The Legions of the Charr

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The Legions of the Charr is a tale by Ree Soesbee.


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In the year 1090 of the Mouvelian calendar, King Adelbern, last human ruler of Ascalon, released the Foefire. The human residents of that land succumbed to the terrible magic, only to rise again as ghosts. By 1112, the High Legions of the charr reclaimed the entirety of Ascalon. Only four years later, Kalla Scorchrazor of the Blood Legion came before Forge Ironstrike, the imperator of the Iron Legion, and challenged him to help her free their people from the shamans' control. Together, Kalla and Forge led a rebellion against the Flame Legion, overthrowing their tyrannical rule. The three legions, Blood, Ash, and Iron, then reassembled a nation from the ruins of the past.

"You're a coward."

"You're a fool."

Blades rang from their scabbards with the shrill sound of anger, and only the claws of the Iron Legion centurion kept blood off the field.

"Stand down! Both of you!" the commander roared. His black eyes bored into the unruly troopers, and the two scrappers slowly put away their swords. "I've got six warbands to organize, soldiers, and I can't waste time babysitting yours. Get your tails in gear! Five years you've been fighting like this. Kill each other already, or stop wasting my time!"

Legionnaire Via Splitvein's fists clenched. She snarled in barely controlled obedience. "Fine. But if this sniveling, white-jawed weakling tries to tell me what to do one more time..."

"If I don't tell you and you blunder into an ambush, then it's on your head." The other charr, a smaller male of the Ash Legion, rolled his claws over the hilts of his white-handled daggers. "You and your Blood Legion warband will be turned into Branded monsters," he sneered. "Then again, being corrupted by a dragon might actually make you more pleasant, Via."

Via raged forward again, but the centurion still stood in her way. "Uncalled for, Feros!" The centurion pushed them both back. "Back off!" Jabbing a thick finger into the black-garbed scout's chest, the centurion said viciously, "Your duty, Ash trash, is to escort this warband through Foulblain Expanse to Kinar Fort. If you can't do that, then get me someone that can!"

Feros Benighted growled low in his throat and let go of his weapons. "Fine. I promise I'll see them through the Brand—just keep that lunatic off my back."

"Fine." Via echoed. "Show me the path. Then stay out of my way."

The Return of the Legions

Even after the charr recovered Ascalon, there were many challenges to overcome. The three legions of old (Iron, Ash, and Blood) struggled to establish their identities and hierarchies. Many leaders who continued to be faithful to the Flame Legion's regime were assassinated or overcome in combat. New voices rose in their place, and the charr as a race fragmented. Only through the strength of the warbands, with their natural adherence to the chain of command, did the nation of charr survive this turbulent period. And, in an irony that was not lost on the charr, Adelbern's final curse became an integral part of that survival.

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Once the Flame Legion's hold was broken, the shamans and their followers fled into the Blazeridge Mountains to lick their wounds. Escape was possible primarily because the other three legions were so focused on rebuilding their internal hierarchies after generations of Flame Legion control. But after the structures of Iron, Ash, and Blood were rebuilt, it seemed almost impossible that the three legions wouldn't immediately fall upon one another and take advantage of any weaknesses, potentially eradicating themselves.

That's exactly what might have happened, had it not been for the ghosts of Ascalon.

Adelbern's curse upon the lands of Ascalon swept through the humans. In a white-hot moment, it destroyed their physical forms and cursed their spirits to wander the land, forever fighting against the charr. Because the ghostly enemy was unrelenting and never completely defeated, the High Legions of the charr were forced to work together from the outset if they wished to survive. Although they detested the forced unity, the need to defend themselves and Ascalon taught the three legions how to work together without sacrificing their individuality.

Currently, the Iron, Ash, and Blood Legions operate under a shaky alliance. Smodur the Unflinching commands the Iron Legion from his stronghold in the Black Citadel. East, across the Blazeridge Mountains, Imperator Bangar Ruinbringer controls the lands of the Blood Legion. Malice Swordshadow, a young female charr, rules as imperator of the Ash Legion. Although the three legions bicker and occasionally squabble, they have managed to maintain the general state of accord. Each legion is independent, but all three send troops and support to Ascalon to eradicate the human threat. Smodur knows full well that Malice's troops are there not only to aid, but also to spy for their imperator; however, the two leaders respect one another. Bangar is the true wild card, distrustful and prone to rage. Still, his hatred for humans overcomes his suspicions about the other imperators, and he has committed a great number of troops to the Black Citadel's command.

A storm raged in the Brand. Lightning flashed here and there, illuminating slithering, crystalline things roaming the corrupted plains. A lone charr warband marched across the shifting sand, boots treading over ground too treacherous and constantly changing to map.

Feros paused, holding up one fist to signal a silent halt. The Blood Legion warband instantly froze in place. Via smelled the air, catching no more than a faint hint of danger. After a moment, the scout slunk back to them, crawling over the broken rocks to whisper, "Hostiles up ahead. Looks like trouble." He sketched a quick map in the sand, indicating location, distance, and number. "They've already got our scent."

"Then it's killin' time." Via's eyes narrowed. She glanced back at her warband, friends since childhood. Their faces were drawn and stiff. They knew the danger. The flatland ahead was solid. Even. It would make an excellent place to fight. "Prepare assault. Two on the rear, the rest with me. At my signal..."

Four massive creatures crested the hill. They were hideous, twisted by the energies of the Brand. Judging by their malformed skulls and huge, clawed paws, the monstrosities might once have been bears or mountain-cats. Now they were nothing but twisted shells filled with a dragon's murderous hatred. Four. Far more than they could handle. She wasn't even sure the warband could defeat one.

Via didn't realize she'd taken a step back until she felt Feros's hand on her forearm, quietly steadying her balance.

"Are you all right?" he asked. His voice was low, and her quick ears barely caught his meaning.

"They're... big." She whispered the trembling words before she realized she had spoken. Stiffening, Via pulled her arm away as if his hand were a hot coal pressed against her skin. She reached for her sword. "Don't be such a coward, Feros. We can take them."

Feros smiled—an expression not particularly different from his snarl. "We can sure as hell try."

The Citadel's Master

The imperator of the Iron Legion is a stern old soldier, a veteran of countless battles, known as Smodur the Unflinching. Smodur is burly, exceptionally muscular for his age, and carries the scars of a soldier's life. He has only one eye left, which he uses to peer gloweringly at his subordinates, and his blue-tinged plate mail has been repaired far too many times to count.

Smodur is a consummate engineer and a brilliant architect and designer. Over the years, he has been responsible for many advancements that have increased the Iron Legion's strength. The imperator considers his legion to be the most "forward thinking" of all charr. Due to Smodur's unusually progressive nature, other races are allowed in the Black Citadel as long as they prove their worth to the charr. Smodur is even working on a treaty with the humans defending the stronghold of Ebonhawke—a place that has long been a thorn in the Iron Legion's side. As a condition for considering the treaty, the charr require the humans to return an ancient weapon lost during the Foefire: the Claw of the Khan-Ur.

Some say that Smodur demands the return of the legendary weapon so that he can use it to bolster his authority and claim rulership of the charr. Other rumors imply that the unconventional imperator wishes to melt down the Claw and destroy the legacy of the Khan-Ur, in hopes that his people will continue moving forward and never look back.

"Get up, soldier!" Via roared to the last of her warband. She caught a corrupted monster's massive claws on her shield and tried to respond with a sword blow. The glazed look in her fallen companion's eye told the tale. He was dead, like the others. Brothers and sisters of the fahrar that had fought by her side since childhood. Despite the three beasts they'd downed—one slain by Via alone – she could not stop the onslaught of the fourth. Her body ached and the weapon in her hand felt heavier with each attack.

Via's shield shattered, raining torn iron and chips of wood across her muzzle. She staggered back and swung her blade fiercely, trying to ward off the enemy until her vision cleared. One wide slash, two—but her weapon struck nothing. Via opened her eyes, fearing the worst... just in time to see the monstrous Brand creature stagger and collapse. A white-handled dagger had pierced its crystalline heart.

Feros stood between her and the beast, his body clawed open from shoulder to tail. He managed a snarl as he fell to his knees. "Fool."

Ignoring her own injuries, Via went to his side, tearing off her cloak and ripping it into strips to bind his wounds. Annoyed, the scout weakly swiped at her hands. "Let me die. Go, before the smell of blood brings others..."

"Coward." She snarled, tying the knots tighter. "Giving up on a fight?"

"I'm cut bad, Via."

"You'll get better," she lied.

Feros took a deep breath. "Fine. But we're getting out of here. If you carry me, I'll show you the way."

"No." Her hands paused over the bandage-ties. "If you move, you'll bleed out. I'll go. I'll bring someone back for you. Less than a day."

The Ash Legion soldier snorted in disgust. "You go alone and you won't make it out at all. All three of us will die. It's this way...or none at all." Feros closed his eyes in labored pain. When he opened them again, his snarl had returned. "I promised I'd see you clear of this place, you Blood-brained idiot. That I will."

It took only a breath to make her decision. She hoisted the Ash Legion soldier onto her back. Feros clamped his arms around her neck. With no further discussion, they headed north toward Kinar.

Chain of Command

The true head of the charr nation is the Khan-Ur, considered the primus imperator. He ranks above the imperators of all four High Legions and coordinates all the armies of the charr. The last Khan-Ur was assassinated as the humans arrived in Tyria and drove the charr out of Ascalon. A few charr have tried to claim the title since then, but none has truly united the legions under one throne. Without a Khan-Ur, each of the four legions is led by separate imperators who hold supreme authority within their legion's structure.

Beneath each imperator are his primary commanders, the tribunes. A legion rarely has more than ten tribunes, and this office oversees an entire theatre of war or large swath of controlled territory. Beneath the tribunes are centurions. Each centurion commands a number of warbands (a "company") and coordinates maneuvers on a broad scale within the tribune's authority. In areas where multiple centurions are coordinating, a primus centurion might be appointed—the "first among equals" of the centurions. The primus centurion leads an active assault force of 3-5 large companies; this is smaller than the numbers encompassed by the tribune's authority, but still sizeable.

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Each warband has its own legionnaire. The legionnaires are the true heart of the legions. They lead their warbands (typically a group of 5-15 charr) on missions, guide them to victory, and provide individual leadership to the squad. Under their command are the pure soldiers of each legion –the warband members who are the rank and file of charr strength.

There are also ranks within the structure of the High Legions that do not contribute to the direct chain of command. A brevet is a temporary field command used in times of emergency. Quaestor is the legion title for quartermaster, a position typically held by an older soldier whose skills on the field have lessened, but whose experience and administrative guidance are extremely valuable. Scrapper is the catch-all term for a warband on punishment duty, no matter what their official rank.

"Primus" is the title for an adult instructor at a fahrar. As cubs are born, they are brought to their legion's fahrar to be educated and raised in a warband composed of the cubs of that year (or close to it). The primus provides education and guidance, preparing the young warband for life as soldiers in their legion.

The bottommost rank in the High Legions is the gladium. A gladium is a charr without a warband; they are the lowest grunts, given little respect or responsibility—regardless of their previous titles or rank. Without a warband, a charr is not trusted. It is every gladium's duty to rejoin a warband as quickly as possible. Until they do, they are seen as a black mark on the legion's record and are looked down upon.

There is a concrete difference between gladium and charr who have been assigned away from their warbands. The former have no support and no place in the hierarchy, except on the very lowest rungs. The latter are simply performing a task or solo mission away from their units. It is acceptable for charr to be away from their warbands for a long period, when duty and need require it. But charr on independent duty, unlike gladium, always have their units to call on and return to when their missions are complete.

The young primus of the fahrar raised an eyebrow when he saw a Blood legionnaire striding toward the pits. Her wounds had not yet healed from a trip through the Brand, and trails from massive claws were still fresh on her body. In her arms, she held a dark-furred cub not more than two weeks old. "Blood Legion?" the primus scoffed. "This is an Ash fahrar."

"I know where I am," the warrior snarled fiercely, baring her teeth. "Take the wretched thing and be done." Despite her words, she held onto her cub for a moment longer, brushing back the fur from his ears and letting the baby tug playfully at her clawed finger.

"Who's the father?" The Ash primus asked curiously.

His answer was served with a sharp glare. "None of your business, Ash trash." She looked down at the cub one more time before placing him gently in the primus's arms. "He was one of yours. That's all you need to know."

The primus lay the babe with the others: the warband it would one day rely upon. "Does the cub have a name?" he asked cautiously, calling to the Blood Legion warrior as she walked away.

She paused, looking back over her shoulder. "Veros," she grunted. The Blood Legion warrior rested her hand on a white-handled dagger that hung at her belt. "And, primus? Tell him that his father was a coward." After a moment, she murmured softly, "Then make sure he turns out the same way."

Via lowered her head as if shouldering a burden and silently left the fahrar.

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