Corporal Wolfhaven, Alfred
Regional Command at Echer’Naught, Olara
Fifteenth Day of Red Wolf, Year 3125 Under the Light
We know Velkalar monitors our every move from the most critical missions down to our sanitary supplies. What most of our illustrious leadership seem incapable of considering is that Velkalar does not, in fact, have to even utilize his own agents to breach our security.
Our enemies are Legion. At least one Shade is known to be still within Echer’Naught’s walls. Petty men like RabenClau and Halten watch our every move. Red Store, Tor Mastak, Shayakar Nightguard, hells even our own town hore are all enemy agents. All Velkalar must do is watch the watchers. How many of our own little games have spun threads which hung our own kin? I wonder…
When I was found by the Ranger I was a terrified boy with no family and condemned to a life of brutal servitude to a master who saw me as little more than a slave. Wolfhaven, Hawksclaw, Longtail, even Highwall, these Rangers were like gods to a poor stable boy, invincible, immortal…
Time has proven otherwise. No being, no matter how powerful, cannot be destroyed. Even Velkalar has a weakness. And his, is hubris.
The plan was simple. Father always said the simplest plans were the most successful. Simple, yet elegant.
I approached Sergeant Major Stormhammer with a critical mission. New potential allies within Galea required a rare shipment. Also, I needed it expedited at the highest levels, but slipped through. No one other than we two would know of the mission.
He arched a brow at that, but complied.
The bait was set. By my estimation, Velkalar’s spies would discover the requisition buried among the mundane and quickly realize its importance. Therefore, I added a wrinkle. Stormhammer had less than 24 hours to process mission which included a large, heavy wagon, pack animals and funds for outside security.
Note I conveniently revealed the destination?
If our enemies were going to ambush us along the rode in our heavy, plodding wagon, they would still need to move very quickly to mobilize a force of sufficient size to ensure victory. That usually takes time. Time I was not allowing.
Men can be assembled quickly, but it is a messy affair and without finesse or subtlety. Certain my nemesis’ forces were already in motion set to meet me along the road, I began phase two of my little operation.
I failed to mention to the good Sergeant that there was no delivery as there were no new allies in Galea. The package was in reality my team: Lugard, Gwyn, and Rysak. For weeks I had them running routine duties under other commands. I, myself, took a leave of absence. More chum in the water.
The mission was submitted on the 29th of Planting Moons, with a proposed departure date of the 30th. Everything looked good until a wild, mountain man wandered into the HQ and very nearly ruined everything.
Thomas Zulcrum, fresh from his “leave” had decided to return at that precise moment. His sudden re-appearance might have spooked Velkalar’s network. If they were not already aware of his return, I surely was not going to let his blundering ruin months of planning.
Before he reached the front desk I quietly, if forcefully, escorted him out of the HQ and to the house of an acquaintance with no connection to the Rangers. There, he waited for the rest of my team that had orders to assemble at the loading site by separate routes just before the wagon was set to roll out.
An hour after I was to have departed with my team, now in the wagon, I informed Sergeant Major that unforeseen issues with security would delay my departure. He was kind enough to authorize a three day delay. Just enough time to collect a few low level street toughs that might make passable caravan guards.
It just so happened that Olara, in a fit of national pride, were hosting recruiting drives across the country in preparation for a war with Shaya’Nor, should it come to that. All I had to do was hang around the Muster Grounds looking for suitable candidates. I found three.
The first was an Olaran solider. Dommer…Donner? In any case, he was strong enough to swing a sword, and smart enough not to ask stupid questions. He hired on first. I barely had to ask.
The other two were a bit trickier: a dwarf and a brinchie.
Krivak was the dwarf’s name, a wright, engineer, and warrior from the Forgehome. He was, in all ways, a dwarf as so many are. But, I found him plucky enough and he passed the Esprit test with flying colors even if his combat abilities were uninspiring. A few ales, and he can’t even swing straight. He also has something of a mouth on him, one that will likely lead him into a scrap he’s not tough enough to survive. Time will tell.
The brinchie calls herself Softpaws. Like so many of her kind, she is far too pleased with her own cleverness. But, she can track, sneak, and fight. The girl has a savage streak, no doubt, but she is so fixed on being “terrifying” that she wastes precious energy in battle. That, and her little signature throat ripping move is going to lead her enemies right to her one day. If she lives long enough to get over herself, she might make a passable Ranger.
After passing their auditions, I invited them to a friend’s place and offered them a job. The Olaran accepted before I finished asking. Krivak more or less shrugged. If he was going to fight, might as well fight for me. Softpaws just wanted money. Piss poor reason to fight, but makes her easier to manipulate so I will not look a gift horse in the mouth.
They bedded down on the 33rd of Planting Moons. By my estimation, Velkalar, or his lackeys, had just enough time to roust out a band of thugs and send them scurrying off to intercept us on the road to Galea. If I was right, they would already be in the field when the spies learned of our unfortunate “delay”. Either they would have an adept or signaler in their party (unlikely), or not.
Either way, Velkalar’s band of bloodthirsty highwaymen would quickly find themselves waiting by a lonely stretch of road for a wagon three days away with nothing better to do than to gamble, drink, and fight. Three days was just long enough to encourage them to build a decent camp, but not long enough that they might think of packing up and leaving.
We left Echer’Naught on the morning of the 1st of Red Wolf amidst the early traffic. I doffed my cloak and none of my “guards” had any identifiable markers on them either. To everyone else, we looked like wealthy caravan guards protection some fatcat’s precious cargo. To Velkalar’s spies, we were chicken ripe for the plucking.
To be fair, I expected the hit much earlier. We were halfway to Hale, five days (Red Wolf 5th) when Krivak took the first arrow in the back. One minute, we are trudging along the road, the next all hell breaks loose. Arcfire blasts from the treeline to my right, and behind us, I hear the bellow of an Ogre.
I’ll give them credit. They put their three days to good use. The bandits had created hunting blinds around the ambush site. With a few quick slashes of a blade, walls of shrubs and limbs fell away to reveal dozens of armed men and women. It was a textbook ambush.
It was also a trap.
As soon as I heard Krivak cry out, I put my horn to my lips and blew. The sides of my wagon shot up and my team leaped out, weapons at the ready. On the left, Lugard up front with Thomas in the rear. On the right, Rysak held the front while Gywn to the rear. Suddenly, the Olaran, Dommer, was flanked by a Paladin and a deranged Olaran in plate. Krivak found himself standing by a dwarf with filed teeth and a slight human girl with a bow half a head taller than herself.
Softpaw brought up the rear more or less by her lonesome.
I, out front, released the horn of Wolfhaven and readied my spear. It was time for some just deserts.
The bandits came in fast and hard, trying to overwhelm our defensive line while their archers, and arclancer, peppered us from the trees. At first, Softpaws took the worst of it as she was out of line and without support.
In waves, three brigands rushed her. She managed to drop two before the last, quite literally, ripped out her throat. How she remained standing, I’ll never know. The wound seemed less to kill her as it just pissed her off more. She went on a bloody rampage of throat ripping that would have shamed a vampire.
Krivak and Rysak cut their way through waves of bandits trying to reach the arclancer who was making scrap iron out of Rysak’s armor. Gywn handled herself well until Softpaw’s decided to start eating a bandit right beside her. I suppose I cannot hold the brinchie at fault. She couldn’t know about the girl’s past.
On the left flank, Dommer, Lugard and Thomas faced off against at least as many bandits as well as an Ogre in full plate. Lucky for them, the stupid oaf attacked the wagon first. I’ll bet the only orders it received was to stop the wagon. Dumb brute.
Once the wagon was kindling, it turned its attention on Thomas and proceeded to driver the Olaran into the ground like a tent peg. In the end, the Ranger felled the giant with a well-placed hand-caster shot that melted flesh and armor.
Note that Thomas appears to have received the Arcfire training he so desperately sought.
The Olaran did well enough, as did Lugard. Once I dispatched the two men blocking out path, I turned my attention to the enemy commander who was firing on us from a small rise to my left.
From his armor and bearing, I place him as a Maelstrom commander, or perhaps a true Kal warrior. Either way, I closed the distance quickly, hoping to catch him off balance. Instead, he recovered first and, dropping his bow, drew a Warhammer. His first blow caught me in the chest and ripped me from the saddle.
In the background I could hear my team mopping up the rest of the bandits, but their leader was tough. We traded blows, he using his weight and strength to gain advantage, I longer reach and an overwhelming desire to cut out his heart. In the end, I settled upon skewing him to the dirt and he upon gasping his death rattle like a poleaxed sow.
To my surprise, the entire time had come through more or less unscathed. Gwyn was frozen and Softpaw was bleeding out her gaping throat, but Thomas stitched her easily enough and Lugard coaxed Gwyn to moving again.
Minor medical issues managed, I dispatched them into teams: some to scout for more bandits and some to scour the area for the enemy camp I estimated would be within a few hundred yards. Before searching the area, I had the brinchie check the fallen brigands. None of the bandits survived. Afterwards, Softpaw found the enemy camp just over 200 yards to the south in a small copse of trees. She did have a devil of a time trying to explain that. He wound, it seems, has rendered her mute.
The camp was a sorry affair, but decent enough considering the inhabitants. Again, I dispatched my men into search teams. We found armor, trash, broken bottles and other bits of detritus. Softpaw managed to find coin minted in the northern Wildlands near the Howling River ports. That, along with the large swath of tracks leading to the south east provided our next heading.
We rested the night in the camp and started out on the 6th for Erimar. Six days across country, and an afternoon ferry ride found us in Erimar on the 12th. We entered Erimar late afternoon. I stayed at the docks with the team sending in only the dwarves. Krivak proved to be quite chatty and, posing as bounty hunters, managed to find information regarding someone who might know about Ranger bounties south of the town.
Our entire time in Erimar proved Velkalar’s influence. Everyone was armed and all treated us with suspicion. I was nearly positive our presence had already reach the ears of our enemy, but I was curious to see this farce through.
We made a half-day trek in half the time, climbing into the Northern Hills. It was around this point that Thomas revealed that he had learned on his quest of enemy agents in Montrel, just on the other side of this range. That squares with other reports I have read and the fact that the Blood Lord’s Citadel was buried somewhere under the Northern Hills.
If this isn’t Velkalar’s base of operations, then it is at least a stronghold.
Just as day faded to night, we arrived a large complex nestled in a small bluff overlooking Erimar. If it were not an enemy fortress, it might have even been charming. We sent Softpaw ahead to scout the ground while we waited a safe distance.
She reported back through some wild pantomiming that the complex appeared empty. So, I ordered my team inside, cautiously. Entering, it certainly seemed vacant.
There were two main structures. I sent Thomas and Rysak to investigate the smaller of the two. For some reason Softpaw and Dommer decided to follow. I considered speaking up, but decided to let things play out.
We had a brief start when Thomas bashed open the front door. Apparently he dislodged a broom which fell to the floor causing him to jump like a school girl seeing a mouse. Eventually he overcame his fear of rakes and headed inside with the others.
They were gone a bit when Krivak got impatient and decided to take Lugard into larger structure. Again, I elected to allow this brashness. Either the buildings were empty and I could address the insubordination at a later, more convenient, date, or, this was, as I suspected, a trap. In which case, they would at least flush out my enemies for me like good soldiers.
In the end, it was a bit of neither. I assumed Velkalar would use traps. He is nothing if not predictable. This is why I hired Krivak, the Olaran, and conscripted Thomas. They should, at least, soak up some damage.
What I did not expect was for Velkalar’s men to have mined the entire complex. That was an intriguing surprise. Krivak and Lugard apparently stumbled across many interesting things, finely sewn women’s clothing, no doubt stitched by Sarah and even rose scented water in the lavatory. But, their greatest discovery was entering a room filled with the stench of blood an offal.
Sadly, they retreated before actually seeing what was in the cells lining the room and, in doing so, set off booby-traps that obliterated both structures with everyone inside. I suppose we may never know how many prisoners we torched in that fire.
For the second time I was shocked to see that nearly everyone made it out alive. Only Thomas was badly wounded as he was weighed down so by his plate armor. The rest managed to quickly clear the buildings suffering only moderate to severe burns in most cases.
Our evidence slowly burning to ash around us, I ordered a retreat. No sense in giving Velkalar easier targets. We fell back to a good place down the mountains; easily defensible if need be. There, I forced Greater Healing potions down Thomas’ throat until the Ranger sputtered and coughed into consciousness. He truly looked awful, but he was conscious and that is all I required.
Before departing, I borrowed an arcfire teleporter from the Ranger HQ, knowing Thomas could operate it in the event we needed a swift escape. Now, I thrust the tangle of wires and gears into his hands and, with them, our lives. Impressively, he managed to activate the device through gritted teeth. I can imagine the pain he was in.
With a flash of Arcfire and our bodies being ripped to shreds before fused back together, we returned to Echer’Naught. The mission was hardly a success, but we did discover a great deal about Velkalar’s operations. We also managed not to lose a single soldier. Yes, Softpaw is permanently crippled, Rysak’s chest was badly burned by arcfire, Thomas has lost most of his skin, and even Krivak got badly cooked.
But, in most engagements with Velkalar we tend to lose at least one team member, so I will report this as a qualified success. Both Softpaw and Thomas asked to remain on the team after recuperating in the infirmary. Gwyn will not like working with the brinchie, but she will learn to accept, or not.
I am left with one question. How soon did our enemies know of my plans? Clearly they had enough time to abandon their outpost and even enough time to set their trap. It would also seem that they were unsurprised at our arrival in Erimar. So, did they get word during our week long ride south? Or, did we miss a scout at the ambush site; someone reporting our progress even before the attack?
Perhaps Velkalar is more clever than all that. Perhaps, he knew all along and simply sacrificed a few pawns to lure me deeper into his trap. He is truly a skilled gamesman.
This proves to be an interesting contest indeed.
Your most obedient servant,
Alfred Wolfhaven, Corporal
Regional Command at Echer’Naught, Olara