Thus continues the chronicling of the myriad horrors and wonders of the Lands of Autumn in the benighted and tumultous Age of Dusk.
The vibrant decay of the Age of Dusk is not only characterised by its monsters but by the spirits of the men that fight them. Alongside numberless thousands of conscripted fighting men, barely armed and trained, and the small brotherhoods of warrior-fanatics, who can imagine little but battle, fight those that truly exemplify the spirit of the Age of Dusk. I speak of the mercenary. From Gal’Alor to Karaash, from far off Muir to the Bleached Lands, there is not a brothel or tavern that is free from these faithless cravens, who will kill for coin and turn their coats at the changing of the tides.
What follows is a short description of the most peculiar, the most dangerous and the most renowned of all.
The Sial-Atun: It is said that of all the men that spill their blood among the corpse-choked charnel fields of the lands of autumn, none are feared as the Sial-Atun are feared, and rightly so. The Sial-Atun can trace their origin as far back as Great Sybarra itself. Originally spies and assasins of the Emperors, it was by their cunning and wiles that they managed to escape the Doom that tore down Sybarra in a year and a day. For centuries they wandered, first an army, then a people, then a nation-state once more. Of the Empire of the Sial-Atun little is known, for knowledge of all but the greatest and dreadful of civilisations is now little more then half-remembered legend.
But the Sial-Atun, by their killing arts and ruthlessness, survived all, even the Calamity. Even the coming of the Harrow-Kings. For when the walls of their Citadels boiled and crumbled under the onslaught of vile sorcery and living weapons, it was their ruthlessness that allowed them to prosper when all others suffered. In exchange for clemency, land and slaves, they would serve the vilest creatures the Lands of Autumn had ever seen. And thus during this long and drawn out holocaust it was the Sial-Atun who were at the forefront of every army that marched under the Ebon Banners.
Bereft of all but a few citadels in the Age of Dusk, the Sial-Atun now serve whomever has the coin to afford them. Wealthy Gal’Alor is more then happy to oblige, and even the petty kingdoms of the north or a well-off village chief has been known to procure the services of a company. Others remember well their crimes, and will spare little expense to do them harm.
The Sial-Atun have a reputation for fearlessness and brutality. Their bodies are marked with brands and ritual scarring. It is said they break their bones so that they harden when they heal, and it is so, for the signature move of the Sial-Atun is to remove a man’s throat with his bare hand. They are also renowned for stealing children to replenish their ranks, and for removing the eyes and tongue of all they take prisoner, before releasing them to die in the waste.
The Sial-Atun have no king but an elected dictator, who sits atop a throne of gilded skulls in the citadel. If ever the Sial-Atun break in battle, or humiliate themselves, or attempt to desert and are not prevented by their kinsman, his skull is added to the throne. So does the Lord Marshall of the Sial-Atun meditate upon the consequences of failure with every action he takes.
The Broken: With the Bitter War between Karaash and Gal’Alor and the countless petty conflicts and skirmishes that take place within the Age of Dusk, many soldiers are left maimed and crippled, no longer accepted as fit for battle among their erstwhile comrades. The toughest and most determined of these veterans have banded together into a company. Scathingly called the Broken, their appearance on the battlefield is usually met with mocking jeers from both their allies and enemies.
The Broken have survived the horrors of the Bitter War for three reasons. They are cheap, for they are desperate and thus will take comissions for a handful of coins in order to make ends meet. They are determined, for though they are crippled in body and poorly equipped they are strong in spirit, and will stand against odds where more wholesome fighting forces would break. Their most important asset is their organisation. For if a legless man and a man with no arms are bound together with rope and leather and are given a sword, the Broken say they will fight as well if not better then any single soldier.
The Vulgar Host: Pox-scarred and lice-infested, the Vulgar Host is a sight both pathetic and terrible to behold. Dressed in little more then rags and armed with sharpened bones and rusted blades, the Host is the last refuge of the desperate and the mad. Those who join its ranks receive as payment only the balm of the Rishat Fruit, which brings merciful numbness but never nourishment. With drug-addled minds and the courage of men who have nothing to lose the starving and diseased Host throws itself upon the arrows and spears of the foe, heedless of danger. Fanatical priests wrapped in soot-blackened robes spur them on with barbed scourges and shrieking exhortations. A tide of vermin and carrion-eaters follows in their wake. The Vulgar Host is led by the Muse, a statue creature from old Nzembar, which uses the coinage and jewelry it earns from its victories to cover its tarnished skin in ever more ostentatious decoration. The fast-growing Rishat fruit is cultivated amidst the fields of carrion the Host inevitably leaves in its wake.
The Sons of Morat: Gal’Alorians and Bleached men alike, the Sons are part mercenary company and part religious order. They bear executioners swords and heavy armour even in the scalding wastelands of Mazhuria. The Gal’alorians among them use a special dye that permanently bleaches the skin white. It is rumoured they absorb part of the souls of the men they slay. They are known for inflicting vicious injuries that can take hours to kill a man. Karaashi reserve a special loathing for the Sons of Morat, considering them abominations.