By the turn of the first century, the electric elves of Iceload had entered into the Age of the Blood Feud Confederacy in which the majority of central and northern Iceload passed the crown between the major dynasties – the Ipativy, Sentry, Etihw, Oreh – depending on which family’s warrior was able to slaughter their competitors in a ceremonial duel once every hundred years. The section known as the North Vanian, taken from the GraiLord by the Ipativy during the First War of the Blue Ridges, was a part of the Confederacy’s territory. The minotaurs of the North Vanian took advantage of the alternating authorities that ruled them and moved tentaviley away from their occupied position. By the fifth century, their position in the Confederacy had evolved from a voiceless colony to a puppeted protectorate ruled by a committee of ten Confederacy-appointed minotaurs called archons. The archonian government had complete authority over the North Vanian as long as they paid their dues to the Blood Feud monarch. After the Vaniakle Tax Revolt, early in the 400s, the North Vanians won the right to elect one of the archons themselves but this did little to counter the animosity that had been growing ever since the death of Argolis Muhammad and there were foreign parties eager to capitalize upon this unrest.
The GraiLord Empire, though no longer ruled by the GraiLord aristocracy, exerted constant pressure on their elven-ruled brothers and sisters to the north. Every chance they got they incited opposition to the Confederacy in hopes of liberating their kin. The GraiLord Governess, Theagena Kurr, was hell-bent on reuniting the Blue Ridges. She refused the title of Queen claiming that there was no true Queen or King of the minotuars until the minotaurs were once again united.
She secretly sent her youngest son, Cylon, soon after his birth, to be raised as an orphan in the North Vanian. There, a group of insurgents loyal to the Queen raised him amongst other rebellious minded minotaurs one of which being the future archon Solon Icespear. Soon after turning twenty, Cylon attempted to lead a revolt but was captured and exiled. He fled south where he was again captured but, this time embraced, by his mother who revealed to him his true identity. After a short reunion, Theagena armed him with GraiLord soldiers, though disguised to appear like rogue peasents unassociated with the southern nation, and sent him marching back north to attempt another coup.
Once again, Cylon failed. He and his men were unable to defeat the united archonian minotaurs and Ipativian troops. They tried to flee south but were blocked so they wound up back pedaling to take refuge in the Argolian Temple. As the troops of the Confederacy surrounded the church so too did the unhappy citizens of the North Vanian. Archbishop Vala Morain, the head of the now Thoran dominated Argolian Temple, knew that the people of the Blue Ridges would lose what little tolerance they had left for Christianity if she handed over the hiding insurgents and so she had her subjects peacefully prevent Cylon’s pursuers from entering the sanctuary. Vala met with the head archon, elven-picked Hades Megacles, who had also realized that his power was in jeopardy. Vala coerced Hades to agree that Cylon and his invaders could return safely to the south. Unfortunately for Cylon, Hades was simultaneously pressured by the Ipativian King of the Blood Feud Confederacy, Oden Ipativy, who would not support any decision other than the extraction of Cylon and his brutes from the Temple followed by their public execution. On the road back to the GraiLord Empire, the army of the archons jumped Cylon and his compatriots. Only a few, including Cylon, escaped.
Offended by what they saw as flat out trickery, those minotaurs who had originally protested the besieging of the Argolian Temple, plus many more converted by Hades’ lies, packed up and headed south. When they neared the border they found it blockaded by archonian troops. Undaunted, the fed up civilians decided to push on through. The soldiers panicked and responded violently. Most of the citizens turned and fled before they could be harmed but a few were wounded and a handful died. This was the final straw.
Anarchy, the likes of which the Blue Ridges had never seen, consumed the North Vanian. Even the Religious Riots of the first century could not compare to the chaos that ensued in the last month of the year 490. To make matters worse, papers were circulating among the disgruntled North Vanians that stated Cylon and his mother were preparing for an all out assault on the archonian government of the North Vanian. Hades, finally speaking his mind, warned Oden Ipativy that the minotaurs would not calm until they had been liberated. Unable to see any other way to restore order other than to leave or exterminate the populace, Oden devised a plan to cede power back to the people with one requirement: the protectorate tax was to be maintained.
However, it really wasn’t his plan. Since Solon Icespear had been elected archon by his fellow citizens, he’d advocated for a North Vanian constitution so that they could be governed in their own way, in a manner intune with their culture rather than in the manner of the elves. The people knew of Solon’s desire, after all, it had been the foundation of his election platform. Solon’s Manifesto rendered the Confederacy’s constitution’s chapter on the governance of the North Vanian obsolete in almost all aspects. The three most celebrated changes enfuriated Oden but, in order to continue siphoning gold from the Blue Ridges, he conceded. First, Solon allieviated the tax burden for all those not participating in the benefits of the Confederacy: namely, the rural folk – or “mountain minotaurs” – who did not receive protection or education. Second, he established seasonal “bulls” where citizens from each county would assemble and revise the manifesto and appeal for modification of, not just North Vanian law, Confederate law with their chosen representative, a democratic monarch of sorts, that would replace the archons, known as the Alpha Bull. The third key accomplishment was to exile, in order to remove their influence, all past and present archons from the North Vanian – including Solon himself.
– – –
“Oden allowed that?!” Joe interrupted.
“Not without tainting it, my friend,” Acamus paused until his eyes quit twitching then took another sip of coffee and continued, “He claimed that he agreed with the minotaurs’ right to govern themselves, however, the armed forces of the protectorate were not all minotaur, in fact, the majority were elven since these troops were trained in Zviecoff then dispersed across the nation. He established the Supreme Bull which was to be ruled by nine and would have the power to veto decisions made by the Alpha Bull as well as maintain full control over the military there.”
“Let me guess, those nine were the archons Solon had exiled?” Joe asked.
“I bet the people were pissed.”
“They were! They were worried that even though Solon had left them with a strong constitution, the military might force them to change the system right back to the way it had been before.”
Joe frowned, “That’s a little extreme, isn’t it? Would the military actually-”
“They did!” Acamus roared, his voice suddenly heated though his rage wasn’t directed at Joe but at the heavens, “My friend, they knew that there were numerous bands of rogues that constantly molested the mountain minotaurs of the North Vanian. Never before had the empire needed to interfere with these peoples. After all, the victims lived in self-sustaining villages that did not produce any more than they needed – and sometimes produced less thus were driven to abandon village life and join the gangs that harassed them. They added nothing to the tax pool. Now, after Solon left the mountains, Oden had his Vanian generals approached these extremists and paid them to turn away from the countryside to rough up the cities.”
“And they took the money?” Joe asked.
“Yes,” Acamus nodded, “but the plan failed. The Alpha Bull quickly created a police force of volunteers they called the Second Icespear Sentinels.”
“And the Supreme Bull didn’t veto it?”
“They did, my friend, but the people manifested it anyways. As a volunteer self-defense organization, it needed no permission from the government.”
“Is that how they eventually got independence?” Joe asked.
“Be patient, not yet,” Acamus waved his hand, “the story changes course now – now we follow Solon east.”
– – –
The earliest settlements along Iceload’s greatest river belonged to the speakers of one language which took its name from the river: Etihwy. This dialect acted as a lingua franca between the Ancient Elven speaking elves, Vanian Runic writing minotaurs, and Azunu Pidgin using bearns so that all those in Iceload could communicate. River trade was the main factor that led Etihwy to spred and after the First Void War, when the elves of the Etihw expanded their trade routes across the ocean, their language was exported alongside their goods. By the year 400, the majority of urbanites in the southern hemisphere spoke Etihwy, though they called it Common. As languages were being consolidated across the globe, so to were many other structures through which the world was perceived, specifically maps, and once again the Etihw were facilitating this international, cartographical collaboration.
The goals of the Etihw quickly became the goals of their trading partners. Nations with little to no over-seas business began sending out explorers to document the geography of the planet and this data was then sold to the Etihwy patriarch Dunvar Etihw. Seeking to see the world beyond the Blue Ridges but having no means to do so independently, Solon managed to join one of these cartographic interprises under Captain Polo the Knome who sailed for a rival of the Etihw (the Sentry) in a state of the art vessel known as the Monoceros.
– – –
“This Monoceros?” Joe exclaimed.
“There is none other, my friend,” Acamus responded.
“But that means this ship is fifteen hundred years old!” Joe crowed.
Acamus concurred, “Precisely.”
“Well then…” Joe muttered, “How’d the Sea Lords get it?”
“Twas sold to them by my uncle.” Acamus explained.
“The ship was eventually given to the GraiLords by Polo,” Acamus elaborated, “and it stayed amongst my people for many years. In the past decade, my uncle and many others succumbed to the temptations of mancy and found themselves in vast amounts of debt to different leaders of the Order. To keep his family safe, my uncle paid off his debts with this great heirloom only to fall right back into debt.”
Bold spoke up, “Yar fathar nearly got it back.”
“He could have,” Acamus nodded, “he destroyed the entire Sea Lord fleet but spared the Monoceros because Icespears do not renig.”
“Yet we just hijacked the vessel…” Zach said.
Ekaf stomped on the spirit’s boot, causing the archer no pain, and blurted, “Theseus Icespear is heralded as the most honorable man beneath Solaris.”
“Aye,” Bold nodded, “Even the dwarves deep in the moines of Vinnum Tow say so!”
Acamus seemed not to have noticed Zach’s statement, the minotaur said, “Thank you for such complements, my friends,” he smiled in a manner that seemed painful, “I pray that one day I am half the man that he is today.”
– – –
After a year and a half, Solon graduated to Captain of the Monoceros. Together Polo and Solon traveled the world, mapping the five continents of the southern hemisphere then moving on to cartograph the rivers. In their travels they ran into many other Iceloadic explorers but only one of which stood out and his name was Flow Morain.
Flow, the head geographer for Dunvar Etihw, was the only other adventurer who’s skills in map making and navigating came anywhere near the combined efforts of Solon and Polo. Whilst competing to document diminishing virgin lands, the two teams fostered a healthy rivalry that, when back on shore after a long campaign at sea, translated into a close friendship.
– – –
“That’s it?” Ekaf asked, “You aren’t even going to touch on Flow’s childhood?”
Acamus shrugged, “It’s irrelevant.”
“Irrelevant? It’s the context! You can’t understand Flow without it!”
“If you can understand him at all.” Zach muttered.
Bold said, “Ekaf’s ruht, ya can almost empathoize with em if ya hear how he was brought up.”
Ekaf turned to Joe, “I’ll give you a quick run down-”
“Quick?” Joe smirked.
“I’ll do my best.” Ekaf conceded, “Flow and his two sisters were orphans, probably the result of some aristocrats vacation because not only were they parentless they were mixed blood – half earth elf, half electric elf.”
“I’d always assumed him electric.” Zach admitted.
“They were foster kids in the Thoran Church. They lived in Morainakle until Flow was five, that’s where they got their surname, then relocated to the Argolian Temple. See, Vala, Flow’s oldest sister, was rising through the ranks of the Church. The move would’ve been good for all of them, had her younger siblings not been put under the perverted care of…of…what was the bishop’s name?”
“The name duhd with the man,” Bold stated, “as it shoulda.”
“I concur. The bishop was a pedophile and violent. The two kids were too scared of the man to report his atrocities to Vala. When Flow was ten, the middle child died by the bishop. This broke Flow and he lashed out. The boy went on a rampage through the church, killing most of those who had cared for him and mutilating the bishop before fleeing into the mountains.”
“Damn.” Joe murmured.
“The Thorans found him but, obviously, they couldn’t keep him. Without Vala in a high position, Flow probably would’ve been killed but instead he was sent off to another church further north. He didn’t last there long. A few months later he ran away, was caught, and relocated. A few months after that he was relocated again. By the time he turned thirteen, he had stayed in over ten different homes.”
Bold sighed, “Only the Lard knows what sarta harrars Morain faced in those yars.”
“At thirteen, he ran away and no one came to find him. He wound up back in Morainakle where he made a living amongst a band of thieves. He excelled as a criminal and after a few years he’d become captain of a renown pirate crew. But Flow threw all that away when, while burglaring one of the mansions of the Sentry Dynasty’s patriarch, he ran into Delilah. She called him into her bed and there he stayed the night. Unable to find him, his mates wound up leaving without him.”
“I was led to believe this would be brief interruption.” Acamus grumbled.
“Hush, hush, I’m almost done.” Ekaf cleared his throat and continued, “Delilah Sentry fell in love with Flow almost as fast as he fell for her. David Sentry wasn’t so fond of the idea that his daughter might marry an orphan – especially one baring the name of a traitor (Bale and Godi Morain) – but he knew better than to make a fus. Delilah never stuck with one man for long. When she begged him to give the bastard a job, he took it as an opportunity to separate them – he set Flow up with Polo on the Monoceros.”
Acamus interrupted again, “False, my friend, Flow worked for the Etihw.”
“On the contrary, before Solon left the Ridges, Flow worked for the Sentry. That all ended when his old mates found out and decided to kidnap Delilah and hold her for ransome.”
“Thot was a big mistake.” Bold chuckled.
“Flow went to them and killed them all. Men who had once been his best friends were cut down like dogs – no one was to get between him and his girl. Unfortunately, the event stirred controversy when word spread the Flow Morain had been a pirate. David Sentry couldn’t care less, but the people of Sentrakle had too long been molested by piracy, so David was forced to fire him. Fotrunately, the Etihw didn’t mind such reputations (most pirates had a mutually beneficial relationship with the Etihw), and that is how Flow Morain came to work for Dunvar Etihw, which his how he met Solon Icespear, now, my friend¸ the tale is all yours!”
– – –
While Solon and Flow’s friendship flourished, so to did the relationship between their financers. Both the Etihw and the Sentry despised the Ipativy. The Sentry’s hatred was rooted in a prehistoric territorial fued but the Etihw’s contempt for the Ipativy manifested in the conflict which ended ten years prior known as the River War. With a Blood Feud right over the horizon, David Sentry and Dunvar Etihw collaborated in order to guarantee some sort of gain. If either the Sentry or Etihw won the Blood Feud, the land would be split. If not, the two would join forces and declare war on the Ipativy to take the Confederacy by force (the Oreh were so frail at this point that David and Dunvar doubted they’d even resist). The only problem was, though the Etihw absolutely hated the Ipativy, not too long ago, they’d felt just as bad about the Sentry. The two patriarchs needed a way in which to ensure that their people would support this dynastic collaboration and the solution came in the unwedded statuses of their first borns.
Atsub Etihw, commander of the Etihw branch of the Confederation’s army and heir to the throne of Etihw, was thrilled at the thought of a holy matrimony between him and Delilah but the sentiment was not mutual, she still loved Flow. Forced to accept the marriage, Delilah refused to accept any of the private-life implications of marriage. In protest, she locked herself in the top of a tower, the Rook Belfry, in Fort Dunvar. Atsub was determined to wait her out but, little did he know, Flow Morain was climbing the façade of the tower each night to be with his love.
After a year of this loveless marriage, Atsub was beginning to fear that there would be no breaking Delilah’s will. She seemed only to grow further determined to resist. Even her father was beginning to rethink the decision despite his belief that it was necessary. Once a month he would visit Fort Dunvar in hopes of seeing Delilah but she would not leave her tower-top refuge, not unless her father would dissolve the union he’d forced upon her. It was during one of the Sentry partriarch’s visits that Solon returned from Munkloe with wild news. He went immediately to tell David Sentry who was, at the time, in the presence of Dunvar and Atsub Etihw. Solon had found the legendary Well of Youth.
– – –
“I thought this was fact, not fiction!” Zach protested.
“What? My friend, do you not believe in the Well of Youth?” Acamus asked.
“Water cannot curse, only the living can cast spells.” Zach replied.
“So do you not believe in the Voidstone?” Acamus countered.
“I believe in the Stone of Krynor,” Zach defended himself, “I believe that the Stone was charmed by God – not cursed. The supposed victims of the Well catch curses not charms.” Zach folded his arms, “My God, the Mystakle God, would not leave behind curses to haunt his creation, though, I cannot speak for your god.”
Joe and Ekaf exchanged anxious glances but Acamus argued on without taking offense.
“What then is it about the Winged River that spawns ghosts?”
“It has nothing to do with Munkloe-”
“Then how do you explain banshees?!” Acamus cried.
“I believe the curse has been passed down from Creaton-”
“Since his baptism in the Well of Youth!”
“-since his crucifiction!”
“So you believe that Creaton transformed himself into a banshee?” Acamus scoffed.
“I believe that the villagers who crucified him devoted their energies in such a curse and because of the extent of that curse not a soul survived!” Zach retorted.
“What a fool! Have you not read the histories-”
“The histories? You mean the tall tales drawn from the journal of a madman?”
“Lads!” Bold growled, “Now uh thank we’ve all hard enough of this! Zach, this is Acamus’ tale to tell and far the sake of solidarity, let the man finish!”
Zach bowed slightly and Acamus continued.
– – –
For most Solarins, the Well of Youth was nothing but legend and this legend differed depending on who told the story. Some believed the narrative found in Chane’s journal, describing the pond as cursed, others believed that the Well was charmed and would preserve the current state of the baptized. Among the elves of Iceload, Chane’s tale was untrusted, the elves could not fathom that God would leave behind such a haunted lagoon-
– – –
Acamus’ beady eyes bored into Zach’s silver glare. Bold cleared his throat and the spirit remained silent. Acamus went on with a smirk.
– – –
Despite this, if Solon was right, the elves definitely wanted to be the ones to control it. As for Atsub Etihw, he thought that if he could dip himself and Delilah in the Well, she would be forced to spend eternity with him and would eventually succumb. While the idea was foolish, – after all, what is eternity to the stubbornness of a Sentry? – Atsub was not a fool, not completely. He knew that Flow Morain and Delilah had been an item before the wedding and he secretly feared she would eventually elope. But if he could have her baptized, then even if she did run off with the explorer, eventually Flow would wither and die with age and she would come crawling back to him.
In chains, Delilah was dragged down from her tower and taken to the Monoceros. After Atsub requested Solon take him to the Well, David Sentry conceded. He did not know the extent of Atsub’s plan for Delilah but he did know of their marital woes and he hoped that a little bit of adventure might provide the spark needed to ignite some mutual passion between the two.
Solon didn’t know of Atsub’s true motives either. If he had, the minotaur would’ve warned the elf about the civilization that guarded the Well: the Iyan Harpies (the same harpies that had attempted to invade Tadloe after Creaton Live united the tribes). Impressed by Solon’s maps and charmed by Polo’s stories, the Iyans had permitted them to stay a few nights in the city around the Well so long as they didn’t touch the water. When Solon returned with Atsub and Delilah, the harpies were anxious. They allowed them to stay, yet again, but warned Solon that this was to be the last time. The Well of Youth was not a tourist attraction. The Iyans were so serious about their rule that they swore to Solon that if any of his compatriots were to touch the waters, even if by accident, that soul would not be permitted to leave.
Ironically, Atsub himself began to reconsider his plan. They stayed in Munkloe for three weeks and each day Delilah began to warm up to Atsub. It was as if the spell was broken. Away from her tower top hide out, once forced to be alongside her husband, she began to feel a sort of affection for him. By the end of the second week, she’d apologized for her hostility towards him. In fact, it was Delilah who suggested that they sneak out to the Well and take a swim. Despite the warning, on the last night of their visit, Atsub and Delilah went to the pond that sat as flat and still as the night sky and dipped in the Well of Youth.
The water felt like the fires of hell.
Solon and Polo were still awake, drinking in the tavern that sat beneath their accomodations with a friend they’d made, Agag-Iyah, one of the highest ranked officers in the Iyan military. Atsub and Delilah snuck in through the back but somehow Agag knew they were there. He left Solon and Polo without an explanation and caught Atsub and Delilah in the doorway. He did not ask for their excuse nor did he utter a word, Agag took out his sword and lobbed off Delilah’s head.
Atsub would’ve died too. He was an able warrior, but he was paralyzed at the sight of his beloved’s crumpled body. Solon and Polo arrived quickly and fended Agag off, though they refused to slay the man, and fled with Atsub to the ship. Though Agag was spared, other harpies that stood in their way were not so fortunate. The fight was not over once they reached their vessel. Enraged bands of harpies bombarded them in waves until the ship reached the thrashing waves of the ocean.
A story like this would normally spread like wildfire through the noble families of Iceloadic electric elves but, fortunately, David Sentry and Dunvar Etihw had decided to keep the discovery of the Well secret, incase its powers might offer some sort of advantage in the coming war with Ipativy they increasingly viewed as inevitable (they even forbid Solon and Polo to map the route!). Atsub begged and ultimately convinced Solon and Polo not to tell David that his daughter was dead, arguing that, as the husband, it was his duty to tell his father-in-law. And aside from those three, no one else on the ship knew that Delilah had been killed. On the journey there, she’d been locked up in her room so much so that on the journey back the crew found nothing suspicious in her absence.
Back in Iceload, Solon and Polo escorted Atsub to Fort Dunvar where he planned to hide out, taking his late wife’s place until he came up with a way to explain the incident. Polo beat them to the top of the Rook Belfry and was amazed at what he found: a happy little, mixed-race baby.
– – –
“They had a kid?!” Joe exclaimed.
“Indeed,” Ekaf answered before Acamus could, “and that child is how Atsub got Delilah.”
“Delilah was a brat. She loved Flow because Flow loved her more than anything in the world. She could’ve asked him to cut off his hand and he would’ve done it. But when they had the baby, she could tell, their daughter had taken her place at the center of Flow’s universe.”
“She was jealous of her own child?” Joe asked.
Ekaf nodded, “Flow still loved her, of course, but, like I said, she was a brat.”
“And so when they were in Munkloe and she saw how much Atsub loved her…”
“She ditched Flow.” Ekaf stated.
“Bold was right,” Joe stated, “I’m starting to feel for Flow. He winds up going evil though, right?”
“Soon…” Acamus continued.
– – –
Polo hid the baby and, after leaving Atsub at Fort Dunvar, showed her to Solon. They would’ve taken her to Flow had he not been away on a mapping endeavor so instead they took her to the Argolian Temple where they would intrust the child to Flow’s sister Vala. They were leaving Zviecoff, less than a selim away from the church, when they were accosted by Ipativian forces. Tension had been building in the mountains with a few of the initial skirmishes of what would be called the Second War of the Blue Ridges. Solon wouldn’t have been arrested in normal conditions but the baby intrigued the officer that stopped him and when Solon wouldn’t provide an explanation the captain smelled something fishy.
When word reached Cylon Kurr that Solon had been imprisoned, this was the final straw. Year 495, Cylon Kurr claimed the Vanian Mountains to be minotaur territory and he declared war on the elves who claimed otherwise. Now, Solon definitely wasn’t going to be released and Polo was stuck their with him. Even though they had refused to talk, the Ipativians put two and two together. Rumors had spread that Flow and Delilah had maintained their romance despite her wedding vows and the complexion of the infant seemed to be proof. The Ipativians didn’t reveal the child just yet. They planned to reveal her at the Blood Feud to destroy the friendship between the Etihw and Sentry. For the next five years, the little girl, who’s name remains Flow’s secret to this day, lived in a dungeon.
As war broke out in the west, it also struck in the east. Harpies began to raid the cities along the Middakle peninsula. With the leader of the Etihwy branch of the Blood Feud Confederation’s army holed up in his tower and the Ipativian branch occupied fighting the minotaurs, groups of local militia led the most significant resistence to the harpy invaders.
It was in this chaos that Flow returned to Iceload. He’d heard that Atsub and Delilah had locked themselves up in the Rook Belfry. Fearing that Atsub had found out about the child, Flow wasted no time. He snuck into the tower top. Atsub was horrified, but his shock paled in comparison to Flow’s. He demanded to know where Delilah was, Atsub feigned ignorance, he demanded to know where his child was, Atsub was bewildered. Flow wouldn’t have it. Using force, he coerced an answer. Atsub said the harpies had them.
Flow went straight to Yelah and told David Sentry. David refused to believe it. Not because he wasn’t suspicious, but because if his daughter was indeed in Munkloe he knew there was no way they could find her. They’d ordered Solon and Polo not to document how to find the Well and Solon and Polo, the only two who knew, had disappeared. If Flow wanted to find Delilah and his daughter, his best bet was to catch a harpy.
Flow joined the loosely organized militias of Morainakle and they quickly fell under his leadership. He was a natural. Before battles, he was calm, cool, and collected, playing a pivitol role in the development of strategies. During the battles, he was the same – striking with precision, each move he made seemed thought through and purposeful – yet he wielded a sense of bravery that encouraged him to press on when his peers fell back. He was driven like no other soldier.
After almost a year, Flow Morain, now holding the position of Commander of the Etihwy Forces, managed to capture the opposing general, Agag-Iyah. None of the other harpies they’d caught would talk, but Agag was tired. He’d lost too many soldiers. He was ready for the war to end. Agag explained that the harpies would fight until Atsub Etihw was taken into their custody. Agag went further, telling Flow that Dunvar Etihw had been explicitly told of the Iyan’s single demand but had refused. Agag made the explorer a map. Flow would deliver Atsub, dead or alive, and the harpies would halt all hostilities.
While the harpies had been unable to breach Fort Dunvar, Flow Morain had no trouble. Flow didn’t even entertain the “alive” option. As the ex-explorer pondered how he might sneak the son of the patriarch’s body out of the fortress, the corpse rose behind him.
Atsub Etihw’s body stood engulfed in flames. He did not fight Flow. In fact, he knelt down and confessed. He told Flow that the harpies had Delilah hostage in Munkloe and Flow, enraged, once again pierced his rival’s heart but, to his horror, the burning body of Atsub Etihw dissolved into a puddle of black gook that shortly thereafter evaporated. There was no body left to bring back.
– – –
“Is that what happens to all banshees that die?” Joe asked.
“Indeed.” Acamus nodded.
“Then why would the harpies tell Flow he could bring Atsub back dead or alive if they knew that would happen?”
“The harpies may have stopped the violence but not their surveillance, my friend. They had scouts posted on the edges of the fortress, scouts that were also banshees-”
“Ghosts.” Ekaf interjected, “You aren’t a banshee until you’re all fiery. If you’ve dipped in the Well, you do become a ghost but you’re not a banshee quite-”
Acamus continued without acknowledging the Knome’s correction, “The scouts kept tabs on the hiding defiler, watching the glow of his energy. They watched Flow killed Atsub and reported such to Agag.”
“Whuh didn’t they just Total Darkness the lad, whud they wait far Flow?” Bold asked.
“Most of the harpies didn’t know how,” Ekaf explained, “the ability wouldn’t become a ghost trademark until Flow Morain’s Doom Warriors.”
“Yes,” Acamus concurred, “now, shall I proceed.”
The boys nodded.
– – –
Fearing that the harpies wouldn’t believe him and that he’d just condemned his people to an endless war, Flow Morain descended from the Rook Belfry and told those guarding the fort, who were startled by his presence, a lie. Atsub and Delilah never came back. The Iyan harpies were in cahoots with the GraiLord minotaurs, framing Solon as the mastermind. See, Flow blamed Solon and Polo for what had happened to his wife and child – though he didn’t know what had happened, he knew it couldn’t be good – and their disappearance was proof of their guilt. He felt no shame in his false claim.
The conspiracy was convincing, especially when Dunvar Etihw succumbed to the tale after searching the tower. Flow asked Dunvar for permission to lead a force of the Etihwy branch to the Well of Youth to invade the invaders. Dunvar was reluctant, for fear the soldiers would bring back word of the Well and due to the conflicting narrative he’d been told by the harpies, but he trusted Flow more than Agag and could not forsake his son and daughter-in-law with all the elves of Iceload watching. After a few weeks of planning and preparations, Flow Morain left Morainakle with a fleet of zealous soldiers and patriotic volunteers.
After Atsub’s murder, the harpy spies left Iceload and the Iyan’s rejoiced. Delilah had been permitted to live – if you consider the life of a banshee to be living – freely so long as she did not leave. She was unhappy with her captivity but tolerated it, believing one day Atsub would return, but with the news of his death she fell into a deep depression. Her old lover had slain the new. Now, with one gone and the other mortal, she could have neither. Thus, she left a note for Agag to visit Solon and have him explain to Flow that in the end she loved both Flow and Atsub but neither could she be with therefore she chose to take her life. Agag did not try to stop her. He knew that Flow would not be permitted to join their society, not after the ordeal they’d just went through the last time outsiders visited, and he respected her decision. After her suicide, Agag left immediately to find Solon.
This meant that he was not present when Flow and his troops arrived. It took a month before word reached Agag of Flow Morain’s invasion (and it also took a month for Agag to find Solon). When he returned to Munkloe, he found the Iyan civilization completely destroyed. Flow had set up base in the old Iyan capital, where the Well of Youth sat idle, from which he organized his troops into hunting parties that would brave the untamed jungle to track down survivors. Unable to believe that Delilah had committed suicide, as the harpies had claimed, and still puzzled over where they were hiding his baby, Flow was determined not to let a soul escape for one of them must know where his beloveds were being imprisoned.
Agag feared he wouldn’t be able to get to Flow without being bested by Flow’s comrades, but Agag was a ghost. Unlike his country men who shared the same spectral status, Agag had learned (and possibly invented) the spell now known as Total Darkness. He got as close as he could to the elven commander then, with the sound of a wrenching thunder clap, he challenged Flow to a duel in the obsidian realm. In the darkness, he reiterated to Flow what the Iyans had claimed, that Delilah was in fact no more, but this only enraged the young man. While anger made most soldiers falter, Flow’s fury heightened his fighting ability. Rather than retreat, Agag chose to use one of his two lives to condemn Flow to a similar fate.
Though the Iyans had religiously opposed permitting outsiders to become ghosts or banshees, Agag had been disillusioned after seeing the destruction of his people. He had been filled with rage and sought to hurt Flow as best he could.
Flow sliced off Agag’s head and light returned to his world but, before he had time to revel in his victory, the headless harpy wrapped his arms around him and sucked the life from his body. Agag could’ve let Flow’s body lie there. Dead as his lost love. But instead, out of spite, Agag brought him back as a banshee then flew away to seek refuge in the Vanian Mountains and fight alongside the GraiLord. After that night, all communications between Flow and his men and Dunvar Etihw and the Blood Feud Confederacy were cut off. Flow Morain would not be heard of again until the turn of the century.
Just over a year prior, the Second War of the Blue Ridges began when Solon and Polo were arrested and Cylon Kurr declared his reign supreme over all the Vanian Mountains. The Icespear Sentinels evolved from a militia into an insurgent force that, combined with the forces of Cylon’s mother in the independent South Vanian, won engagement after engagement against the Ipativian forces of the Blood Feud Confederacy. The minotaurs who had fled the Blue Ridges after the first war, the Vanian or Mystakle Christians, joined their Muslim brothers to help expel the elves (meanwhile, the Thoran Christians either aided the Confederates or hid in the Argolian Temple and Zviecoff).
The war could’ve ended in a year, but Oden Ipativy, King of the Blood Feud Confederacy, refused to surrender. He had enough troops to keep the conflict going for decades and it seemed he planned to do so. By the Summer of 498, the GraiLord Empire encompassed all the Vanian Mountains but for Zviecoff. The city wasn’t considered part of the minotaur’s traditional homeland and many suggested leaving the historically Thoran settlement alone. One such suggester was Flow Morain’s cousin Vala Morain. Archbishop Vala, though a Thoran, had always been seen as a friend of the minotaurs – it was her that had been key in permitting Cylon to return home after their attempted invasion in the late 480s. And she claimed that her suggestion that Zviecoff be pardoned came not out of sympathy for the Blood Feud Confederacy but out of a deep conviction that Zviecoff was not the minotaurs’ to take. Up to this point, the GraiLord’s endeavor had been righteous, they were liberating themselves and righting an ancient wrong. Seiging Zviecoff would be an act of aggression, spiteful, and God would judge the movement accordingly.
– – –
“If you ever want to take over the world,” Ekaf interjected, “don’t siege Zviecoff.”
Joe chuckled, “I’ll keep that in mind…”
“It can be done,” Bold added, “but it ain’t warth it.”
“It may not stop a campaign, but it seems never to bode well for whoever led the charge.” Ekaf nodded.
“It’s all just an old husband tale.” Zach assured Joe.
“Maybe, maybe not,” Bold shrugged, “it has stood the test of time. It carsed the Samurai, it carsed Saint, it carsed the Queen of Darkness, and – as uh’m shar Acamus is about to tell ya – it went and cursed Cylon!”
“On the other hand,” Zach argued, “most don’t leave war feeling charmed.”
“Let’s hope the myth is true,” Acamus spoke up, “and the curse spreds to haunt that witch!”
“Amen to that!” Bold chimed.
A thought struck Joe and he mumbled to himself, “Let’s hope the curse doesn’t consider us invading…”
“What?” Ekaf asked.
“Nothing!” Joe fake coughed, then turned to Acamus, “I assume Cylon did it?”
– – –
Cylon Kurr had planned to invade Zviecoff in September but an early blizzard swept in from the south, forcing Cylon to post pone the assault until October. The six or so battles that took place that month amounted to very little. Both sides suffered few casualties and by November, Zviecoff looked much the same as it had before the siege. Vala Morain’s warning did manifest, but not near the battlefield. Back in Recercoff, Theagena Kurr died suddenly of a heart attack despite being relatively young and healthy. The GraiLord soldiers were reluctant to continue the offensive, seeing her death as an act of God, and though Cylon vehemently disagreed, he bowed to the will of his people and left Zviecoff alone.
The will of the people pushed him in another uncomfortable direction. At the Winter Bull, the people advocated not only for peace with the elves but for admittance into the Blood Feud Confederacy as a ‘participant’. This meant that, like the Sentry, Etihw, Oreh, and Ipativy Dynasties, the GraiLord would be allowed to send a contestant to the Blood Feud each century in order to compete for executive leadership of the Confederacy. The ease of the Second War of the Blue Ridges had the minotaurs convinced that they were not only superior to the elves in combat but also destined to rule Iceload as the elves had attempted to do so for centuries. Cylon had no desire to become one with the enemy nor was he a fan of peace. He saw the elves as inherent foes. Peace was simply unfathomable for Cylon. But, as a man of the people, Cylon willingly accepted the election of Solon Icespear as the new Alpha Bull – despite Solon still being in an Ipativian dungeon – and appreciated the notion that he, Cylon, would maintain control of the armed forces. On January of 499 these changes came into affect and, before the Spring, Oden Ipativy had consented to the GraiLord’s demands after a series of three attemptive coups led him to desperately seek peace. Solon Icespear was free, as were the Blue Ridges.
The Kurrs weren’t the only ones unhappy to see the GraiLord Empire join the Blood Feud. Archbishop Vala Morain was saddened. For over a hundred years, the Thoran Christians had openly opposed the Blood Feud and Vala Morain was possibly the loudest opponent yet. She cautioned the competitors, saying, “Our Lord will bring an army of doom upon those who participate in the barbarous ritual!” And, just as before, no one heeded her foresight. Cylon Kurr represented the GraiLords against Hod Ipativy, Tamar Sentry, Maksel Etihw, and Koja Oreh.
The fight took place in the middle of Zviecoff. As was tradition, no one fought on the first day. On the second day, Tamar and Maksel collaborated in the pursuit of Hod. They found Hod on the outskirts, in plain view of the audience (people traveled from all over Iceload to watch from the edges, in hopes of seeing part of the action). Breaking the rules, Oden Ipativy stepped within the boundaries of the Blood Feud and presented Flow Morain’s young daughter. It would’ve been impossible to prove her heritage had she not been born of a true Sentry. Like all direct decendents of Zannon, Delilah’s daughter was charmed. When rapped upon the head, a Sentry would become overcome with rage. Lashing out at anything and anyone until concussed oncemore. Oden Ipativy took a hammer and struck the little girl on the temple.
For a moment, the girl lay on the ground. Then she rose. With her eyes rolled back in her head, drool foaming from her lips, she charged the three Blood Feud contenders. Hod Ipativy killed her swiftly.
Maksel Etihw turned on Tamar Sentry. Hod joined the three way fight and defeated both of his opponents. Later that day he found Koja Oreh and, though he nearly lost, he slayed him too. During the third day, a badly wounded Hod hid. Though Cylon eventually found him, the minotaur chose not to kill him on the ground but gave him another day to recoup and face him on his feet. Cylon’s mercy ruined him.
The Blood Feud began the first day of the year of the new century and Flow Morain knew this. He planned his miraculous return accordingly. During his absence, he’d initiated his troops into the ghosthood, creating an army of banshees. But unlike those who were baptized by the Well, they were turned by the touch of a ghost which had all the same effects except the preservation of flesh. Flow and his soldiers watched as their flesh rotted off and all that was left was bone and spectral flame. This transformation left Flow feeling as though the gods themselves had cursed him and, combined with his sorrow at having been unable to find his beloved and his daughter, had him determined to take revenge – not on the harpies but – upon life itself. He would share his hell with the world.
His campaign would begin during the Blood Feud. Sailing down the Etihw, Flow and a band of one hundred ghastly knights came to Zviecoff. The spectators had not expected to be brushed aside by skeletal men, covered in armor and fire, and those that resisted were slaughtered without hesitation. Flow instructed his men to remain at the periphery while he sought out the final competitors.
Cylon was waiting in an empty market square for Hod to come out but Hod never did. Flow found him first and ordered his men to bring the audience over to watch as Flow easily ran him through. Then he came to Cylon. For the first time since Kor came to the Vanian Mountains, the elves of Iceload rooted for a minotaur. Nonetheless, Cylon offered Flow a deal. They could split Iceload together. Cylon did not want to win. He’d been disgusted by what he’d witness during the Feud. Then he told Flow what he had witnessed: the murder of a little girl, the murder of Flow’s little girl.
Enraged, Flow turned on the audience. This was not what Cylon had intended and he tried to stop Flow but the warrior wouldn’t have it. He killed Cylon, almost slicing him in half, and continued his rampage. No one escaped Flow and his Doom Warriors except for the children who were present. Even Oden Ipativy didn’t make it out of the city. Flow sent the king’s severed head along with the children he’d spared up the river to Ipativy.
Vala sadly donned her brother and his following, “the Doom Warriors” and Flow embraced the name. While the elven world reeled, with Dunvar and David scurrying around the eastern side of the Etihw to prepare a resistance, more and more Doom Warriors arrived in Zviecoff. The city, Flow proclaimed, would be the new capital, not of the Confederacy, not even of Iceload, but of Solaris. His next move was to subjugate the governments he now claimed dominion over and his first target was the empire of his old friend Solon. Before his banshees began the hike up the mountain, Solon and an army of minotaurs came to a mountain pass between the Argolian Temple and Zviecoff.
Flow met with Solon alone and there Solon reiterated what Delilah had said. Flow refused to believe that Delilah had committed suicide and that it was his actions that induced it. He had convinced himself that Solon had somehow – and for some unknown reason – conspired against him, to take his woman and his child. Flow wanted blood. Flow attacked Solon but could not defeat the old minotaur. But, Solon did not kill Flow. Some say it was out of mercy. Some say the opposite, and others argue that both men were equals, neither able to best the other. Eventually, however, Solon’s friends, Polo and Agag, came to his aid. Flow promised that he and his Doom Warriors would destroy the GraiLords, that the only way Solon could save his people would be to hand over the harpy. But Solon refused.
Flow returned to the mountains with his army but, even with their spectral state, the minotaurs were able to fend the Doom Warriors off. Rather than continue the fight, Flow decided he would turn east and defeat the elves. He hoped that this would scare Solon into surrendering Agag or might scare Solon’s men into incompetence in the rematch. For the rest of the year, Flow and the Doom Warriors captured city after city. He killed David, Dunvar, and all other rulers then replaced them with his own skeletal disciples. By 501, he was ready to face Solon again but again his men faltered and again he could not defeat the minotaur.
He left a large segment of his troops fighting in the foothills of the Vanian Mountains, hoping to tire the GraiLords out as he expanded his empire off the continent. He had conquered Batloe, Tadloe, and Sondor by the middle of the year 503. At the end of the Summer, Flow returned to Iceload. The minotaurs had managed to withstand the Doom Warrior’s constant assault. So much so that Flow had to put down an insurrection within his troops in which his men had begun to sympathize with the minotaurs and thought they could stage a coup. After that, Flow and a large army of his soldiers sailed around the Frosted Coast to Icelore. After defeating the nellaf regime that ruled the island, he began to execute the Vanian Christian minotaurs that resided there. As he had hoped, this drew Solon out of the mountains. In Icelore, Flow and Solon fought again. Though Solon was unable to cast Flow off the island, he was able to save the remaining minotaurs (who then sailed north to find a new homeland) then retreat back across the channel to the Blue Ridges. Flow pursued, hoping this time they could crack the façade that was the GraiLord Empire but once again he failed. He was forced to tuck his tail and run.
Flow did not return to Zviecoff. Instead, he went to Fort Dunvar and sealed the gate. No one, not even his Doom Warriors, were allowed inside. The man who had conquered almost all of the known world, more than Creaton had accomplished five hundred years before, simply quit. His soldiers bickered over the territory and his empire slowly collapsed upon itself. Solon led the eradication of the Doom Warriors but he let Flow stay within his fortress and no one else dared to challenge the banshee.
By 510, the Doom Warriors had been defeated. Agag returned to Munkloe where he protected the Well of Youth from adventurers and Solon returned to the Vanian Mountains where he ruled the GraiLord until he died peacefully in his sleep in 552.