As the pendulum swings to Autumn, the veil between the living and the dead thins. The long nights creep ever closer demanding their time upon the wheel of the year, its chill winds sweep across graveyards stirring the primordial dragon, Death.
As twilight cools the Summer air and the moon goes dark upon this lunar cycle, Kien sits irritated, barking orders at the darkness: “Why won’t you listen to me, Death-bat?!” his tone wrought with diminishing high hopes to have his wish for immortality granted in his 50th straight New Moon ceremony.
This evening Death grants Kien’s wish. “Lead my Undead army into battle against the celestial Firewalkers, and I accept your soul forever.”
“Jeepers!” Kien rejoices, expecting to hear nothing but silence. He quickly assembles the Undead units into 3 armies, 1 at the nearby Swampland Standing Stones, 1 to oppose the Firewalkers at their Wasteland Temple, and the 3rd Campaign army location to be decided before the battle begins. Commander Kien hopes it goes down at the Flatland/Highland Castle, a location he frequently visits.
Part 1 – Tsa-guri’s enlightenment
The ball of fire cut through the branch like a hot knife through butter, cauterising the stump and rendering the resulting amputation as a brightly burning bush spinning and crackling on the ground. Tsa-guri chuckled to himself, proud of the progress that he had made as a Firestarter since joining the mercenary band with his uncle just ten moons ago, but was aware that this was only the first step on the path to becoming a Firestormer, something that he had always dreamt of being as a young sparkling.
Turning fire and air into such a powerful weapon with his bare hands was always going to be a skill that needed a high level of dedication, even from a young Empyrean, a race well honed in such incendiary practices.He certainly had managed to achieve a good level of power with his chosen weapon but, as his uncle kept reminding him, speed and accuracy are the skills that both take and save lives.
Addressing the palm of his hand with a fiery incantation and deep concentration, he mustered up a smaller ball and hurled it, once again, to what remained of the sapling. He missed.
A loud guffaw came from behind him. He looked around and saw the imposing figure of Tsajawád, his uncle, stood watching his clumsy attempts at target practice.“You will be eaten by a bunch of zombies if you can’t do better than that”! the Daybringer chuckled.
The Zombie was well recognised as the slowest and clumsiest of all creatures in the world of Esfah, and was commonly used as the object of ridicule in many stories and folk songs. To be beaten by a Zombie at anything meant that you really were not very good at all and, particularly pertinent to this situation, both slow and clumsy.
Tsajawad was anything but Zombie fodder, having worked his way up the ranks from Shadowchaser, through Nightsbane, and now, having masted the ability to fight in the air, as well as on the ground, even to the heady heights of Daybringer, a rank equal to that of the Expeditioner, and second only to that of the Ashbringer commanders. Long gone were his days of throwing fireballs at immobile vegetation and thrusting his fiery trident into earth filled pig’s bladders on the training ground. His practice now took place on the battlefield itself against real enemies.“
Perhaps I would improve quicker if I was allowed to join in some real action” sulked Tsa-guri, his red face even more crimson than usual from his blushes. “I want to know what it feels like to be part of a real battle” he continued, “I’m getting bored with burning trees”.
Rather ironically, as the lack of living vegetation anywhere near the rocky homes of the Empyrea would have it, it was just as well that the boy was ready to move on to the next stage of his training.
Tsa-guri, in fact, had his first Pyrus Festival coming up in a matter of only 15 moons time and, as yet, was nowhere near ready for this annual, largely ceremonial, battle against the Undead. Not only would he need to be proficient with fireball but, like all fighting Empyrea other than the magical classes, he must also be up to speed with both Pyrotrident and Flaming Shield if he hoped to survive the onslaught.
The Pyrus Festival has always been thought upon by the Empyrea as a major form of income, as the Vaghan sponsors of the annual event, always staged at the start of the frosty season, are known to richly reward all surviving warriors with gold and jewels, especially those who entertained them most during the fight.
The pugnacious nature of the Empyrea, along with their often ridiculed lust for riches, means that the Dwarves never have problems in staging this festival, which they use both as a celebration to adumbrate the dark season, and as a way of purging their lands of the rotting vermin that is the Undead.
”You do understand that the Pyrus Festival is a mental, as well as a physical challenge don’t you boy?”, Tsajawad broke the silence. “Brain, as well as brawn, is needed against the undead. They are full of tricks that will surprise the unprepared, often fatally.”
“Skeletons and Zombies?”, retorted Tsa-guri, “hardly intellectual heavyweights are they?”
“So you think that a battalion of Undead will be easy pickings boy? You have a lot to learn and, unfortunately for you, very little time” his uncle replies in a dead pan manner.
“My advice to you is that we catch ourselves a wild pig, roast it on what is left of that tree that is burning over there and then we will sit down and eat it with a mug or two of best mead from my cellar, and I will tell you about my first Pyrus Festival as a Daybringer”.
Thus began Tsa-guri’s enlightenment.