Chapter 59: The Kungwan War, History Lesson
46 0 1
Reading Options
Font Size
A- 15px A+
Table of Contents
Loading... please wait.

The Aslankoyash encampment was a rich tapestry of life and laughter, nestled amidst the verdant, towering trees. The smell of woodsmoke filled the air, mingling with the sweet aroma of freshly baked bread and roasted meat. Colorful tents and woven banners provided a vibrant backdrop for the hustle and bustle of the village. The sounds of laughter and chatter echoed through the forest, punctuated by the clanging of swords as warriors trained in a nearby clearing.

Children scampered and played, their tails wagging with playful exuberance and their carefree voices a melodious counterpoint to the adults' gruff baritones. Old men and women sat in shaded nooks, exchanging tales of old, their wrinkled faces etched with a mixture of pride and worry.

A great central firepit, encircled by a ring of stones, glowed with a merry blaze, its heat warding off the chill of the Spring morning. A brace of spit-roasted boars crackled and sizzled, the scent of their savory meat wafting through the air.

Bjorn reclined on a fallen log, his mighty arms crossed over his armored chest. Beside him, Engin, Hilda, and Argoran sat in quiet repose, their conversation echoing softly against the backdrop of the encampment's muted activity.

"It's been a busy week around the village, hasn't it, Hilda?" Engin asked, his gaze following a group of children as they chased each other through the tents. "How have the crops been coming in?"

Hilda shrugged, her face etched with a weary smile. "The spring rains have been kind to us," she said, "although the irrigation channels could use some repair."

"That can be taken care of easily," Argoran remarked, his tail swinging back and forth across the ground. "I'll send a party to the upper slopes to gather the needed materials."

"That would be much appreciated," Hilda replied, her smile widening. "And what about the hunting parties, Argoran? Did the last hunt yield enough meat?"

A proud smile creased Argoran's lips. "Aye, the hunt went well," he said, "and the surplus meat will go to good use in our winter stores."

"That's good news," Engin said, his eyes glittering with approval. "And how about the warriors, Bjorn? How have the recent training sessions been going?"

Bjorn chuckled and leaned back, his arms still crossed. "The youngsters have been showing promise," he replied. "They may be rough around the edges, but with time and practice, they will be formidable."

"I'm glad to hear that," Engin replied, a hint of pride in his tone. "Our young warriors will need to be strong if they're to keep the village safe."

As the conversation continued, a new sound cut through the din, drawing the attention of the group. The figure of Ebonheim emerged from the woods. She strode purposefully towards the group, the grasses and plants around her feet parting as she passed. As they turned their attention to her, she seemed to hesitate, a gesture not lost on Bjorn.

"Ebonheim," Bjorn greeted, a smile spreading across his face. "How fares our goddess this morning? Come, sit with us."

Ebonheim nodded, and took a seat beside Engin. "I'm well, thank you." She paused, a flash of indecision flickering across her face, as if she was wrestling with a difficult decision.

"What's on your mind, Ebonheim?" Engin pressed gently.

Ebonheim inhaled deeply, her gaze fixed on the ground. "There's... There's something I've been thinking about," she began, her voice hesitant, "and I want to ask you all for your opinions."

"Go ahead," Hilda said, her tone encouraging. "You can speak freely."

Bjorn remained silent, his gaze never leaving Ebonheim. He sensed a tension in her, and he could tell that she was troubled by something. Their discourse over the Chalice of Enchanted Nectar had not been that long ago, and she looked just as torn as she did then.

Ebonheim glanced nervously at the group, her golden eyes betraying her apprehension. "First, I want to ask what you all know about the Kungwans."

Bjorn felt a cold knot form in his stomach at the mention of the monstrous race. Argoran echoed the sentiment, his tail lashing against the ground.

"Kungwans?" Argoran rumbled, his voice heavy with disdain. "Those vile creatures. Our tribe had suffered at their hands upon our entry to the Eldergrove. Their savagery knows no bounds."

"Why the sudden interest in those dreadful creatures?" Engin asked, a frown creasing his brow.

Hilda nodded in agreement. "Yes, Ebonheim. I'm as surprised as the others. You've never shown any interest in them before."

Ebonheim glanced away, her fingers idly tracing patterns in the dirt. "I have...reasons," she offered cryptically.

Bjorn noted her evasive response, the nervous shift of her slender fingers, and the guarded expression in her eyes. There was more to this than she was letting on. e traded a glance with Hilda, whose brows were furrowed in thought, and Argoran, who remained stoically silent, his dark eyes brooding and deep. There was a story here, hidden within Ebonheim's reticence, and Bjorn was set on coaxing it from her. But first, they would fulfill her request.

"Well then," Engin sighed, adjusting his spectacles. "Let's take this from the beginning, shall we?" His gaze met Bjorn's, and the warrior gave a subtle nod, silently urging him to continue.

"To start with, the Kungwans are a powerful and dangerous race," Engin began. "They are not native to the Eldergrove, and it has long been suspected that they came from realms beyond the one we live in now. There are ancient texts and legends that speak of their origins and their nature, but they are often contradictory, so I can't speak to the veracity of them. But the prevailing belief is that they hail from a chaotic world similar to ours and that the Arcanists of old had summoned them here to serve as soldiers during the great wars."

Bjorn nodded, his face growing grim. "Aye. And these beasts were as fierce as they were powerful. They fought with a savage fury the likes of which none had ever seen. But with the wars over, the Kungwans remained in our world, and their nature did not change. They were as wild and bloodthirsty as the day they had arrived."

Engin nodded, continuing on with the tale. "Yes. The wars over, the Arcanists had no more use for them. Though creatures summoned by the Arcanists' magic normally returned to their realms of origin after fulfilling their purpose, Kungwan born in our world had no such compulsion."

"What do you mean?" Ebonheim asked, her golden eyes wide.

Hilda chimed in next, her druidic nature allowing her a unique perspective on the Kungwan's nature. "Their ferocity and violent tendencies were not what made them dangerous. It was their reproductive methods. They birthed new Kungwans by infecting other creatures with their transformative essence."


"Yes. A Kungwan's maw is laced with its larvae. When they bite another creature, the larvae burrow into the victim. Once inside, the larva begins the gruesome process of changing the host from the inside out. It takes weeks for the larvae to metamorphose from the pupal state. During this period, the host suffers terrible pain as the transformation slowly takes hold. The creature's flesh and bones twist and warp into the semblance of a Kungwan. Then, after the metamorphosis, the new Kungwan emerges, and the cycle of infection continues."

"That's...awful," Ebonheim gasped, her face paling.

Bjorn's jaw tightened, his memory haunted by the memory of his comrades, their bodies mutilated and mangled, their faces twisted with horror. "Aye, it is a fate worse than death. We have seen the aftermath of their depredations, and they are not a sight to behold. Fortunately, druids have the means to cure those infected as long as they are still within the early stages of the transformation, but there are cases where the victims cannot be saved."

Ebonheim shook her head, a horrified expression etched on her delicate features. "I can't even imagine what that must be like."

Argoran growled low in his throat, his hackles rising at the memory. "We learned the cost of underestimating them. Twenty of my tribe members had fallen to their cursed bite before being dragged to their foul dens."

"I'm so sorry," Ebonheim replied, her eyes shining with empathy.

Engin nodded, his gaze distant and solemn. "Yes, the Kungwans are a grave threat. They roam the lands, infecting any unfortunate creature they come across. Fortunately...or rather, unfortunately, depending on one's perspective, this method of infection and reproduction can only occur within a humanoid host."

"A small blessing," Argoran muttered, his tail lashing the ground. "Had they been capable of spreading their vile larvae among the beasts, we would not be having this conversation. The Eldergrove would have become a breeding ground for them."

"But if these creatures are that dangerous, why are they still allowed to live and roam freely?" Ebonheim asked, her voice soft but her gaze resolute. "Why didn't everyone band together and wipe them out when they had the chance?"

Engin shook his head, his expression regretful. "We would have if we could, Ebonheim. But the Kungwans are cunning and elusive. They can adapt to any terrain, and their abilities allow them to camouflage themselves almost perfectly, making them nearly impossible to track by normal means."

"Not to mention," Bjorn added, "that they are fiercely territorial. They are known to attack on sight if trespassed upon. And despite their nature, they are not mindless beasts, they have an intelligence about them, which makes them more dangerous. They fight with a viciousness and savagery unmatched by any other race. It takes a tremendous effort to hunt a single one, and losing even a small number in the process is a heavy price. Their flesh is highly resistant to all manner of mundane weapons unless imbued with magic, and wounds inflicted upon them heal rapidly, making battles of attrition a costly affair."

"So they're tough to kill," Ebonheim said, her eyes narrowing in contemplation. "But surely they must have a weakness."

Bjorn nodded, his lips forming a tight line. "Aye, and we have found a few ways to weaken them. Consecrated silver blades blessed by gods, seem to be effective. It will not kill them outright, but a blade forged from such a material can inflict lasting damage. Fire and other elemental magics have also proven to be effective against them."

"Yes," Argoran chimed in. "However, some breeds of Kungwans have proven to be resistant to certain elements. I've encountered one that looked different from the others, its skin possessed a red tone and it spewed fire from its maw."

"Sounds like the Flamecallers," Bjorn murmured. "I've fought a few in my time. They're nasty business. Some can also breathe frost, and others have a corrosive touch. There are many breeds of them, each with their own unique abilities."

Ebonheim nodded, her expression thoughtful. "Thank you. This information will be useful."

Bjorn quirked an eyebrow at her words, his eyes narrowing. "Ebonheim, why the sudden inquiry?" he asked, hoping his voice didn't betray his suspicion. "Is something going on with the Kungwans south of here? They are far enough away and their numbers are small enough that we have no immediate concerns."

"Didn't we estimate that there shouldn't be any more than a few of dozen left since we purged the ones that encroached near the village two years ago?" Engin asked, concern in his eyes. "Argoran, how many of them did your tribe encounter?"

"Hmmm... I'd least twelve," Argoran replied. "But since losing twenty of my kin to them, I can only assume that there are around fifty or sixty."

"If there's only that many, then it'll only be a matter of time until they're wiped out," Engin reasoned. "They're a threat, but they aren't an immediate danger to us. As long as we don't go poking around in the South, we should be fine until we muster enough people to exterminate them once and for all."

Bjorn turned to look at Ebonheim who had remained silent. He could sense that she was holding back, and he wanted to get to the bottom of her hesitation. "Ebonheim," he pressed, his voice edged with a note of warning. "Out with it. What's this about?"

Ebonheim swallowed, her slender hands fidgeting in her lap. "I've been approached by Calyxia," she said softly, her gaze fixed on the ground.

"One of the lords of the Eldergrove? The one you mentioned some time ago after returning from their gathering?" Hilda asked.

"Yes, that one. She sought me out earlier today."

"And what did she want?" Bjorn inquired.

Ebonheim paused, as if trying to gather the words. "She asked me to join her in the war she's been fighting against the Kungwans."

Bjorn and the others exchanged a glance. A long moment passed before anyone spoke. "Join her in the war, huh?" Bjorn echoed.

"Yes. She told me that the Kungwans have been getting more aggressive. They've been attacking the denizens of her territory. She believes that they will eventually threaten the village and wants to form an alliance with me to fight against the Kungwans."

"She wants our village to join the war?" Engin asked, his eyes widening.

"No, no, nothing like that," Ebonheim quickly clarified. "Just me, not the entire village."

"What did you tell her?" Bjorn asked, his gaze never wavering.

"I...I told her that I would consider her request, but I'm not sure what to do. That's why I came here to ask for your advice," Ebonheim replied. "Should I go with her? Or should I stay and protect the village?"

"Protect the village? Are you afraid the Kungwans would attack us if you were to leave?" Bjorn asked.

Ebonheim nodded, her eyes flashing with concern. "If I join Calyxia, the Kungwans may see the village as an enemy. So yes, I am concerned for the village's safety while I'm gone."

"Are you implying that they might target us instead while you're away?" Bjorn asked.

"Maybe..." Ebonheim murmured.

A tense silence descended upon the group, each member of the council contemplating the ramifications of Ebonheim's choice. Bjorn watched as a series of emotions flickered across Ebonheim's face. Doubt. Worry. Concern. Uncertainty. She was conflicted, and it was clear to him that she was struggling with the decision.

Bjorn let out a heavy sigh, breaking the silence. "Listen, Ebonheim. If your goal is to protect us, and this is your way, then I say go."

"You say go?" Ebonheim questioned. "You mean you agree with her?"

"I don't know her or her motives," Bjorn said carefully, "but if the Kungwans do pose a threat to the village, and you could help prevent them from becoming a problem, then we have to give you the freedom to do so. No one can say for sure whether or not your presence here would actually deter them, but I doubt it."

"Why do you say that?"

Bjorn looked over at Hilda and raised an eyebrow. She gave a slight nod in return, then turned to face Ebonheim. "Remember when the two Kungwans were bent on attacking you two years ago?" she reminded her. "If their only goal was to take and infect hosts to breed more Kungwans, then the guards who fought them would have been a more tempting target. But instead, they focused on you. Perhaps they realize that your presence presented more of a danger to them."

"Yeah...perhaps. I do recall that happening," Ebonheim pondered, her fingers trailing absently across her cheek as she reflected. "Do you think I should go then?"

"The thought of a war in the Eldergrove is indeed a terrifying prospect," Hilda admitted, her eyes gazing off into the distance as if imagining the destruction. "But it is also the reality that we may have to live with now."

"And if war does come for us," Engin said, "then we'll have to prepare for it. In the meantime, it seems that the best way to protect our people and the Eldergrove is for you to go with Calyxia and support her efforts. While you're away, we can strengthen the village's defenses in case the worst happens. As the village elder, I can assure you that we will be able to handle things in your absence."

"This may be the right course of action," Argoran agreed, "and perhaps this Calyxia's intentions are genuine, but regardless of her intentions, there is one thing we can be certain of: if you're truly allied with the other lords and your efforts help them eradicate the Kungwan threat, then we stand to gain as well."

A thoughtful silence followed as the weight of the words settled in.

"Honestly, I wish we were present during your meeting so that we could get a read on her," Bjorn mused. "We still don't know the important details, like how strong the Kungwan forces are, how long you'll be gone for, and what exactly your role is in all this. But based on what we do know, I believe that supporting this war is the most prudent decision, for both you and your village."

Ebonheim closed her eyes, her fingers interlacing with her opposite hand as she contemplated Bjorn's words.

"And even if you decide not to go," Bjorn continued, "my gut tells me that this war Calyxia intends to fight may end up drawing you in regardless of what you do. If she needs your aid now, she will likely require your aid again in the future, especially if this war goes poorly."

"All I can suggest is that you speak with her in private and try to get a better idea of her motivations," Argoran offered, "and ask about the particulars of what she expects from you in this alliance."

"That's good advice," Ebonheim conceded, opening her eyes.

"You should go and help Calyxia," Engin said. "We can't risk having the Kungwans expand their territory. We can't afford to have them come north and encroach on our lands again if they are growing in number and are beginning to show more frequent aggression."

"Are you sure that the village will be alright if I leave?" Ebonheim asked.

"I am confident," Hilda responded. "My druidic order and the village guards will ensure the village's defense in your absence, and we will increase patrols throughout our area as an additional precaution. Besides, it's not the first time you've left to pursue your duties. We will manage in your absence."

"That's right," Engin agreed. "Besides, we're more than capable of defending the village if the need arises."

Ebonheim furrowed her brow, still seemingly unconvinced.

Bjorn watched her carefully. He understood her apprehension and concern. As a leader, he knew that it was never easy to leave behind the safety and security of your people for a greater good. But sometimes, it was a necessary sacrifice, and the villagers would understand that, too.

"Ebonheim," he said, his voice firm. "You know in your heart that we're right. Our village is safe here. If anything, Calyxia needs your help more than we do."

Ebonheim was silent, her gaze falling to the ground once more. Bjorn waited, allowing her to mull over her thoughts. He knew that she understood the truth in his words, but that didn't make the decision any easier. He sympathized with her, for he, too, had been in her position once. He'd had to make tough choices that had seemed to go against his intuition, and while they had not always been the correct ones, they had been the best ones he could have made at the time.

Finally, Ebonheim let out a heavy sigh, her shoulders sagging as if a great weight had been lifted from them. She raised her eyes to meet Bjorn's, and he could see the resolve shining in their depths.

"Very well," she said softly. "If you all believe that it is the right decision, then I will go to Calyxia. I will do what I can to help her fight the Kungwans."

Bjorn reached forward and clasped Ebonheim's hand in his own, giving it a firm squeeze. "You're doing the right thing, Ebonheim," he reassured her. "We'll be here to keep the village safe. We'll be waiting for your safe return. Now, when do you plan on joining Calyxia?"

"She said she would wait for my decision at her lair."

"Then there's no time to waste. You should go immediately. If the Kungwans are as much of a threat as Calyxia claims, you can't afford to dawdle. You should leave right away," Bjorn urged.

With those words, Ebonheim rose to her feet, her head held high.

"Thank you all for your wise counsel," she said, her voice steady and strong. "I'll head to Calyxia's lair now and inform her of my decision."

With those words, she turned and strode off, her form fading into the trees.

The group sat in silence for a moment, the weight of the conversation lingering in the air.

"We may have urged her to help, but I can't help but worry that she may not be up to the task," Engin said after Ebonheim was out of earshot. "You told me back then that she couldn't restrain even one or two of them with her powers and was nearly overrun."

"That was when she was still inexperienced and had yet to come into her current power," Hilda chimed in. "But she's grown since then. I sense much potential in her. Her power has increased exponentially ever since her ascension, and she has been diligent in her training all this time. I have faith that she will do what is needed."

"Perhaps," Bjorn replied, his voice heavy with doubt. "But still, I can't help but wonder. How could Ebonheim be the only one to receive Calyxia's invitation? Why not any of the other lords? Isn't this a little strange?"

"Yes, it is. It's a mystery, to be sure," Engin said.

"There's more to this than we know," Argoran growled, his ears flicking back. "There's a lot of unknowns in this situation. Regardless, all we can do is trust in Ebonheim and hope that her actions will lead us to a favorable outcome."

"I don't like this," Bjorn grumbled. His shoulders squared as he crossed his arms over his chest.

Something was off about their assumptions, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. What was it? Was it the fact that Ebonheim's inquisition on the Kungwan had been so odd? Or was there something else going on that he had missed?

He ran his fingers through his beard as he pondered, his eyes narrowing in concentration. Something didn't add up. Ebonheim's nervousness, the odd timing of the conversation, and the fact that she was the only one to be contacted to join this wa—

Bjorn's eyes widened at the realization. Why didn't he realize it earlier? Why did this Calyxia woman declare their conflict as a full-blown war rather than an extermination mission? If there were only fifty to sixty to deal with, then claiming it to be a war would be an exaggeration, wouldn't it? But if they've grossly underestimated the Kungwan's numbers, and there were hundreds or more, then...

"Argogan, how many Kungwans did you encounter again? The ones that you and your tribe fought?" Bjorn asked, his voice urgent.

"Twelve or so. Why?" Argoran asked.

"Bjorn, what is this about?" Hilda asked, a hint of concern in her voice.

"We may have a serious problem," Bjorn said.

"What do you mean?" Engin asked.

"Ebonheim mentioned a war with the Kungwan. Why would there be a war with only fifty or seventy Kungwans, especially if Ebonheim and this lord of the Eldergrove could potentially defeat them all at once if they were together?"

"Then, what are you suggesting, Bjorn?" Hilda asked.

"There may be a lot more than that."

"You mean to suggest that the Kungwan population is a lot larger than we anticipate?" Argoran asked, his eyebrows raised.

"I don't want to speculate, but that's what I'm getting at, yes," Bjorn said.

"How much more?" Engin asked, his brows furrowing.

"What if there are hundreds? Or more?"

Engin's eyes widened. "Hundreds?! That's impossible. Surely we would have noticed their presence earlier and more frequently if that was the case. If a hundred of them were to attack our village, then we wouldn't stand a chance. Why have they not done so before?"

"It could be a territorial thing," Argoran suggested. "They are closer to Calyxia's territory than they are to ours, after all. But if that's the case, I don't understand why Calyxia is requesting help to deal with a handful of them. Wouldn't she be able to handle them on her own?"

"Hundreds...such a frightening amount," Hilda murmured. "That would mean the Kungwan have the means to acquire and infect a sufficient amount of hosts, would it not? Aside from our village and the ones that reside within Calyxia's territory, I have not heard of any other settlement in the valley."

"Then the Kungwan are getting those host bodies some other way then," Bjorn reasoned.

"From where? How?" Argoran asked.

"Your guess is as good as mine. But Calyxia might have some insight into that. I need to let Ebonheim know," Bjorn said, rising to his feet, his gaze fixed on the forest where Ebonheim had disappeared.

With that, he turned and strode off to search for her.

Unfortunately, she had already left the village.