As the sun's first rays penetrated the inky blackness that was night in the Dire Marsh, something deep within the foul mud stirred. From the center of one of the fetid pools came a strange quiet warbling. The ground shook ever so slightly and the sun seemed to darken until the marsh was covered in an unnatural, impenetrable blackness so thick it was almost tangible. The air grew thick and heavy until it was hard to breathe. After what seemed like an eternity, the blackness lifted from part of the marsh, revealing a small diamond shaped black stone. It had a glassy finish, and red streaks flashed within its depths. The ground underneath the stone gave way, but the stone remained hanging in midair. A blue flash of lightning shot down from the stone to strike the earth. Where it hit, the ground started to glow, a light bluish tone. Another bolt shot down, and another and another until the whole area below the stone was glowing fiercely. The ground shook again, this time more noticably. A small fire started in the center of the hole, but instead of being reds and oranges, the flames of this fire were blue and white. Suddenly, the flames shot upwards, freezing everything nearby. There was a low roar, and from the flames stepped a hundred thrall. They lumbered forwards, engulfed in the blue fire. Another roar and another hundred thrall stepped from the freezing inferno. This went on until fully twelve hundred thrall stood in formation in front of the fire. There was a loud hiss and a hundred myrmidons emerged from the fire.
This went on until there were twelve hundred thrall, six hundred myrmidons, three hundred ghols, one hundred and twenty trow, six hundred soulless, three hundred fetch and twenty four wights standing in perfect formation in front of the blue fire. From the flames came the sound of a large explosion, then six shades stepped from the fire. The blue flames flared up high into the sky, then died down completely.
Of the black stone there was no sign.
The troops were divided into six equal groups and marched off over the Cloudspine Mountains towards the cities in the west.

* * * *

As a small group of Skrael emerged from the Ire River, they heard a distant thundering sound. He Who Swims Deeply frowned, listening. After several minutes, he realised what the sound was.
Trow. There were trow approaching.
"We must get back to the city and tell of what is coming," He Who Swims Deeply said. The other six Skrael slithered towards the distant ruins of Covenant where Five Serpent Howling Jaguar and his men were. There was a rustle of leaves from the bushes beside He Who Gathers Cattails, and seven ghols emerged, cleavers raised.
There was no momentary pause from the seven Skrael; they raised their hunting spears and attacked. The first ghol was impaled on He Who Laughs Last's spear, and the second ghol was killed by a combined attack by He Who Gathers Cattails and He Who Swins Deeply. The other five ghols broke their formation, trying to spread the Skrael apart where they couldn't support each other. He Who Hunts Longest was caught in the left arm by one of the ghols cleavers, severing it. Enraged, he blocked a wild swing at his head and jabbed his hunting spear straight through the ghol's head. It was killed instantly.
The other Skrael were equally successful, with all the ghols being killed with only the loss of He Who Hunts Longest's forearm. Once again they slithered towards Covenant.

* * * *

High in the tower in Madrigal, Alric sat down and pulled out a book from the library. It was an ancient book, covered in black leather and bound by a powerful containment dream. Only the Avataras could open the book without destroying it. Within its pages lay secrets that many would kill for. Creating thrall, containment dreams, confinement dreams, how to break them and hundreds of other pieces of arcane knowledge were contained within. Alric leafed through the pages until he found what he was looking for. The entry was very short.

Myrkridian Stone, The: The Myrkridian Stone was forged during the reign of the Myrkridia. It was used only once, and that was by one of the princes of the Myrkridia. It is said that the ground shook and the sky turned black, and blue flames engulfed everything nearby the Stone, and from those flames came an army of the most horrifying creatures ever seen.

Those that survived the creatures attacks were left incoherent. When the Myrkridia were imprisoned, the Stone is said to have been thrown where no one could ever reach it. Some believe it to be in the Dire Marsh, and others believe it is in the Barrier. Wherever it is, if it is found by the Dark, there will be nothing moving, save the undead.

Several days ago, Alric had been meditating when he had felt a massive disturbance in the ley lines that encircled the world. It had been impossible to indentify what caused the disturbance, but he had felt it was somewhere near the Dire Marsh. Of all the artifacts that could have been used, only two could have caused such a great disturbance, and of those two, one of them had been destroyed during the war against Balor and his undead. That left the one artifact Alric had prayed it wasn't.
The Myrkridian Stone.
The seven Skrael that came back from the Ire River had said they had heard many many trow approaching. A runner had been sent to Madrigal to tell Alric of the news. When the runner reached Alric and told him of the news, Alric had immediately put all the men in Madrigal on alert. There was a twenty four hour watch around the city, and archers were stationed on the walls all around, ready for trouble.

* * * *

Alric focused his awareness outwards, sending minute portions of his magical ability through the ley lines, questing for the Presence that would give away the Dark's position. Almost immediately he felt it, but the sheer size of it overwhelmed him. The foul Presence covered almost two square kilometers. And they weren't spread out either. The Presence was very thick, indicating that there was masses of troops on the way. Alric closed his eyes for a moment, trying to envision the enemy troops, but the Darkness was too thick.
Alric broke the connection with the ley lines, and got up. Walking over to the window, he took a deep breath of fresh air. He walked out of his rooms and down out into the yard. He looked around for the horn, picked it up from the fence and put it to his lips. Taking a deep breath, he blew. The sound that came from it was unmistakable, and the troops came running. Alric waited until they were all gathered around, then started speaking.
"I have sensed the Dark coming this way," he said. "I cannot tell what troops are there because their Presence is too thick." This brought a gasp from the listeners. "They are coming from the east, and will arrive here in about five and a half days. We have that long to prepare our defences." he went on. "I'll brief you further when I learn more. That is all."

To be continued...