The distant night sky is painted pink and orange by the burning of cities. The watchmen on the walls of Chebonnay are grim, knowing that the Six-Fingered Hand is closing upon them.

The army is at full muster; the navy’s ships are deployed. But Arawn, death knight leader of the Six-Fingered Hand has spent centuries, some say millennia, binding together the alliance that he leads. Nobody could have ever predicted that he could do it- that he could, somehow, against all odds and all instincts, force the goblins, orcs, gnolls, kobolds, lizardfolk and ogres to work together. What hold does he have over them, over their kings and chieftains? Nobody knows, but whatever hold it is, it will never relinquish its grip.

Like a mailed fist, the Six-Fingered Hand is smashing through the Imperial defenses.

The humanoid armies are coming from the south, to invest the city as they have so many others. From the north, the Bloody Fleet is moving ever closer, with the Imperial Navy fighting for all its worth to hold them off. The outlying farms are emptying as the peasants flee towards the distant mountains or into the city, depending on their confidence in the Empire’s ability to defend Chebonnay.

Civilization is ending. This is the end, the fall of humanity, the fall of the dwarves, the fall of the halfling, of the elves and their alien cousins, the eladrin- even of that relatively new race, the dragonborn. They have made the mistake of siding with the so-called ‘civilized’ races, and now the forces of barbarism are going to knock them clean to extinction, if they have their way.

Within the city of Chebonnay, this deep in the night, people huddle together in fear. Husbands try to bury their fears in the bosoms of their wives. Wives bite their lips and try to bury their fears in the arms of their husbands. Merchants hide their coins in fear of looting when the inevitable siege comes. Even this deep in the night, the smiths still work, the clanging of their hammers and anvils marking each new blade forged, each new boss fixed to a new shield, each spur for the cavalry and arrowhead for the archers and the guards on the wall. Some of the city’s less savory characters sleep soundly, as if the Six-Fingered Hand will spare them for being petty thieves and rapists. They should know better, from the rumors that have burned through the city like wildfire. The Six-Fingered Hand spares no one. If it lets you live, it is to torture you, to enslave you, to make you walk with their forces until they are ready to eat you.

There are other people sleeping well, of course; those too oblivious to know, too tired to worry, too stupid to care. And there are others awake, working hard for the war effort.

Or drinking hard for the war effort.

Near the docks, in the Steaming Clam, a dirty tavern run by dwarves, army and navy boys drink together, fight, make up, buy each other drinks and piss and vomit in turn.

The cook- who everyone simply calls Cook- is a foreign dwarf, from far-off Muk Nam. He is long since in bed, passed out. It is far too deep in the night, at this point, for a sane businessman to be conscious and, shall we say, viable. So he is not.

But his clientele- a mix of enlisted men and sailors- is certainly happy to keep Cook’s assistants busy, serving cheap, watered beer and grog. They are happy to be drunk- and not to be thinking about the forthcoming fight against the Six-Fingered Hand.

In the military, and in establishments catering to soldiers and sailors, rumors tend to travel fast fast fast. The Steaming Clam is no exception.

The Six-Fingered Hand will be here by tomorrow night, and the city’s rulers have made a deal to capitulate!

The Navy has already been crushed!

The Army surely can’t hold the enemy back, they’re just a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears kids!

The Army has more deserters than dedicated warriors!

Navy ships are leaving in the night, to escape before the Hand arrives!

Somehow, none of the rumors are very encouraging.


At a table in the Steaming Clam, four unlikely friends sit.

Vann-La and Torinn are Navy; Heimall and Kratos are Army. In the past weeks, they have given each other black eyes, then bought each other drinks. They have bitched about sergeants and bosuns to each other, and all of them have complained about their officers. In short, they have become fast friends ready to die together when the attack comes.

They are all somewhere between a little and a lot drunk, and they’ve been boasting, arm wrestling, talking smack and trying to one-up one another. Vann-La is an elf, and more than that, she is a Kree: a type of elf with a blue tinge to the skin, a tendency to haughty superiority (okay, that’s an elven trait, not a Kree trait), and a fondness for hyphenated names. She is also a formidable warrior. Torinn is a dragonborn cleric of Lester, the god of adventures, associated with strong luck (good and bad), excitement and- to his detractors- bad decisions. Heimall is a human, tall, with reddish skin that betrays a bit of tiefling in his ancestry, with a vivid scar across his cheek and shoulder. Kratos is a half-elf with a stern look to him and a uniform that, somehow, remains neat no matter what he is doing. Both of the army boys are warlords and officers-in-training.

They all lean back as a minor, uninteresting brawl breaks out. None of them care to get involved; neither principle in the brawl is military, and both are (as a sailor might put it) scurvy bilge rats. But some of the conversation nearby has caught the ear of Torinn and Vann-La.

“Navy ships, leaving before the attack comes,” Vann-La muses. “I hope that there isn’t any truth to that.”

Torinn nods. “Our ship wouldn’t do that.”

“They wouldn’t leave us behind,” Vann-La agrees.

“They would at least try to find us first,” Torinn says.

The barmaid brings another round for their table. They are well-behaved enough to still be served, even at this late hour, while many of the less decorous customers are politely ignored. Of course, they have Army and Navy together in a friendly but adversarial way, so no single group specifically targets them.

Who cares? Will it matter by this time tomorrow?

“We better go check on the ship,” Vann-La says, echoing what Torinn has been thinking.

“Hey, we need to get back to our barracks anyway,” Heimall declares. He nudges Kratos. “We’ll walk as far as the docks with you.”

“Sounds good,” replies Torinn. He stretches and stands up. “We might as well get going.”

The foursome finishes their drinks, pays their tab and departs. The walk to the docks is short; the Steaming Clam, as its name intimates, has a menu specializing in fish, and the freshest fish is, naturally, available near the sea.


“She’s gone,” breathes Torinn, as the group walks out to a pier with three fishing vessels and a small sailboat moored to it.

“Your ship?” queries Heimall.

“Yes. She’s gone.” Torinn’s draconic face is grim and drawn.

“Are you sure we’re in the right place?” asks Kratos.

Torinn just gives a glare, while Vann-La responds, “Yes, this is the right place. I recognize those two boats from earlier.”

“There were more boats here earlier, when we left our ship,” Torinn says slowly.

“Yeah, including our ship.”

The group stands around listlessly for a while. Then Vann-La cocks her head and says, “What’s that?”

Everybody listens. Sloosh, sloosh.

“It’s a boat coming in,” Vann-La answers herself, “but why doesn’t it have any running lights? No, it does, but they are shuttered. What’s going on?”

“I don’t like this,” Kratos warns.

Then the goblins start shooting.

Next Time: The Fall of Civilization!!