The Shardscape

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Corruption has been taken to the heart of the Crucible
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The wind howled grievous through the silent carnage that lay before it. Its lonely lament was joined in chorus only by the snapping of torn and shredded pennant flags caught in its vicious and relentless grip. In the distance, plumes of smoke rose from the razed city. Dark wisps covered the sky in a veil of mourning as dust billowed across the fallow earth, clouds of it spilling haphazardly over the bodies of men and women that lay piled high upon the dirt.

The fields had only hours ago been green and lush; Moments ago, they had been filled with the sounds of clashing swords and men. Now, the land was barren. Naked. Cracked as though it had toiled for years under harsh sun with only rare and brief rains to water it. None of the invaders had bothered sowing the fields with salt. There would be life there again, come the day that it dared return—it would not be the same as what it had been before. the grasses would grow again, but their blades would forever be stained crimson, by the slaughter that had met the now-dead, so that none would ever forget the misfortune of IldCarr, and the arrogance that had caused it.

The Golden spires that had once risen high above the city in the distance, that had glittered in the radiance of the dawn, were strewn broken across the paved streets—their history ignored and their grandeur shattered. The great marble ramparts that had gleamed with the colours of sunset at the previous eve's beckon, which had glimmered a bitter white in defiance at the army that had appeared the next dawn, had been reduced entirely to smouldering rubble. The stones were no less beautiful, but there was little beauty to be found in the smattering of pebbles scattered over the fire-baked earth.

A bastion of the glory of the Races of Man, raised from the bare earth with hundreds of years of toil, IldCarr had remained defiant until its last moment. In the end, it had been taken, stamped down, and reduced to little more than an ashen ruin in but the passing of a few hours.

They had come rising from the mist like spectres of death itself. They were pale like the dawn that had backed them, and silent like the night that preceded them—save for the eerie drumbeat that seemed to come from all around them.

Death had ridden before the host of vengeful wraiths with his Crown of Ivory, his Blade of Starlight, and his Eyes of Fire. Behind him rode his reapers, the many thousands of them that had sent even the bravest of IldCarr's men fleeing from their posts.

The city had raised what meagre defenses it could against the attack it had not expected. Like a candle flame to a tempest, the lines of men that stood before the city gates, trembling like children in the dark, had been little more than a distraction.

As one, Death and his reapers had charged forward across the battlefield. The lines broke at the thundering of their hooves, but their charge did not falter. As they rode forward, they screamed and screamed well, their ululating wails striking fear into the hearts of many a trembling man.

Bodies crashed into bodies. The defenders held for but a moment, and then, as the first of them fell dead, pierced all the way through with spears and lances, the lines broke. The men ran in the only direction that they could: toward the city.

The riders and their king reined back their dread steeds and watched, impassively, as the men scrambled for the safety of their walls. The men stopped, stumbling forward, as the forest that the riders had emerged from began to stir. Boulders hurtled through the air from among the treetops, and as they struck the marble walls, they brought them tumbling down.

Trapped between the rubble of the city walls and the army of Death itself, the men turned to face their death with one final act of defiance. As the heavens split open and the shadows descended upon the men, the last thing they saw was the cold, terrifying smile on Death's face.

The battle had clearly been lost, but that was not enough for the pale conquerors. As the shadows swept across the battlefield, all darkness, and wing beats, and fire's fury, the screams of the last defiant men fell inexorably silent. When the shadows disappeared back into the bowels of the clouds, all that they had left behind was a city of seared flesh, blackened bone, and the harrowing moans of the dying.

Long after the battle had been over, and the chilling screams of the many that had been burned alive in the city had faded to silence, Death's reapers still scoured the battlefield. They were hunting for any and all signs of life among the dead. There were to be no survivors. Man, woman, child, it made no difference to them. They did not care. Whatever flame of hope remained in our city was to be extinguished.

Carrion birds circled high above the battlefield. The black clouds of war, birds sacred to the pale and stoic deity that the riders worshipped, were afraid. Neither raven, nor crow, nor vulture wished to descend upon the field, despite the feast that awaited them. They feared the ire of the strange warriors, with blades that glittered like starlight from lands unknown.

A soldier, one of the few still alive by the mere force of their wills despite being mortally wounded, had spent the last half-hour lying as still as he could. He breathed shallowly, as with each inhalation followed the fetid aroma of death and decay and burnt flesh. Behind him, the slow clop of hooves faded into the distance, and he could only thank his gods that so far, his ruse had been successful.

Aware that the lifeblood still pulsing in his veins would soon inevitably cease to, the soldier decided that it was time he threw all caution to the wind. He crawled forward, toward the outstretched arm and dead eyes of the lover he had never confessed to.

Between the soldier and the object of his unrequited love was a pool of blood—a crimson reminder of the bond that they would never again share. Before he could grab the arm of his beloved, he heard a high-pitched whinny from behind him.

The soldier raised his head and craned his neck over his shoulder. The heels of the pale steed were kicking up clouds of dust to either side of the rider. He heard the rasp of the rider's blade as it scraped against the inside of its scabbard. He saw only the glittering of the weapon, illuminated from behind by the harsh sun, before the pallid rider and his steed charged.

Within the soldier, the last shred of defiance sparked a surge of dull rage. Something inexplicable within him snapped. The soldier dipped his fingers into the pool of blood in front of him, and mere moments before the rider's blade met the flesh of his neck, the pool spun into a mirror underneath him. The glittering silvery surface stretched as far as his eye could see.

The soldier looked upon himself, the rider looming behind him, blade of star-forged steel at his neck. He felt a pang of fear at the sight, the monstrous creature behind him more than ready to end his pitiful existence.

As the soldier watched, the reflection he saw in the mirror began to blow away around his figure. He alone remained as the rider, the soot-filled sky, the harsh sun, and the bleak battlefield dissolved like ashes in the wind.

On the tail of the world that disappeared came another—a fantastical landscape of towering, gleaming façades, garishly bright lights, and strange metal carriages that moved about without need for horses.

Something shifted, the soldier felt, and the image became more solid as the mirror underneath him became noticeably less so. The soldier fell through, and for the briefest of moments, as he plunged through the darkness and through clouds of thick white mist, he saw yet another strange world. This world he beheld was vastly more incomprehensible than the last.

The landscape the soldier saw was immense and wreathed in an undulating sea of mist that stretched beyond the visible horizons. There was only one break in the expanse of bleak white—an island so lush and green that it could have been paradisiacal if not for the mirrors that were arrayed in concentric arcs around something at the island's heart.

The soldier blinked, and in that instance, the strange other world disappeared like a fleeting dream. The vision of the eldritch place was replaced only by a road paved in black stone. His monumental injuries catching up to him, the soldier let loose what he thought would be his final breath.