Warforged Juggernaut Shield Master
Bulwark: Warforged Aegis
The first time you were conscious of movement, of thought, was a terrible wonder and a crushing burden. You had distinguished yourself, you were told, by being the last one standing. Your cohort had all fallen, smashed apart like so many spun-glass ornaments, until only you had remained to hold the line.
Hold it you did, until dawn came, and with it reinforcements.
They took you back to the Capital for debriefing, they tell you. You alone survived, where your company fell. You were a good soldier, a strong shield for your brothers and sisters.
Your were given a name, to single you out from all the rest. Now you are Bulwark, so named in remembrance of your gallant efforts to stem the encroaching tide of vileness that rose against your homeland and threatened to overwhelm it.
So they tell you. If only you had it in you to remember. But, alas, you were but a soldier. A good soldier, by all accounts, but a soldier. Not built to remember, simply to obey.
But now you have a name. Now you are Bulwark. With identity comes obligation, responsibility… and memory.
With your name comes a task. Go, they tell you. Go and find what is sending the vile wretches against the homeland. Go, and stop it. Go, and be the strong shield for your brothers and sisters.
Go, and be a bulwark for your people.
You ride away from the Capital, astride one of the created warmounts, a mechanical quadrupedal designed for sturdiness and durability, rather than maneuverability. It is before dawn, and the sky is a gloomy green-grey. You look back every thousand steps, and a small part of your mind, which you identify as curiosity, marvels at how tiny the settlement appears with each observation.
1000 steps. Pause. Look. 1000 steps. Pause. Look.
After the tenth such repetition the Capital is a tiny smudge on the otherwise featureless plain. After the hundredth, it is a pinprick of light on the horizon.
You have ridden for hours – the sun has risen and set and full darkness has fallen, when you see it. On the horizon you are approaching, a new feature appears. A hazy violet (you had always wondered what violet looked like) smear heralds the presence of a distant mountain range, into which, the elders say, you must venture.
Tirelessly, your mount plods on. A tiny part of your mind, which you identify as amusement, thinks that an endless ride across a featureless plain is a terrible first memory to make.
But it is a memory, nonetheless. You take solace in that.
The days pass, and prove to be the first test of memory. You learn that memory is fallible. You’ve never experienced fallibility before. It perturbs you. But you ride on. The only variation to your routine is to pick up a sliver of stone from the barren ground, and place it in the pouch at your waist. From that day, at dawn a stone is picked up, to keep count of the days. You cannot remember how many days passed before this revelation.
Each days the mountains hove closer. Each day your pouch grows heavier. As the mountains grow nearer, the terrain begins to change. It becomes rougher and hillier.
On the fifteenth day, you experience your first rainstorm.
The sky darkened rapidly. You believed that time had elapsed without your notice, and felt a chilling frisson of fear, until you realised the sun was still high, barely past its zenith. You detected a sudden drop in ambient temperature, a drop in barometric pressure, and then…
You tried to find shelter, but the landscape was too bare. You braced for the worst…
plink plink patterpatterpatter
You turned your face skyward as the liquid precipitate cascaded down. A tiny part of your mind felt embarrassed. Another, larger part felt relief.
You turned to face forward towards the mountains, and your mount plodded on, the rain splattering off your metallic skin.
On the 20th day, the sky darkened again. You remembered the rainstorm, and kept riding. However, the distant rumbling and actinic flashes far overhead gave you a distinct feeling of unease. As you rode, the rumbling grew louder and the flashes brighter. You recalled dozens of battles against the vile horde, the air flashing and shimmering from their twisted incantations, the very earth rumbling with their footsteps. Anxiety made you urge your mount to move faster, towards the perceived safety of the rougher ground.
Suddenly, your world was reduced to a deafening crack, a blinding flash, and sickening pain.
You regained your senses, not knowing how much time had passed. You were prone, and your skin was charred. You sat up, aware that deep inside there was damage that you couldn’t repair. You moved more slowly now as damaged components strained to perform.
Looking around, you noticed the ground around you was blackened and cracked; your warmount, however, was still in tact and, a small part of your mind marvelled, appeared in better repair than you were yourself. The dark clouds had travelled on, taking their violent light and terrible sound with them. The sky was clear, though the sun was dipping towards the horizon. In your estimation, several hours had passed without you being aware.
You decided you were afraid of the violent storms.
You decided you hate the feeling of fear.
You decided to mount up and keep riding.
On the 56th day, you saw something you had never seen before. Tall, still, skeletal. Its bare limbs stretched out high and wide, and rattled in the breeze.
You paused to stare at the thing. It seemed familiar. You recalled pictures the elders showed you before you left, of things with this shape, but covered with flat green cells that provided the structure with power.
Trees, they were called.
“This one appears to be broken,” you comment, startling yourself. You look around, wondering who would be around to hear you.
You sigh, feeling a pang of nostalgic loneliness as you recall being surrounded by your brothers and sisters.
You turn away from the broken tree and keep riding.
Over the next five days, you see more trees. At first, they are all broken, but as your elevation increases, you see some with their power cells intact. The ground changes, becoming soft and pliable, as decaying organic matter covers it in a thick, dark, moist layer.
The trees begin to appear more frequently, and soon there are trees as far as you can see, with minimal space between them. You find it necessary to dismount and have the warmount follow you. Within the dense press of trees you hear many small sounds. A rapid rustling reveals the presence of a small creature in the dense undergrowth. Shrill cries herald the appearance of large avians, which soar by overhead, below the high canopy. Everything is damp and verdant.
The whole experience will take some getting used to.
You have been walking through the forest for 8 days when you hear it.
“…carriage will definitely come this way.”
“Did he say how long?”
You leave the warmount behind and step into a clearing, staring at the two bipeds lying prone behind a fallen tree.
They must be damaged … why else would they be lying down here? You think.
“Greetings. Do you require assistance? I will carry you to a settlement for repair, if you would be so good as to direct me,” you announce, amplifying your voice to ensure they can hear you – their auditory receptors appear tiny and primitive.
Both bipeds scream in fear and clap their hands to their heads. Moments later, the final echoes of your first words to another being fade away.
Badly damaged… you determine, as you bend to pick the first biped up. It writes and protests, and you attempt to adjust your grasp to avoid causing it injury.
A metallic thunk and the feeling of an impact on your back brings immediate awareness of your folly. You drop the first biped and wheel around, staring down at the second, dragging free your Aegis and interposing it before a second blow can land. You swat the biped aside. He sails through the air and then hits the bole of a tree with a sickly, wet crunch. The first biped screams fear – a near identical scream to the first one – and brandishes a rusty, pitted iron sword in both shaking hands.
Threat confirmed your combat programming tells you. You advance on the enemy, who gives ground step for step.
“Please… I’ll give you anything! Half of all our takings… no! ALL our takings for this job. Please…” the biped whimpers.
You observe that a fluid leak has stained its garments.
You swipe your Aegis through the air, but at the last moment a tiny part of your mind – mercy? – slows your swing. The biped crumples, but his respiration remains steady. Still operable, though non-functional you determine.
You hear a distant rumbling, reminiscent of the violent storm of 49 days ago, which sends you seeking hard cover. You find a fissure in a rock face with a slab of stone overhanging it, and ease into the gap. You wait for the weather to break, and are much surprised when a wooden cart, dragged by a pair of harnessed quadrupeds, enters the clearing. It stops abruptly, and another biped descends. An indistinct voice, then the biped says, “A fallen tree, sir. One moment.” It collects a tool and begins to break the tree. It pauses after a moment when it sees the deactivated biped. “Sir? We appear to have a situation…” it calls towards the cart.
You decide to reveal yourself to the biped. Both quadrupeds scream in alarm and rise up, sharp rims of keratin waving at the end of slender legs. The biped leaps backwards with a startled cry and drops the tool, a heavy axe.
“I deactivated this biped and destroyed that one. They were evident threats.” You say, by way of explaining the two prone bipeds. The new biped stumbles backwards.
A new voice. “Ignatius, introduce me to our new… friend.” It says. The tone of voice is rich with authority and you instinctively straighten. You turn, to see a rotund biped with white fibres extruded from its scalp, and garments made of heavy fabric and decorated with tiny pieces of soft, shiny metal.
“Are you in command?” you ask the round biped.
“In a manner of speaking… you should come with us. People will be interested to speak to the… person who has solved our bandit problem.” It replies, waving its hand. You step forward, puzzled.
“Bandits?” you ask.
“Well, highwaymen. But they have been preying on our people for several months now. Come, come. Climb up on the back. We shall talk more when we reach town.”
“I have my own transportation. I will ride behind you…” you explain, and signal the warmount. It crashes through the undergrowth, splintering several smaller trees as it approaches.
“Well then, follow us as you wish. Come now, we haven’t all day!” the rotund biped grumbles.
You comply, as a good soldier would. A tiny part of your mind feels relief at having someone to obey.
You arrive to a settlement as the sky is darkening. The buildings are made of trees that have been hewn and stacked so the logs form smooth slaps; holes in the slabs have been filled in with a clear, hard material, and the thoroughfare is paved with large, smooth stones. Not at all like the homeland, you think, remembering the extruded stone slabs used for building material in your home.
The cart comes to a halt outside a larger, grander building than the others in a settlement. The subordinate – designation Ignatius – disembarks and moves around to open the door, and the rotund biped steps down.
“Well, come along. We’ll talk inside.” It says. You alight from the warmount, follow them inside the building and stop just beyond the threshold. “I am looking for help to destroy a threat to my homeland,” you announce.
“Not here. In my study,” the rotund biped urges, waving one chubby hand in the direction of a staircase. He and Ignatius precede you up the stairs and through a door, and Ignatius closes the door behind you.
“You, my friend, are very far from home. How fares your people?” the rotund biped says, peering hard at you.
“It has been…” you trail off, empty your pouch of stones onto the floor and count them. “Over 68 days since I left. I cannot give a factual answer to that question, as I am unable to recall how many days elapsed between my departure and when I commenced keeping count. But, I have developed curiosity during my journey and now I feel it towards you. What are you? I feel… dissatisfied, thinking of you as the rotund biped. How do you know my people? Can you help us?”
The rotund biped – so inefficient – stares for a moment, then tilts its head back and emits a loud staccato sound, that causes its abdomen to shake.
“Sir? Are you damaged?” you ask, feeling alarm.
The sound stops eventually. “Oh, my. No, I’m quite well. Oh. ‘Rotund biped’, indeed. My name is Giles Vartry. I am a human, and the mayor of this town. In my youth, I travelled into the wasteland beyond these mountains, and I came across your people’s Capital. By the time I arrived, I had been out of water for two days, and out of food for a week. Your people restored me to health and helped me to resupply. When I returned from the wastes, I established this town to keep an eye open for travellers coming from the Capital. I may well be able to help you… now, what do I call you?”
“My name is Bulwark.”
You learned, over the following days, that the wastes around the Capital were the result of a thousand years of war. Your people had been created to protect the world from a rising vileness.
“There is a weakness in the fabric of reality, in the centre of the Wasteland. From time to time – about once every five years – a tear opens to Minauros, the third layer of Baator,” Vartry tells you. “Centuries of exposure to the foulness in Minauros caused any vegetation, any living thing, within thousands of miles to wither and die. The withering is slowly spreading, and I fear that within a handful of years, will catch up to us. This world is dying, and we must save it.”
“How do you suggest we do so?” you asked.
“Your elders sent you from the Capital to find a way to stop the horde, yes? I have heard whispers – rumours, really – that such an artefact might exist. Several hundred miles north of here is a great city – Silversage. It is said that you can find anything you could imagine in Silversage. The city is named for the Sage, an historic figure who was said to have had the ear of Osbris, the god of knowledge and magic. He used this knowledge for good; however, those who followed in his wake were somewhat less altruistic. Over the years, a cult formed, which worshipped Osbris’s lesser-known subversive form, Odos, who deals in secrets, mysteries and dangerous knowledge.
“It is of this cult that I will speak. If anyone would know of this artefact, it is they. However, they only trade in secrets – they will give you nothing for free. You must decide if you will offer them a secret in return for their knowledge.”
“I am a soldier. It is not for me to make decisions,” you protest.
“You are the only one who can make this decision. There isn’t enough time to return to your Capital and seek guidance in this matter. You must decide.”
Identity brings with it obligations – to your people, and to the world.
It brings responsibility – now you must be a bulwark for the whole world.
You decide that you resent being put in such a position.
You decide that resentment is unbecoming of a soldier.
You decide to pursue the lead you have been given.
You are, after all, duty-bound to protect your people.
You decide to leave and travel for the great city.
It is as you ride your warmount north that it happens. A loud crack sends you diving off the mount, seeking the shelter of a nearby tree to protect you from the lightning strike you are certain is imminent. Instead you find yourself falling through a void, devoid of light, sound and sensation. You land, some time later, in a small stone room, with three other beings you have never seen before…