The Folly of Arrogance - an Empires and Puzzles story

#1

My latest Fanfiction story for the game, in which two heroes face a challenge that changes them both forever.

This one is for Rook. :slight_smile:

Prologue 1

Moonlight shone through the open window as the Prince of Morgovia studied the red liquid in his chalice. A long taloned finger dipped into the warm cup, and he licked his finger tip with his eyes closed. Outside, the failed assault on his castle retreated in disarray. They’d try again, no doubt, and when they did, he’d be ready. Again. One does not remain the Undead Prince of Morgovia by being foolish or unprepared.
He looked down at the corpse at his feet. She had been beautiful, no doubt, and her blood would serve him well. She should be grateful, really - without her sacrifice, the Prince wouldn’t be able to fulfill his legacy.
“Tell your sister how much you love her, Delilah,” he purred, "without her, you would not be able to receive my gift."
Delilah looked in horror at her sister lying dead on the floor, and up at the Vampire Prince’s pallid, gaunt face. No, not pallid - as he drained his chalice, colour returned to his skin. His cheeks filled out and his eyes regained a lustrous brown. The blood seemed to revitalize him and she stared at him, frozen in terror, as he undressed before his bride, proud and vital.
“Smile, girl. Not every woman become the mother to the heir.”

Prologue 2

“I need a soldier,” Lord Grey said,“someone I can trust. I may have duties too…delicate… for the average lackey. Find me someone who has shown loyalty to the Stronghold and to Corellia, above and beyond the call of duty.” His Captain nodded amd bowed, fairly certain he knew who he would burden with the task.
It only took three days to find the right man - Jason Porter had risen through the ranks quickly, as a simple swordsman, then a blademaster. He had excelled in battle time and time again, so the Captain had absolute confidence in his decision.
“Jason Porter,” Lord Grey said as the soldier saluted crisply, "you, if you wish, shall serve as my personal attache. Prove your worth and I shall entrust you with missions too delicate for the average soldier. I need a man willing to live and die by my word alone. The rewards will be - commensurate."
Jason Porter didn’t even blink, he saluted his Lord with the slightest bow. "I serve, sir."
Over the next several months, Porter was seen at Lord Grey’s side in confidence, or traveling from Stronghold to outpost and town, or fighting at his side. The name Porter faded away as he became increasingly known as ‘Grey’s Man’, until that shortened even further to ‘Greyman’. And always, he was devoted and fearless in serving Lord Grey.


Chapter 1

“You have such funny teeth, Zudak!” the girl exclaimed. She ran her fingertips along his fanglike teeth, then pulled him close and kissed him, letting her tongue explore the oddity of his bite.
“Oh, that’s, that’s just odd. Are you one of those --” she paused, frowning. “You know, like Hou and Wu Kong? Those… beast men?” The disparaging tone in her voice told Zudak everything he needed to know about the future of their relationship.
“No, no, I’m not one of them, although a lot of people think I am. I’ve been called Half Breed since I was a kid.” The girl turned away, her interest lost. She stood up and buttoned her blouse, her eyes searching for an escape, graceful or otherwise.
“I… need to go help my Mama,” she lied, and dashed out of the room. Zudak shrugged and finished dressing. The firey-haired youth had been a social outcast his whole life, why should this be any different?

He left the shack and returned to his chores. Three hours later when the woodcutter returned, he was impressed by the boy’s efforts.
“You really do have a way with that axe,” he exclaimed with awe, "I’ve seen a lot of boys - and men - swing an axe, but none have your stamina. It must be the beast-half in you! Tell me, was it your mother or your father, that ran on all fours and howled at the moon?"
Zudak gave a hollow laugh at the tired joke.
“Neither, sir,” he said flatly, for the thousandth time, “I was born in Morgovia, my mother died during delivery. I was raised an orphan.”
“Aww, that’s a crying shame, not having a family like that. When my missus and I took you in, boy, we took pity on you, funny looking half-breed. Wanted to see what kind of man you’d become.” Zudak had heard this tale a hundred times before. "And I gotta admit, I’m impressed. Stick with me, son, you keep working like that, I’ll see to it you carry my name. Would you like that?"
Zudak gazed silently into the distance. He knew he had a family, somewhere. Not this woodcutter, as generous - if simple minded - as he was. One day someone would arrive and claim him, surely.
“Absolutely, sir,” he lied.

It was a month after the hundredth time that Zudak and the woodcutter had had the same conversation, that the unusual young man was working well after dark, cleaning out the stables behind the tavern.
“After dark, now,” the Ostler had said, “don’t spook the horses. They see you…” He shrugged with half-hearted apology, and Zudak nodded sympathetically. ‘I know,’ he thought, 'I’m a freak, etcetera. I know.'
In truth, he didn’t mind the horses and the horses didn’t mind him, so he found himself spending more hours at the stables. He was finishing shoveling the second stall out, when a commotion from the tavern caught his attention. Shouting, and screaming, someone’s voice, and wood splintering. Zudak crept closer to listen in.
"… looks like me, your Prince!" a savage voice snarled. “Do not pretend not to know my face. I OWN you!”
“No, my Lord,” someone whimpered, “never, sir, we’ve never seen anyone looks like --” the voice was cut short by a strangling moan, followed by a crash.
"…Zudak, the boy, that half-breed, he looks sort of like --"
“Show me this boy!” the voice demanded.
There was more protesting, and another crash. Hidden behind the tavern wall, he saw a tall, gaunt man in a black cloak standing in the doorway.
“I am the Vampire Lord of Morgovia, you will not deny me!” he roared, "I shall find my son! Present him to me in two hours or this village burns."
The cloaked figure turned to leave, and for a fraction of a second Zudak saw his face in the moonlight - arched eyebrows, tufted, slightly pointed ears, high cheekbones and fangs… if he hadn’t known better, he’d have imagined he was looking at himself in twenty years time! Zudak shrank back against the wall and hoped he would not be seen. The cloaked man passed within a dozen yards of him but kept on walking, long, angry strides.
“I am… that was… all this time they called me half-breed…” the terrified boy thought to himself, his mind reeling. "I am the son of a… No, that’s not possible, they’re dead! How can they possibly be able to… But he said that… ‘my son’…"
Without knowing exactly what he was doing, Zudak stood up and walked into the tavern. Three tables were broken and the Innkeeper was consoling an older woman while three others dealt with the bodies. At the sight of him the older woman burst into tears, clawing frantically at the Innkeeper’s apron.
“You’ve no business here, half-breed,” he said curtly.
“I’m - if I am that vampire’s son, I promise you I’ll end it. I don’t know how, but that’s a legacy nobody wants. I’ll end it.”
"Just go, boy. Just go."
Zudak turned and left the tavern, his legs shaking like jelly.

Chapter 2

“I didn’t know where else to go - if I stayed they all be - the villagers - they’d all be killed till he… and I didn’t want to get…” Zudak faltered, lost for words. He was sitting on a small folding chair in a Stronghold military camp near the Shriker Islands ferry service. Someone had placed a mug of something in his hand, and he was taking sips without tasting it.
“You did the right thing, coming to us. We have military companies and envoys scattered all over the peninsula, we can call up an assault force in a few days.”
“Assault - no I’m, I’m not sure that would work? If you go in like that, assault, he’d just, you know, sneak out the back and go kill every village for twenty miles. No, you need someone, you know, stealthy. Just one, two. A sneak attack?”
“Sneak attacks sound good, son, but they rarely work. One false move and you’ve lost your sneak. Then you’re an easy target. Trust us, frontal assault, draw him out, finish it.”
“You’ve been on too many raids, Duncan.” A man in grey leathers with a sturdy helmet took another chair, turned it around backwards and sat down, straddling the back. An older man with him remained standing, watching Zudak intently. “Vampires aren’t like storming a neighboring castle,” the man in the chair said. “They live for stealth and subterfuge.”
“What would you suggest then, Greyman? Frontal assault, guaranteed exposure and success, or a risky sneak attack?”
“Both. You lead the frontal assault, and while he’s distracted, the boy here and I will infiltrate and catch him in a trap. Then we’ll bring him out to you.”
“That sounds - me, sir? I’m just a woodcutter’s apprentice, I can’t do --”
“You’re his son, right?”
“Apparently?”
“He’s a vampire, yes?”
“Um, yes? Prince of Morgovia, he claims.”
“Tell me this,” the older man said. His voice was hushed and gravelly. “If a vampire is undead, a living corpse, how can it sire a child? It is, you know, dead.”
“I’m, I dont know, I thought it was like any other…”
“Not like any other, son. A vampire is dead. But one like your Prince, when he drinks fresh blood, for a while the warm blood revitalizes him. Brings colour back to his cheeks, life back to his --” He paused and Zudak looked away, embarrassed. “Now, if a vampire in that state sires a child with a human woman, that child is a rare hybrid. It’s not a vampire, now, it’s a dhampir. It has his powers.”
“It’s a what? I’m a what?”
“Dhampir. A vampire crossbreed child.”
“Oh come on–!” Zudak wanted to insist, but a look from Greyman silenced him.
"Zu - Zudak, is it?"Greyman asked, “this is Wilton Ashford. He knows about your father, and the legends.”
"Legends, yeah ok. Legends I understand. But, dhampir? I mean -"
he paused, scrambling for words. "Vampires, ev - everyone knows about vampires. Drink blood, live forever, can’t come out in such light. Burned by sacred artifacts. If I’m a dhampir, whatever, I got his powers?! Then, how, how come, how come I can walk around in daylight? Alright? And I don’t need bl - blood, I eat regular food! How’s that?! And, and, and I don’t turn into a bat, alright? Yeah? I’m normal, right? Right?!!"
He quickly walked away from the soldier and the older man, and rested his head against a tree.
“Zudak, you have sharp teeth. And tufted ears. And faster reflexes. Am I right?” Ashford asked softly.
“Well, yeah, I look like a freak, I’m a half breed, everyone calls me that… I’m half beast, right? Like Hou, and the other one, gambling addiction? Them?”
“Digitigrade legs.”
“Do what now?” Zudak demanded.
“The beast folk. Look at their legs. Like the rear legs of a cat, they have an extra joint. If you were of their species, even partially, you would have similar bone structure. It --”
“Fine, so I don’t have feet like the others,” Zudak said, cutting him off. “So I’m human.”
“My point, I’m sorry for getting off topic,” Ashford said, "is that you exhibit the powers of a vampire, but not the weaknesses. You have their strength, yes? But you do not shun sunlight. Speed, stamina. You do not fear sacred artifacts. My boy, you are a dhampir, and a very useful asset in the Stronghold’s fight against this undead Prince."
Zaduk sat in silence, his head reeling.
“So if the Prince is my father, then who is my… am I some royalty or something?”
“The Prince, only he calls himself that, has no Royal bloodline we are aware of. He claimed the title by force, and arrogance. You - we do not know who your mother is, I’m sorry to say, you - are a dhampir by virtue of the vampire Lord’s desire to have an heir, to continue his legacy.”
“If he’s immortal, why does he need an heir? Not like he’s going to die of old age, right?”
“Not by age, but by violence. We can assume he suspects that he will eventually fall, and his ego must be fed. So, we have you.”
“And with your help,” Greyman said, "we will end his reign of terror. He was probably looking for you, so he could reclaim you before we found you. If he knows you’re a dhampir, and he must, he’d want to keep you under his control. ‘Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer’.
“Well,if I’m such a risk…why march in there like that? You’d want me kept far away, right? Secret weapon?”
“I would agree, but his influence is spreading. We must deal with him now. So, you will accompany me to the Stronghold, and in two weeks we will send troops to attack the castle while you and I deal with this Prince directly.”
“Oooh boy.”

Chapter 3

Zudak and Greyman stood under a weathered pine tree, watching the ground troops approach the vampire’s castle. It was a suicide mission, they must have known it - a directly assault on the castle of a creature with more power than any other in the Province. And to make matters worse, their assault was merely a diversion, while Zudak and Greyman infiltrated the castle to kill the vampire while he was occupied.
Which side was the suicide mission, again?

A reconnaissance mission three days earlier had confirmed a small doorway by the crypt, which led to his lair. The two crept slowly to the door and waited for the battle to begin in earnest. When Greyman felt the time was right, he’d lead Zaduk in to finish off the Prince.
It didn’t take long for the fighting to start - arrows, and catapults, and shouting, a familiar sound to the seasoned veteran. Zaduk stared at him wide eyed, until Greyman nodded once and stood up.
They crept to the door and pushed - the opened lock had not been detected.
The sounds of fighting diminished as the pair ventured deeper into the vampire’s lair. The smell of soft earth and loam gave way to the smell of stagnation and rot as they closed in on the crypt. One last doorway stood between them and their quarry.
“Are you… sure I’m ready for this?” Zudak whispered fearfully, “I mean I’m not… I think I…”
“Son, I’ve seen average men become heroes in the moment of need. Don’t think, just do. You are the dhampir. All of his powers, none of his weaknesses. You know what we’re here for. Stay calm, it’s gonna be alright.” Zudak nodded as Greyman set his weight against the crypt door and pushed.
"That’s far enough, don’t you think?"
The low, menacing voice chilled Zudak to the core, and he looked back to see the Vampire Prince, very much alive, standing over them.
"You think it’s this easy? Two honeymooners out for a stroll, have some tea, kill a Vampire Lord, then a nice moonlit walk? Really?"
He leered over Greyman, who stared back at him unflinching.
“Everyone life comes to an end, monster.”
“Ohh, a flair for the dramatic,” the vampire said mockingly, “I must remember to --” He was distracted by three soldiers who had entered the crypt after the vampire, cornering him at the crypt door. The vampire turned and flexed his hand, and one of the soldiers flew backwards, hit the wall with a dull crack and collapsed like a rag doll. Another drew his sword and charged, until with a flick of the wrist his sword revered itself in his hand and slowly sliced through his own throat. The man fell back, vomiting blood.
“Light and Fury!” the last man yelled, holding a golden yellow chalice in one hand. Light from the chalice flared and the vampire staggered back briefly, one hand shielding his eyes.
“Now! Zudak, now! Do it!” Greyman yelled.
Zudak held up the vial he’d been clutching in one hand. Sacred oil, blessed by Priests of Holy Light. Break the vial, shower him with oil, light it, the vampire burns to death consumed by sacred fire.
He felt the vial in his hand - he’d run his finger tip along the wax lip for hours, preparing for this moment. Lift, crack, throw. Ignite.
He briefly studied the vampire’s face, the curve of his cheekbones. Is that how he’d look in twenty years? Sixty? Lean, gaunt fingers clung to the fabric of its cloak, shielding its eyes. Now! Lift, crack, throw.
The light from the chalice began to fade and the vampire lowered his arm. He kept his sight away from the chalice, but turned his attention to Zudak and Greyman.
His gaze fell on the half-breed boy, who looked up involuntarily and found himself floating in the endless midnight pool of the vampire’s gaze. Zudak realized what it meant to be absolutely helpless.
“Boy, give it to me, let me do it!” the soldier hissed. Zudak lifted his hand out of his pocket, only half aware of his movements, unable to look away.
He felt Greyman’s hand reach for his own, felt his fingers being opened, felt the vial roll from his palm. In a distant universe he heard the glass vial hit the floor and shatter.
"Dam it boy! Strike! Strike him!"
The other soldier holding the chalice was lifted slowly into the air, and he gagged as his tongue slowly protruded from his mouth. He chocked and clawed at his throat, his face turning red, as his tongue continued to swell and emerge from his mouth, six, eight inches. Blood leaked around the corners of his mouth as his throat tore away and floated out of his mouth in fleshy chunks. The body convulsed, still swimming in the lifeless air, as pale grey tissue from his lungs ruptured and issued from the gaping mouth.
Finally, mercifully, the vampire glanced at the man and closed his fist. The dead soldier fell to the ground in a wet heap.

Greyman lunged for the vial, slipped on the wet floor and fell heavily to his knees. He tried to stand but the vampire flexed his hand and Lord Grey’s envoy was frozen in place, gasping for breath.
“Lord Grey’s man,” the vampire lord sneered, “his obedient pet dog, doing his dirty work so the noble Lord Grey gets all the glory. Pet dog, indeed.” He snapped his fingers and a large wolf stepped into the chamber. It sniffed at the eviscerated corpse, then looked up at the vampire.
“Pet dog, indeed.” The vampire gave the briefest nod, and the wolf closed its jaws around Greyman’s neck. There was a slight crushing sound and the veteran soldier gasped, his eyes bulging.
“That’ll do, lady,” the vampire said calmly. The wolf released her grasp and stepped back, and Greyman cried out in pain. “Lord Grey’s obedient pet dog,” the vampire said conversationally. Before him, Greyman’s face contorted in agony and his hands flexed convulsively. His nails darkened and grew longer, his nose stretched out. Fangs erupted from his jaws. His spine buckled as his body twisted into a more lupine form, and his feet tore his boots apart as they flexed and reformed the bones into wolf-like paws.
Greyman’s eyes turned yellow and he turned to Zudak with a look the boy would never forget - part pleading, part horror, part fury.
“Oh, she’s crushed your throat, you can never speak again. But don’t worry, you won’t need to. You can bark and howl like any dog. Go back and serve your master like a good boy, but I have rebranded you. Greyman, I think people should call you Greymane. Do you think he likes that?” he asked Zudak casually.
Released from the vampire’s clutch, the half-wolf howled in fury and chased out into the night.
“Now, boy. Your turn. Dhampir, they call you. You are my son. You could have ruled the kingdom with me - but oh, no, you had to go and cry to the Stronghold.” The vampire’s voice immediately turned from casual to sinister.
“Listen to me, boy. You shall suffer a worse fate than the puppy. I made you, and I can unmake you --” his eyes flared as a bolt of dark energy flew from his palm and struck Zudak, knocking him down. For seconds, the only sound was gasping as the bolt tore away his energy. Zudak collapsed, panting.
“I have stripped you of your powers, boy. You are a FAILED dhampir! I shall let you keep your form, as a reminder of what could have been. But you shall always be weak, a forgotten footnote in a lost chapter of history. Go back to your Stronghold. Cry to your master. And as you see other heroes rise to greatness and surpass you in every possible way, remember what could have been. Every time you swing your little axe, you are chopping wood for the funeral pyre of your failed future. You are NOTHING, boy. And as punishment for your arrogance, I shall let you live knowing that.”


Epilogue

Zudak watched as Sonya and Kelile sparred with their troops, clashing swords and shields. Sonya swung her greatsword with stunning accuracy, knocking men down in one blow. Next to her, Kelile became a flurry of red, flashing blades and spinning attacks. She easily overpowered her men, who got back to their feet with congratulatory bows.
Zudak looked down at the small axe at his hip. He was good - he knew he was good, he could beat Brand or that pretentious boy Derrick - but he would never be as good as many of the other heroes of the Stronghold who passed through the gates, heading for battles out on the peninsula.

A familiar shape prowled the walkways near the forge. Zudak looked down to see Greymane, the mutated half-wolf, readying his troops for battle. Ever the noble soldier, the twisted creature had refused to let his encounter with the vampire Prince ruin his resolve, or his skill in battle. He used his lupine form to deliver more ferocious attacks, chase faster into battle. And his voice was slowly returning - he could grunt a harsh whisper, which resembled simple words. But he never forgave Zudak for freezing in the one moment he needed him the most.

5 Likes
Why such poor art design of new heroes?
E&P Fanfiction Library - an index of short stories, poetry and fiction
#2

Niiiiiiice! I love how you always include other heroes in your stories…poor Greymane! Yay! A Zudak story! :smile:

1 Like
#3

Very well done! I sense a sequel, what happens when the Bard Xoriana conquers the stronghold in Mordovia, and gives the vampire Lord’ s ashes to Zudack?

1 Like
#4

Heh - I only write myself into stories very rarely, such as the first one where I was Melendor’s assistant working the leystones. (And I only used him because I wanted an older mage for the job and I didn’t know the game very well yet.)
What I did find myself imagining, though, was the life of the Orc girl Bal’tazhk met in the Nest - and indeed the Harry -Potter-esque adventures of Orc kids exploring the nooks and crannies of the Nest itself.

3 Likes
#5

Now I know, choose heroes carefully with good strategy.