Highlord Aroven Jirvaerka --- Iradathka –
“This tale begins nearly four-thousand years ago. The worlds are in shambles, half the population of every ‘good’ race is dead. They all fell in the war against the Shadow, beings born of, and thriving in, the blackest of magics and darkest days. Its influence had spread rapidly. The Shadow would use a Crossover to spread to a new planet and in a few weeks’ time, a vast nest would have been built. These bugs, this infestation, were like a cancer of the universe. It poisoned the minds of those on the planet, spreading darkness and gaining slaves as it grew. It grew on the fringes of society. The Drailleon Empire, from its core worlds of Iradathka and Soudathka, stood as the shield from the free peoples, the guardians of good.” Tyrzach shot Aroven a questioning look.
“Indeed that is where the name for our language comes from. The Drailleon Empire had served as the reigning empire for longer than anyone but the draikers could remember. Justice, honor, freedom were its founding principles. But time dulls even the sharpest reflexes, and by the time the Drailleons, or anyone else, realized the threat the Shadow posed, it was too late. Shadow beasts, twisted, warped creatures attacked within the empire, spreading their darkness and corruption. Within days of being corrupted, an individual would transform, turning into a warped facsimiles of themselves with not a speck of their former self left in their head. Many races proved to be unable to resist the Shadow’s influence; entire towns would become ‘Enshadowed’, every inhabitant lost to the corruption. The Shadowed towns were ruthlessly wiped out, burned to the ground, not a single inhabitant could be spared. The terrors of battling the Shadow led to paranoia and xenophobia, rogue factions attack the other races, enhancing the paranoia. The Drailleon Empire withdrew many of their resources in an effort to guard more valuable assets from attack. The Drailleons drew resources from outposts along their fringes leaving more regions exposed to the Shadow.”
Aroven paused to take a drink. “Eventually, several wise individuals realized what was happening. They rallied as many warriors as they could, and convinced the leaders of the various nations to lend resources and troops. Hundreds of thousands of draikers answered the call, the rich, the working and the poor from every race and every nation." Aroven's gaze grew distant as he fell into his imagination. "Stars… imagine the glory and power of such an army. Never before and never since has such an army been gathered under single banner. Millions of warriors stood together for the only time in history, under the banner of the Grand Army. Forges, farms, armorers and everything else necessary to maintain an army worked non-stop to gather the necessary equipment."
"The Grand Army did something unprecedented." Silviana had picked up the story seamlessly from Aroven as he stepped outside. "They divided their strength, attacking the Shadowed lands in a massive multi-prong assault. All the 'Great Armies' drove through the Shadow's defenses, devastating its armies. The Shadow withdrew, coiling back from the vicious attack. The victories didn't come cheap, hundreds of thousands died in the Grand Army's campaign. Replacements came from those who grew into adulthood as the Grand Army fought. It took almost eight hundred years of constant battling across the most brutal and warped lands before the Grand Army reached the Shadow's Heart, after nearly two hundred years of the Shadow nibbling without serious opposition. The planet where the Shadow had originated from was barren and accursed. The very ground bleed molten blood as the skies choked on fumes. Acids formed into lakes as the soil was burned away. It was bitter cold, except around the magma vents, any water or skin left unprotected froze solid in less than a second. Freezing winds filled with ice and sand blew with gale force. Into this forsaken land marched the Grand Army, determined to do slay the heart itself. They crossed over from a dozen worlds, each Great Army swelled to nearly one-hundred thousand soldiers. The assault on the Shadow's worlds had cost the Grand Army nearly one hundred million soldiers." Everyone sat in silence, the sheer numbers beyond scale. "That's the population of the city of Iradathka. The entire continent-spanning city."
"The final battle took place on the ruined slopes of Shadow Heart, a shattered volcano covered with pits of magma and boil acids." Every person in the room turned to see Aroven coming back into the room. "The heart of the volcano had become the Shadow's original hive, hundreds of miles of tunnels and catacombs crossed beneath it. Several of Great Armies converged on Shadow Heart, each assaulting it from a different direction. Nearly half a million allies attacked Shadow Heart and the surrounding region. One Great Army's front stretched nearly nineteen miles wide and three miles deep. Faced with the imminent threat the Shadow marshaled its troops. Like some diseased anthill Shadow Heart spewed forth a lava flow of living horrors. Creatures to terrible and horrible to speak about even when the sun rides high overhead, raced from the hive. Hundreds of thousands of monsters issued forth, a terrible tide that blanketed the volcano. The swarm charged the combined Great Armies. The banners of forty different nations and more than two dozen species stood flapping in the frozen wind over the five armies of one hundred thousand. Each stood alone against twice their numbers even though they were no more than ten miles apart. Arrows fell in a constant sleet, archers not bothering to aim when they fired. Shadow beasts were massacred by the thousands, laid low by rakath axes, draiker blades, Carnaven teeth and Faea magics. The allies fought bitterly, defying the odds. The battle raged for hours, the Grand Army's soldiers fell to Shadow claws and teeth. Black magicks rolled over the armies, killed hundreds despite the Grand Army's mages." Aroven bowed his head in sorrow.
"They made a critical mistake." Silviana picked up the tale again, her own voice sad. "The generals of the five Great Armies knew that one of their warriors was more than a match for any of the Shadow Beasts they'd faced so far, even the Aserian, and that in working together they were even more effective. Their mistake lay in that assumption. They thought they had seen the worst the Shadow had to offer, and had forgotten that the Shadow's Heart was something none of them had ever faced. The Shadow had snuck reinforcements in from the few dozen remaining off-world nests onto Shadow Fall just hours before the invasion, and hidden them in its catacombs. The first assault on Shadow Heart was gallant, they killed nearly three times their number but ultimately doomed. Shadow Heart continued to pour reinforcements long after the Great Armies had depleted any reserves. The entire force was wiped out, almost down to the last warrior." Tears rolled down the elder draikers' faces, the first assault had been predominantly draiker in numbers. "All across Shadow Fall the same thing occurred. Smaller, less important nests were wiped out by the Great Armies, still nearly one hundred million strong in total. Several other planets, now all but abandon by the Shadow were taken as well. But any time a Great Army assaulted one of the five major nests, Shadow reinforcements poured to its defense in numbers too great to withstand." The survivors of these disasters raced to warn the other Great Armies but injured, on foot and on the inhospitable world that was Shadow Fall, few made good time. By the time the few survivors of the First Stand, as the disaster at Shadow Fall has become known, reached another Great Army nearly six million goodly beings had died. Almost thirty Shadow Fall disasters had occurred in the span of three weeks." Not an entire dry eye existed in the great hall. "Four more assaults of similar size attacked Shadow Heart. Each one made it higher on the slopes than the others, but each one was still lost."
"But one army, just one Great Army, held their own. The Katar of Lakvar, a draiker and Faea army, destroyed their target nest, one of the largest aside from Shadow Heart. They sealed or destroyed four major nests in the same three weeks, killing untold numbers of Shadow beasts." Aroven's voice was strong again. "The last two dozen Shadow worlds fell during the ensuing years. They cost the Grand Army nearly half their force to purge them, fifty million soldiers, four of the world’s virtually exploded when the Shadow infestation was nearly killed, killing tens of millions each. The siege of Shadow Fall worn on, only twenty million invaders of the original forty million who had assaulted the planets still lived. Every continent, every island, every region of Shadow Fall was embroiled in war as the Grand Army launched its final assault on the Shadow.
"Highlord, forgive the interruption. How did they supply an army of that size, let alone five times that? How did they coordinate or even talk to each other?" An older (draiker word of child) asked. "We could do it nowadays but only because of ships and technology that they didn't have."
"Magic, youngling." Rhaevhak growled. "The Faea and several other races of the Grand Army were perhaps the most powerful beings of magic that ever existed. They could take a loaf of bread or slab of meat and copy it into thousands of the same thing. They could enchant massive barrels of water, placing powerful magicks to keep them always full. In those times magic was more powerful than you could imagine, the world was ruled by it. Every grain of sand held potential and allowed for the impossible to happen daily."
"Aye, Rhaevhak has the right of it." Aroven nodded to the Dragonlord.
Silviana took up the story again. "The Shadow had been much weakened by the nearly millennia of war, and when the final assault began, its numbers were too few. Great Armies were defeated, destroyed to the last being, but they completed their objectives, sealing off every nest but one."
"Shadow Heart." Several of the (draiker word for children) breathed, their eyes going wide.
"Indeed." Aroven nodded. "The sixth great assault on Shadow Heart began. Six Great Armies converged on the fell fields, surrounding the mountain in a ring of xinon and flesh. Unlike the first assault only nine banners flapped over the armies. Most of the goodly races had lost everything they had; many of them faced extinction because all their mature adults were dead. Those that made up the twenty million consisted of almost entirely Faea, draiker, rakath Carnaven, and the newest ally, dragon, soldiers. The Sixth Great Assault was led by legends, the entire Katar army was there, along with the Black Horde, the Blazefury, the Falling Stars, the White Flight, the (Carnaven army), and the Shield of Drailleon. Each and every army was responsible for countless victories and comprised almost entirely of the main five races. It was here that our legends have grown from, this single battle." Aroven paused for a second and glanced around, not a single draiker or rakath moved in the entire room. "When Shadow mustered forth to defend its Heart, it had no more foot soldiers left. The Aseri and Kirlaven, once thought to be the pinnacle of the Shadow's forces had been wiped out, exterminated with the lesser Shadow Beasts. Now the last of the common Shadow Beasts marched forth, the merest fraction, only two hundred thousand Aseri, Kirlaven, corrupted horrors, and Uzoliran. The Grand Army, as the largest gathering of Great Armies they could claim the title, cheered and jeered. That was hardly a threat! The Shadow outnumbered three to one? It wasn't a threat when the positions were reverse! The common Beasts formed a thin ring, facing outward like guards. The allies charged the line, smashing through the common Beasts easily. As one army they advanced unopposed up the mountain's slope. They moved carefully, completely wary of any sort of trap. As the armies neared the summit of the low mountain, something happened. The quality of the air changed, forming an ominous warning. The world seemed to darken as the ring of goodly folk contracted. Then new horrors issued forth from the hole, Shadow Beasts never seen before. The Grand Army met them head on, weapons bristling and magic ready. Fighting on a wide mountain peak pitted with acid lakes was hellish, thousands fell to the first response of the Shadow. These new Beasts were massive, built to smash into infantry and keep smashing. They were built like elephants, bristling with tusks and a hide of stone. It took twenty draikers with glaives to kill one of them, and even then maybe half of them would die in the attempt. Kulveran they were called, and they were the nicest of the Shadow's hidden Army. The Grand Army crushed their way through the roiling waves of Kulveran. Allied magicks boiled the over the battlefield, mists of acid that melted the Shadow's warriors as they charged; chain lightning which ricocheted from target to target, burning gaping holes in them; great fireballs erupted, frying dozens of Kulveran each; the very earth shook, opening gaping holes or summoning elementals to fight for the allies; the roar and crackling of suddenly frozen water echoed as mages summoned massive, incredible sharp columns of ice. The Kulveran were not without their own casters. The Shadow's lieutenants issued forth, they stood larger enough to dwarf the Kulveran and hideous enough to terrify the steadfast warriors of the Grand Army. Mighty magicks rolled off of them, sliding off their own black magic defenses. Waves of fear pulsed over the armies, causing entire companies to break ranks and flee only to be hauled down and killed by the Kulveran. The dead rose and fought for the Shadow. Great poisoned clouds smothered entire sections of the battlefields, slaying thousands on both sides. Black fires rolled over the allied lines, firestorms of death."
"But the Grand Army fought on, pushing forward step by step. The dead who rose were put back down, and this tactic didn't prove effective for the Shadow to use. None of the immortals could be raised, their bodies proofed of magic by the continual contact with an immortal's soul, which left a fraction of the army, only the dwindling number of mortals could be claimed, and many of them were destroyed in the black firestorms. Still it seemed like the lieutenants would slaughter the armies, nothing could touch them." Silviana had taken up the story briefly before she nodded to Rhaevhak.