Nearly a month had passed since the Gray Legion had arrived on Gloomwrought’s doorstep, flush from Nerull’s triumphant reclamation of his godhood.
Less than two years earlier, an army of Orcus’s demons had similarly laid siege to Gloomwrought. Then, the conditions had also involved a supernatural foe: unlike the demons however, the phantom warriors of the Gray Legion required no rest. The attacks renewed every fewer hours, apparently only stopping for evaluation and strategy meetings.
Thus far, Gloomwrought had held out with remarkably few casualties: most of those having been soldiers lost in the first few hours of the siege weeks ago, or brave scouts lost to enemy action since then.
Gloomwrought was not the easiest city to lay siege to: miles of swamp surrounding the city was enough to deter most invaders, not to mention the horrors lurking therein. But the army of ghosts had marched right through the swamps with little difficulty unlike the demon legions of Orcus that lost many of their to the witches, thieves, and dark waters.
Now, beyond the walls of Gloomwrought were the paltry, gray-bannered pavilions of Nerull’s infamous legion of ghosts.
If the Raven Queen still lived, such an army could not exist in the Shadowfell, and yet the Gray Legion marched precisely because the Raven Queen had fallen. Nerull had assumed the throne of death once more, and now he hoped to take the souls of Gloomwrought his first tribute.
Somehow, Gloomwrought had known of the Gray Legion’s coming in advance. Somehow, they had already been prepared for the army of ghosts. And when the ghosts reached the walls, they were turned back like any army of mortals might be.
Chief in the upkeep of Gloomwrought’s defense were the Risen Blades, the city’s own army of undead. Members of the Risen Blades could man the walls tirelessly for days without food or rest.
Perhaps most important was the Legions’ inability to enter the Ethereal Plane and bypass the walls entirely. While a viable tactic in the Material World that would have enabled the Gray Legion to overrun the city in a matter of hours, the Shadowfell lacked a border with the Ethereal Plane and thus the Legion was restricted to more conventional means of siege warfare.
Even the Gray Legion couldn’t stop the flow of goods in and out of Gloomwrought’s harbor: the Legion had no ships with which to blockade the port. It was an ill-conceived siege to say the least.
And this was before the Lady of Gloomwrought returned.
The Lady arrived at the Deathless Palace unannounced, and met with her council in short order. They adjourned after less than an hour, and a change had begun to ripple through the city.
Much had changed since the death of Prince Rolan, not the least of which was the nigh-omnipresence of the city’s new ruler. Rolan had always been a distant, unattached monarch, but the Lady was everywhere: in the market, on the streets, overseeing constructions, renovations, and repairs throughout Gloomwrought.
Curious too was the increase of Keepers of recent months, and the rapid expansion of the city. When the increased population threatened to spill over the walls, the Lady was at the head of a new wave of Keepers to push the walls out and expand the city’s holdings.
Now, the Lady had new purpose, and she flew to the city walls with all haste. None stood in her way, even as soldiers lined the streets in the event the walls were ever breached.
No invading army had breached the walls of Gloomwrought in living memory, but enough of her citizens were refugees from cities who had seen suffered conquest that they knew what to expect.
The Lady climbed the walls and looked out over the camp of deathless phantoms. She stared at them for some time, before she began to walk the ramparts.
She spoke to no one, but her presence put the troops at ease. It was rumored the Lady had great magic at her disposal, though she was never known to have used it in the public eye.
Finally, the Lady of Gloomwrought had walked the length of the walls. The Gray Legion was stirring, making ready to renew the morning’s assault.
Phantoms swarmed toward the walls silently. They brought with them ghostly siege ladders, likely constructed the night before. The Lady gave an order not to repel the ladders, and her strange order was passed along the wall.
The people and soldiers of Gloomwrought watched as the phantom warriors swarmed up the walls, silent and unmolested.
The Lady stood alone atop a particular gate along the wall, all defenders having been ordered to make the way clear for her.
Phantoms swarmed over the top of the walls. The Lady raised her arms as the ghostly warriors approached…
And then they were gone.
Hundreds of ghostly warriors who had climbed the ladders and covered the walls only moments before were gone, just as silently as they appeared.
The Lady made her way down from the wall, and issued her second command of the morning: to fetch her diplomats, she was going to accept surrender from the enemy commander.
The Lady did not ride, but she accepted a sedan carried by golems forged of the city itself. Alongside her rode half a dozen of her diplomats, hastily selected from among the aristocracy and trained some eighteen months previous.
The Reaper stood at the head of a gray pavilion, attended by undead servants: wizards and vampires, from the look of them.
The Lady and the Reaper greeted one another as equals.
“This is irregular,” said the Reaper. “Don’t you fear that I should capture you and ransom you back to your city?”
“It does not do to fear those I would treat with, as it does not do for you to threaten me. You know what I am become, or you would not have greeted me at all.”
The Reaper stoked his greasy beard. “And what is there for us to treat? You have won, undone the greatest and oldest army in the Planes. I am at your mercy.”
“Not quite,” replied the Lady. “You have something I want, as I’m certain I have something you want. Unmaking your Legion was regrettable, something I would have liked not to do, but you left me no other choice.”
“You could have rolled over and died,” said the Reaper. There was no humor in his tone.
“You see what I mean? How am I to work with you when you insist on being right all the time?” The Lady scoffed. “Death has stolen your wit, Reaper.”
“You address me as an equal, but we are not equals, whelp. I fought in the War Before Wars.”
“You rose to power through deicide too, if I recall. I have doubtless improved upon your methods. Unlike you, I have deposed a less popular ruler.”
At this, the Reaper smirked. “Which one would that be? The scholar or the narcissist?”
The Lady waved a dismissive hand. “Whichever. Both. Your vanity bores me.”
The Reaper rapped his staff on the ground. “Fine. What is it you want, and what is it you think I want?”
The Lady cleared her throat. “You desire your old domain, you want back what was denied your usurper.”
The Reaper furrowed his brow.
“And you hold domains you want nothing to do with: I propose a trade, as you preformed in the old days. But on better terms than before.”
The Reaper scoffed, and stroked his scraggly beard again. “I must say your offer has intrigued me. You’ve destroyed my army and think to offer me favorable terms? What is this trade?
The Lady spoke: “Leave my lands at once. Return to Pluton or go wherever you like, in peace–but leave the Shadowfell. Do this, and you shall receive the domains of necromancy and undeath, as were yours after the Dawn War.”
“And what do you want in exchange?”
“Beside your rapid departure, I desire Fate. You have no use for it,” the Lady said. “But keep Winter, it complements you well.”
The two gods stood in silence for long moments, as their diplomats and servants stood by uncomfortably.
“You would see me reformed to my former power, why?” said the Reaper. “And you ask so little in return. What good does Fate do you? What good has Fate ever done anyone?”
“Answers to your questions are not part of the trade, Reaper. Are my terms acceptable to you?”
“You destroyed my army, and yet you offer me my old titles back, and speak to me as an equal–to what end?”
“This you ask of me, while you hold in your hands the domain of Fate?”
“Fate is nothing but a book of lies. Ignore it, cast it aside, but never read it–for there is nothing to be gained through Fate.”
The Lady raised her gaze. “Then you see how this exchange favors you?”
“I do, and I do not know why,” said the Reaper. “Fate won’t tell me why, you already know that.”
Several more moments passed in silence.
At last, the Reaper said, “your terms are acceptable to me. I will withdraw,” he gestured to his meager handful of servants and then to himself, “whereupon you will exchange the domains of necromancy and undeath to me for the domain of fate.”
He added, “for some reason.”
The Lady smiled. “I received a piece of advice long ago, which has served me well my entire life, which is: ‘take what you desire and nothing more.’ I doubt you see any wisdom in those words, regardless.”
“You are correct. I do not see the wisdom in that advice,” replied the Reaper.
“And what you don’t realize is how much more that tells me about you, than anything you might have learned from this meeting, or anything you gained from our bargain,” said the Lady.
The Lady shook her head. “You were a wizard once, how did you come to hold such a disdain for wisdom.”
“Wisdom was never the goal, only power,” said the Reaper. “A goal we share.”
The Reaper straightened his robes, and gestured to his servants again. “We’re leaving,” he commanded, “by the grace of…” He cast a glance at the Lady, “my lady Silhouette. Let us be off.”