The winning entry of the Shell Case Shorts 3 may surprise you. It’s not Warhammer or Hordes but The Three Plains by Epic Wargaming. Aside from being a great story it’s really gratifying to see an independent game being written about by fans. And as I was lucky enough to proof read TTP V.2 it’s doubly so.
Anyway, the winner is the thoroughly splendid James Wilson (@JamesMEWilson) and his story entitled Liberation. Signed copies of the first two books in The Crown Trilogy by Gav Thorpe are winging their way to him.
The slave galleon cut through the waves, brushing aside the waters of the ocean with contempt. The icy spray chilled the captain to his core as he looked across the water to the approaching Island. The clear sky did nothing to hold off the cold at this late hour. Casting his gaze upwards he looked at the celestial display lay out before him. There was something new there. As he stared he noticed a new star, it was moving. It had a tail and…yes there was another nearby it. They became more prominent and lit the air around him. The various crew members stopped their work to watch this new phenomenon as the light from the shooting star was joined by a lighthouse in the city of Gallar, albeit briefly. The captain turned to look at his crew in their stupefied wonderment. “Return to your duties. Pretty though this light show is, we are approaching Gallar and this ship needs to be ready to dock.” Heeding the captains words the crew members returned to work. Their occasional glances at the night sky told of their worries. Such displays could only be omens from the Gods. Simple sailors, Elven though they were, could not hope to realise the meaning of such portents. This did not prevent them guessing. Every glance brought a new story to their minds. Ever increasing in the levels of doom they will be stories they will later share over drinks, trying to out-doom one another into the small hours of the night. The lights trailed across the sky for several hours and were noticed by many of the Elves of Herlanceia. They were noticed most keenly in the township of Windidown, where the Comets appeared to soar directly above. The captain returned to his private quarters and removed his helmet, not seeing the lower creature in the corner of the room until it turned from its duties to see that which should never be seen. The gasp the slave gave out betrayed his presence in the room to the Captian, who turned slowly, staring into the horrified face of the human. The Captains golden visage crept into a cruel smirk. Unsheathing a dagger from his side he stepped forward and struck out. As the human sank slowly to the deck, his life blood draining from him, the Captain whispered in his ear, “Such is the punishment for looking upon the face of your Gods, human.”
In the courts and temples many theories were put forth regarding what the omen in the skies might mean. None of them were correct. None of them accounted for the human element. Somewhere on Herlanceia, two boys were born of one mother. The Elven overseer of the house, Sharr, picked up the boy presented to him and moved him so that he could better look through the eyeholes of his helmet at him. “This boy is strong. He will fetch a handsome price. He is called Hadrian.” His matter of fact tone suggested he was speaking of little more than cattle. The mother, still lying on the bed tried to reach for the baby. “Please my Lord, may I be allowed to keep him?” Sharr lifted Hadrian away from her outstretched arm and handed him to one of the hand maidens assisting with the birth. Ignoring the mother he stated “Take him and clean him up. The Arena Masters will be interested in him.” As he spoke the mother cringed in pain and found herself pushing once again. Sharr raised an eyebrow. “A second? truly we are blessed.” he snorted. “Very well, bring fresh water; let us prepare to receive another. At least we will profit better. Identical twins can fetch a handsome price from the Mages.” This elicited a sob from the mother that spoke of more than just physical pain. The first labor had been long and taxing upon her. Sharr doubted she would survive another labor of that nature. The second child was scrawny by comparison. Sharr comforted himself that this runt was a bonus in any case. Any price reached for him would be profit. Lifting him up Sharr looked him over. “Not identical. Nothing impressive. He is called Lysander. Clean him and ready him for the markets. We will go in the morning.” A hand maiden took the child away. There were no protests from the mother this time. Only silence came from her. Sharr looked at her still form and sighed. “Seems we will be purchasing as well as selling tomorrow. I hope they have reasonable breeding stock.” He walked out of the birthing sheds and headed towards his quarters. He was tired and failed to notice that the night sky was brighter than it should have been.
During the following day Sharr presented the children to the Auction master. “This Hadrian will fetch a good price, there are many Arena Masters present this day Sharr. This Lysander however looks barely strong enough for household cleaning work. He will need to be strengthened up first. This will push his price down further than his slender frame would get him in the first place.” Sharr nodded his agreement. This Lysander was beginning to be a tax on his funds. The loss of the mother meant new breeding stock was required. Lysander would not go far to cover the cost. “You still want to sell him off?” Sharr looked across at the pens that contained the females. “Yes Losai, I must recoup some of the costs he has caused me. Culling him serves no purpose, other than my personal satisfaction. That will have to go to one side for now.” Losai took the child and placed him into the holding pen where a fat female human took over his care along with another in her arms she began to feed him so he would be at peace during the sale. Sharr moved off to the holding pens of the females. He was here early, as those seeking to sell had to be to register their goods, so there were only other sellers present. Some were also interested in purchasing but not many. Sharr was able to examine those for sale with a good degree of thoroughness. Later the crowds began to enter the market area and the various auctions began. Hadrian was indeed sought after by many Arena Masters. All saw the potential in him. Only one Arena Master remained silent, to begin with. As the bidding reached a fever pitch, Coln, fabled Arena Master of Meer, feared by all as a dangerous warrior, shouted above the din offering fully double the price that had been offered thus far. The other voices died down almost immediately. None dared speak. Coln had a habit of getting that which he desired. Those that got in his way had a habit of quickly being removed. Losai looked briefly about the room hoping the bidding would continue, though he was already getting a healthy commission from this sale. “Sold to Arena Master Coln. Next is the brother of the last though it is clear where the strength went. Perhaps his brain is to be desired? Who will start the bidding?” Losai looked about the hall. The various Arena Masters were not interested in this one it was clear and no other appeared to have an interest. He was about to clear the lot when a voice spoke up from a corner of the room. “I, Kai, will start the bidding for this child. 50 silver pieces.” Losai stretched his head to try to get a look at the bidder. The crowd parted to admit a Mage to the front. Losai did not recognise him but welcomed the chance to off-load this detritus. “Sold to, the Mage, Kai.”
The journey for Hadrian was a harsh one. Coln’s slave stock were not exactly careful with the new arrivals. Coln himself treated humans harshly, even by Elven standards. Since his intentions were entirely to toughen the children up and train him to be the best fighters they can be. Hadrian was left with just enough to clothe him to keep him from freezing to death. Just enough food to keep him from starving. Hadrian was taken to Meer to the Arena pits. His first 3 years were spent struggling to survive as best as possible. He was kept with others of a similar age, fed sporadically throughout the day and made to wield a weapon as soon as he was physically able to. By the time he and the others were 6 years of age they were made to spar with each other. At 8 and a half, Hadrian made his first kill. One of the older slaves, a human male by the name Gerard, managed to make his way to the pens containing Hadrian during the appointed meal time one warm evening. He made his way to where some were eating and started throwing the younger children aside “This food belongs to me now underlings” Gerard set upon the various plates of the younger children with gusto. None stepped forward to challenge him at first. “This food is ours.” A voice stated flatly. “Stop taking it.” Gerard turned slowly to see a semi-circle forming around one of the children. “I am Hadrian. You will stop.” Gerard laughed at him and brandished a short sword at him. “You are going to stop me? I am twice your size. My sword is greater than yours and I am the youngest of Master Coln’s Arena warriors. I have real combat experience and my sword has tasted blood.” he turned away again to cram some more food down his gullet before turning on Hadrian and charging, sword at the ready. Hadrian took his smaller weapon from its sheath. Though it was a sword in his hands, it was nothing more than a large knife to this thug.
The fight was a surprisingly brief one. Hadrian stepped to the side and under the brash charging swing of Gerard, putting him off-balance. Hadrian then lashed out with his leg, catching Gerards shin and sending him sprawling across the floor. Before he had time to recover Hadrian was upon him, jumping on his back he immediately, and without remorse, plunged his small-sword into Gerards spine, severing his brain from the rest of his body, killing him instantly. A cheer rose from the other inhabitants of the pen but was cut short as one of Coln’s trainers entered the room. He looked through the visor of his helmet upon the corpse on the floor. “Who is responsible for this?” The scared eyes of the children all turned to Hadrian, his small-sword still dripping with Gerards blood. Hadrian maintained a stoic expression, such as can be achieved by a child. “He himself is responsible.” he said suddenly, “He sought to steal from those weaker than himself. He was a coward. I gave him a coward’s death.” Hadrians words rang around the room as all the other children stared at him incredulously. Killing another child and speaking in such a way to the trainers could not end well for him. The trainer’s eyes betrayed that this insult was noted. A moment later those eyes narrowed under the trainers golden helm and he gestured at Hadrian to move to him. “Come with me boy-child. Coln would hear of this.” Hadrian walked through the doorway and ahead of the Trainer, heading down the corridor to where the Arena Master was disciplining another of the older slaves. As they approached Hadrain could hear the sound of whippings being administered. From Coln’s words as he dealt out this punishment Hadrian discovered he had been found wandering around the corridors, as Gerard had before he found his way into Hadrian’s pen. “Master Coln, I have found Gerard. He was in this boy’s pen.” He shoved Hadrian forward before the Arena Master. “Tell him that which you spoke to me, boy.” Coln stepped towards him, curiosity getting the better of the joy of the thrashing. “My name is Hadrian.” The boy-slave’s voice rang around the room for a moment. The stunned silence at this slave’s defiance and at such a young age suggested that none of the Elven Arena Trainers had believed what they had heard. Coln started to laugh a mirthless laugh. “This boy has spirit.” His tone dropped suddenly and he struck Hadrian to the floor, “You will be called boy until the day you earn your name, by making your first kill.” Hadrian looked up at his oppressor, the oppressor of his people, anger burning in his eyes “Then by your own standards Master call me Hadrian, I have slain the coward Gerard.” Coln gave him a long calculating stare; he had spat the word Master with much venom for one so young. He turned and walked towards the door Hadrian had entered through. As he reached it he stared, apparently to the room in general, “Move Hadrian into Gerards pen. He will be entering the Arenas early.” He then indicated to the other slave. “Put Garvin there, in the younglings pit. Such will be his punishment. Be sure he does not get to see this Hadrian again.” The two slaves looked upon one another, Hadrian bore no ill will but Garvin’s eyes burned with a hatred Hadrian assumed was for their Elven overseers.
Lysander’s travel was considerably more comfortable. Kai’s slaves took him, with great care, to their caravan readying for their long journey to Gallar. Kai had never intended to attend the slave markets. He had never meant to make a purchase. He had heard the child call out for help. It was an incredible act of mental strength in one so young. It was truly the will of Winsil for him to have been passing when he did. Impressive though the child’s brain was, it was still weak, unrefined. But this was to change. Kai would mould him into the perfect Mage Hand. His own powers would benefit greatly. Kai had to purchase a milking cow for Lysander to feed from, so an ugly milk bearing human female was added to his stock. It had been a far from cheap purchase but would be worth it in the long run. Lysander was kept warm and well fed by the woman he was to now think of as his mother. His journey was warm and cozy and uneventful. He was well fed. As he grew so did his mental and magical ability. At the age of 3 years he manifested a fireball and burned his room to a charred ruin. Kai could hardly believe the rate at which his ability was growing. He had never taught Lysander destructive magics, yet he learned them, instinctively. By the age of 6 he was fluent in many languages, including Elvish. Though he did not let any others know of this as it is forbidden for a human to speak the language of these so-called Gods. At the age of 8 Lysander found he was able to connect to the mind of an Arena Slave. He could hear this slave’s thoughts, could sense the tension in his mental companions feelings. “My name is Hadrian.” Lysander suddenly caught himself saying. The words of the slave boy were so clear to Lysander he had spoken them aloud himself, the connection could be strong enough that should he lose concentration, while in his mind, they would speak as one person. Why this particular boy he did not know. Despite his best efforts he could not make this connection with any other. He spent a great deal of time nurturing this but never spoke of it to Kai or any of the other Elves. Even his mother did not know. He found he felt affection for this Hadrian. Lysander could feel the burning sense of righteousness in his heart and felt compelled by it. Though he was never able to actively control Hadrian’s actions he found he could make suggestions to him – to act as a kind of sixth sense for him, to warn him of nearby danger. Lysander did not know if Hadrian was aware of him until they both reached the age of 16. Hadrian’s treatment had become especially harsh since he had shown ability and defiance. He was trained harder and quickly became skilled with many weapons. Though he had been pitted against others in training to ready himself and he had been forced to take many lives, he was being placed in his first true Arena match sooner than any other his age.
Lysander could feel the fear of Hadrian as he waited his turn to fight before the jeering crowds. “Lysander! You are not paying attention! What ails you boy?” Kai’s irritated voice cut through Lysander’s feelings and brought him back to his lessons suddenly. Hadrian jumped, though he had heard nothing. Looking about the empty cell for something that could have caused this he eventually turned his attention back to the Arena before him. Just a couple of guards outside a gate kept him from the Arena floor itself. Nothing had happened out there that could have surprised him. Presently the corpse of one of the warriors from the last fight was being cleared. Clearly he was more nervous than he had realised, though all fear seemed to have passed with the jolt of surprise. An announcer stood before the crowds now and spoke loudly. “Now, for your enjoyment, I present the savage human young. One of them you have seen before, though he has long been absent! Alongside his brother he has slain many. 8 years ago his brother was put down by a youngling. Since then we have fed his hatred of the boy who slew his brother. Garvin has festered amongst younglings for two long years while his brother’s killer, now 18 seasons old, has had the luxury of Gerards pen…” Hadrian’s mouth had dropped open as the announcer had spoken. He did not realise Gerard had a brother. “…Now they will meet here for your pleasure…” As he continued Garvin walked from the opposite side of the Arena, he was armed with a sword and a dagger but wore little in the way of armour. Hadrian recognised him from the look he had received the night he had slain Gerard. None of the other older slaves had spoken with him since he had been put there and the trainers made sure they had obeyed Coln’s words. Though he had wondered why this boy was to be kept away from him at the time it had passed from Hadrian’s mind. Now it was clear. Coln had seen an opportunity for a show. A chance to further increase the popularity of his Arena over others. Hadrian burned with hatred of his own. His was for Coln and all other Elves. Those supposed Gods that toyed with human life. That kept them as cattle and treated them little better. Now he was to be pitted against Garvin for sport. He was skilled but Garvin had greater strength and experience.
Lysander raised his arm in defence now as Kai administered a beating to him. “Perhaps this will teach you to pay attention!” Kai’s words and actions and Hadrian’s burning hatred for the Elven kind stirred something within him. Lysander shared in his brother’s hatred. It burned within him like a white-hot star of rage. Kai noticed the change in him and hesitated for a moment. Lysander took the opportunity and struck out with his mind. Kai was unprepared for such power being unleashed at him by a lesser creature. He clutched at his helmet, always worn in the presence of the lesser races, as it turned white-hot suddenly. His screams brought others, Elf and human alike, to the chamber of learning to witness what was happening. Kai made use of his formidable power to reign in the heat of his helmet as well as soothe the burning, though he would never again be able to remove it as it had become fused to his flesh. His hands too were withered and charred. All thought of this boy as a Mage Hand was gone now. Anger was Kai’s motivation and would remain such. Kai’s power gripped Lysander and hurled him face first to a wall pinning him there. Lysander’s jaw snapped on impact. As he was helped away he screamed his rage at those around him. “TAKE HIM TO A CELL! SLAY ALL OTHER HUMANS IN THIS HOUSE! I WILL DEAL WITH LYSANDER MYSELF!” As he shouted the words he wrenched himself free from the arms of a female slave, pushed her away and summoned great power to consume her body in fire. She had not the time to scream as she burst into flame from the inside. Lysander’s anger had not been subdued by Kai’s power. As the screams of human slaves began to be heard around the house of Kai, Lysander let loose a roar. A low rumble resounded through the walls as Lysander forced the power of Kai back from him and turned around to face him. Kai turned to him in horror. “Impossible! How can you resist my power? You are nothing but a low-born creature of dirt.” Lysander’s anger struck out again but Kai was prepared this time. A fireball was deflected away from Kai and hit one of the now fleeing slaves, consuming him and adding his screams to those of others around the house. Each death fuelled Lysander’s rage and the rumble grew into a fierce earthquake that shook the walls and unbalanced all but Kai and Lysander. Kai responded with a fireball of his own that struck home. The righteous look of victory on Kai’s face was short-lived as Lysander, unscathed, drew in the power of the spell and used it to augment his own. A flame wreathed sword crackled into existence in one hand and a shield of energy appeared with a hum in the other and he charged at Kai, flaming sword raised above his head as the house crumbled around them.
Hadrian walked from the cell into the light of the Arena, sword in hand. Garvin sneered as he approached. For all intents and purposes he was an animal. Nothing more than what his Elven keepers had made him. The announcer had retreated now and Hadrian saw watching from above, Coln, his hated enemy, and thousands of Elves, the enemies of his people. Garvin charged towards him and the fight began. Garvin was a towering windmill of rage as he swung his sword and knife about him. He foamed at the mouth as the last of his sanity played out for the amusement of the Elven crowds. This was not to be the fight the people wanted. Garvin was a skilled fighter but in the presence of his most hated foe, he had lost all sense. His swings were wild and uncontrolled and Hadrian could avoid them with ease. Garvin tired quickly and Hadrian was able to make very short work of him. The displeasure of the crowds was evident and Coln shuffled his feet uneasily, the mob grew restless and not even he could withstand that. His mind was racing for something to appease the hostility gathering around him when Hadrian offered something that pleased and surprised baying crowds immensely. Looking directly at him, Hadrian called Coln out. “Arena Master Coln. You have created a poor animal for me to put down. Your cruelty and countless murders of my people will end today! I challenge you to single combat!” For a moment the crowd were in a stunned silence. This was unexpected entertainment indeed! A Master of the Arenas called out to fight one of his own vassals! A cheer rose from the crowds as Coln leapt from the viewing gantry landing lightly a short distance before him. A low rumble could be heard but nobody seemed concerned with this. All eyes were on the spectacle before them. Coln and Hadrian circled each other cautiously seeking a gap to strike through. Hadrian felt a roar of rage rise through him as he suddenly felt anger at the deaths and injustices his people had endured from these so-called gods of his people. Coln betrayed his impatience with a sudden and extremely swift sword strike, Hadrian was barely equal to it and Coln pressed the advantage. Hadrian found himself backing away desperately trying to fend off the strikes. Coln, not finding the gap he had hoped to, backed off and began circling once more. The roar of the crowds drowned out by the roaring rage in his heart, Hadrian took a turn to strike out. Coln was easily the equal to his attacks however. It became apparent that Hadrian may not be the equal to Coln. The crowds could see a disappointing end to this fight looming quickly. Coln could see the end approaching as well. Hadrian smiled a grim smile. Switching his sword to his other hand he renewed his attack. With his sword in his strong hand he pressed Coln hard. Caught off guard Coln had to back away, this renewed attack caught him off guard and his previous confidence quickly left him. As he fought Hadrian’s rage increased and he felt a power surge through him. To the surprise of everyone there Hadrian’s sword burst into flame. Hadrian betrayed no surprise, though he certainly felt, all that mattered was his vengeance.
The racial rage of the twins was fierce to behold. Lysander’s magical potential was unleashed that day. The house of Kai crumbled to dust around him and Kai was not able to withstand the magical melee. Lysander had borrowed from his brother’s ability to put down the mage with the magical blade. In turn Hadrian had unknowingly borrowed from Lysander’s abilities to sheath his own blade in magical power. Coln had become fearful and desperate and his rage was palpable right up until Hadrian separated his head from his shoulders. Amongst the silence that followed the rage subsided. The Twins were seized and thrown into new cells. Neither spoke, even under torture. It was decreed that they should both be put to death. By coincidence this was to happen on the same day. They were to be made an example of. In Meer, Hadrian was to be beheaded in the city square. In Gallar Lysander was to be burned at the stake. Lysander and Hadrian both brooded in their separate cells. Their thoughts were not for themselves entirely. Though Lysander was still a little in awe of himself his main thoughts were of the rest of his kind. He pondered about Hadrian more specifically. He had clearly used the connection between them but did not seem to have realised this. Hadrian was pleased that Coln was slain and by his own hand no less. Many Elves feared Coln’s prowess. Now they would fear his. The so-called Gods now feared the prowess of a lowly human. “Hello, Hadrian.” Hadrian was not startled by the voice that appeared to come from his own head. He had sensed a kind of connection for many years. The unaccountable rage and inexplicable flaming sword that helped him vanquish his hated foe served as evidence of this connection. He certainly couldn’t have done that himself. He concentrated and responded in his mind. “Hello. I do not know your name but I feel that you have watched over me these past years. Are you a messenger of Ronnic?” Lysander had to withhold a laugh at this. “No, Hadrian. No messenger. My name is Lysander. I believe we are twin brothers. It is said that twins often have an inexplicable connection, which we seem to have.” Hadrian considered this for a moment. It had a ring of truth to it. Though he had never known he had a brother, this did lift his heart and felt right. “You have the same predicament as I Lysander?” The hour was late and an escape plan would have to be formulated quickly. Lysander looked at his hands. “Aye, brother; I too am shackled within a cell. I am in Gallar, to the East of Meer. Though I can release myself I do not know if I can get you free. Even if I can, what would we do then?” Hadrian remained silent for a moment before he came to a decision. “We will liberate our people brother.”