Fancy Bastard Scales of War
The Broken General
ONCE, HE REIGNED SUPREME.
General Zithiruun was a great hero — one of the most respected military leaders of a militant race. From the great city of Tu’narath, he led armies of the githyanki on raids across the Astral Sea, and into a dozen different regions and kingdoms of the mortal realm. From the deck of the astral galleon Siun’kara or the back of Rathoraiax, his great red dragon steed, Zithiruun proved an unstoppable force — a champion among a race of champions. Even Vlaakith CLVII, the fearsome githyanki lich queen, acknowledged his greatness, heaping great praise upon him.
And then the great General Zithiruun took on a foe beyond even his own prowess. That it was a dragon, a dragon far greater than Rathoraiax, everyone knows, but tales of the confrontation differ as to whether it was a black wyrm, one of the fearsome scourge dragons, or something else entirely. But while not everyone knows precisely what it was Zithiruun faced, everyone knows what happened as a result.
A hideous burst of something — acid, perhaps, or pure necrotic energy—ripped the life from the red dragon Rathoraiax, shredding flesh and obliterating entire portions of the beast. And it was this attack that felled Zithiruun as well. It stripped the strength from his limbs, rotted bits of flesh and even weakened bone. Any lesser warrior would have died in that hideous moment, but the general clung to life through sheer force of stubborn, malignant will.
It took years for Zithiruun to retrain and reinvigorate his broken body. Even during the events of the Temple Between, he was but a shadow of what he once was — weaker in body, far less sound in mind. His own people had all but turned their backs on him; though his great achievements prevented them from executing or exiling him utterly, they scorned his weakness and held him in contempt for allowing himself and his mount to be so soundly defeated. Zithiruun served as a lowly operative of Tu’narath’s forces and he led only lesser warriors into battle while answering to and obeying githyanki who would once have feared even to speak in his presence.
Zithiruun’s native powers had mutated through his years of effort as he attempted to reinvigorate his body at the expense of his mental prowess. The ambition all githyanki share had been subsumed by a burning need to prove himself and to regain the position and the respect that were once his by right — even as he nursed a resentful hatred of the very people whose adulation he so desperately craves.
Zithiruun burned with shame and resentment, even as he scrambled to fulfill the orders of his superiors. Where he once commanded legions, he now led only a handful of soldiers. He who charted the course of entire wars now understood only his part in larger strategies. Yet, though he ached to turn on those who would dare command him, he knew that through obedience lay his only hope of regaining the honor and position he craved.
The Broken General was a tactical genius, but his once renowned patience and cunning were impeded by his ever-growing temper. Zithiruun frequently flew into a rage at his subordinates for the slightest failure or perceived disobedience, transforming his resentment for those above into punishment for those below. The strap that replaced one of his jaw muscles prevented him from opening his mouth wide, forcing him to eat soft, almost dainty morsels of food and occasionally to slur his words. Zithiruun’s speech was fully intelligible most of the time, but on those rare occasions when he garbled a word, he blamed others for their failure to comprehend.
Despite this temper, however, Zithiruun remained a consummate planner and a terror in combat, fully capable of leading his small teams to victory in even the most complex strategies. Zithiruun also used his reputation for mad rage to his advantage, often faking a tantrum to make others underestimate his ability to scheme, to listen, and to advance his own agenda.
Zithiruun had been large for a githyanki, but since the destruction and atrophy of much of his musculature, he appeared almost impossibly tall and gaunt. Mixed with and attached to the traditional leathers of his people, he wore a contraption of braces and harnesses, constructed of leather straps and iron joints. These braces, supported at his shoulders and by a strap across his chest, run the length of his left arm and left leg, as well as a portion of his right leg. It is the straps that gave those limbs rigidity; without them, they could scarcely move, and not support his weight. This harness also granted him full mobility; charged with both magic and psychic energy, it permitted him motion and granted him strength he would otherwise have lacked.
His flesh clung tightly to his skeleton and puckered away from old wounds, exposing muscle and even charred bone. His left cheek gaped open, revealing a bit of metal plate that replaced a fragment of skull. A leather strap held the left side of his jaw in place, replacing obliterated muscle.
He appeared weak indeed, and in some ways he truly was. Yet Zithiruun wielded his great silver saber with an astonishing, impossible precision, and his eyes burned with loathing and ambition to shame even the other githyanki.
Zithiruun’s plan was to take Overlook by simultaneously attacking from without and from within. Already he had a force of mercenary soldiers hiding in the wilds, ready to march on the city. He was working to gain full control of the Mountainroot Temple — and the Stone Anvil, its anchor in Overlook — through which he could move a second force from the Astral Sea into the city’s undefended heart.
To that end, Zithiruun had suborned a number of Overlook’s priests and military officers. Most of them, including several priests and Watch Captain Aerun, were kidnapped and subject to a difficult psychic ritual cast by incredibly powerful githyanki. The result was that these poor people’s minds were destroyed, and they had been possessed by several githyanki, who were even capable of manifesting some of their normal powers (albeit in weakened form).
Unfortunately, the possessing githyanki could not access anything more than the victim’s base personality; they had no access to specific memories. So High Priest Durkik Forgeheart of the Stone Anvil had not been possessed. Rather, he was being held captive and tortured for information, while a hired doppelganger took his place in public, holding the Stone Anvil in readiness for Zithiruun’s forces.
All of which would have gone undetected, if not for the alertness and curiosity of an old woman named Haelyn …