The Beginning of the End EM Drosselmeyer Virtuebane towered over those who had followed him devoutly, his Bane Chosen, as he stood in front of them where they had assembled. They looked to him anxiously and eagerly awaiting his latest commands, curious as to the reason they had all been summoned here. Virtuebane spoke to the gathered in a voice that commanded their full attention, and all other chatter was silenced in a moment. “Our time is at hand, my chosen! The Britannian’s leader, Queen Dawn, has fallen! They are losing morale, and soon will lose everything! I have promised you all that your faith and your devotion would be rewarded. Are you ready to follow me in this final step towards our victory?” A resounding chorus of cheers and assent rippled through the vast army of Bane Chosen, the dragon riders rearing their ferocious mounts back on two legs while the hound masters commanded their pets to let out a harmonious howl. The clamor of metal on metal rang through the air as warriors and recruits smacked their weapons along their shields. Virtuebane’s face adopted as wide a grin as his inhuman features would allow. “You have all been chosen, and your loyalty will now be rewarded! You will serve me in a greater capacity than you could ever have imagined.” With that, Virtuebane extended his hands and gestured towards his army. At first, it seemed that nothing was happening, but then a change began to take place. Rank after rank of the Bane Chosen found their bodies pulsating with power, their forms seeming to shimmer. Then in a moment of dazzling brilliance, what had been an army of dragon riders, recruits, and hound masters had transformed. Before Virtuebane now stood a vast swath of new troops, completely loyal to their master. Virtuebane gestured with a hand, and the horde of ancient hellhounds all rang out in one voice together. With this task complete, he stalked away to finish his preparations. “And what would you have us do, Taranath, sit back and wait for the Bane and those who ally with them to destroy us?” The Meer Elder who was addressed gave his fellow across the table a sneer. “Do not presume to put words in my mouth, Shavanth. I believe that we should never have gotten involved with the Britannians, and that all our problems have been brought upon us by that same involvement! And now that Rathanra’s sent an envoy to the Ethereal Fortress without the consent of…” “I do not require your consent nor do I require the council’s consent to send an envoy. It is not a matter that required a vote to see where they stand. I sent one of my huntresses to see if they would stand with us or not. I have not pushed us to any action.” Rathanra interrupted coldly. “And as to your point, it was the Britannian’s assistance that allowed us to push back the Juka, and prevent our own destruction many years ago, if you recall. And so it is that even now, the Britannian’s have stood alongside us.” “Stood alongside us! Did you not see who was aiding the Bane in their attempts to eradicate us? It was these selfsame Britannians whose livelihood you now seek to protect! If the Britannian’s want assistance, they can seek it from the gargoyles.” Taranath’s words flew from his mouth vehemently as he continued to speak, a sneer masking his face. “The humans and the elves are not to be trusted! They have time and again shown their fickleness and evil!” Rathanra slapped her hands onto the table for emphasis, her fur standing on end in irritation. “I believe, Taranath, the case here is that you have clung too long to your ideals of non interference. Some of the Britannian’s helped the Bane, but many did not! Besides that, whether we help the Britannian’s or not is not the issue here. We are fighting for our own livelihood. The Bane Chosen have already made us a target, and despite this brief reprieve, I have no doubt that if they succeed in conquering the humans, we will be next. And with Queen Dawn dead, it’s possible that the Britannian’s will be further divided…this may be our last chance to claim victory against the Bane Chosen, and Virtuebane himself.” The Ancient Meer who sat at the head of the table slowly rose in the midst of Rathanra’s speech, and raised her hands in a calming gesture. “I believe that we have discussed this particular topic enough over the past weeks. Rathanra, yours and Taranath’s ideas have been clearly stated for all repeatedly. I also believe that more importantly than rehashing these things is welcoming our guest whom is waiting outside. I bid you enter our chambers.” This last was spoken loudly, and the doors opened to admit a young Meer huntress. The huntress kneeled as she reverently addressed the council. “Thank you for admitting me. I, Trathara the huntress present you with a missive from Ambassador Charpris, of the Ethereal forces.” With that proclamation, she rose and handed the sealed envelope over to Drathava. Drathava opened the envelope and read it silently, her face betraying no emotion as she did so. After a brief pause, she smiled benevolently to the young huntress. “Thank you. You have done your duty well, and you are dismissed.” Trathara bowed once more, and Rathanra thanked her as she left. Drathava then spoke to the other council members. “I believe that the time has now come for us to make a decision and stand by it. The Ethereal forces are unwilling to commit either way at the moment. That means that we are the ones who must take the initiative. I petition each of you that we should not wait until these Bane are once again kicking in our proverbial door. We need to bring the fight to them. Council members, your decisions?” Rathanra clearly nodded in agreement, and after a few moments thought, Shavanth also agreed. Taranath snarled and glowered, but in the end he too voted with the council’s majority. “It’s settled then. We have cast our lot, and we shall have to wait and see how the dice come up.” Travis watched the gathering of the Bane Chosen with careful eyes from his hidden perch. He’d been tailing their movements for several days and finally found where their destination was. He took careful note as Virtuebane himself addressed them, and watched with disbelief as the colossal giant somehow changed the people into a bestial form. He continued to watch as Virtuebane walked off in the other direction, and he very quietly snuck away in the opposite one. He spared a glance behind him, and as he turned back to face forward he fell down in shock as the beast himself was in front of him. “That’s impossible! You were…” Travis’ cry of disbelief was cut short as Virtuebane grasped and lifted him up in one massive hand. Virtuebane then hurled the spy into a tree, and the bone shattering impact caused Travis to see stars. As his vision began to clear he spat blood, and found he couldn’t move his legs. “*******…Kal Ort…” Travis’ chant was silenced as Virtuebane brought one massive hoof down in a devastating stomp that ended Travis’ life. It was then that a second, identical Virtuebane approached. “It seems that not all of the Britannian’s have lost their morale from their Queen’s death.” Both of the Virtuebane’s looked down to the glowing bit of azure crystal in their hands. One of them moved to check over the rest of the area, while the original knelt and turned over the pulped corpse of Travis. “You should be grateful for the privilege to have died at my hand. Your entire world will be mine…since it seems that none of your defenders carry the sword that wench Dawn imbued with Humility, or they would have used it when I took the crystal at the funeral. And because of that, there is nothing left that your forces can muster to cause me the slightest problem.” Virtuebane chuckled darkly to himself before standing once more, and he regarded the corpse again. He took a moment to gather up the lifeless body in one hand, and in a few massive strides hurled it into the midst of the hellhounds. With a noise like the ripping of wet canvas, the body was quickly devoured. Virtuebane then strode towards the area where the rest of the identical Virtuebane’s were gathering. Now was the time to claim a lasting victory over those who stood in his way.