Colonel Wolfhaven, Alexander
Grey Ranger Outpost, Echer’Naught
Eighteenth Day, Falling Ice, Year 3123 Under the Light
My quill trembles as I write these words. I pray my Rangers cannot see the trepidation this most recent quest caused to rise within me breast. Our slumber was broken before dawn on the 10th of Falling Ice, some week and a half past. By Archanon’s Light, has only been eight days?
Three men waiting without our door, two couriers bearing personal gifts from suitors for Lady Longtail. Apparently, her negotiations this past winter for the construction of our new, brick kitchen went too well. I only hope her suitors do not come to blows over her hand. I believe, considering the individuals involved, that such an incident might explode into open war in the streets. I have cautioned her about her behavior and she assures me that the situation will be handled. I trust that it will be so.
However, the third and final shadow across our threshold was a boy, not fifteen years. Exhausted, muddy and barely able to stand, nevertheless, the lad showed deference and respect while he repeated his message to my 1st Class Ranger Hawksclaw. The boy was nearly spent, yet he stood like a man. A true Olaran and deserving of our respect.
He was quickly brought before me and I learned that a beast appeared in his master’s barony and had begun a campaign of destruction. What the creature was, the boy could not say, but the images of carnage he recounted filled me with dread. More important, his master, the Baron, had led a quest to slay the beast, but the venture had tragically failed costing the lives over nearly a dozen knights, injuring more and worst of all, crippling the Baron’s sole heir and inflicting a mortal wound on the Lord of the Manor.
Even as he spoke, voice quaking from despair and fatigue, it did not break. He bade us hurry to his master’s side before the beast’s foul blow laid him low. Immediately, we made preparations to depart. All save loyal Grimbore mounted horse and wagon as their needs and we sped south. I chose not to head directly east toward Harken. I would have perhaps been faster, though with so many roads impassable due to the inexplicably rainy spring, I chose to use the less used southern barony road. It was still a chore and with the wagon progress was slower than we would have liked. We stopped at a small inn, little more than a large room with benches that Hawksclaw and Longtail had used during their winter long patrols. We stayed their the night out of the driving rain. It gave us a chance to dry ourselves and the cozy setting fostered camaraderie and some frank conversation. The next morning (11th) we continued south until we hit Farwatch-Kator road, turn east and ride flat out. We left the road just west of Kator and headed north a short way until we reached the barony. Rain still pouring.
Ranger Longtail, acting as scout under the guidance and direction of 1st Class Hawksclaw observed the manor hillfort and surrounding vill. She saw no sign of a creature but noted the villagers were skittish and there was a nervous air about the place. We approached with the young local in the lead. He escorted us straight to the fort, past the guards and into the courtyard. the few mounts that had been recovered from the disastrous raid were there and, even days later, still spooked. The sudden intrusion of strangers and a the rattle of wagon wheels on cobblestone so frightened the traumatized horses that they instantly tried to bolt. By sheer weight, Highwall kept his shaggy pony in check. Longtail was already on foot and Thunder obeyed me, though not without a fight. Hawksclaw was closest. His elven pony bolted throwing him to the ground. By Archanon’s grace he was uninjured. The boy, apparently having seen the agitation of the horses before, simply kicked free and let his horse scramble away. Bravery, dedication and skill with a horse, this boy might turn into a fine warrior.
Our mounts more or less secured, we entered the squat, square, stone keep to find a charnel house. The constant rain outside and the rising spring temperatures, combined with little ventilation had created a muggy, fly infested infirmary. The broken bodies of men, once proud knights, lay about the main hall. Nurses, ladies and servants worked tirelessly redressing wounds and bring water and comfort, but from the many bandaged stumps where once limbs would have lain, and the red-black ooze staining the wraps, I fear few would survive their wounds. Still, we pressed on, heading upstairs to the main bedroom.
There, we found the baron’s family outside his chambers wailing in anguish. We were bade roughly inside and found the baroness kneeling by the bed, and the wounded, likely crippled, son standing by where the Baron, his belly wrapped in bandages, lay coughing an sputtering. He was older, in his sixties, gray hair and beard, but he had once been a mighty warrior, and the muscles still held strength, if he had gone a bit to seed. Despite the pain, his eyes were keen and bright. He addressed us roughly, brooking no nonsense. He remember me, more more my family, from before the war. He seemed pleased that a Wolfhaven had responded to his call. With this, he explained that the beast was a Shadow Boar, a corrupted boar of darkness, but this beast was larger and more cunning than any he had ever faced.
We are Olaran, and our lives are spent in conflict with Flame and Darkness. As such, each Barony has weapons of white silver for these situations. He had brought forth a white silver tipped boar spear and a precious few white silver tipped arrows and bolts. Then he commanded the Rangers to hunt down and destroy the beast. With that, we were dismised.
Leaving the oppressive scene, we recovered our mounts. I ordered sergeant Stormhammer to see to the defense of the keep and Olgor to see what he could do for the poor souls inside. With that handled, I ordered the boy to take us to the place of the attack, then return home.
We rode for a few hours until we came to a small wooded area. There, we found the scene of the attack. Longtail and Hawksclaw scouted the area, while Highwall and I remained with the mounts. While we stood by, a large boar, but untainted, charged Longtail. She managed to scramble up a tree out of the way. She needed have worried. From his hiding place, Hawksclaw felled the beast in a single shot. Truly impressive marksmanship. The wild hogs had been attracted by the smell of blood and the remains of the many bodies never recovered. It was a horrible sight, one that reminded me too much of the war.
From there, Hawksclaw tracked the prints west for some time, until we came across a yeoman’s farm. These poor souls had also run afoul of the beast and had paid the price. Again, Hawksclaw and Longtail scouted the area and ensured the beast had moved on. Then, with urgency, Longtail summoned me forward. What she had found inside the small farmhouse was both tragic and joyous. As a dying act, a mother had hidden her infant from the beast. Hungry, scared and tired, the baby had begun to cry. We pulled it from the wreck and debated what to do.
At this moment, I came to understand something about Longtail that I had not know. She was adamant that the child be taken to safety. I honestly believe that had I refused, she would have disobeyed. Nevertheless, I agreed and she volunteered to dangerous tasks of retracing out steps to find a farm nearby that might take the child in for the time. With the Brinchie on yet another long run, the rest of us set to making a camp by the little stream a distance from the farm following the beasts trail. The rain continued, and making a fire was troublesome, but we dealt as Rangers should. Some time that night, Longtail returned having found a farm not far away.
We bedded down, with Hawksclaw on first watch. During the pre-dawn hours, the beast attacked. Our first warning was Hawkclaw’s shout of alarm. Our second was his body falling from the sky and landing with a wet thud near the fire. Then, all at once, the beast was among us, running the Alakar Ranger down. It moved like lighting and seemed made of shadows. Hawkclaw managed to roll away and fire an arrow, but the beast disappeared into the tall grass and vanished. I was so stunned, that for a moment I could not grasp the purpose of attack, for the beast did not return for another pass. Only then did we hear the screams of our horses.
The attack was a diversion. In the confusion, our mounts broke, spooked by the stench of death and corruption on the thing. With malicious intelligence, it drove them our of range of our weapons and began to systematically slaughter them. It was then that I realized our true danger. On foot and exposed, we were easy prey, so we made a move, in formation back to the farmhouse. The deaths of our mounts bought us the time to make it, but just barely. Then, the creature backed off, but not far.
Longtail took watch on the roof above and informed us that it was still out there in the shadows, stalking us. Tired, soaked, rattled and without much of our rations and gear, we huddle in the wrecked farmhouse planning. Archanon’s blessing, we had within our small company the necessary skills to survive. Though not a Stonemason, Highwall had come from a family of the finest wall builders perhaps in the whole of Shaintar. Under his guidance and with help from my experiences during the war fighting creatures like this, we set to converting what remained of the farmhouse into a trap for the Shadowboar. We removed the roof supports and used that in construction of a large pit trap and firing platforms. Then, with Longtail calling out sightings, Hawksclaw skulked around the yard outside for material. It was an arduous tasks and by nightfall we were sore and tired, but the deed was done.
Here I had a choice to make. Take the center place and hold the boar spear? I put it to my men, who of us would have the honor…and the danger of standing alone before the terror of the beast. Without hesitation, or a tremor of fear, Highwall to the spear in hand, three times his height and said simply, “I will.” And with that, the Dwarf dropped into the kill chute and awaited his fate. I confess my heart swelled with pride. I have known decorated commanders who turned to gibbering fools in the face of such monsters, yet not one of my Rangers so much as hesitated. We were afraid, you would be a fool not to be, but we were resolute in our mission.
15th Falling Ice
Then, as always, Longtail, with that little smile she always gives before rushing headlong into battle, sprinted out the door to lure the beast into our trap. I took one platform, white silver tipped lance at the ready, Hawksclaw the other, bow in hand. We did not wait long. With a shout, Longtail sprinted thru the open door, bounded Highwall’s head and vaulted the back wall. A heartbeat later, the front wall of the house exploded inward in a shower of splinters. Before, the attack was so fast, I never fully realized the size of this thing. It stood nearly as tall as the house at its shoulders, with eyes full of cold, calculating malice. But it had the Brinchie’s scent and was not going to let her escape.
Blowing through the wall like paper, the beast crashed through the kill chute where Highwall stood. Without giving an inch, the Dwarf thrust the spear into the beasts belly. It roared, but its momentum carried it past. I stabbed it through the shoulder, seeing a gout of black blood an Hawksclaw pieced with an arrow, but our blows seemed to have no effect. They actually enraged the beast who, having lost Longtail, came around and charged the Dwarf again, intending to stomp him into the ground. Again Highwall thrust, and again the Shadowboar roared. My lance ripped from my grip, I drew my bow. Hawksclaw fired again. No avail. the beast gored and stomped the Dwarf, but Highwall stood firm. At that moment, the walls went up in flames, trapping the beast and preventing his escape. And then Longtail was there, on its back, stabbing and slashing. I fired. Hawkclaw fired. The beast thrashed, slashed and stomped. I saw Highwall go down in a flurry of black hooves and my heard sank. I fired again, shouting to kill it hoping beyond hope that my friend was still alive under there. And then the dwarf rose, axe and whitesilver shield in hand. The firelight caught the shining metal and the beast flinched in horror. And with a mighty blow, Highwall buried his axe into the monster’s skull. It keened. At the same instance, Hawksclaw fired, piercing flesh. The beast lurched once, gave a final sigh and slumped to the side. Looking back, I almost feel that in its dying moment, I saw relief in that final look, as if we had finally set it free.
Nevertheless, the house was now ablaze and we were trapped. Hawksclaw leaped the pit in a single bound, scrambled as high as he could and held out a hand. I grabbed Highwall’s hand and threw him over the wall. Snatching up the precious spear and hurling it to safety, I grasped Hawksclaws hand and was launched over the wall. Longtail did a flying somersault and landed quite nearly on the dwarf, though I image it was on purpose. Then, we watched the pyre burn, as we added fuel, all the way until morning. After hours of burning, the stench of undeath and corruption was finally burned away by cleansing fire, though I fear nothing will grow on this land for some time.
We rested there. Exhausted. Later (16th), we picked up our things and I was overjoyed to find my mount Thunder, who survived the war, had returned now that the beast was gone. We headed back, stopping at the farmhouse to recover the babe only to discover that the farmers were kin, and wished to adopt. We were pleased to allow this, but I gave the child a necklace, crafted by Highwall’s hands, of a priceless white silver arrow and bade the farmer give it to the child when he came of age. And also, I commanded that the child be told of the bravery of his family, the sacrifice of his mother and give him and invitation to the Rangers should he ever desire to join. We ate with the farmers and then continued on that night (16th), coming to the keep in the wee hours (17th).
Funeral preparations were already underway. Sadly, the Baron had died, but his son, the new Baron thanked us and offered us the quivers of white silver arrows and bolts, as well as, the young man who had been sent to guide us here as a Ranger trainee. I must say that I am pleased. And then he invited us to join his father’s Last Call. With great respect, we agreed.
Arrived late in Echer’Naught on the 18th.
That was some days ago and now I am sitting back in Echer’Naught, putting together my thoughts. So much has happened in the last months and I fear there is great evil growing in the land. Bandits, flame and darkness all seem to gather here. With the Prelacy marching to the north and these unending storms…I must admit I am apprehensive. But then I have but to look out my door and see Hawksclaw teaching the young man, Alfred, how to hold a bow. When he came to me, he was young and idealistic, raw and unformed. I can see an Alakar and true leader forming in my subordinate. I also see an anger, a darkness, one I know too well. If we can master himself, he will be a force of light and life. I can also see Longtail, teaching young Sarah to throw knives and…pick pockets. I must talk with her about that. But, the girl is growing in strength and confidence under the Ranger’s tutelage. And of course, Highwall and Stormhammer at the force, working in perfect tandem on some new project. Even as the dark thoughts fill my mind, I have to glance up and I see a future protected by these few, brave souls. So long as the Rangers remain true, so long as we hold to the light, I will fear no thing.
Your obediant servant,
A. Wolfhaven, Colonel
P.S. I have just received word that the festival day and joust has been announced. Already frantic work is happening north of the town. And entire village is being built in half a months time in preparation. No doubt we will be called to duty. I fear this might be a perfect opportunity for our enemies to slip among us, but I have my Rangers. It will be dealt with.