Prince Resplendent in the Ruin of Ages

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A dark miasma rolled after the army as it marched in formation down the crumbling stone road to the spectral kingdom of Hanau. The rank and file were common ghosts, bearing the half-remembered swords their descendants had buried alongside their corpses, but their commanders were the Nemissaries. Powerful ghosts skilled in war and Essence use, each Nemissary had mastered the arts of the Nine Terrors Visage and the Ghost-Devil Form; their scaly flesh exploded into boils, their arms segmented at the elbows to reveal two clawed hands a piece, their mouths gaped as wide as the void. While the common ghosts maintained a semblance of their living selves, none would have thought the Nemissaries had ever been human.

Ahead of the Nemissaries marched a full scale of jade effigies. Seven feet tall and carved of solid white jade, each of the ponderous warriors weilded a terrible sword and a blank expression on features worn smooth by the passage of time. Though not the quickest to react, the jade effigies were durable enough to make a solid vanguard for the army of death.

But before them all, fiercest and most terrible, rode the Prince Resplendent in the Ruin of Ages. The deathknight sat his mount, the nightmare steed Dance of Ruin, with funereal dignity; his strong jaw was set and his pale skin did not quiver with anticipation, the dead breeze did not stir his long white hair. Only his armor, archaic in design and ancient in construction, betrayed him. Bits fell off the pauldrons like rats fled a sinking ship, but the Prince Resplendent paid them no mind. There were more pieces where those came from.

No opposition came to meet the Prince Resplendent's army as it marched. No rain of black arrows landed within the ranks, no necromantic spells came hurled from the twisted forests. There was only the road and, at its end, Hanau Castle and the poor, frightened ghosts waiting inside. The Prince Resplendent in the Ruin of Ages gestured and his army formed in ranks to assault the walls.

"Come out, Annuaski," the Prince Resplendent called. "Your summer has lingered past its welcome. Time to let the leaves fall from the trees and see your great grandmother take up her hungry rule again."

Annuaski appeared upon the battlements. The ghostly princess wore a fitted breastplate and a great helm plumed with raven feathers. In her hands she bore a jade lance and a great shield whose face leered. It was a fitting panoply for the underworld kingdom that mirrored Lookshy. "We have no quarrel with your master, deathknight," Annuaski said. "Nor, I think, does he with us. I wonder that I should find his army outside my walls."

The Prince Resplendent almost laughed. Almost. "I am not here on behalf of the Mask of Winters, Annuaski. I am here to repay a debt I owe another."

"Then your master should chastise you for your gambling as much as he should for your betrayal of his trust. Leave now, and I will forgive you and your lord this trespass."

"I cannot. My debt is to see that the dead of this kingdom know hunger, and there is no surer path to that goal than to see Defiance-in-Shadow sit on her winter throne again. That deed done, I am sure she will find it in her shriveled heart to forgive my trespass."

"There is nothing for it but war between us, then?"

The Prince Resplendent shook his head once to the side. The gesture had the finality of a guillotine. "Nothing."

"Come, then," the ghost said and the tip of her lance lit up with the green light of pyre flame. "Match your steel against mine."

The deathknight wrapped one mailed fist around the hilt of his soulsteel sword. He pulled, and the terrible edge cut through the pale shroud that held the blade to his back. The God-Devouring Fang, the Daiklaive of Tyranny, was free to sing its black song once more.

Heaven's Mandate