The events recounted here are the stuff of ancient legend to Centasi; as antique to them as would be to us the stories of the Roman Empire, or the Bible.
In all of Centasi history, from the mythical prehistory of the Old Kingdom to the countless wars and petty conflicts of the modern age of the Hundred, there is no figure so feared, so influential, so historical, as…
“The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.”
- Joseph Conrad
Nobody truly knows where the Howler’s legacy began.
Perhaps, as some believe, he was just one among many of the Old Kingdom’s wandering black mages, walking the songlines of Centas with a necromancer’s spotted dog on his heels.
Or, perhaps, as some of the pious say, he was the only (mis)begotten son of the Shadow Himself, or even the Shadow come to walk upon the Earth, in defiance of God’s rightness. Or, he was the fist of God, come to punish the Old Kingdom which had been corrupted by wrong-ness.
Perhaps the Howler was a devotee of the cult of fearful Lord Sarku, flesh-eating Master of the Undead; Perhaps the Howler was the prophesied Wurm of Power, who the prophet Aglab Huy had said would be born in that year; Perhaps the Howler was
But whatever the Howler had been before, it was what he became which is relevant to history, for the terror he engendered in his day was unimaginable.
In the elder days of the Old Kingdom, as the perfumed and decadent Lotus-Kings who sat the Throne of Kadessa mouldered deeper and deeper into maddened debauchery, and as the Kingdom army lost control of the peripheries of the Kingdom, a dark stain spilled across the lands of the central northeast. Hidden between the upheavals of peasant revolts, droughts, rebellions, famines, the total economic collapse of the western regions of the Kingdom, a cancer was growing in the very fabric of the empire.
Among the Hundred, the 15th day of the Month of the Dragon shall be known as the Day of Blood, also called Bloodmas, Fearday, and simply Dread. On this day, it is traditional among Centasi to dress in silver and purple (the Old Kingdom colors which mourn the death of kings) and to light a candle above the door of their home; some traditionalists even continue the tradition of holding a funeral servicefor the Old Kingdom, though in these cynical times it is more common simply to hold the wake.
There is a reason for this holiday, and that reason is simple: on the 15th of the Dragon in the year 2303, the Howler himself was revealed.
Among the ranks of the Kingdom armies that day, soldiers, colonels, special units, divisions, even entire columns drew swords and turned upon their brothers-in-arms. Among the common folk, men broke into the houses of their neighbors and slew entire families, women strangled their lapdogs and burnt the homes of Kingdom governors. Among the government, entire provinces ceded randomly, taking their governments with them, and across the new borders were raised black silk banners proclaiming the reign of the Howler.
As civil war overtook the continent, as the feared Shadowsquads, riding ghostly horses, rampaged through the land, as soldiers armed with toothbombs and howling swords and fear-masks layed waste to Kingdom armies, terror spread through the remaining Kingdom. Stories were told of the dark sorceries of the Howler, of the prowess of his Cabal, his circle of lieutenants: the Snarl, his second-in-command (who, it was said, wore the heads of thirty men upon his belt and carried a musket which fired lost souls), the Hint, herself a formidable witch (and, it was told, the Howler’s lover), the Corpse, a horrible creature who was also a dark genius, and the Arrow, leader of the Howler’s Slanhoi, his assassin squads. The Howler was a strategic genius and a logistical master, and with his Cabal, he was near unstoppable.
It was then that the Vibos Club, the secret circle of the Kingdom’s generals and politicians, was revealed to be the true rulers of the Kingdom, those who had guided it through the mad excesses of the Lotus-Kings, revealed themselves, banishing the last King with his family to Meshor, the Great White South, never to be seen again.
Taking total control, the Vibos Club’s generals one a series of stunning victories against the forces of the Howler. In hard-fought, hard-won campaigns, they slowly retook the lands which had been those of the Kingdom, inch by bloody inch.
But the Howler was not done. Among his black-bannered ranks there were soon seen the dark priests of the Shadow Himself, who gathered upon tors and at ancient cromlechs to summon up foul beings from Hell. Among his ranks appeared bolt-hided Sark-warriors with withered skulls, undead slayers who wept and wailed apologies to those they slew. This, it is believed is what has engendered the stories of the Howler as the son of the Shadow Himself, or as a servant of the Lord Sarku, though it is more likely that in the course of his revolution, the Howler simply made deals which he should not have.
The end of the War Against the Howler came in the year 2307, when the General Syagrius, the last surviving member of the Vibos Club, was approached in the night by the Hint, one of the Howler’s Cabal lieutenants, and, it was said, the sorceror’s lover. Appearing in the night before Syagrius in the impregnable Kingdom fortress at Falbar and revealing to him secrets of the Howler’s walls and fortresses about Howl Dig, secrets of his forces and deployments, and even secrets of the Howler himself, and then, the Hint vanished.
For two months, Syagrius argued with his generals over the use of this information. Most argued that this was a trick, yet another deception from the creature known as the Lord of Deceptions and the Master of Lies. But Syagrius had faith in the Hint, and in the end, he used his right by the Kingdom Mandate (which he had previously foresworn to use) to override all others and order one last, desperate attack upon Howl Dig, the foul heart of the Howler’s domain.
The Battle of Howl Dig is one of the greatest legends of Centasi history. The countless tales of heroism, villainy, and glory on that battlefield could fill volumes; the tales of Crawfoot the Trickster and his Tin-Pan Armor, fighting off the squads of toothbombers; the tales of Mohannes Aediles and the Liar Sword; the tales of the Shadowsquads against the Lightbreathers; the Northerner against the Slanhoi; and others. In the end, in a murderous combat of attrition on the absolute edge between collapse into the dark depths of Howl Dig, Syagrius himself dueled the Howler to standstill, and, using a secret passage through the Howler’s shield of screams given to him by the Hint, struck off that dark mastermind’s head.
It is said that as the Howler’s head fell from the cliff, it’s hateful gaze locked upon the Hint, and it softly hissed the only intelligible words ever heard from the Howler: “Applaud, friends. Darkness falls.”
The meaning of these words is still not known.
For a matter of hours, the Cabal’s forces forced back the soldiers of the Kingdom from the body of the Howler. During that time, the Howler’s lieutenants met for the last time, and separated the pieces of the Howler’s corpse among them, save for his head, which must still lie at the bottom of Howl Dig.
The Snarl took his pieces of the Howler, and, along with the remnants of the Howler’s army, whom he rechristened the Thanes of Darkness, fled far to the west, where it is rumored there is a dark and hidden empire of Thanes, a foul place of which only dark things are said.
The others of the Cabal vanished, never to be seen again.
But it was too late for the Kingdom; the Pyrrhic victory of the Battle of Howl Dig was all for nothing, all ashes, for in that very year, the infrastructure of the Kingdom, destroyed from years of chaos, collapsed; society fled to a hundred-thousand city-states, insulated themselves against the ruined battlefields of Centas, and the Centasi fell into a Dark Age which lasted 400 years.