Colonel Wolfhaven, Alexander
Commander of the Legio Heroes
Korg Humps, Wildlands
Jubilation Day-the Sixteenth Day, Red Wolf, Year 3123 Under the Light
Days like these come once in a thousand lifetimes, where a chosen few stand before the fury of oblivion, beaten and bloodied but undaunted. To have stood among such a company will carry a man through any trial to come, for what greater accolade could he have but to say, “I was there.”?
For me, it began simply enough.
I followed a Goblin into a hole in the ground.
As detailed in a report of the 14th of Red Wolf, a report now in the hands of Ranger Rildrirr and on its way to Echer’Naught, I, in the company of a small team of newly minted Rangers, headed south by south-west of the Elven Waystation along the Greenway road.
We travelled through a gale of growing intensity, nearly drowned to death standing in our own boots. Yet, with Archanon’s Light and some luck, we happened upon a battle in process. I will leave off here, for that ground has already been trod, but establishes the beginning of my tale.
On the Morning of the 15th day of Red Wolf, a day that will ring down through history until the true breaking of the world, I, along with Rildrirr, StripedClaw, and Crag awoke, and, led by a nervous Goblin known only as Nit, headed further south into the outskirts of Landra’Feya. Whether we crossed out of the Wildlands before we spotted the fortresses’ spire, I can honestly not say, only that we crept under the cover of the Elven Forest’s leafy bower, our only sanctuary from the storm clouds overhead.
And it was there that we found what I refer to as the Western Storm Druid’s lair. As I have outlined in previous reports, Members of a band of Ranger heroes led by the Aevakar Zaro had already tackled and defeated, if not killed, a Storm Druid somewhere outside of Farwatch. So, too, had my men of Echer’Naught hunted, and with some loss of life, brought low a second Storm Magus who at first used my former home as his filthy hiding hole and then attempted to turn my town into some form of dark, evil portal. Even now, I can only assume Corporal Hawksclaw and Ranger 1st Class Highwall are somewhere far to the east of Echer’Naught…perhaps even so far as Harken.
I pray to the Light that he finds them safe. Longtail as well, for whom I have begun to despair. But should she be counted among the fallen, her death will be avenged.
With two of the four conspirators dispatched, a third either handily dealt with or soon to be, I focused on the fourth and last villain as I stood just outside his fortress with rain matting my hair and Ranger cloak to my drenched armor.
StripedClaw scouted ahead and quickly returned with his usual quizzical expression. I have known him only a few days, but I begin to wonder if that might be his normal expression. Regardless, his return was far less surreptitious than his approach. I soon understood why.
Entering through a mangled and scorched entrance which might once have held a mighty iron bound oak door, we found ourselves in a small courtyard littered with debris, weapons, gear and some blown over tents. Having spent most of my life in and among the military I quickly deduced that this had been a rather large encampment…two actually.
Clearly this had once been the home of the broken and scattered band of Maelstrom forces we had temporarily been forced to ally ourselves with the day prior, though they appeared to have been ousted months ago. In their stead was a much more haphazard assortment of tents and encampments. Not true soldiers these new inhabitants, mercenaries and madman more like.
Still, neither Maelstrom nor Storm-maddened warrior was to be found living within. There were some corpses, some fresh, some weeks old, but nothing living moved with that charnel house. Continuing on, our weapons at the ready, we entered the weathered keep to find more of the same, evidence of a month old battle, detritus of two inhabiting forces and everywhere the distinct lack of sanity I have come to associate with those in league with the Storm Mages.
At this point, Nit’s courage fled him and, with a final squeak, he turned and fled. And yet, I saw where his eyes had fallen. A doorway leading to where, I did not know.
Pushing forward, our sinews strained to the snapping point, my new Ranger Trainees followed me through the door and down into madness.
The wall dripped with water as if the underground staircase was exposed to the driving rain above. Stranger yet, we began to feel gust of wind tug at our cloaks and our hair even as we delved further beneath the surface. Soon, the regularity of the stone steps gave way to more uneven, natural stone formations. At some point in the long distant past, the ancient architect had clearly built his home atop a fortress of nature’s crafting.
Our footsteps led us ever down until we came to an underground cavern lit by madly flicking lanterns which swung and creaked on rusted metal rings, caught in a savage summer gale. Large, perhaps the size of the sanctuary of Echer’Naught’s chapel of Light, the chamber was formed from natural rock, carved by Dranak’s hands. And in the center, a rent in stone floor, a hole that had been added to, like the wall of a well without the well-house or bucket.
And standing just behind was the Storm Druid, hair being whipped into a frenzy by the impossible winds blasting from the very earth. He looked at me, lighting flashing in his eyes and screamed insanities about the new god and the time had come. Even as we raised our weapons to charge, he hurled himself into the void and disappeared just as had the others before…well almost.
In surprise we skidded to stop as the winds began to swirl faster and faster, forming something like a cyclone IN the hole. My men, uncertain, looked to me for orders and for the first time in my life, I had none to give…
And then I heard it.
A horn. A pure clarion sound, ringing through the roar of the wind and the thunder of my own heart. A note so sweet and pure, for a moment, I forgot about all.
I have heard tales. Of men, at the end, facing their own demise and the destruction of all they hold dear, filled with a silver light so intense that nothing, not death, not Darkness, not fate itself could stand before their righteous fury.
The Horn. And it was calling to me.
I turned now, glancing over my shoulder at the expression of incomprehension on the faces of those I had led here. And I knew, this battle was mine. I removed my satchel and handed it to Rildrirr and with it, my reports, my orders, everything that Hawkclaw or he, if both Hawksclaw and Highwall had fallen, would need to carry on in my stead.
I said, “See them safely home; the caravan, your men. Wait for me in Echer’Naught. If you do not hear from me in a week’s time. Tell Stormhammer…tell him to carry on.”
Rildrirr merely clasped his hand to his chest, bowed, and said, “It will be done.”
As I turned back to the portal, the surety of what I was about to do hardening my resolve, I saw her. The Silver Unicorn…as a ghostly mirage of the purest moonlight, bowing to me. But did I see sadness in her soft eyes?
Perhaps. But I knew my duty. And so…
I wish to describe in exacting detail exactly what I felt in this moment, what I perceived. Alas, I cannot. The human mind is simply ill equipped to process such things. Know only that for a heartbeat I did not exist, but existed everywhere. That I was out of time, and at the same, out of time itself.
It lasted an eternity, but only a heartbeat.
And then, in a flash of lightning and thunder, I was hurled back into reality.
My first impression was the flash of lighting blinding me as my boots struck something solid. I opened my eyes, blinking back the stars and the sounds of combat rushed in on my overtaxed senses. In an instant I absorbed my surroundings as time seemed, for a moment, to stand still.
I was inside a large cathedral, stone I think, domed ceiling high overhead. Sounds echoed and rang as if the space was very large. Ahead of me, I saw a Storm Magus flanked by two elite guards…and before that a shield wall of human mercenaries. Around me, Lighting Elementals hovered and sparked.
A glance over my shoulder revealed another line of men, but facing away. And beyond them, at the far end of the huge floor a swarm of The Drowned, pour lost souls who lived in torment half drowned but never allowed the peace of death. These damned were surrounding a group of warriors, men and women…Rangers.
Even at the end of all things. We stood together.
My eyes came around and locked with the Storm Magus. Kill the Mage. Kill the Spell.
I charged, Archanon’s name on my lips, as I raised my father’s sword high, its fine blade wreathed in the blue light of the Church of Light.
Instantly, a nimbus of scorching light engulfed my body as I surged forward throwing myself at my enemies. I collided into them, swinging with all the strength I possessed. Today, the Wolfhaven name would be heralded among heroes again.
Even as I charged, my brothers in arms charged with me. At that moment I did not know their names only that we shared the most sacred bond any two can share. Only later did I learn, and I will not soon forget those who shared the field that day.
Maeve O’Halloran, the female human Priest of Light and her steed Justice
Alraune the Bloodrose, the female human War Mage
Ivan “the Lighthouse” Sokolov, male ogre, and drunken Master Warrior
Zori the Red Lyre, the male (I think) alakar Adept and Bard
My charge took me within arm’s reach of the lead Storm Magus, but his men stepped into my path, blocking my way and quickly surrounding me. Their sword blows fell like the rains of a storm, battering me down, always seeking, questing for a lapse in my defense, or a chink in my armor. In moments, I was in mortal danger
But behind me, my brothers and sisters had seen my arrival, and quickly understood my danger.
Even as the Drowned swarmed them, clawing at them with their clammy, water bloated limbs, a Wind Rider flew across the field and charged into their ranks along with three Lighting Elementals. The Rangers and heroes lashed out with blade and hoof, striking down Drowned even as more shuffled to take their place.
Ivan, the largest of the heroes was quickly targeted by repeated attacks, but the massive ogre weathered the storm and shook off their blows and magic like a dog shaking water. Swinging his improvised ogre maul around him with surprising speed and grace he dispatched the Wind Rider in a single blow and all but a few of the Drowned were given final peace.
Free now, all but the Bard Zori charged forward, throwing themselves at the line of mercenaries between them and myself.
Facing a raging ogre and Maeve riding Justice with Alraune riding along as well, the line of mercs were scattered like leaves before the gale. Maeve on Justice circled to the right, avoiding the strange large arcane device that dominated the center of the room. Ivan circled to the left. And suddenly, the worm turned.
Any soldier that survives even a few engagements gains a sense of the ebb and flow of battle. Like tide rising and falling on a beach, we instinctively begin to understand the moments when our forces are cresting like a wave, or running like the outgoing tide. I could see in the eyes of men around me that they knew their cause was lost. So I seized upon the moment.
I stepped back, shouted above the screams, and the rattle of arms, above the energy of the room’s massive portal which flashed with lighting one second, then followed with a sucking vortex the next. I implored them, telling them their cause was madness and, would they but lay down their arms, I guaranteed them full quarter. I begged them to follow me… to end the insanity. The discussion was brief and in the end, whether swayed more by my words or their own fear, they turned on their former masters and joined our side.
With that, the battle was won, but the war raged on. Ivan crashed through the ranks of mercenaries like a landslide, knocking them aside with sweeps from his massive weapon. Maeve, atop Justice, with Alraune at her back, rode down men, her white silver mace flashing bright in the ever increasing flashes of the room’s central conduit of power.
Alone now, Zori battled the Drowned, buying us time to defeat the Storm Magus. Together, the others joined me and my new squad, surrounding the Magus and his last two elite guards, his other forces dead or scattered. To their credit, his men stood firm against our might, though I fear their will had long since been subsumed by the madness of storms, as I could see the spark of lighting in their eyes.
Our contest was brutal and sharp, but soon, his men fell, leaving him alone. Only then did he realize his error and attempted to flee, but there was no escape. In a hail of hooves, swords, and mauls he fell dead upon the floor. And so, the battle of the Storm temple was won.
But the war for Shaintar raged on.
In other place, on other battlefields, at that very moment, many heroes fought and died railing against the same insurmountable odds only to find themselves also at the precipice.
Weary and battered, we stood over the body of the Storm Magus and I suddenly began to feel that pull, that unmistakable sense of moving and yet standing still. I looked into the eyes of my new companions and saw in them the same determination that burned in mine.
Turning, I addressed the six men who had joined with me. To any who would follow me, I offered a year’s wages. They had shown enough courage that day and I knew we would need all the allies we could muster. Greed quickly overcame better judgment and with white knuckled hands gripping weapons, they stepped up.
Turning now to my fellow Rangers with a nod, I surrendered to fate.
If my previous experience had been a raging Storm, this was truly a Tempest.
We were hurled through time and space, through reality and oblivion, from this world into realms unknown.
When my senses righted themselves this time, they were assaulted by a tableau, so alien, so bizarre that my mind very nearly fled. For a few of those who had followed me, the terror was simply too great. They broke and ran. Where they planned to go, who can say.
I will try, as best I might with the limited scope my tongue has at its disposal to describe the scene around me.
We, my men and I, found ourselves on a planescape of blood red earth. Strange, impossible maelstroms, like roiling storms, but ripping across the ground at impossible angles, shrieking and screaming tore at us, pulling us off our feet. Ahead and to my left, a strange swirling vortex of energy, swirling and churning, framed by a red-stone arch. And spilling out, a golden light, but not of purity, of such unimaginable insanity, I cannot put into words. It ripped out our souls, tearing and shearing. Worst of all, shuffling along this horrible scape were man-like creatures sparking with the mad storm’s energy… Volt men.
And that was only the first. Like a patchwork quilt but not of the fabrics of cotton and wool, but of the threads binding reality, before me stretched pieces and parts of other, alien worlds, mashed together in an eyebleeding array of terrains, environments and creatures.
Just beyond the horror of the red storms lay a dull brown land of chasms and roaring winds. And beyond that, a strange flat land of sparking towers and builder-like devices of power and magnitude on a scale I can scarcely comprehend. Further on, at the extreme of my vision lay gray stone towers and something so far distant that I barely discerned the purple, white of the spire that seemed to be the anchor.
Every fiber of my being screamed at the wrongness of everything around me, as if this place was trying to reject me, remake me into something horrific and twisted, so much like the Storm mad Druids and Mages I had faced and the poor Drowned souls in the ancient temple I had, but moments ago, been standing within. And everywhere I looked, monsters and creatures beyond nightmare arrayed like an army against us.
My heart quailed. How could mortals survive such things?!
And yet, even here, I could hear the voices of my comrades being joined by others, men, elves, ogres and a brinchie all there in this place.
One by one, vorping in flashes of lighting.
Dane Landen, human paladin wielding the enemies’ own weapons, appeared vaporizing two voltmen with orange blasts from his twin handcasters.
Macha Panta the 21st Royal Bloodline of Eon’Voltuh appeared and closed with his foes, scrambling up to meet them.
Grek, ogre behemoth with his trusted goat companion Tina, the barded goat, appeared and crushed three Voltmen before they could even react.
Zori appeared and attacked a voltman, but the blow slid passed.
Liarra Byrne, the female human Adept appeared and fired a bolt of pure psionic energy at a voltman, but in the alien environ, the magic twisted away.
Ivan blasted into existence at a run, charging forward.
Lady Alraune appeared and advanced on the horde of voltmen, closing.
And last, Maeve appeared astride Justice, charging forward.
Scattered and disorganized, we were almost instantly swarmed by the hordes of sparking voltmen the moment we appeared.
Recovering most swiftly, Grek swept voltmen from his path with seeming ease as he began to lumber forward, his massive form towering over the field. Maeve and Justice thundered forward, slashing at voltmen as they rode. Alraune slashed a foe and advanced. At the same moment, a Light blasted from Dane as Zori raised bow to loose an arrow. Light and missile met, fusing into a shining torch which streaked across multicolored sky, passing from this realm to the next before slamming into a massive Lighting Elemental the size of a behemoth ogre standing atop some form of Builder generator. Light met lighting in an explosion of fire and electricity. For a moment, the world went white and when the sparks cleared from my eyes for the third time this day, I saw the huge, mechanical tower topple over, crushing a group of human looking warriors beneath. A cheer rose from our forces. Then something happened, whether it was Liarra’s magic, Zori’s shot or Dane’s Light, I cannot say, but the soul sucking portal to my left shifted and altered and I could see pulses of energy passing from that portal all the way across the horrible landscape to another like portal beneath the gray stone towers. I formed my squad and attacked the Voltmen closing around some of my companions. In that instant, Liarra fired a telekentic bolt at a distant foe and then LEAPED into the portal!
My heart lurched!
A heartbeat later the burrowing ogre, Ovgol leapt as well, disappearing from my sight.
Dane, charging, blasted two more voltmen with his handcasters then leapt through the portal. Ivan, charging across the field like an avalanche through a forest of saplings, brushing aside any and all foes, then leapt into the portal. Turning to my men, I shout, “Do you want to live forever?!” and, displaying the courage I hoped to find in my own heart… I too leaped.
The transition was so swift I did not have time to feel myself be torn asunder and remade. I was spat out of the distant portal like a bolt fired from a crossbow, my men behind me. Instantly, as if guided by my own will, they formed around me in perfect ranks, our boots in perfect step, we charged the first line of enemies we spied. Caught completely off-guard by our near miraculous appearance, they had no time to react. We hit them at speed, shattering their ranks.
My way clear, I looked up to take in the sight before me, and I stopped, stunned. To my right a tower topped by Lightning Elementals and Storm Magus. To my left a larger tower with the same. Before me, hundreds of yards ahead over unbroken terrain a line of the Storm’s Vanguard of Fury, their strange lighting rod weapons pointed at us with unwavering precision. But all this fled from my thoughts the instant I spied the scene beyond.
That huge, purple white tower I had seen from so far away rose into the sky, its crenelated top disappearing in a raging tempest storm of a size and magnitude…I simply do not have the words. At the base of the tower sat a pool of power and energy, like a reservoir of magic, but wrong and sickening. It sapped my strength to merely look up it. And around it, the most powerful and elite guards and Storm mages I have yet faced. But that was not what gave me pause.
A figure I saw, bound by invisible bonds, suspended spread eagle between stone towers, held captive by Storm creatures for which I have no name.
Rage burst forth in my chest the likes I have not felt since the night my family perished in the fires of Flame.
She was weak, as if her life was being drawn out into the pool. I took a step forward, but Liarra moved faster. Looking up, the young adept… moved. I could feel it, though I know not how. Liarra moved through space, time, and magic. And in an instant of pure love, of pure sacrifice, Shayline vanished… only to be replaced by Liarra.
One of our own.
This would not stand.
The world, or whatever makeshift abomination of a realm where we stood, groaned and shook as Liarra began to wrestle for control.
Ovgol broke right, crashing into a line of Vanguard, sweeping them from the field. Warping through the portal, Zori enhanced an arrow with power, fired, blasted an elemental into sparks. Macha Panta leapt through the portal, charging into the Vanguard. Grek turned, crushing a Voltman, then, snapping his goat up to cradle in his massive arms, let himself be pulled through the portal bellowing, “Hold on, Tina!”.
Enraged, Macha Panta leapt my line and charged the open ground alone, trying to reach Liarra. He alone faced fourteen Lighting Vanguard who lowered their rods. Fourteen beams of pure, elemental energy flashed across the field, converging on Macha who was immediately engulfed in a conflagration brighter than the sun.
I turned away, shielding my face from the glare, even as tears stung my eyes. In that moment, I knew a great hero had fallen for nothing, not even my ogre companions could survive such power. And then, we heard the roar as Macha Panta, 12th in the Panta line, appeared above the heads of the Vanguard, his fur in flames, but his eyes alight. A cheer rose from every throat as he fell among them, slashing this way and that, felling three in a single motion.
The last of our company to break from the Voltmen, Alraune sprinted for the portal and was whisked across the field, to land in our midst. One man alone, overcome by sheer terror at the mind-warping effects of this place, Mikey, one of my mercs, remained alone behind. All others stood with me, facing the pool of power, Liarra’s struggling form…and the end of everything we know and love.
Coming out of the portal, Alraune appeared, power infusing her like an overflowing geyser, she wove enegy like thread, pouring it into the others. Though my connection with the Horn, I could feel just a fraction of the energy spilling from her. Each and every caster, adept, and mage within our ranks suddenly burst into tendrils of pure, undiluted power.
Above our heads, on the towers flanking our position, a Storm Mage caught my forces clumped tightly together. Lighting ripped over us. Four of my men were instantly overwhelmed, two more from those brought by Ovgol. While a few of the heroes were driven to their knees none fell.
As her friends were bathed in lighting, Liarra desperately fought for control. For a moment, the enemy seemed to overtake her, but suddenly she flashed bright with a blue light that burst from her like a wave, passing over the field of battle. Shining like a star, Liarra began to wrest control of fate from the hands of those who would destroy.
Closing, desperately attempting to prevent our reaching Liarra, summoned elementals slammed Macha Panta, Ovgol and Grek with bolts of lightning. In response, Grek turned, reaching up and hooking his polearm on the crenelated peak of the right tower, he hauled himself up and swept two mages and their elemental from the top in a single mighty swipe of his arm. They tumbled, screaming, to the ground below.
Through a break in the line of his own creation, Macha Panta leaped up on the edge of the pool and hurled one of the binding mages into its vortex of energy. The man’s body was ripped apart, his soul scattered as he died, shrieking.
Raising his twin ’casters, Dane took a bead on the two Storm Magi binding Liarra and fired. They disappeared in orange light.
Time slowed again, as around me, my allies, friends, companions and men struggled and fought, holding back the hordes of enemies closing in around. I looked up and saw pain and determination on Liarra’s face and heard the mad cackling of the Storm Mages as they summoned power from their foreign god.
You see, a soldier learns to feel the ebb and flow of battle. And a good soldier can sense the moments when the tide beings to turn. Dropping wearily to one knee, forehead pressed against the cool hilt of my father’s sword, I cried out to Archanon, Father of Light, to give what strength remained within me to Liarra, for all of Shaintar would share her fate, for good or for ill.
As Light once again engulfed me and my essence began flow away like a river, I could feel others around me tapping their own power.
Ovgol, channeling his power through the ground and up into Liarra.
Alraune, bursting with power, rejected the aesthetics, the wrongness of it all, pulling here, threading there, and weaving a tapestry of beauty in that horrid place.
On my orders, behind me, Ivan slammed his massive fists into the ground with the force of Dranak, pouring his power of quake through Ovgol’s underground channels, drawing power from Alraune, he shattered the foundations of the Storm Tower. Cracking, breaking and crumbling, the huge edifice listed slowly to the side, huge chunks flying apart, crashing into the ground, scattering enemy soldiers. With one final, horrendous explosion of lightning, shattered stone shards and screaming Storm Magi, it crashed into the ground sending out buffeting waves of gale force winds and arcing electricity. Unfinished, Ivan slammed again, this time blasting the leftmost, squat tower into pieces, sending the enemy flying in all directions as dust and stone rained down on our heads.
Glowing with power, Zori reached out, sending blue energy in streams to meet the white light pouring from me and mixing with the underground rivers of power, all flowing into the body of Liarra who began to glow with an orchestra of colors. The world around us began to shake, pieces of reality falling away as her power began to peak.
At the last moment, Maeve charged forward, pure healing light pouring from her, mixing and blending with the streams and arcs of power flowing from every hero into Liarra.
The girl’s body arced as her power overloaded and the stress became too great.
And the question. One not spoken, but felt. Felt by every man and woman in that place, a question that echoed out through time, to the very founding of the world and all the way until the day that world ends.
A question on which the lives of every soul within the world, good or evil, powerful and weak alike rested.
A single question.
“What fate do you choose?”
And then she spoke.
“I seal away this place, and the storm… leaving only one small portal so the souls of the heroes here may return home.”
Faith. Channeling. Sorcery. The Way. Courage. Sacrifice. Loyalty. And Love.
Know this. Let it be carried to every corner of the world. On this day. The day our world stood at the brink of oblivion. It was hearts of heroes that faced annihilation and refused to fall.
We woke, lying reposed on a field of green grass under a cloudless blue sky, a gentle summer breeze caressing our cheeks. We were not a stone’s throw from the Korg Humps. We woke to a land healed, a land of plenty and beauty. A land unsoiled by the Storm.
I have led armies, faced horrors of Darkness and Flame, but I have never commanded a force of men and women so dedicated, so willing to give their all, not just their lives, but everything for the sake of those they love.
I make this vow. From this day to my last, I will do nothing but earn the respect and faith placed in me. For at the end of all things, I had the honor and the privilege to lead them, the Legio Heroes. Legion of Heroes.
Your obedient servant,
A. Wolfhaven, Colonel
Korg Humps, Wildlands