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1] Tarrant Struggled
2] Serpent Orb
3] The Founding of a Clan
4] Dragon Law
5] The Coming of the Wolf
6] Yukio's Time
7] Strangers Visit
8] Meeting of Clans
9] Blackbone's Trust
10] Lord Hideo's War
11] Whispers of War
12] A Hero Returns
Chapter 10: Lord Hideo's War

And so, in Lord Hideo’s reign war broke out for the first time since the coming of the Serpent Clan: Lotus and Serpent allied against Wolf. Surprisingly, for the first eight months or so the outcome seemed uncertain. The Wolf Clan warriors were matchless in their own territory. They fought at night and in all seasons, on all terrains. They seemed to have no organization, only packs or lone fighters who emerged from the forest to harass large contingents or massacre smaller ones. They laid traps and ambushes, and at times the forest itself seemed to thicken on command to immobilize their enemies. Individually Wolf Clansmen were cunning and brutally strong. More and more, Serpent Clans soldiers were relying on muskets and a defensive line of spearmen, just to keep from closing with the foe in one-to-one combats. And when a Wolf Clan fighter was killed, it was always at a terrible cost: he would invariably sell his life dearly, and these berserker rages were an awesome sight, enough to cow any warrior in the land. Fighting opponents such as this eroded morale, and occasionally Serpent troops would retreat even with the advantage of numbers, rather than face a berserk and suicidal enemy.

It was Zymeth himself who first began to turn the tide. He saw the Wolf Clan's Achilles heel, their failure to coordinate on a larger scale, their lack of organization. Lord Zymeth’s counter-offensive had a discipline and sophisticated organization that Blackbone could not cope with. Zymeth's strategic vision first began to turn the tide.

This was especially true as new and stranger Lotus troops began taking the field. Until this point, almost no one outside the Lotus Clan had really understood what was happening on the High Plateau, and not even Hideo had seen the worst of it. Now reports began coming in of what their allies really were. Distorted long-limbed bladesmen, staff adepts, and leaf disciples had been strange enough half-sorcerous warriors. Now they were joined by terrifying rotting things that had hitherto been kept out of sight, men who seemed always to be dying and spewing disease as they died, but staggered on and on until hacked to pieces. Even Wolf Clansmen could be cowed when faced with these.

For a while, the Wolf Clan held out. They had discovered a crucial fact, that the black shale they used in their armor and buildings was one of the few materials that could shield them from the Lotus Clan's magical corruption. Perhaps this explained why Lord Zymeth had insisted on access to the mines.

In the end it was a suggestion from Lord Issyl that sealed the Wolf Clan's defeat. Even then, the master warlock looked like a young man barely into his teens. Giggling, he told the war council of the Wolf Clan's superstitious terror of a being called the White Wolf. He proposed a plan whereby all the Lotus troops would dye their hair white. No one knew where he had gotten this knowledge, but it worked. This new measure played on ancient fears, and it broke their morale, fatally. Lotus Clan hair has been white ever since.

In the last days of the war even the highest master warlocks were seen on the field of battle, cloistered beings who had not been spotted outside the High Plateau before or since. They were bizarre and terrifying fighters. Reality seemed to break down around these men and women, like Koril who shimmered and blinked in and out, laughing as blades passed harmlessly through him, and Issyl who seemed to accelerate as he fought, stabbing opponents who were still hopelessly trying to get their blades in line. And others whose names were never learned, whose shapes changed, or who changed those around them, or wreaked havoc in a dozen other ways.

When the end came for the Wolf Clan, many of the defeated chose not to surrender, but piled up the bodies around them as they raged, fighting to the last. No one who fought in the final battle could help but feel awe and respect at the Wolf's conduct, save perhaps the impassive warlock and master warlocks, whose feelings no one could read. When Blackbone fell at last, however, it was the end for any real resistance. Fourteen-year-old Brighteye called for a general surrender on any terms, and the majority obeyed. Otherwise, the Wolf Clan might have been wiped from the earth.

There was a brief conference of the three leaders, Brighteye glaring defiantly even as he agreed to the surrender terms. The Wolf Clan was sent into slavery, working the mines under supervision of the Lotus and Wolf Clans. In return, they would be spared and allowed to live on their lands in comparative peace.

Officially, the Wolf Clan no longer governed itself, but submitted to the will of Lord Hideo, Lord Zymeth and a governing council. The facts, though, were different: although enslaved, the Wolf Clan was never subdued. Even though Brighteye was forced to work the lowest tasks, digging sewage trenches and sleeping in common quarters, they could not stop clansmen from subtly deferring to him. Hideo heard rumors of secret meetings deep in the mines, even a code worked out in the rhythm of the sledgehammers as the broke the shale. Hideo knew they were savages and could never outwit him, but he sensed in the reports and the tours that the Wolf Clan was waiting, even preparing, for its chance.

Whether or not they felt this way, the Lotus Clan did not make kind masters in the mines they oversaw. Certain of the Master Warlocks had appropriated a number of Wolf Clan slaves to perform experiments on, in the hopes of creating more efficient, more tireless workers. The results were bizarre and often tragic, the strangest of these being the creation of the Shale Lord, who still lives today.

When Hideo's son Oja was born, he grew up in a different world than his predecessors. He knew the Wolf Clan only as slaves, not as a legitimate clan, whereas the Lotus Clan were trusted allies and partners in victory. He was taught to govern according to many Lotus ideas, ruling through strength and fear, valuing fanatical loyalty over thoughtful devotion, using any technique to gain obedience. Although he learned the Serpent Clan's history, the Dragon Clan and the Horde were little more than names to him, part of the life of his great-great grandfather.

Although some did criticize Lord Hideo as too obedient to Lord Zymeth's wishes and far too trusting, even brainwashed, it can be said that he learned from his experiences. Although the two clans remained close, Oja learned his letters and his history from his father's Serpent Clan generals only. He never had a Lotus Clan tutor, nor did any of his sons. Of this, Hideo made certain.

Chapter 11: Whispers of War