The race and militaryAuthor: Excelsior Entertainment © 2003
The great race
The emblem from
the Stygian The One King has disturbed an ancient and terrible menace. The Stygian horde has spread to the edges of the Black Plateaus of the Vulture Clan Dwarves and on more than one occasion has threatened to breach the integrity of the great Talon Gates. The horde has overrun several of the Elven mercantile cities, most notably the city of Naucratis, which is now a desolate and deserted shell. The Blackbloods have encountered them far into their trade routes through the Lands of the Flame, as well as at the gates of Delshazzar. One can only speculate as to how many of the Devout followers have fallen to the serpent men. Even the remote realms of the Untamed and the isolated Fallen Lands have experienced their merciless slaughter. While the One King has fought and defeated them at the ziggurat of Ipkur-Kish, the ever-growing tide of the Stygian crested to meet him between the River of Time and the River of Blood, on the Plain of Bones. Now, the sound of rushing water can be heard across all the lands of Chronopia as the Stygian rise once again to claim their right of sacrifice.
The Land of Two Rivers, where it all began, is a cruel and merciless place. During the day the sun burns and scorches the land, leaving it parched and broken. At night, even the finest armor offers little protection from the icy winds that scour the desert floor, freezing all living things to the bone. In the failing light of dusk, the crimson sky turns the desert sand the color of burnt umber. No race has laid claim to the interior of this accursed place as a general sense of foreboding and doom accompany any foray into this realm. Even the industrious Dwarves stopped their building on the outer circle of the desert, remembering a subconscious ancestral warning to stay out of this land.
Examination of the historical records of the various races all point to references about this grim and cursed place, references littered with warnings of horrific suffering and cataclysmic effect. Regardless of the particulars that are given to interpretation, all the cultures of Chronopia are clear about one aspect of this place; the desert was formed by the spilling of blood; so much blood that races disappeared in its spilling and the Savannah of Antol became a desert. The time of this myth dates back eons ago, during an era when the Stygian ruled the world and the young races were butchered on their altars in veneration of the rapacious Goddess, the Great She Serpent, the Mother of all Gods- Tiamat.
As time marched on and the world forgot its bloody past, two great rivers slowly split this sun-baked land, rivers that are today called the Sippar or the River of Time, and the Psamtikj meaning the River of Blood. They both rise from deep in the south and flow north meandering across the central desert to finally spill out over the Great Delta and into the Inner Sea. Between these rivers is a vast, arid and inhospitable tract of land, now referred to as the Plain of Bones.
The main body of the desert is surrounded in the east by high mesas. These pepper the land in ever-increasing size towards the Lands of the Flame where they eventually merge with the high Black Plateaus of the eastern region. To the south the desert rises towards the Thunder Mountains, where lies the Lake of Souls, the source for the Sippar. To the west of this are the Vermilion Peaks, overlooking the Chasms of the Sea God. These ridged mountains hold the source to the River of Blood. Westwards the desert ends abruptly in the Black Plateaus of the Vulture Clan Dwarves. The coastal areas in the north are rich with dense vegetation and in some areas of the Great Delta there are enormous reed swamps as yet unexplored. However, these vivid areas give way quickly to the arid deserts beyond, which are broken only occasionally by an oasis or fortified outpost.
Found protruding from the suffocating sands of the inner desert are the great Chaos Tombs of the Stygian, colossal megaliths of an age long passed and equally forgotten. They appear as pyramids of shimmering stone, piercing the sky as if sacrificing the very heavens themselves to their saurian Goddess. These pyramids are steep-sided with shallow steps allowing access to the distant summits, above while obelisk-like structures are often found surrounding their base like stoic sentries awaiting an order to arise.
These tombs, located deep in the southern desert are wrought from a curious, pristine, milky-white stone unknown to the current races of the world and mighty edifice-like portals emerge from the foot of the pyramids at irregular intervals around the base. Flanking each entranceway are great statues of mighty demons, Lord Guardians to the She-Serpent. There are also dozens of enormous bas-relief facades depicting scenes from the Stygian past lining these gaping portals.
The internal construction of the pyramids is still largely unknown. The central sacrificial altars and the rare chambers housing the Tablets of Destiny have been well documented by the Firstborn; however, the lower crypts and breeding chamber remain the stuff of maze-haunted nightmare.
Many of these pyramids have now been found in the Land of Two Rivers, the most well known are at Ipkur-Kish and Hathor, but others exist often being discovered by the unwary city that finds itself in the path of its Stygian denizens. Over the last several cycles, sweeping hordes of Stygian have appeared all over the land as if the coils of the mighty She Serpent were stretching out and tightening the earth in its crushing grip.
MilitaryThe Stygian are a sleek and muscular race, with iridescent skins and crested carapaces. They are astonishingly agile and frighteningly fast, possessed of a speed that belies their apparent build. Their enameled bronze armor is richly embellished with turquoise, carnelian and white jade. Their eyes are cruelly intelligent with a sentience unknown to any of the other races of Chronopia. It is said that the eyes of a Stygian hold the doom of the known races.
Making these monsters more formidable is the fact that the great host of serpent men seems to act with one communal mind. This “hive-mind” of the Stygian is orchestrated through the will and power of its Priestesses. Resplendent in their gilded bronze armor the Priestesses imperceptibly relay their instructions to their entire saurian horde. How this is accomplished is still unknown. Some scholars believe it to be a pheromone-based system while others argue that they possess vast mental powers. In either case from a military perspective, the Stygian force seems to move as if sharing one command, and they do this very well.
In battle Priestesses carry huge circular discs on their backs known as Scion Stones. In times of conflict these discs can often bee seen radiating a disconcerting light that hints at the vast power they harness, but whether they are the source of power or an augmentation is unknown.. In appearance they are similar in construction to, but much smaller than, the Tablets of Destiny on which is said to be written the whole of time and creation.
Legend has it that Tiamat created the Tablets of Destiny and wrote upon them the future of the world in an attempt to shape the course of destiny and harness the dominion of fate: that she might give her beloved Stygian the future, secure and graven in stone. Such audacity did not go unnoticed and the Gods of Old were furious that any should seek to control the future without achieving it by trial of strength or retaining it by constant endeavor. There was a balance to be maintained, a balance that held the heavens in place and the earth in its cradle; a balance that defies the very whims of the Gods.
The Gods of Old acted. They set down upon the earth a champion to oppose and restrain the Stygian might. They even went so far as to give him power to combat the predestined future written upon the Tablets of Destiny. However, while the champion did staunch the tide of sacrificial blood; he was not given the power to destroy the Stygian utterly. After all, there could be no favor shown to either side, only the balance need be restored.
Defeated, the Stygian fell back to their labyrinthine pyramids and ziggurats and sealed up their Chaos Tombs behind them. There they prayed to their great and terrible mother for salvation and guidance. Wounded and confused, the Stygian race, the scourge of the known world, fell into torpor. Here they would sleep undisturbed, waiting for the day when the earth had forgotten them and the Tablets of Destiny could reassert their influence upon the world once more; a day when they would rise again and make the world their altar, drenched in the sacrificial blood of the other races of Chronopia. Here, safely nestled in the coils of their Goddess, the Stygian dreamed and the world was granted reprieve.
The Stygian hostThe Stygians are not like the other races of Chronopia. They are not motivated by power like the Blackbloods, by wealth and pleasure like the Elves, by duty like the Dwarves or hearth and home like the Firstborn and the Untamed. The Stygian are motivated solely by the driving need to conquer and to sacrifice those conquered to venerate their Goddess.
The Stygian swarm is made up of a large variety of different castes, each fulfilling a different and specific role in their society. The warrior caste forms the greater proportion of the host of serpent-men. They are armed with a variety of weapons ranging from cruelly shaped swords and sickles to long, twin-pronged pole arms. In addition, some warriors carry darts strapped to the inside of their shields, which they cast at their hapless foes before engaging in close combat. A Stygian without weapons is still a fearsome opponent at they think nothing of rending flesh and sinew with their razor sharp teeth and punishing claws.
In battle, the swarm is broken down into warbands like all others, the differences being their single minded attack strategy. Most of the Stygian battle force is comprised of warbands of axe warriors, spearmen, reapers, and swordsmen. They pour across the battlefield in great swarms, trying to blanket their enemy with their formidable numbers. Missile weapons are not a factor in the Stygian horde that neither fears them nor utilizes their abilities, preferring instead to be face to face with their enemies, tasting their blood as they kill.
In advance of their warriors however, serving as both living shields and shock troops for the Stygian host are the humanoid Drugged and their own gaunt Starved. The Drugged are warriors who encounter the Stygian host and do not die in the meeting. Taken back to their secret lairs, the Stygian rob their captives of their very minds and wills and return them to the battlefield where they serve as living shields for their new masters. There is a military protocol that the Blackbloods post in their trade cities along the desert that reads, "If you have fallen in battle, stay fallen. It is better to slit your own throat than allow the Stygian to capture you."
There are few sights as unnerving as seeing your former comrades marching in advance of a Stygian horde, their eyes devoid of all recognition and reason, moving relentlessly to do you harm. The Stygians use these poor souls as both soldiers and shields, for while they soak up enemy missile fire allowing the Stygians to move in safely behind them, those pathetic survivors not slain by missile fire can and will wander among their former comrades with a vacant and unnerving stare.
The Starved are enigmas to the known races. Seeming to be normal Stygian warriors that have been, for reasons unknown, kept in a state of extreme hunger, these Starved strike like pack dogs, relentlessly and with savage abandon. While they are incredibly ferocious and clearly ravenous, they fight with the strength of the desperate, intent only on feeding themselves on their victims. It is not uncommon to see Starved warriors feasting on their kills even while the battle rages around them. In some cases the feasting begins even before the victim is actually dead.
Supporting these soldiers are various larger Stygian monstrosities whose appearance varies wildly from group to group. While Great Warriors, who are larger and more skilled Stygian warriors, serve as combat leaders to some extent, it is clear that the real power of the Stygian army is controlled by the Priestess. She alone has the direct link to her Goddess through her Scion Stone; she alone directs the horde mind in battle. It is her alien will that directs the legions of Stygian in all things.
The heart of the Stygian civilization lies in the southern inner deserts but the Stygian race has since migrated to every corner of the known lands. As they moved north they were forced to adapt to the increasingly cold climate that the rocky environment exposed them to. It took centuries, but when the Stygian ruled the world the passage of the years was of no consequence, for there was no one to stop their relentless expansion.
In appearance, the Stygian coloration varies both within a host and regionally, though their body structure seems to remain similar throughout. Some Stygian have chameleon like abilities which allow them to change their color to blend in better with their surroundings. These Stygian are even more terrifying for their ability to seemingly appear out of thin air. Tales from the Blackblood trade lanes tell horrific stories of massed Stygians lying quietly in wait, camouflaged perfectly amid the sand and rocks, then springing upon their victims with emotionless zeal.
In the desert climes Stygian scales are crimson-black, blue and green while in the frozen north they are white, like ice. Almost anemic, their translucent scales are covered in fine, white hairs.
When the One King broke the seals at Ipkur-Kish, the vast Stygian race began to awaken from its millennia-long slumber and like a ripple the Stygian race emerged in an ever expanding ring across the lands. Both distance and imposing temperatures slowed the waking of the Stygian in the north. There, amid the rocks and snow their ziggurats shook off the detritus of time and they emerged to reclaim what the Sons of Kronos thought to be theirs alone. Much like the other races, the Sons of Kronos had no record of this enemy and their appearance and ferocity took them by complete surprise. To inhibit the emergence of the Stygian in the North and to give her people precious time to understand what was happening, the Matriarch of the Mother Tribe called down a terrible winter across the lands. The unprecedented cold has slowed the Stygian advance much as she hoped it would, but it did not stop them. The Matriarch can not keep the land locked in ice forever and when the thaw comes, the Tribes must be ready.
Stygian have even been sighted high up in the Mountains of Myth and the Dragon’s Spine. They fight the Sons of Kronos even as far as the Great Ice Fields to the west but nowhere has the fighting been as fierce as in the Sacred Vale and the steep sided ravine of Sorrow Falls. These mystic sites are revered by the Untamed and apparently by the Stygians who seem to place significance on these locations as well. While the Tribe of the Goddess has recently crushed the Stygian menace in the Sacred Vale, they have lost the Falls of Sorrow to their reptilian might. There was a ziggurat hidden behind the veil of thundering water in these Falls and by the time the Untamed learned of the danger it was too late to stop the Stygian, despite the bravery of the warriors who fought there.
Only the Sacred Groves and the Tears of the Goddess have remained pure of the Stygian presence. The spirit of the Earth Goddess is strong in these places and even at the height of their reign the Stygian could sense the power of it and knew better than to invoke her wrath.
Even the Under Realms of the Dwarves are not safe from the Stygian threat. Much as the Dwarven Labyrinth allows the Dwarves access to vast subterranean tunnels, so too must the Stygian have similar tunnels throughout the lands of Chronopia. No race has been spared painful slaughter by the Stygian.
Of all the battlefields that litter the realms of Chronopia, the ones that boast a Stygian victory are perhaps the most disquieting. There are no hundreds of corpses to stink up the air and draw plague. There are no looters to pick through corpses. No carrion birds circle the area and give testament to the clash of wills that occurred here. The bodies of friend and foe alike seem to be removed from the battlefield in the wake of a Stygian victory to be taken back to the Chaos Tombs of their Priestesses. The only signs that a battle had been fought are the drying pools of blood that are seemingly found everywhere slowly staining the land it covers.
What caused the One King to venture into this area of Chronopia, long ignored and possessing little to attract one to it, is still unknown. The time-viewing monarch of the Firstborn could have seen the Stygian threat during one of his many meditations and attempted to remove it himself. Others think he lusted after the Tablets of Destiny that would be able to give him the ultimate power to rule Chronopia forever and finally realize his destiny; his hubris easily capable of minimizing the threat that waking the Stygian posed to all the peoples of the land.
Even the Devout, staunch enemies of all life, have been attacked and preyed upon by the Stygian menace. Their apparently unstoppable march against the races of Chronopia was stopped decisively by the serpent men. Unlike the other peoples of Chronopia, the Stygian seem utterly immune to the temptations that lure lesser beings to the Devout cause. In the Stygian the Devout have met an enemy that cares nothing for their religion or their causes, that cannot be swayed and manipulated and for the first time the Dark Prophets have been given pause and been made to remember the clammy torment of doubt.
In a land torn by war, this awakened threat marks the beginning of a new era in the realm of Chronopia, an era born of blood, fire and pain.
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