It began in the east, on the edges of civilization. Whispers and rumours in the wildlands of Acera. Where the small isolated villages etched out a livingat the edges of Asceran civilization extracting ore to be shipped west to the great Aceran cities. Families whisper of red eyes watching them in their homes at night. Within days they spoke of screams in the dark but when the dawn came they found only the empty homes of those they called neighbours.
It started out small with families in their homesteads up in the hills going missing. In a matter of weeks whole villages were silenced.
The border city of Embers End was the first time Acera witnessed the horror of the darkness. Refugees came stumbling out of the woods into the fields outside Embers Ends walls. The Embers End soldiers marched out in formation, the frontline calling upon their tribes' gift to magically weave the steel they carried into shields with the second line weaving their steel into halberds. The refugees begged for sanctuary claiming that the very night itself is swallowing their people whole. The soldiers resolute like the steel they weaved grimly marched passed the hundreds of refugees and set up a phalanx facing the forest to give their bewildered people time to enter the city.
But alas the darkness was among them already. As the refugees poured into the city the townsfolk offered aid and that's when they saw the red eyes among them but it was too late. They were inside. The screaming started slowly but soon built into a sympthony of terror and despite their grim resolve the soldiers all started to turn away from the forest as the screams multiplied the horror dawning on them that these were not the screams of the refugees but thier own loved ones. As smoke started to rise from Embers End they realised too late that the threat was among them. The steel will of the Aceran battleline broke with many rushing to the gates to protect their homes. And that's when they came from the forests. Aceran families in the hundreds twisted into feral forms, eyes glowing red and black blood dripping from their mouths, twisted and hunched over covered in filth, all their fur jet black. They let loose a spine chilling scream and fell upon the disorganised lines on Aceran soldiers. Without their resolute shieldwall to hold the lines the Aceran soldiers were no match for the horde. The swarm of feral Acerans tore, ripped and bit with tooth and claw and those that were not torn to pieces were turned as the black blood infected their wounds. The feral swarm poured into the city of Embers End fell to the infection of this horde.
The population of Embers End numbered in the tens of thousands and the horde's infection took the whole city, with very few escaping. One of the few that did was Lucar and his mother Kiara. Lucar was only a young bear who had only reached manhood one year earlier, He had a muddy brown coat with a streak of black fur running from his nose to the centre of his head as well as across both his arms. His dream was to join the city guard like his father and he practiced everyday with the intention of one day keeping his city safe. He had imagined protecting his city his whole life but nothing could prepare him for the horror of when Embers End fell, when the darkness spread through the city and infected his own people, people he had grown up with lost to an animal rage.
Nothing could prepare him for the fear he felt realising his father was outside the city facing the full fury of the horde and much to his shame he felt the terror freeze him in place unable to act unable to move if it was not for his mother grabbing a hold of him and dragging him away from the fighting towards the west gate with other families wither their own children.
He prayed that they did not see the tears in his eyes as he looked away from his city and his life both in flames. They continued to flee west with this horde of darkness following them. The Asceran lands were vast and unforgiving forcing the refugees to push themselves to their limits to survive but these were the moments that the Asceran people proved their commitment to their Zen Focus. Their grim resolve saw them battle the elements as they took their warnings to the villages and towns of Acera. Some believed the tidings and fled with them while others stayed behind showing their own grim resolve to never abandon their homes and face the threat. The refugees numbered in the thousands as their numbers swelled with each town and city. As the exodus west grew some were called upon to lead, Lucars mother Kiara heeded the call. Kiara was a petite bear with black fur with the same streaks as Lucar except hers were white but beneath the small frame was a resolve harder than any steel. She had always told Lucar that her family came from a long line of weavers who were connected to "the deep metals of the earth".
Lucar and his father had never shown much interest in weaving and his father would always smile and humour Kiara when she would scold Lucar about his lack of interest in weaving, he used to always say "the boy's hands will wield the blade, not weave it".
Lucar always believed this to be true until he saw his mother unveil the true extent of her weaving. Kiara would weave traps behind the refugees as they fled to slow the horde. Spiked pits and hidden blades in the bushes were shrewdley placed and once Lucar witnessed her call steel forth from the earth itself to form a wall between a mountain pass. What fleeting moments Lucar had free he spent with his mother learning to weave trying to honour her and all other times he spent guarding the refugees from the animals in the wilderness and bandits that lived in forests, this way he felt that he was honouring his father but also trying to atone for what he felt was his failings in Embers End. The fear he felt upon facing the horde had overwhelmed him but next time he would be ready. What head start the refugees believed they had on the horde quickly closed as they began to hear screams in the night and animalistic howls of rage, the refugees soon realised that although they were close to Anvils Hearth the Horde would overrun them first. Upon learning this did Kiara decide what had to be done. She ordered the refugees forward to Anvil's Hearth and to not stop until they see the city walls and that she would stall the horde for as long as she could. Lucar, overwhelmed with grief, begged her to find another way to leave more traps but Kiara said there was no other way. Lucar, terrified of losing her, drew his hammer and prepared to fight with her his hands shaking in fear at the thought of facing them. He saw tears in his mother's eyes as she told him that his survival was the only thing that gave her strength.
Unclipping her bracelet she attached it round Lucars wrist. It was warm against his skin despite the freezing cold and it felt like there was a pulse in the metal. Runes of power had been etched into it. "You are from a line of weavers connected to the deep metals of the earth, your ancestors became one with these metals when they passed as I will be soon. Draw your strength from us and protect those who cannot protect themselves." Kiara hugged Lucar one final time before walking into the darkness.
Eventually the refugees reached the capital of Acera Anvils Hearth. This mighty fortress was ringed by metal walls interspaced with towers equipped with cannons. The mighty gate of Anvils Hearth was woven into the form of a bear's head roaring, this gate was made from a steel imbued with fire, a gift from the neighbouring Tribe of Vuur. Soldiers patrolled the walls which were wide enough to have ten grown bears in a line before reaching the edge.
Anvil's Hearth housed the ruling members of Acera as well as their faith; the Order of the Steel Forge. The greatest metal weavers of the tribe were here and could finally put a stop to the horde or so the refugees hoped. Upon arriving they were greeted by the Iron Guard, the proud protectors of Anvils Hearth. Each mighty warrior had to undergo the Trial of Iron which required them to venture to the highest peaks of Acera alone and unarmed to find the rarest Aceran metals and then at a simple forge; weave their armour and weapons. They explained the threat and the Iron guard dispatched scouts to locate this horde and eliminate it. The guard did not have to wait long as the scouts returned within a day and confirmed the refugees' worst nightmares, the horde was only a day away and their numbers were countless. Lucar, desperate for some news of his mother, was saddened to learn that the horde was already on the move by the time the scouts located it and no survivor had been found in the area. Uthridge Bearhold leader of the Iron Guard and castellan of Anvils Hearth, rallied every Iron guard in the city and brought them to the eastern walls. Rows of them lined the walls.
Uthridge was a large bear even by Aceran standards with thick black fur with tips of grey starting to show. He was a proud believer in the traditions of the Iron Guard and was never seen without his black armour and its distinctive patterns of silver that he spent countless days during his trial weaving throughout his armour almost dying to starvation and the elements but Uthridge was too stubborn and resolute to let death stop him from completing his trial forging a set of armour that was the envy of the Aceran army.
Metal weavers were manning towers ready to support the guard and fire the cannons.
The soldiers of the Aceran army waited to support any part of the walls. These regular soldiers also waited in front of the gate with shieldwall upon the shield wall waiting to hold the gate if it was breached. Lucar and several hundred of the refugee's turned up at the city's armories demanding a chance to stand against the horde that had taken everything from them. Uthridge himself met them at the doors. Lucar, desperate to avenge his family and conquer his fear, begged Uthridge for a chance. Uthridge smiled and said "I commend your resolve and know you all make your ancestors proud with the iron will you have shown today, but this is no village brawl or battlefield skirmish. This is a siege for our very lives and every Asceran soldiers has trained for this day. They know every inch of these walls, they know every battle signal I will employ against our enemies. You and your fellows have fought elements and enemy to warn us, you have saved the city and given us this chance with your warning. Be with your loved ones and let us protect you the way you have protected us." Uthridge saw the acceptance in the eyes of many of the refugees but not the young cub that led them. There was a fire in his eyes and resolve that Uthridge recognised. "Go on now cub, be with your loved ones" Uthridge gestured at the barracks that the refugees had been given.
"I have no one to be with, I lost them to the horde. All I can do is protect them the way my mother and father did" Lucar pleaded. "I promise cub before this battle is over I will call on you but now is not the time" Uthridge said, placing a hand on Lucars shoulder. Lucar nodded and Uthridge realised that this was a promise that would be kept whether he intended to let the cub fight or not. It was the longest night in the city of Anvil's Hearth history. The city's defenders took shifts and throughout the night they all bore witness to the feral screams and savage roars of the horde chipping away at their morale. At dawn the horde slowly approached the city, no longer using the cover of darkness to mask their movements they wanted Anvil's Hearth to know the full extent of their doom. The Defenders saw what must have been every Aceran in the eastern lands, the black fur of the infected could only have been described as a sea of darkness as far as the eye could see. Uthridge watched from the gatehouse in horror as his people were twisted and bent to a ferocious will that dominated the inner peace their tribe had fought to gain all these generations. He knew that for the sake of his tribe there could be no mercy, only grim resolution. With that he signalled the first volley of cannon fire and with a savage roar the horde swarmed forward. Cannons fired and shards of metal were projected at the horde by the defenders. Uthridge looked for any signs of siege equipment but could see nothing. All he could wonder was how the horde intended to breach the city. Upon reaching the walls the horde screamed, crawling over each other to climb the wall and to the horror of the defenders the sheer numbers began to pile up as the feral Acerans climbed over each other to create a pile that would reach the top of the walls. Savage bears engorged by the black blood in their veins began pounding on the gate of сталь, and to Uthridges horror the darkness infused in their body was causing damage to the gate.
Uthridge signalled to an Aceran weaver close to the gate who nodded in understanding. The Aceran weaver closed his eyes and touched his fingertips to the gate and the metal started to glow a bright red. On the other side the roaring bear head fashioned into the gate unleashed a blast of pure fire incinerating the monsters attacking the gate.
Ulthridge signalled to the central gatehouse who poured large metal pots of molten metal onto the horde below, clearing space around the gatehouse. At this point the Horde had climbed its way to the top of the walls and found the Iron guard waiting for them. The guard cut them down with brutal efficiency but sheer weight of numbers led to the horde pouring onto the walls tearing the first line of defenders apart. The black blood pouring from their bodies melting the guards armour and giving the horde supernatural strength. The Iron Guard engaged the horde all along the walls and began a desperate melee with the horde fighting them back over the walls back onto the horde below. Uthridge himself led a particularly dangerous counter charge to take back a whole section of wall lost to the horde. Swinging his mighty warhammer Nepo made from Asceran cloud steel, light as a feather to the holder but heavy as a mountain to the enemy hit by it. After many melee with the horde Uthridge realised that not a single member of the Iron guard had turned despite the black blood mixing with their wounds. Uthridge had spoken to the refugees endlessly and they all recounted the same fact, that the black blood turned anyone it infected. As the siege continued Uthridge used suppressing fire from the cannons on and behind the wall to keep the horde pinned in key places and prevent them from bringing their full numbers to bear against the city walls. As night fell the horde pulled back to triumphant cheers by the defenders. But Ulthridge knew the truth; they had only tested the defences and in doing so caused many casualties to the defenders and their own artillery supplies would run out eventually. The Iron Guard could only last so long and if the regular soldiers were put on the frontline they would be susceptible to the black blood infection.
They couldn't last forever and would never win through martial force alone. Uthridge knew Ascera needed to call a meeting of the tribes.