The Curse Renewed
varrocka was rebuilt, and before three summers had passed it was again a bustling town. Merchants - no longer afraid of goblin raids - brought three times as many goods to the markets, and bards came from across the human lands to see the man who had brought peace with the goblins.
Arrav, for his part, was restless. Each night he would look to the sky for portents; signs that his doom was upon him. He knew that should he see those signs, he must flee from his home to save it. Each night he would watch the skies and the stars, noting movements in the darkness, comets, the flight of birds.
Then, just as he was forgetting his fate with time, two years since the peace was struck with the goblins, Arrav dreamt again of the dark and sinister figure.
In the middle of a field of dream-black wheat, beside a river of ghostly water Zemouregal came to him. Once more the mahjarrat was clad in black, black greaves upon his legs and black gauntlets covering his hands.
'You have failed, Arrav,' Zemouregal spoke with a voice made of a thousand whispering blades, 'I will come to Avarrocka and destroy it. There will be no tears for this town, for I shall lay waste to all mankind - you upstarts will see the elder race return to claim its dominion. My legions shall blot out the horizon on all sides, and you shall be the last to see the light. This I promise you.'
Arrav opened his mouth to speak, but only spiders came out. They ran across his face, biting, scuttled down his chest and over his arms. The mute horror consumed him and he woke with a scream.
Those few of the elders that had escaped the destruction of old Avarrocka heard the scream and knew that Arrav would leave them. In the morning all rose to seek him out, but his hut was empty. He took nothing with him save his armour and his weapons. His home was as if Arrav had merely gone out to hunt.
The elders were afraid now, and talked among themselves about the danger of Arrav's destiny, of the need to find help from old allies. They sent out their scouts to seek the counsel of the dwarves and the men of far-flung towns.
The Shield Given
or Arrav, though, the path was clear. He ran for six days, resting only for moments to drink water and eat hard bread, turning his course to the Imcando. There, he knew, was the only hope he and Avarrocka could dream for. At the end of the sixth day he stood before the Imcando chief, close to collapse and asking for their help.
'Wise friend, I have again dreamt of Zemouregal, and now he promises to destroy not only my home, but all my people wherever they may be.'
The chief raised his hand to silence Arrav. 'Arrav, we know of your fate, and we know that the Enemy is rising. Our sages have felt the emanation of darkness from the north. In the flames of the sacred forge they have seen the futures, and only a single path is open to us. Once the Enemy is done with man, he will turn his gaze on the dwarves and we shall be swept aside and completely annihilated. The shield shall be yours, for you are the only one who can stop his evil.'
With that, Arrav straightened himself and rose to his full height. The dwarves saw his nobility and brought forth the shield. Though it looked to Arrav like any other, the Imcando could see the mingled metals and the enchantment it held. Arrav held it before him and hoped to see what the dwarves could see.
The Imcando chief stepped forward, barely up to Arrav's waist, and explained, 'The spells of this shield shall protect you from any magicks the Mahjarrat can summon. This is why Zemouregal wants it: if he could possess it he could defeat any of his tribe. The Mahjarrat are a solitary and jealous race and always desire to topple each other, to enslave one another. Take this shield with you and Zemouregal shall have no power over you.'
Arrav hefted the shield onto his arm, bowed and left.
Arrav's Fate Fulfilled
nowing the fate of his home was in the air, Arrav sped as quickly as he could to return. The people of Avarrocka had not been quiet in this time, and when he arrived at the gates he saw a hundred soldiers from across the human lands. Within the walls two dozen dwarves clad in thick armour waited, hefting axes and hammers. All about him work was underway to fortify the town.
Arrav went straight to the Hall of the Elders and came to them with the shield before him.
'I am returned with the shield of the Imcando, which shall be the undoing of Zemouregal,' he said, 'his spells shall be destroyed by it, and I shall bring the wrath of my sword to his throat! Man need not fear, for where I tread shall be a waste to our foe and a paradise to our people.'
The elders clustered a moment, talking in whispers they did not wish Arrav to hear. In time the eldest raised his head to speak:
'Arrav of Avarrocka, we see that you have faith in our gods and in the strength of your arm, but what descends upon us is greater than any army any of our histories tells us of. Just this morning our scouts returned to speak of the horde in the north. Numberless, the dead have risen and march this way. They scar the soil and burn the forests, and by the morning their plague will be upon the walls of Avarrocka. We trust in you, but you must make haste to prepare for war.'
Arrav was tired from his journeys, but he knew that his elders spoke the truth. Taking only the briefest of rests, he took all the men and women of Avarrocka and armed them in what ways he could. Pitchforks, sticks and spades became the swords and spears of his defence. The soldiers that had come from afar knew their duties, and archers were lined upon the walls. The dwarves dug ditches beyond the walls and erected hasty obstacles to slow the undead army.
All night the town prepared, but as the sun rose all hearts fell.
From horizon to horizon stretched a shadow, moving and writhing like a living beast. Arrav could see at the head the tall, dark shape of Zemouregal. His eyes were pits of smouldering coal, and black smoke and snakes of blood twisted in the air about him.
Not a hundred yards from the walls, the shuffling skeletons and zombies stopped in their advance. Zemouregal stepped forward and raised his eyes to where Arrav stood and laughed. In the skies above nightmares of flame and dust took shape, spinning about in the air before swooping down upon the defenders. A hundred arrows shot into the air only the pass through the phantoms charred and broken.
As they struck, a dozen men fell dead. They tumbled from their posts with ashen faces and gashes across their flesh. Where they struck at Arrav, though, they screamed and faded, settling into the air like ash on a breeze. Arrav roared his defiance across the field and leapt down to face the mahjarrat's army.
As one, the undead lurched forwards, arrows falling upon them like rain. Nothing could slow its advance, though, and as the defenders watched, their comrades rose from the ground to strike at those who were once their friends. Each man who fell rose again, swinging twisted blades and shattered limbs. Arrav stood among the walking dead as a warrior of the gods. Nothing could come close to him without being cut down. Those that he struck with his blade did not rise again, and soon the bodies were piled high around him.
He leapt forward into the midst of Zemouregal's army, hacking a path to the sorcerer. Behind him, Avarrocka put up a bold defence, but the edges of the town were already alight, and mobs of the dead were roaming the streets unhindered. Only at blockades and fortified houses were the humans and dwarves slowing the advance.
Arrav finally broke from the army and looked upon Zemouregal. The mahjarrat was not as tall as Arrav, but in his hand held a sword made of shadow and smoke.
'Your doom is upon you, foolish weakling,' Zemouregal said then, 'your shield may save you from my magicks, but your home will drown in blood. Even now, your people are being slaughtered and shall rise again as my slaves. And now, standing before me like a belligerent child, you shall feel the might of my arm.'
With that, Zemouregal leapt forwards with a speed that Arrav had never before seen. Though Zemouregal's body was thin, each time he parried a blow Arrav felt a superhuman strength behind it. It was all he could do to defend himself, and Arrav had not the time to think of launching his own attacks. Behind them, in the distance, Avarrocka was falling.
Realising the fate of his people was not entwined in his own fate, Arrav paused. The sorcerer's sword slipped behind his guard and cut deep into Arrav's thigh. Zemouregal laughed all the louder then, and threw his hood back. A skull with burning sockets looked out upon the wasted fields and where his gaze fell there was nothing but death and evil magicks. Arrav looked down upon his shield - unblemished from any blow - and saw the truth of his path.
Running back towards the town, he took the edge of the shield into his hand and threw it as a man might throw a stone to skim upon the water. It flew through the air and landed in the midst of the burning buildings. For a moment, nothing seemed to happen. Then, with a sigh, all the dead within the walls crumbled to dust. Fires dulled and the nightmares of the air screamed their last. A few men looked out from behind barricades and the dwarves rose from a crater of bodies to see what had happened. A young man, not more than sixteen, was stood in the street holding the shield.
Arrav recognised the man immediately: it was the grandson of the elder who had spoken to him the night before, a man of honour and compassion. Before he could think further, a blast of sorcerous energy struck Arrav in the back.
Zemouregal stood over him as he crawled through the dust and mud, crippled with pain.
'Fool!' The mahjarrat said in a hiss. 'You have surrendered yourself to save your home, but nothing can protect it from me. In time I shall return. The decades pass like moments for those of my tribe, and nothing can defy our will for all time. But when I return, you shall lead my armies. You shall be my greatest champion; you shall suffer with the knowledge that though you hoped to save your people, you shall instead be their doom.'
Tendrils of oily smoke crept from Zemouregal's hands and twisted over the broken ground to Arrav, clutching him tight in their grip. For a few moments he struggled against their power, but finally he was still. Pale and quiet, Arrav, the greatest hero of men, was dead.
We remember Arrav for his sacrifice. We remember that his fate was not of his choosing, and we remember him as an example to all of us; for though he was stronger and faster than any other mortal, his strength of spirit and his compassion can be that of any man. We remember Arrav, too, because we must always be prepared for his return, sad though it shall be.