian and onyx crown of V’lauk, the very one that Akanzel had worn before.

With all of the dignity I could muster, I placed the crown on my head and raised my right hand. The cheers drowned out all other sounds, and I finally had to silence them due to fear that the throne room would collapse.

“As the new Lord of V’lauk, I shall make my first command right now. The traitors Akanzel, Shanu, and Barglom, who sought to undermine all that we had achieved, shall face the punishment of death by hanging.” The three Pit Lords, each in human form, were brought up to the gallows and the nooses were secured. To ensure that they would not be able to shape shift again, they were forced to wear collars given anti-magic enchantments.

“Also, for gross insubordination and questioning direct orders by a superior officer and jeopardizing the success of our mission, I hereby strip K’launm of his rank and privileges as a legion commander. You are permanently relieved of your duty and are to be hung with the leaders of the old regime.” Before K’launm could interject again, thirty Pit Fiends tackled him to the ground, bound him with an anti-magic collar once he was in human form, and brought him to the gallows.

When the preparations were made, I stood in front of Akanzel and smiled sadistically to myself. “Any final words, you foolish bastard?”

Akanzel glared at me with eyes radiating with anger. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I do have some. Burn in hell.”

“Hmm. Later, perhaps.” I motioned for the hangman to get ready as I walked to the other side of the platform to allow my legions to witness the price of failure, treason, and insubordination.

“Now,” I spoke apathetically to the hangman. There was utter silence as the four bodies dropped from the gallows, kicked violently, twitched, and then hung motionless.

\\//\\//\\ The Search //\\//\\//

((To be continued...))
My Signature

I am the freezing touch that takes life away,
I am the one whose soul is unclean.
A master of dreams, awakened to the night
I haunt the Astral and reap the mortal life

Through the moonlight's mist
I enter your soul
Which withers from purity I defile
I am the Darkness, the Night that lasts forever

The Lich King
Lord of P'leik
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Zuka Zamamee
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