Shaintar Legends Awaken: Rangers of the Greenway Road; Regional Command-Echer'Naught

Campaign Report 97
Mummy King

Ranger Serys

Report Filed: Raining Leaves 17th, 3126

Raining Leaves 12th, 3126

Lieutenant Volstagg was down, feverish and shivering, the ghoul sickness eating him from the inside. Sergeant Amaroth was not better of, only the touch of Flame coursing through his body kept the disease away. Corporal Daynore stood, eyes glazed, issuing a silence scream. RFC Zathlan clutched her belly groaning. RFC Danica glared at her team, ready to strike any of use down in an instant. RFC Grendel retched in the corner. Trainee Ranna stared through the hole in the wall down the darkened path into the underworld.

Tempari was gone, eaten by ghouls or worse. We had no food or water. No healing or succor potions to save us. Trapped in a tomb, Xaos sandstorm above, and undead horror below.

Let us hope that this moment is a low point for the team.

Eyes blazing, Sergeant Amaroth took charge, and demanded I see to the Lieutenant. Then barked orders at the others.I stripped the armor, but there was little I could do against the ghoul’s touch.

And then, Volstagg started glowing White Silver. He is really getting into this whole Chosen of the Unicorn shtick. In a moment, he was up, ripping off his shirt to impress Nexus, who was too busy doubled over in pain. Perhaps taking a pregnant woman into a combat zone was inadvisable?

With the Lieutenant back on his feet we regrouped and assessed the situation. Not much better than before. Without any good idea of Tempari’s location, we had a choice of retreat back into the ghoul infested tunnels, stay in the room as slowly die of dehydration and starvation, or venture down, into the Nether?

Lieutenant Volstagg chose death below. So, we stacked up, Volstagg nobly taking point and descended into the bowels of the tomb complex.

At the base of the switchback ramp cut through solid onyx stone, we arrived in a much larger chamber. Our small lanterns provided little light in the gloom, but it was clear the room was HUGE. Larger than any previously discovered.

Sergeant Amaroth now took point and descended a wide set of stone stairs aiming for an alcove to the left. Volstagg, or Danica had spotted gold glinting in the shadows. Creeping forward, Amaroth called back he found an ornate box or case covered in gold filigree and jewels. The thing also had an ornate face.

Corporal Daynore opined that we were in a burial chamber of something called a Pharaoh, some ancient desert King. These were fancy coffins for the Pharaoh and his top people. Judging by the intense feeling of dread and evil oozing from the walls, the chance that one, or all, of these bodies were undead…

Too high.

We proceeded further. Grendel sniffed another of the fancy coffins, then tried to bash it apart with his club. Lieutenant Vosltagg stopped him. Someone suggested stabbing it with White Silver. I was of the mind to leave the things alone, but kept quiet. No need making myself a target. With luck, when these things inevitably broke out of their little boxes and tried to kill us, they would home in on noisy team members first.

I noted with some dismay that the deeper into this chamber we moved, the worse Nexus’ pain seemed to get. Still, we passed another near dozen of those fancy boxes in half as many alcoves. At the far end of the LONG chamber, we found another set of stone stairs, wider than the entrance. Atop this dais was a massive version of those fancy coffins, this on twice the size.

Corporal Daynore informed us that this would be the tomb of the Pharaoh himself. About this time RFC Zathlan doubled over in pain, and the room was filled with a low guttural roar. That, and the sand began to move across the floor, gathering at our feet…

…before it exploded into a swirling cloud filling the room.

That’s when we hear heard the dull thuds echoing across the room as the undead, mummies, because that is what have now, broke free from their fancy boxes and lumbered toward us in the gloom of the dark room and the sand.

Only three of us had lamps, Volstagg, Daynore, and Zathlan, I think. They swarmed us as we huddled at the base of the stairs.

The mummies were tall, lanky undead, like zombies wrapped in rotting cloth strips, stained with gore and sand. They clawed and moaned as they staggered into our ranks. Everywhere they touched, unnatural rot seemed to spread. Worse, it turns out that in the ancient tomb, they regenerated like Trolls.

The undead Pharaoh, Mummy King, was also a Necromancer. And he flew.

Lieutenant Volstagg and Sergeant Amaroth made a run at the Mummy King, but his twin guards intercepted. The rest of us huddled together and tried to fight off the mummies, but every time we dropped on, it would crawl to its feet moments later.

Grendel stomped one, but it kept squirming. If we couldn’t find a way to put them down permanently this would be our last stand. And the Pharaoh kept hitting us with black magic. Things looked grim.

And then, Nexus spotted “blue lanterns” in the stairs and started firing back the other way. Here we were, overrun by mummies, and she starts firing off into the distance. Soon, half the team ignored the mummies litterally clawing our faces off. Sergeant Volstagg broke free and started making his way back to the stairs. Daynore followed, and Nexus sprinted for the exit.

She made it halfway before being blasted back by a massive gust of wind, nearly toppling me.

On the dais, Danica retreated before the onslaught of the necromancer Pharaoh and Lieutenant Volstagg battled the Mummy King’s guards.

About then, in desperation, Volstagg hit one of his mummies with a “Troll buster” from the WolfPack. Little more than an alchemically sparked fire bombs, nevertheless, the improvised incendiary did its work. The mummy died screaming.

These can be used with the Throw skill and have a range of 3/6/12 and do 2d10 damage to anyone in a Medium Burst Template. On a roll of 4-6 on 1d6, those hit also catch on fire. A miss means the bottle didn’t break, the alchemical primer failed. If the hero rolls a 1 on both his Throwing die and Wild Die, he drops the bottle, causing the burst template—and damage—to center on him instead. Each round after, for 3 rounds, anyone within or entering the MBT takes 1d10 damage, on a roll of 6 on 1d6 catches fire.

Fire.

Pretty quickly, everyone is torching the mummies. Until Danica takes a hit and drops her “Troll buster” on herself. Sergeant Amaroth finds one of the oil braziers and lights it, filling the area with light. I use the rags of one of the burning mummies to light another.

About this time, we hear Tempari’s voice ring out and the chamber is flooded with arcfire, ripping the mummies to ribbons, and lighting them on fire. Tempari himself unleashes a torrent azure blue lighting into the Mummy King. When the necromancy was down, Tempari dispelled the sand, clearing the air. And like that, the arrival of Tempest meant an end to the mummies, but also put us in an awkward position.

Also, Tempari had found reinforcements. There were five Tempest soldiers with him. Two elite guards, two scouts and one…one looked like a killer, but not a commander. They had cover, the high grounds, and honestly, we were pretty much dead anyway.

Lieutenant Volstagg, unaware of the Tempest’s arrival, he had eyes only for his wife. During the fight, Danica, Ranna, AND Nexus had both taken hits and gone down. The rest of us were in little better condition. Sergeant Amaroth faced the Tempest. For a moment, it looked like they were going to finish what the mummies had started, but, in a moment of uncharacteristic charity, Tempari waved his men off…and disappeared into the tunnel.

Lit by the warm glow of burning mummy corpses we took stock of our situation, and I worked on reviving our fallen members. The simple fact that I am now our team medic should be far more disturbing that it is. With work, I managed to get Nexus, Ranna, and Danica on their feet. Though, I am also concerned about the sheer glee Grendel took in removing Ranna’s armor. I believe we need another meeting on appropriate touching. First to attend should be Lieutenant Volstagg.

With everyone more or less on their feet, we stacked up again and started making our way back out the way we came in, following Tempest. I was scouting ahead when I heard the snuffle and growl of ghouls in the chamber above us. I counted five.

By the time I returned to report, Ranna had noted a new draft in the Mummy room that had not been present when we arrived. Fanning out, we searched the room and eventually found ourselves BACK at the King Mummy’s coffin. High on the wall, roughly where Tempari had slammed the necromancer into the wall, one of the stone panels was cracked…and air whistled through.

This deep meant that hole reached all the way up to the surface. So, Ranna climbed up, held by a giddy Grendel. The ogress lifted Sergeant Amaroth up to the cracked stone and he went to work with Nexus’ hammer. In a few minutes, he broke away the rest of the cap.

As it turns out, the stone was a cap over one of the air shafts covered, presumably, just before the Pharaoh was mummified. When the necromancer slammed into the thinner stone, it cracked. Hence, draft.

Unfortunately, the air shaft was narrow, far too narrow for anything but a child, or a skinny elf. Nexus was the first choice, but being pregnant, Corporal Daynore was volunteered.

But first, he stripped and Grendel helped smear him with grease. Yet, another concerning element of this team, our frequency with getting naked and greasy. Now slippery as a…well…greased pig, Grendel helped the nude, greasy, hammer wielding elf up to the shaft’s entrance.

It took…a while for him to crawl out. Below, the oil and mummy corpses died down…and went out, plunging us into cave darkness. Volstagg took the opportunity to goose Nexus, hardly the appropriate time…but…at least they would die amused.

We waited in the dark, hoping for a miracle when Lieutenant Volstagg shouted for us to move away from the wall. We scattered, sort of, falling over each other as the room began to shake. Then, the air shaft sudden grew larger, into a tunnel and weak, sandy light filtered into the room. A figure also appeared, smallish, swaddled in desert garb from head to toe…

Moments later, a knotted rope rolled out of the new tunnel into the chamber. We needed no more encouragement. Quickly, we all scrambled up the tunnel into the sandstorm above. I found it curious that when I first entered the desert, seeing a sandstorm approaching was somewhat unmanning. At this point, however, the sand was, quite literally, the least of our worries.

Raining Leaves 13th, 3126 (Early Morning)

Topside, we found a curious sight. First, Daynore was still in his birthday suit, now looking something like a living, anatomically correct, sand golem, as a thick layer of sands had stuck to the grease. Someone had mercifully given him a cloak, which likely helped keep him from being flayed by the swirling sands, but also made him look that much more miserable. the only part I recognized was those small, burning eyes set into a ball of sand slightly resembling his head.

Second, we were not alone. In addition to the swaddled goblin that bore a hole through meters of sandstone, there were other swaddled figures, camels, and a curious human man, nearly as large as Volstagg with a white beard, blue eyes and a Galean accent. Emris. He was in charge.

Once we were all above, and being excoriated by sand, the big man suggested we all mount the camels and vacate the premises. Behind us, that little caster who bore the hole, used magic to cause an explosion which sealed the breach, then let the sand fill back in. That hole would never be found.

I climbed onto the back of the surly beast, and waited. As soon as the others were mounted, my camel started walking on its own accord. Only then did I note there were no reins. Apparently, I was no longer in command of my own destiny. Though, I have not been for some time.

We traveled for hours, though cocooned in the sand storm, wrapped in cloaks, and feeling the gentle sway of the camel beneath me, I drifted in and out of consciousness. Sometime just as the sky lightened, so I assume dawnish on the 13th, we arrived a large rocky ridge. Not quite a mountain, not quite a dune…just a long, large stone outcrop from the relentless deserts.

We were led under cover of the rocks and the wind mercifully was cut off. There, we found more Desert Riders, and mounts. We dismounted, and were ordered to drop our gear, all of it.

Normally, I would have protested. But, all they had to do was wait half a day and we would all be dead or out from dehydration. So, I stripped, and dropped everything I owned in a pile with the rest. I was given a surprisingly soft linen pair of pants, a tunic, and water. The rest followed suit.

Once we were all unarmed, unarmored, and completely helpless, we were led through the twisting, ancient tunnels to a sort of information where we were all bade lie down. Every instinct screamed to remain alert, ready, but after so many months of exposure and pain, the soft palliasse, linen sheets, cool breeze humming through the tunnels…I slept the sleep of the dead.

Over the next few days, we were treated well enough, fed, watered, and our wounds treated, but not magic. The food was all dried or dehydrated fruit, nuts, and some unleavened bread. Nothing has ever tasted so fine.

Raining Leaves 16th, 3126

On the eve of the Emris returned. He asked us all to follow and, doing so, led us up to the upper levels of the tunnel complex. There, he showed us an ominous sight. All three moons hung in the sky, each glowing an angry red. As the height of the 13th hour approached, the three come together, growing darker until all disappeared into a single black hole.

Here, under that sky, Emris repeated what the crazed Xaos assassin had repeated before being summarily executed by Lieutenant Volstagg,

_“Red sands stained,

Lord of Xaos and war,

We stand before the storm,

Preparing your arrival.”_

He then introduced himself. In his younger years, he was an adventuring academic in the desert researching the mysteries which consume all who come to this desolate place. Thirty years ago, his caravan was raided by Desert Riders. Most of the others were killed, but he was taken hostage.

It was difficult at first, but the Desert people knew more of the history of the sands than any of the “civilized” cities. And so, after a decade of living among the Desert Riders, Emris was taken into the tribe, not as a raider, but as a scholar. Despite knowing more than any other of his order, he elected to stay with his new “family.”

He also introduced himself as Sir Emris of House Kahnar, Master Knight of the Golden Torch. More bloody nobility. It would seem they lurk everywhere…

Still, nice to have someone from back east here.

Afterwards, he led us to a larger room and answered what questions he could. Once our curiosity was satisfied, he told Lieutenant Volstagg that we would be meeting his lord, the Supreme Amir of the Desert Riders in the morning. With that, he left us to discuss out fates.

Volstagg said things. It boils down to what it always does. Keep quite, follow his lead, and try not to get us all killed.

We rested, but I for one was plagued with thoughts about the situation, and how we came to this place. Emris had said that we had, “Powerful Allies,” and suggested that the message of our location had been passed all the way back east to Colonel Wolfhaven. He also suggested that forces normally inimical were working together on this?

Perhaps this is less unbelievable as the map Corporal Daynore has been following in his head was planted there by an ancient Shayakar. And, up until “departing company,” we had traveled with a Tempest Magus for the last few months. And now we were to meet with the true master of the Desert Riders, one of the most infamous bandits in Shaintar. The others seem to just accept all and move one, but I must be wary. For all our sakes.

Raining Leaves 17th, 3126

In the morning, Emris fetched us personally. He escorted us for what seemed like miles through the twisting tunnels of this rocky, ridge camp until we came to a large, natural cavern. The riders had taken the natural pillars and carved them into the semblance of ornate colonnades. At the far end under a silk pavilion, and reclining on pillows, the Supreme Amir of the Desert People.

We approached, bowed and formalities were offered. The leader of these people was introduced as:

Prince Romar, son of Romar, Lion of the Dunes, Bearer of the Three Moon Pennant and Supreme Amir of the Desert Riders.

Volstagg had his own word soup.

We were offered fruit, wine, water, and hospitality. Which is good as they are less likely to kill us out of hand if they offer water first. Less likely.

We sat, ate, watched. Lieutenant Volstagg offered up four items he had collected over our journey: Prince Velthana of Almahrad’s scroll, the Emissary’s Language medallion, the ancient Golden Sun gold coin, and the carved sandstone baton given him by the Desert Rider named rider we last saw on the banks of the Oasis Lake back in A’Tora.

Prince Romar seemed to puzzle over these things. Ultimately, he demanded to know who had given Volstagg the baton. Volstagg told the truth, and the Prince seemed content. After a bit more bull, we were bade to remain with his people. We would be given some free rein. He would feed, cloth, and provide for us. And, when the time was right, he would call us back to discuss next steps.

Then we were dismissed, and Emris escorted us to our “new rooms.” I have a feeling we are going to be here for a while. Still, good a time as any to learn more about the Desert Riders. I imagine few have gained this much access to their stronghold and manage to live long enough to report back…

Serys

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Campaign Report 96
Dark Pyramids

Ranger Serys

Report Filed: Raining Leaves 12th, 3126

Raining Leaves 11th, 3126

The Alpha Team woke in the ruins of the ancient village starving, barely hydrated. We had a source of wet sand, meaning water. But, extracting water from sand is a difficult process and we could only collect enough for a days worth of quarter rations every nearly 8 hours. Hard work for little payoff. And without food…

Lieutenant Volstagg ordered the team to spend the first 16 hours of the day working in shifts to pull as much was as we could. We pulled enough for two days at quarter rations. Evening was just falling, and rather than stay pulling water till we died of starvation or exposure, the Lt. ordered the team to “grab our shit”, and get moving…

…And that’s when the Xaos fire ripped through Volstagg’s body and turned the sand to glass.

A second shot ripped through the growing dark, punching through the other side of Volstagg’s chest. The towering Olaran went to one knee. Before the team could react, figures formed from the sand and surrounding us, drawing scimitar shaped weapons from the very sand. I have heard of the fabled Sand Warriors of the desert, though never faced them before. While the sand warriors pinned us down, the assassins crouching in the ruins launched crossbow bolts, and worse, that Xaos gun into our ranks.

Lt. Volstagg ordered a line, and Sgt Volstagg ordered cover. I dropped the two Sand Warriors around me, only to have more rise out of the sand and stagger toward me swinging their sand-glass scimitars. As the second rank of Sand Warriors rose around us, two robed and masks assassins sprinted around our flank on my end of our line, and I could hear another warrior assaulting Sgt Amaroth on the far end of the line.

Ranks of easily summoned and disposable troops held us in place, while their heavier forces flanked us. All this under the constant assault from their range assault. These Xaos cultists were acting far too tactical for a group of religious zealots. To my right, Grendel took an assassin’s blade to the knee. From his grimace, I could tell the blades were poisoned. More arrows hit Volstagg and winged toward Zathlan. Sgt Audric cleaved the commander on his flank, but the caster hit our line with spells to sap our strength while pressing hard with the sand warriors.

In the midst of battle,Tempari summoned his Tempest powers, firing off lightning bolts at the Xaos sniper who respond by snapping off shots which crackled against the Tempest Legion armor. Tempari’s return fire blew most of the ruined wall apart, the Xaos sniper with it. Their heaviest hitter down, Ranna sniped the second crossbowman.

Ignoring orders to maintain cover, I scrambled over the ruins, ducking blows from the Sand Warriors. Grendel dropped one of the assassins, and Ranna winged the Xaos commander. The rest continue to struggle against the Sand Warriors.

I cleared the first ruin, and closed on the enemy caster’s position. Half a dozen yards away, a staff appeared over the ruins of the wall we had taken shelter in the night previous, and the Xaos wizards unleashed a torrent of angry reddish gold fire. I manged to roll past most of the shot, but one clipped my shoulder staggering me. From behind, RFC Grendel roared and RFC Danica appeared, staggering toward the same target. Moments before she arrived, there was a flash of arcfire-like energy.

By the time we reached the Xaos wizards blind, he was gone. Teleporter. Instead, I snipped the last crossbowman. Seconds later, the Xaos caster dropped his spell, and the sand warriors disintegrated, falling back into the sand from which they sprang. Only one assassin remained. Someone had claimed the Xaos commander.

The assassin, stabbed Grendel and tried to run, but the ogre chased him down and knocked him out with a blow to the head. When I returned to the others after sweeping the ruins for straggling enemy forces, I found Corporal Daynore on his knees frantically digging into the sand around what appeared to be an obelisk. Sometime in the fight, the Xaos commander had lobbed a blast potion. Apparently, it had revealed the top of some black obelisk that now Daynore was insanely trying to dig out.

Others help while the rest of us took stock of the enemy provisions. We had food for the party. We hadn’t eaten in some time, so the food provided would last us…a couple days. Water, we had for maybe 3. I heard the others talking about this location being a supply or staging point. But, why? The only “water” source is wet sand 20 feet under the dunes. There is precious little cover, and no sign of any activity for…maybe years. No, my money bets that our departure from A’Tora did not go unnoticed. This group has been tracking us since we crossed the Black Sand Wall.

Just as we were wrapping up, Daynore suddenly snapped up, started saying something in a bizarre language, then he stood up, grabbed his kit and started walking into the desert. I’ve seen sleepwalking and this was similar. Lt. Volstagg went to stop him, but ended up choosing to let the mad adept lead us out into the night. Fortunately, though storms surrounded us, none struck that night. We walked until about 10PM before Daynore, stopped, and started pantomiming like he was drawing water.

Digging into the sand, Grendel found the remains of what might once have been a well, several thousands years ago. Then, Daynore lay down and went to sleep… Nothing doing, we made camp.

While we had a moment, I managed to patch myself up, then stitch up Lieutenant Volstagg’s chest. Alpha team are surprisingly competent warriors. When it comes to basic survival skills, they could use training. Once those of us still bleeding out were sutured, our attention to turned to the prisoner who had been unconscious a dangerously long time. I suppose that is to be expected after getting brained by an ogre with a club?

It took some doing, but I managed to bring the assassin back to consciousnesses. He looked around confused for a moment, before his eyes glazed over and he began to chant something in an older form of Aradish. Volstagg translated via the medallion lent him by the Emmisary.

“Red sands stained,
Lord of Xaos and war,
We stand before the storm,
Preparing your arrival.”

In older Aradish, he kept repeating the same phrase. Until, Volstagg to his head with a swift slice. I don’t blame him. Last time we let some crazed lunatic chant, he blew nearly killing Volstagg and Zathlan. Efficient and expedient.

That done, we slept in shifts. Though the storms raged all around, we were not hit that night.

Raining Leaves 12th, 3126

Off again in the early AM. Corporal Daynore, now completely sunstruck gathered his kit and just started walking, like he was following some ancient road. Lieutenant Vosltagg made the call not to stop him, so we all trudged into the growing light, and heat of the day. Apparently, at night, and while under cover, Tempari could shield us, but in the full force of the day, he could only shield most. Two Alpha Team members had to volunteer to enter the desert unprotected by Tempest magic…

Naturally, Lieutenant Volstagg sacrificed himself. And, Grendel. So, we trudged. By mid day, both Volstagg and Grendel were suffering bad heatstroke. By late the in day, Corporal Daynore veered off north and then entered a cluster of small and large dunes. He dropped his stuff, and began to pantomime…shopping? If what we all suspect is true, whatever was done to him back in Paradise had cursed him with visions of the Eternal Sands as they were during the Age of the Empire of the Golden Sun. Whatever this place once was, obviously there was community here.

So, with Corporal Daynore dreamwalking, the rest of us started searching the area. It didn’t take long to realize that the odd shaped dunes were covering something deep in the sands. So, we broke into teams and started digging… That is when Tempari warned us another storm was coming. I was working with Grendel and Sergeant Amaroth, frantically scrapping sand, when there was a loud crunch sound. Then, a hole opened in the sand, sucking the three of us down. We landed hard, half a dozen yards below. Fortunately, the sand provided limited cushion. Mostly.

However, with the storm approaching “above sand,” we had nowhere to go but deeper in. Tempari scooped up the others and deposited them down the hole. Moments later, the air was thick with swirling sand and the dying light from dusk was snuffed out like a life. About the time the lights went out, Corporal Daynore, “woke.” Whatever spell he was under broke. While it was good he was not longer a dazed liability, I still worried what power led him here. I fear the Adept is far more compromised than we know…

We broke out small lamps from our Ranger Kits and starting making our way deeper into this underground maze. The walls were rough cut sandstone, and the air was dry, slightly musty…like old sand. Hard to describe. I took point, and when we came to a junction, Lieutenant Volstagg ordered me to go left. The passage was narrow. Sergeant Amaroth posted at the entrance while I crept inside, their lights at my back.

The next chamber was larger…and smelled of old, dry rot. That’s when I heard to snuffling and crunching… Ghouls.

They were on me almost before I could react. I managed to reach the party down the narrow corridor, the snarling ghouls on my heels. Amaroth took the brunt with Volstagg and the archers, me, Ranna, and the support cast. The fight was intense, both Lieutenant Volstagg and Sergeant Amaroth got clawed badly, but everyone made it through alright…or so we thought.

With the ghouls down, we proceeded into the next chamber. Again, I was ordered left, so I proceeded left, then right. The chambers were connected by small corridors. The further in we went, the older, and mustier the place smelled. I was on point, Lieutenant Volstagg, Sergeant Amaroth, and RFC Zathlan with me when shouts and sounds of battle echoed from our rear. I stopped to wait for orders, when skeletons clattered out a side tunnel and attacked. Fortunately, RFC Zathlan snatched me back, but she almost went down.

Her husband shielded her. With Sergeant Volstagg and Daynore backing them up, the quartet had this battle covered. I fell back to support RFCs Danica, Grendel, and Ranger Ranna… But, I’m not entirely sure what they were doing. When I approached, I found Grendel on his knees groping into one of the smaller passages. Ranna was right behind him…in support? Danica stood just to their left, face in her palms. And, from within the darkness, I could hear the sounds of what APPEARED to be a skeleton…dancing???

Now thinking on it, I think dehydration and heat stroke had begun to take their toll. Even so, I knelt behind Ranna and fired arrows between the ogres’ legs. Moments later, Sergeant Amaroth arrived on the “scene.”

It took some doing. The skeletons were tough, but we managed to defeat them. After which, the team closed ranks and we continued deeper into the complex. Everything was empty, though I could tell most of the chambers had once been sealed, eons ago. Tomb Robbers had long since picked this place clean.

Finally, we came to the final burial chamber. The room was larger than the others. The walls appeared to have once been covered in stone panels, likely frescoes, but they had long since been removed. In the center, was a massive stone pyramid. It was a burial chamber. We were in an ancient Desert Tomb. But, oddly, no one had managed to break through to the sarcophagus inside. Curious?

This appeared to be a dead end. The team broke up and began to search. Grendel, Sergeant Amaroth, and Lieutenant Volstagg all seemed woozy. The rest of us were exhausted. After a careful search, the only the we found was a gold coin buried in the sand in one corner of the room. It was of the same ilk Volstagg had spent in the last town… So, we were right. The coins were looted from a tomb, or tombs.

The tomb ecology was simple. Travelers, looters, adventurers and the unfortunate had managed to find this place, before the recent storms so thoroughly covered it. That explained the Ghouls, and the skeletons, being the older dead. And, even I could feel the Darkness seeping from the pyramid in the room.

But, I was left with questions. Why had no one, over the centuries, managed to break into the pyramid here? Also, come to that, if this place had been covered for the last year by Xaos storms…who, or what, had the ghouls been eating when I stumbled on them? A fresh kill meant recent visitors…

And why did I sense a concentration of darkness in one corner of the room? Examining closer, I noted the cement around the seams of the stone blocks was…different…

There was more to the maze. I suggested to Lieutenant Volstagg that he should have the Ogres break through that wall. He complied without question, though, his eyes were wide, and he seemed…feverish…

Grendel and Ranna went to work, their clubs and hammers ringing dully on the stone. For a moment, I feared I had erred, but in minutes, Grendel smashed his club through the wall.

Their was a sudden rush of wind as the sealed tomb air, fetid with rot, filled out chamber. It was foul. Grendel, taking it in the face, doubled over and started dry heaving. The Darkness oozing from the hole was palpatable.

Ranna leaned into hole, holding up a lamp, reported that there was a ramp, and smooth black walls. From atop the pyramid where I crouched to cover the Ogres, I suddenly realized we were in grave danger.

Blame it on the heat, the dehydration, starvation, exposure, or exhaustion, but, I should have seen it before.

Even as Ranna leaned in to the hole, Sir Volstagg’s eyes rolled up into this skull, and he collapsed, unconscious. Burning with fever. I slid down the pyramid to his side and started stripping plate. The stench of rotting flesh made me gag. Ghoul infection. Our commander was infected, and close to death. I looked up and could sense the heat roiling off the Sergeant. His eyes also looked glassy. Already, putrefaction was wafting up from his Ghoul scratches. He was moments from falling to Flame…or Darkness. Damn!

Corporal Daynore stood in the corner, looking…faintly off. Being here was having a BAD effect on him. He could not lead.

RFC Zathlan was in the corner. Holding up, but already…the fatigue of all of this was wearing on her. And…something about her was… Bringing her unborn here was a terrible mistake.

Ranna blinked into the dark hole, Grendel retched…

Danica stood seething. He eyes hard, as always. She was a Golden Gryphon and nearly her entire command was now tainted by Flame, Darkness, or Tempest…

TEMPEST!

I looked around…Tempari was gone. Thinking back, I realize the last time we saw him was…entered the hole. The Ghoul attack. From then on…I do not recall even hearing his voice…

Damn.

We are in trouble.

Serys

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Campaign Report 95
Desert

Ranger Serys

Report Filed: Raining Leaves 10th, 3126

Forest Dance 23rd, 3126
We boarded one of those long, low desert ships. Odd thought that. The captain seemed trustworthy enough. Before shoving off, the desert rider slipped something to Lt. Volstagg. That, and the assassin declined to continue with the team. Not surprising. I would not have.

The trip was just under four hours. Beautiful, almost cloudless day on a cool boat ride across a placid lake. If were were not hundreds of miles behind enemy lines, cut off, alone, and being hunted…actually, I had a decent trip. The others…

RFC Zathlan/Volstagg spend her trip obsessed with fish. I think the pregnancy is affecting her mental state. Or, maybe not. Which is worse, come to think.

Danica prowled the ship like a caged animal. So, no change.

The Ogres, sat.

Sgt Amaroth was unusually quiet, though he did glower with his good eye. Again, no change.

Daynore bears monitoring. An adept and Farspeaking having their mind violated? One cannot compare such things, but I fear only Nexus has any clue of how he is feeling. Neither seem to be taking their…assaults well. But, she has more courage than most. He…will adapt.

The Lt did the rounds. I think it is a Ranger thing. Or, maybe an Echer’Naught thing. What do I know. The others probably need to ataboy. Considering the circumstances, Volstagg has held up fairly well. I just wonder what happens when he realizes that he can’t get us out of this alive?

Then we test his Olaran blood.

At just around noon we arrived in a large fishing village on the north-east shore of Oasis Lake. I took the skipper at his word and kept my hands inside the boat. Last way I want to die is swallowed whole by a 30+ foot croc.

At the docks we were met by local loaders. Good news, the disguises worked. As soon as we set foot, or more appropriately Tempari stepped foot, on the dock every linen wrapped worker dropped to their knees. Bad news, we would attract attention wherever we went. As long as we were not required to know the day’s passphrase…

The workers let us a pass, but a local Salar and is Paighan stopped us. With the necklace of translation that the Emissary lent Lt. Volstagg, we were able to convince the local guards to let us pass, but something gave me the impression that was not the last we would see of them. I noted, that they conformed to the patterns I observed in A’Tora. Each Salar officer led 4-5 guards. These were local, not Xaos; chain armor, helms, oval shields, and scimitars.

Once through the first security checkpoint, we found a community well. The locals cleared out as soon as we entered the area. Security was accommodating, but again, the high profile made me nervous. We filled our skins and moved on to a nearby outdoor bazaar.

Again, Lt. Volstagg took point, acting on behalf of the “Xaos Wizard” Tempari. He spent the Gold coin from the Empire of the Golden Sun. The merchant accepted it greedily, though, I fear that coin will continue to cause us nothing by pain. Still, it paid for our resupply, even with a camel. Entire process took no more than an hour. We were watched from corner streets and rooftops guards, but none intervened. Still, every officer and guard in the city was alerted to our presence. There would be NO way to slip away unnoticed.

After gathering supplies, food, water, medicine, and travel gear for two weeks of travel, we headed out of the town north and east. It was large, but we reached desert quickly after leaving the main residential areas. Just outside the town, we ran into another patrol. This, like the other consisted of the officer, and four men. All armed and garbed in local kit. However, this man was sharper than the others. He offered an escort for our party, but Lt. Volstagg declined on behalf of Tempari. That was a mistake.

The Salar did not challenge us, but it was clear he suspected out motives. And, because of that, the patrol continued to track us. We reached the Black Sand Wall at the north east corner of the clear zone around the Oasis Lake, but the cavalry patrol was a short, but respectful distance behind us. Our options were to try and ambush the mounted patrol, but we would have to eliminate every one in a single hit, or face a much larger force. Or, go ahead and start the Tempest Cyclone. At least that way, any fight would put everyone at a disadvantage.

Lt. Volstagg ordered Tempari to begin the spell, while we formed up around the Tempest mage.

In reality, the spell takes 2 minutes. But it seems like an eternity. As expected, as soon as the giant swirl of wind kicked up sand, the Raiders attacked. Five dismounted, crouched behind a high dune and opened fire with bows. The other ten in two groups of five, each lead by a Salar, flanked from the south and rode down out group in wedge formation.

You have to give the desert riders credit. Under normal conditions the attack would have been overwhelming and devastating. However, standing as we were in a literal hurricane of a sandstorm…much of the battle fell to lucky blows. Their numerical advantage disappeared as fast as the light in the midst of the storm, as the sun was blotted out by the sands. I was on the north side of our formation, so was spared the initial assault. In the blackness and roar that as the sandstorm I could make out shapes moving, and hear some screams and clash of arms, but mostly, I just fired at shadows in a black swirling cloud of death.

As the rider formation enveloped our team, the last four mounted warriors swung around, two attacking me, the last two managing to flank our position and make a run at the Tempari. All the while, from the dune, the archers loosed arrows into the storm. Most of their shots were blown wide off course, but enough stuck flesh to winnow our forces. A few found Tempari, but Corporal Daynore batted them aside with the large Targe he carries like a totem.

My of fight was fast and brutal, but I managed to put arrows into the attackers as our formation shifted ever north to cover Tempari from the flanking riders. Ever second I was alternately slammed into the ground, blasted by sand, or felt my very soul shearing from my body. But…after two harrowing minutes, Tempari released the cyclone into the Black Sand Wall, with predictable results…

A hole, however brief, appeared in the impenetrable wall of Black Sand. Around us, the bodies of the riders littered the bloody sand, their mounts running, shrieking in the storm. However, the bowmen continued to pour arrows into us. Lt. Vosltagg ordered retreat, so we ran. All but Volstagg and Ranna, who was just picking herself off the ground. At some point in the fight, she had been dropped, then the winds had picker up her massive body and hurled it into Volstagg and, I think, RFC Danica…

I sprinted with the others through the gap, and found ourselves on the far side, standing in an endless desert, baking in the noon sun. Joy…

Moments later, Lt. Volstagg and Ranna charged through, arrows whistling around them. The curtain wall behind us closed and were were alone, for the moment. However, intelligence reported that the Xaos warriors could navigate their own storms, so we had only minutes before the REAL threat showed up.

So, exhausted, we staggered deeper into the hellish landscape of the deep desert. And, the camel was dead with most of our supplies. We traveled well enough till nightfall, but the roving sand storms caught us.

Forest Dance 24th, 3126
As we were packing out gear to move out, the howling wind outside rose sharply. A sandstorm was upon us. Were it not for the arcing azure blue lightning protecting us, our flesh would have been stripped from our flesh as we huddled in our makeshift hole.

Four days, that storm tried to alternately choke us, smother us, grind us down, and toss us like ragdolls.

Forest Dance 28th, 3126
We dug out and moved that night for 8 hours until the morning of the 29th. And, we were hit again. This hell only lasted a day.

Forest Dance 29th, 3126
Dug out again, moved that night. We made good time, despite being low on food and water. No one complained. Not even RFC Zathlan. Respect. We bedded down early on the 30th, and waited. The storm was on us almost immediately.

This time, we were under for three days. No on saw stars until the 33rd.

Forest Dance 33rd, 3126
And again, we dug out. Without food and little water, we were in rough shape, but we could only move forward. We continued moving north and east overnight till the Raining Leaves 1st, 3126. Hit again before setting camp. Three days this time.

Raining Leaves 4th, 3126
Dug out and moved. By now, dehydration was getting to the team. We were on quarter water rations…If we didn’t find water soon… Hiked four days… Four days. Danica, Audric, and I gave up most of our water for the others… but it wouldn’t matter…

Raining Leaves 8th, 3126
Last leg. We don’t find water soon, mission is blown. Somebody spots structures in the dunes. We stagger for it. Location, estimate 30+ miles north and east of the north east coast of the Oasis Lake. All that we found left were some half tumbled walls, bits and pieces of adobe roofs. But, more cover than we had seen in weeks.

We hunkered down. Storm hit in the morning, the 9th. No chance to search for supplied. Lasted one day.

Raining Leaves 10th, 3126
Most of us were down, or as good as. Grendel and Ranna sussed out a well under the sand in a central square. They dug hard until they hit desiccated wood, and a well. We only brought up wet sand…but the best sight in the world.

No food. Barely any water. No support. Farspeaker still out of contact. This may be our last report.

Serys

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Master Wilhelm Ritter Wolfhaven Born
Forest Dance 8th, 3126

Lord Mayor, Colonel Baron Wolfhaven, Alexander

Commander of the Legio Heroes

Ranger Regional Headquarters, Echer’Naught, Olara

Eight Day of Forest Dance, Year 3126 Under the Light

It is with the greatest joy and pride that I am able to announce that on this day, under the light of Unidar and Diadar, my son, Wilhelm Ritter Wolfhaven was born. My happiness outshines the light of the son.

But, even as his mother swaddles and rocks the boy, I cannot help be think on my Rangers, so many out of contact, lost and trapped behind enemy lines. Farspeaker Moonsilver cannot contact Alpha Team in the desert, but by our estimation, they should be approaching A’Tora. If they are not dead. My Long Recon Rangers have vanished into a Tempest Portal at the heart of the most dangerous places in Shaintar. Truth be told, every agent sent in to scout Tempest has failed to get close, or died in the attempt. That, or disappeared. To the north, the White Silver Wolves and our “allies”, the Prelacy, close in on Lanier with the entire might of Shaya’Nor’s army bearing down upon them. First and Second company are still trapped in the Clannhomes, surrounded.

What world are we making for our children? What will it be? Will any of us still be alive to see it with them when they reach adulthood?

Joy and sorrow. It would seem that such things go hand in hand. Still, having Rah-Sahn and Aradove here, our families together. Even in midst of all chaos, we still have each other.

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Campaign Report 94
Black Sand Wall

Ranger Serys

Report Filed: Forest Dance 23rd, 3126

Forest Dance 3rd, 3126

Alpha Team, plus one Tempari found ourselves “Guests” of Desert Riders. Though not ill treated, we were clearly prisoners. After waiting a few hours, we were approached by the camps Shiek, one Badieh Basheh and his galean, girl slave translator. Though, I imagine the Shiek spoke Galean perfectly well.

Classic show of power/test enemy ruse. Pathetic.

Their “camp” was hidden in a twisting, wind cave worn like wormtunnels through the pale sandstone. The Desert Riders had turned the caverns and tunnels into rooms and halls. From our vantage point close to the “east entrance,” I could only mark two other access points: open roof (3 yards by 17 yards), and a second smaller entrance south and east. I assume there are many others, deeper in the network.

Every entrance is covered by no fewer than four bowmen, and two spears. The bows are smaller, and shorter range than elven, but better suited to firing in the narrow spaces. The riders wear leather, and scale armor, but little more. No helms. They also use scimitars. Good on horseback, and fair in close confines, but less effective than straight blades for dueling.

Of the 218 people I counted in the camp, only 43 were true warriors, though every man was armed. All showed the telltale walk of a cavalry, so I believe the entire camp are riders, but there could not be enough space within the caverns to house 218 horses, or 43. I imagine no more than a two or three dozen. Meaning, that the camp is vulnerable to cav attack, assuming one could survive the storms. The caves are also a tomb.

Also, fire. They have enough straw and dried goods to fuel a decent fire. Once hot enough, body fat would keep the blaze hot enough to burn or smoke out the desert people.

The Sheik showed “honor” to Lt. Volstagg and the Tempari. They spoke about our mission. Lt. Vosltagg was forthcoming. I suppose we had little to gain from lying. Honesty is the best policy? Hardly, but it worked this time.

The Sheik offered supplies, a guide, and horses. That last being the most important “gift.” He then pulled Volstagg aside. Something about not trusting Tempest. I wasn’t supposed to hear, though.

We left that night, after the rest of the team napped. Out by eve on the 3rd, and north on horseback. Making good time riding hard at night on Desert horses. Managed two night, before the storms hit again in earnest. He huddled for two days under the Ogres.

Forest Dance 5th, 3126

Never been a big fan of Ogres. Too slow and stupid to be of more use than beasts of burden, or when you need to smash through a wall. But, Grendel and Ranna have proven useful during this trip. Though, the smell…

Forest Dance 7th, 3216

We were out, late in the eve. But, the Desert Rider, called “Rider” led us to within sight of the Black Sand Wall. The ride took 2 days.

Forest Dance 9th, 3126

Stretching across the horizon and high enough into the sky to blot out stars, the Wall was intimidating. We slept the 9th, and made our move the following night.

Forest Dance 10th, 3126

Approaching the Black Sand Wall on horseback, we released the horses to return to their stables. Here, the Tempari used a Tempest cyclone to counter the power of Xaos massive Sandstorm. Meanwhile, with out protection gone, the Team suddenly faced the full fury of the storms. We almost did not survive.

About a minute into summoning the Cyclone, a 2 min ritual, the Tempari was ambushed by a pair of massive, ogre+ sized black scorpions. Alpha Team engaged to draw attention from the Tempari.

The Xaos Scorpions are large, armored and immune to blunt and non-magical edge weapons. They are susceptible to arrows, and appeared to take damage from Whitesilver. They are also armed with a potent venom. I imagine were we not magically protected, it would be quickly lethal. They do not appear to be able to recover from stunning attacks well. Eventually, both were slain, and the Cyclone breached the wall.

Charging through, we found the city of A’Tora, the Oasis Lake, and the lands surrounding untouched by storm. The Black Sand Wall serves as a magical fortification which cuts off A’Tora, but leaves the city and its countryside untouched with pleasant weather.

Unfortunately, the Tempest magic alerted the Xaos within and we were met with 20 desert riders, not unlike our “allies.” By Lt. Volstagg’s order, we sprinted for the lake and the surrounding palm forest and villages.

We reached the trees just as the riders closed. By luck, more than tactics or skill, we lost them in the trees and reached a village house. Breaking through the door, we surprised a family (father, mother, child). The Tempari smashed them against a wall, stunning them.

The team hunkered down in the home, which also proved to be a basket weaving shop. Lt. Volstagg ordered the family treated for wounds, then bound. Again, more by luck, we were undiscovered, but the guards quickly secured the area and began more thorough sweep.

Our Desert Rider, bandit, ally left to go find his kin who could help us, while we waited and tried to remain silent. I took position on the roof and kept watch as the guards expertly secured the village and went door to door. The rest of the team barricaded the room, and scrounged for clothes and provisions.

Just after dark, the Guards reached out door. The Tempari silenced them with magic, I killed each with an arrow to the eye, and Volstagg pulled the bodies through the door. Unfortunately, the constant damage of the sands storms hand altered the fletching of my arrows. On at least one target, I hit the wrong eye.

Forest Dance 11th, 3126

It was only a matter of time before they came looking for the missing guards. It happened the following morning. More guards, this time with backup too near to ambush, arrived and demanded to search the house. We were more prepared.

RFC Zathlan, wearing Lt. Volstagg’s medallion of language, gift from the Emissary, managed to convince the guards that she was alone, that she had seen no strangers, and that the house had leprosy. Convinced, they went on their way.

Shortly after, our bandit ally arrived and took the disguised Zathlan to the location of his kin. Sending her back, he posted a watch. Zathlan returned, gathered the group, and attempted to lead us all to safety, Lt. Vosltagg in the lead.

Unfortunately for Volstagg, he ran into a patrol just before reaching the “safe house.” Rather than have everyone caught, Volstagg took off running to lead the guards away. The rest of the team reached the safety of the house without issue.

Inside, we found three more bandit Desert Riders, and a familiar assassin, named “Our Friend,” in most past reports. This assassin is known to me and he, without much issue, agreed to go help Volstagg. Meanwhile, the bandits provided fresh food and water, the first we had eaten since Paradise.

Volstagg saved and returned, we questioned the bandit Desert Riders and the assassin on the situation in the city. They confirmed that Xaos controlled the city, though they were unsure whether Prince Hesham amin Jomil, Emir of A’Tora was working willingly with Xaos forces, or under duress. They also confirmed that the Black Sand Wall circled the city, preventing easy escape. Worse, they claimed that whatever power was creating the sandstorms was NOT located in A’Tora. The city was merely a stating ground for a Xaos army.

The Seh’t Cult were based deeper in the desert, north and east of our position. Armed with this information, Lt. Volstagg decided we needed to leave the city quickly and head into the sands. Unfortunately, without proper gear, we would be obvious outsiders and quickly captured.

With the assassin’s help, we developed a plan. Corporal Daynore and I could wear the traditional desert garb of the bandits. The Olarans actually could pass as mercenaries. The Emir had built himself quite an army, it seemed, complete with mercenaries from as far as Olara. Also, the Emir used a cadre of Ogre bodyguards who wore complete sets of golden armor. RFC Zathlan already had appropriate garb. That meant we just needed some Xaos clothes for the Tempari and we could move freely through the countryside.

The city would be dangerous, as we would not have papers, but so long as we avoided checkpoints, none of the desert villagers would dare approach us.

At some great cost, the Assassin agreed to help infiltrate Zathlan into the Palace while I provided cover. With little other option, Lt. Volstagg agreed. Corporal Daynore created the mind link. Dressed as a Desert Rider, I tracked the Assassin and Zathlan out of the safehouse.

The assassin took her into the city. There, he “sold” her to a man who clearly made his business int he flesh trade. The assassin left.

Forest Dance 12th, 3126

The next day, Zathlan was taken with four other women to the Palace. I lost sight for a few hours, but eventually spied Zathlan scrubbing floors on one of the upper tier porticoes.

Security at the Palace was unusually tight. While the interior sections reminded me of Almahrad with their wide halls, and column lined courtyards, this Palace was subdivided by large, thick walls topped with crenelations, guard towers, and guards. Every section of the wall was heavily patrolled by archers and spearmen. The grounds were patrolled day and night by six man squads of guards on rotation. There were also a pair of guards inside and outside every entrance. Large gates had four in and four out.

From what the Assassin had said, we also knew that any woman within the walls could be a “Consort,” trained killing. None of this included the Xaos presence. While they were not on guard, there were strangely dressed Xaos everywhere. Bronzed armor with strange geometric patterns of fire (similar to arcfire), white, flowing cloth. Their weapons narrow and oddly curved, with right angles and hooks.

After working her first day, she and the other slaves were escorted under heavy guard to a compound outside the palace walls, more a prison than housing. There, they were allowed to sleep in communal rooms and fed little. From my count, there ware four dozen slaves or more, all housed together.

The routines were the same. Every morning, they were wakened before dawn, given a little food and water, then escorted back the palace to perform menial labor. By moving vantage points, and mapping patrol routes, I was able to keep Zathlan in bow range most of the time, except when she cleaned interior rooms, or worked the kitchens. Still, the routine was easy enough that I could follow where she worked in the Palace usually without issue.

If I did lose her for too long, I just contact her through Daynore.

Everything seemed well enough until six days in.

Forest Dance 18th, 3126

While working, Zathlan had been making contact with other slaves and servants. It didn’t seem as if many would talk, but I would see her huddled with the others between tasks. However, late on the 19th, she was grabbed by one of the guards sent to watch the slaves and hauled into the Palace. Via contact, she told me to stand down.

She was questioned, and failed to produce the answered they wanted to hear. So, she was thrown in a cell on the Palace grounds awaiting an interrogator. Read, adept, torturer, or both.

Forest Dance 19th, 3126

The next morning, Zathlan was hauled out of her cell and appeared on an upper, covered balcony. It was a far shot, but within range. The balcony was colonnaded and standing at every column was one of the Emir’s guards. She was thrown down in the center, and a well dressed man questioned her. After a while, though, he paused and sent for another.

After about an hour, a woman in diaphanous silks appeared. Dark eyed, makeup, clearly a member of the Emirs harem. I took aim and waited, but…then the woman took Zathlan to a small reclined lounge nearer my side of the balcony. They both disrobed, and…the woman “tested?” Zathlan. That went on for an impressive length of time.

Obviously, Zathlan was pleasing, because the woman rose, dressed, nodded to the man and took Zathlan into a part of the Palace I could not see. I lost contact for a couple of days. But, from reports via Daynore, she was cleaned, shaved, dressed, fed and introduced to other Palace courtesans.

She stayed, under heavy guard, with the harem girls until the 21st.

Forest Dance 21st, 3126

It took some time, but I managed to get on the roof of the Palace and make may way over the course of the two days to a vantage point, beneath on onion shaped tower peak, where I could observe the harem.

The girls were kept in a series of inner courtyards. One large room housed hot baths. One, a series of piles of pillows and couches, and the last had benches, tables, and other furniture. Every room was heavily guarded day and night by a dozen guards. No way in or out.

Late on the 21st, Zathlan and two other girls were selected and escorted to a private room. I managed to stalk them, close enough to see them given over to one of the men I had tagged as a Guard Captain. Zathlan and the girls “entertained” the man for about 5 minutes before he fell asleep. They lay with him till morning. But, she relayed through Daynore that she had the intel and needed extraction.

The palace was too well guarded, and they were meticulous about tracking wh
Knowing the Assassin’s reputation, I relayed to the the Team that I needed “Death’s Embrace” or “Death’s Kiss,” a poison that can mimic death. It is a risk. Many people never wake, but from what I know of this land, political poisoning are common.

Again, a price was met and the Assassin not only found me, but manage to infiltrate the Palace, in a few hours what took me 2 days, AND got the drop on me. His reputation is well deserved. With the poison, I manage to poison all Zathlan and the two girls.

I couldn’t risk only poisoning Zathlan as that might arouse suspicion. If all three were poisoned, then it would look like a failed attempt on the Guard Captain. Once done, I had to clear the Palace as the search would surely find me.

Everything went as planned. When the guards came to escort the girls back to the harem, they found all three poisoned. The alarm was sounded and every inch of the Palace was searched. Roof included. They used mages, adepts, and their own scouts.

Forest Dance 22nd, 3126

The three bodies were removed and taken to a cellar used to keep corpses cool till disposal. All standard procedure. I’m just glad they didn’t cut on the bodies to determine cause of death.

Once the room was clear, I reached Zathlan and the others in time to administer the antidote. Zathlan awoke. The other two I could not waken. They died before the antidote could work.

Nevertheless, I provided Zathlan a change of clothes. We moved to a position nearby until the search ended. I dressed another young corpse in her clothes and left that behind.

Forest Dance 23rd, 3126

Pre-dawn on the 23rd, we made our way back to the safehouse. Lt. Volstagg and Zathlan went to talk. I took a moment to eat, as I had had little over the past 10 days. After they discussed what happened, we had a group meeting. Turns out, the Golden Ogres had a watering hole they frequented. As did the Xaos. All within close proximity to the Palace, but on opposite sides.

So, we split into two groups.

Sergeant Amaroth took Grendel, Rana, and Danica north of the Palace to ambush the Ogres.

Lt. Volstagg took the Tempari, Corporal Daynore, RFC Zathlan, and I to ambush the Xaos mage.

The Xaos forces had constructed their own private club just outside the shadow of the Palace walls, but within extreme bowshot in, what appeared to be, the ruins of a Golden Sun temple. We made our way the same night, 23rd, under cover of Darkness.

I scouted and found only a single blind turn from the club to the Palace. We would have on shot, and it would be close. So, we waited. Shortly before the 13th hour, a single Xaos mage, two “Templars”, and four Palace guards made their way back to the Palace from drinking.

We hit them fast. I dropped the Mage with a single shot to the back of the head. Daynore unleashed on one Templar. The Tempari silenced the field as Lt. Volstagg broke cover and drew fire. His first shot felled one Templar, but the others rushed him.

Before anyone could really act, Volstagg fired a second shot point blank at the surviving Templar, but the handcaster ruptured and blew. Volstagg was mortally wounded, the Palace guards incinerated, but the Templar staggered back, only to be cut down by the Tempari.

We rushed in, sound resuming its normal behavior. Zathlan treated Volstagg, Corporal Daynore looted bodies and the Tempari stripped the Mage. I covered them all.

We managed to reach the rally point late in the 13th hour. The Ogre team were also successful, beating us there. Grendel and Ranna looked good in gold. Our Friend, the Assassin, congratulated our success, and then told us there was a ship and captain at the shore of the lake waiting to take us across to the east side.

I scouted ahead while the others followed.

Lieutenant Sir Gunther Volstagg
It is idiocy to have a marriage couple on the same team. Worse when one is in a position of command. Even worse to have the wife pregnant. Elves do this all the time. I know the Sergeant is worried about Volstagg not being able to be objective about Zathlan. Me, I think the bastard is going to get himself killed trying to prove he’s NOT compromised. At least he is staying on mission. For now.

Sergeant Audric Amaroth, Sword of House Wolfhaven
Before this mission is over, I am going to have to kill the Sergeant. He spends more time nipping at the Lt’s heals than worrying about the fact that he is one bad call away from going bloody mad. On a team where the Commander nearly whipped his pregnant wife to death, and she then seduced another man to get intel. Where our Farspeaker had his mind flayed by a Shayakar on the orders of the Commander. On this team, the Sergeant is the most compromised and dangerous variable in the group.

Corporal Durlan Daynore, Farspeaker
Daynore is compromised. That Shayakar put memories in his head, but took something as well. I know he’s hesitant to use his powers, and THAT will get us all killed. Hesitation is worse than a choice one way or another. He needs to either sort himself, or leave.

RFC Lady Nexuz Zathlan Volstagg
Impressive work. Of course, she’s pregnant which means that her effectiveness will soon cease. That, and from what I’ve been able to observe, the Emissary healing her child after Lt. Volstagg whipped her nigh to death altered the kid. No doubt she can now be tracked, and is a target for every enemy we face. So, soon to be ineffective, a target, and can be tracked. My call, cut her loose. But the Lt. will never sacrifice his wife and child.

RFC Danica, Golden Gryhpons
If Danica doesn’t step up and do more than twirl her sabers, then we need a replacement. Other than glare at Amaroth, and grumble about everyone we meet, so far she has offered little advice on any foe. I’ve killed Gryphons before. They are supposed to be Evil slayers. So far, she has not impressed.

Ogres
So far, compenant. More so than expected. The armor, however pretty, is going to get us killed when we need to evade at some point in the near future. That, and they could use a personality.

Serys
I do not know if I can continue to protect this team and maintain the Ranger high standard of ethics and morality. What my team does not realize is, out here, their rules A) don’t matter, and B) will get us killed. The others are learning, but while they will do what is needed, they spend too much time afterwards whining about it. The hesitation will get us all killed. Still, when we return, I will be court marshaled over those prostitutes. It does not matter that they would have betrayed us all. It does not matter that they had the same chance as Zathlan. Only, my actions will be considered too extreme, even given the high price of our failure had I not. Still, maybe it is best I do what my team cannot and deal with consequences later. I’m not likely to return from this mission anyway.

Serys

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Campaign Report 93
Trouble in Paradise

Lord Mayor, Colonel Baron Wolfhaven, Alexander

Commander of the Legio Heroes

Ranger Regional Headquarters, Echer’Naught, Olara

As relayed from Echer’Naught Alpha team under command of Lieutenant Gunther Volstagg (via Farspeaker Daynore; Farspeaker Moonsilver)

Third Day of Forest Dance, Year 3126 Under the Light

One would think having ones fears confirmed might, at least, offer vindication. Sadly, I feel only apprehension, and weariness. Despite my recommendations to High Command, at my core I begin to fear the sequence of compromises my forces are increasingly being required to make. Though I understand the necessity, how much is too much? How far must we be willing to go?

Every sacrifice I have asked of my Rangers, they have given freely, and more. Now, my Farspeaker, Corporal Daynore, may be compromised, in more ways than one. My Team commander, Lieutenant Volstagg, is emotionally compromised because his wife is on the same assignment. He personally nearly whipped her to death, due to extraordinary circumstances. But, despite his willingness, I know how much it cost him, and his behavior since… Not to mention his wife, RFC Zathlan, is also compromised since her “healing” by the Emissary, a trusted, but non-Ranger ally.

Everything about this mission, the emerging threat in the desert, feels wrong. Ascended help us. I fear I have just sent them to their death, or worse. I only pray the heavy price is worth what can be achieved.

Dancing Clouds 13th, 3126

The Alpha Team left Almahrad with the Emissary’s guide, the dwarf Stonefoot. They departed before dawn, heading west into the mountains. Due to the roads, Stonefoot took them north along the dwarven roads to the Clanhome of Midril Hall. Hugging the Black Mountains as it does, Mindril Hall has been spared the worst of the desert storms, though is nearly overrun with refugees.

Per my Ranger’s reports, the dwarves of the Black Mountains have shut their doors to any not of the Clanhome, even other dwarves. Mountain routes have kept the dwarves supplied, but the tent city at their gates grows desperate. What happens when food stores run low? Not to mention latest reports suggest that Xaos cultist have been infiltrating even closed societies such as the dwarves. More castles fall to treachery than siege. What happens when these cultists manage to incite the mobs of starving men and women outside to attack…and leave the door unlocked?

We could have a small scale war in the Clanhomes.

Closer to home, sad news has reached our ears. Ranger Katyr was slain while on a mission in a crypt just outside of Kator yesterday, Dancing Clouds 12th, 3126. As an orphan, Katyr has no survivors to receive benefits, and no one to claim his remains. He will, therefore, receive a Ranger’s funeral and internment. I have ordered his name to be logged in the Record of Honor.

Dancing Clouds 15th, 3126
After lengthy negotiations, Madame Lillithien surrendered rights to her son, Dom Athrait Tenebris Von Dietrich, born Golden Eagle 16th, 3215. He is to be raised in my house, as hostage. As Elyanna is of his people, she has agreed to see to his education, and training. It brings no joy to separate a mother from her child, but I could find no other way of securing his future, and hers.

To her credit, Madame Lillithien seemed to understand the situation, and even thanked me for my willingness to hostage the boy. She wished for Dom Athrait Tenebris to learn of his father’s people. I will do my best welcome him into my House and home.

For her part, Madame Lillithien agreed to abjure the realm, leave by sea, and never set foot within the land of the Southern Kingdoms. Her oath was certified by Sergeant Alystar, and myself. Though, something about her willingness to depart our shores left me with a certain suspicion that her feigned resigned acceptance might be a ruse. Some part of me senses that she wished for this outcome all along.

As to why, I cannot hope to guess. Still, the boy seems pleased enough with his new home. He is quiet. Much like his father.

My Archanon and Celesia see him safe and happy.

Dancing Clouds 16th, 3126

Due to the conditions, the Alpha Team pushed on from Mindril Hall to the clanhom Lowhome. Here the conditions were both better and worse. Due to the smaller size of the clanhome, fewer refugees had sought sanctuary there. However, being farther from the main mountain strongholds, Lowhome is isolated and somewhat more vulnerable. I have read reports that the dwarves are struggling to prevent these refugees from raiding their fields. The lush lands around Lowhome being one of the Clanhomes of the Black Mountains primary food sources.

With all the banditry and unrest, the Lt. Volstagg elected to push past Lowhome into the night and camp on the west side, nearer their target of Paradise. Staying close to the clanhome with the throngs of desperates, or farther away and being isolated presented equal difficulties. In the same situation, I would have done the same.

Dancing Clouds 17th, 3126

Nevertheless, at some point after the 13th hour, bandits attacked the Ranger camp. Using archers and alchemical blasts, the bandits scored early success in the ambush. Only the watch was awake and the first blast thrown struck all the sleeping Rangers still in their bedrolls.

Even so, once the Rangers awoke, the tide quickly turned. Lieutenant Volstagg covered his wife, RFC Nexus Zathlan Volstagg admirably, though his protectiveness of her, however justified, may ultimately result in disaster for the team. Still, were I in his position, I cannot say I would do differently.

RFC Grendel and Trainee Ranna performed admirably as a team. Corporal Daynore, separated early in the combat managed to acquit himself with distinction. I see promotion in his future. Both resident warriors, Sergeant Amaroth and RFC Danica did what they do best, claiming bandits each.

Of Ranger Seryrs, I am growing concerned with his increasingly cavalier regard with life. His reputation was well known to the Rangers prior to taking the cloak. And, while working within the Southern Kingdoms his more violent nature seemed contained. But now, outside normal Ranger authority, he seems to be “adapting” to his environment. I will have a note relayed to Lieutenant Volstagg to monitor his conduct.

Still, on a whole, the team performed above expectations. Though, the Emissary’s guide, Stonefoot, did little more than shout encouragement. I wonder how jovial he would have been had my Rangers failed, and he left to the mercy of the bandits? Still, his was only to serve as a guide for the Rangers, so I cannot accuse him of dereliction or cowardice.

Their sleep already disturbed, Lieutenant Volstagg ordered the team onward. Idly, I wonder how many hours of sleep has been collectively lost by Rangers over the last century because they just decided to get up after an attack rather than try to go back to sleep? At any rate, the Rangers made good time.

Dancing Clouds 20th, 3126

Early on the 20th, the Greenway Road Rangers Alpha Team arrived at Paradise. From across the Lifegiver estuary, the team observed the massive tent city hugging the walls of the city, and choking the banks of the Lifegiver. From descriptions by the team, and other points of intelligence, the Rangers are confident that there are at least as many refugees camped outside the walls, as people huddling within.

Violence and depredation is common, made worse by the constant incitement by Xaos cultists. If such reports are to be believed, there is some evidence to suggest that Red Store agents have been working WITH local Prince authorities to track and eradicate the cultist infestation, in particular in the city. Still, hunger, fear, and desperation are fertile ground for saviors, and these cultists prey on the worst of human misery to breed zealots willing to serve any master that would lift them from their current situation. And so, out of the crisis brought by the sandstorms, a new threat is born.

I fear an attack on Paradise by the hordes of dispossessed, armed and incited by these cultist is imminent. And, if on Paradise, why not A’Davar, or the western Clanhomes? I will sent requests for our allies to begin marshaling resources in the event of such a crisis.

Nevertheless, his job done, Stonefoot departed company of the Rangers, taking their mounts, Muriel as well, back to Almahrad and the Emissary who will look after the animals until such time as they can be shipped back here, or returned to the team. Whichever eventuality comes first.

Lieutenant Volstagg’s Alpha Team proceeded into the throngs of refugees crowding the east gate of Paradise. We are aware that several large grain shipments are languishing in the harbor due to safety concerns bringing the food into the docks. Several such shipments have already been ambushed, raided or sunk, by desperate and starving people trying to survive. If I could spare a Company of White Silver Wolves, perhaps I could negotiate with Prince Esteban amin
Firenzo, Lord of Paradise to accept the Wolves as additional security…

Placing the more vulnerable members of the team in the center, Alpha Team managed to push their way through mobs and approach the guards. Here, the Emissary’s plan proved superior. Though initially turned away, Lieutenant Volstagg produced the Letter of Favor from Prince Velthana of Almahrad. As representatives of the Prince, not any associate with the Rangers, Alpha Team was permitted entry to the city.

There, they found conditions little better than outside. Even with sea trade, there are simply too many people without coin or trade to feed. The city is starving.

Alpha Team was taken to the Palace, but not to meet the Prince. He was busy. They did meet his representative who demanded, though not discourteously, their intentions in the city. Choosing honesty, Lieutenant Volstagg informed the Prince’s man that Alpha Team was on a mission into the desert to locate and eliminate whatever force was generating the life choking sandstorms.

Here, is where team mission reports begin to take a strange turn. Leaving the rest of the team to rest from their recent battle, and travel, Lieutenant Volstagg was escorted to meet a guest of Prince Eseban, a Tempest Mage. The Magus greeted Lieutenant Volstagg without hostility, though he was curious about the reason the Olaran was in Paradise.

Again, Lieutenant Volstagg opted for honesty and explained that he was on a mission to stop the Sandstorms. Here, the Tempest Mage, who called himself only Tempari, a rank of some kind, imparted vital intelligence. He claimed that the Sandstorms were NOT the work of the Tempest. Though I am loathe to believe the word of an active enemy, both secondary intel sources, and my commander’s instincts lead me to believe that Tempari can be believed, at least in regards to this.

Whatever threat is emergent in the desert is not the work of Tempest.

And, like that, the Tempari offered a temporary ceasefire of sorts. If the Rangers would provide “physical security,” he would use his Tempest powers to protect Alpha Team from the worse of the Sandstorm’s effects. In these moments, I try again to put myself in the shoes of my men. Isolated, in a foreign city practically besieged, with orders to enter the desert, and the world riding on my shoulders…would I make the deal?

I have no doubt I would.

For the official record, I, Lord-Colonel Alexander Wolfhaven, fully approve and authorize the decision of Lieutenant Gunther Volstagg to utilize the skills of the Tempest Magus, Tempari, to enter the desert and complete my assignment of Alpha Team. I also accept full responsibility for this action, and resulting actions.

Deal struck, Lieutenant Volstagg, and his new Ally, rejoined Alpha Team and proceed together to the Zayid Library to further research information about sites of significance to the ancient Empire of the Golden Sun. Lieutenant Volstagg believes, and I concur, that whatever threat is emerging int he desert is connected to the Empire of the Golden Sun, specifically cults of Raz-Dash which have existed since before the dawn of civilization, or at least our civilization. And, if our supposition is correct, then this new cult of Xaos is either involved, co-opting, or replacing the more ancient cults. Either way, these sites may still have great religious, or cosmological significance.

The team arrived by mid-afternoon and were greeted by the Head Librarian. He seemed aware of their arrival, and perhaps the mission. As the Tempari spoke with the Librarian, clearly he was known to the Library, a message arrived for Lieutenant Volstagg. An asset wished to meet with him. Curious, the Team, plus the Tempari, were escorted by the Head Librarian to meet with a mysterious elf introduced as a head researcher for the Library.

While the Lieutenant sat with the Tempair to discuss with the Elf, who never offered a name, the team established a perimeter of sorts. Their analysis of the elf are chilling. Both Corporal Daynore and RFC Zathlan confirmed that he was of immense magical potential, though neither could identify his power. And, RFCs Zathlan and Danica confirmed that he was, in point of fact, a Shayakar of some ancient age.

Meanwhile, the Shayakar informed Lieutenant Volstagg that he was speaking on behalf of the “Patron” and offered to answer question pertaining to the Empire of the Golden Sun. Volstagg asked of locations of importance and the Shayakar confirmed that many existed, but since the Lifegiver’s course had moved over the centuries his “memory might not be wholly accurate.” However, he was willing to import location information to the team, but required the Adept, being Farspeaker Daynore.

Again faced with an impossible decision, Lieutenant Volstagg agreed to allow Farspeaker Daynore to receive the information the team needed to navigate the vast deserts and locate potential sites for investigation. The Shayakar and Corporal Daynore departed, however, after a short time, Sergeant Amaroth and RFC Danica heard screaming they claimed was the Corporal and went in search of both men.

After a couple hours, now into the evening, the Shayakar returned with Corporal Daynore. The Farspeaker had no memory of what transpired during their encounter, but soon felt that his powers had been “tampered” with. Sergeant Amaroth and RFC Danica were recovered and the team returned to the Tempari’s suite at the palace.

Here, another fascinating piece of intelligence was gathered. The Tempair excused himself to meet with the Prince. Within the hour, a Tempest Storm, not Cyclone, formed above the city offering pure, clean rain. It would appear that part of the price for hosting the Tempari was regular fresh water for the city of Paradise. Though, this begged the question as to why would the Prince allow the Tempari leave with the Rangers? Clearly stopping the storms was worth the risk of losing the constant supply of water.

That night, a few things occurred. First, Corporal Daynore began to suffer from nightmares pertaining to the desert, though, based on descriptions, the nightmares featured landscapes and sites that do not, at least presently, exist. I believe, and experts corroborate, that this MIGHT be a side effect of whatever transfer of knowledge occurred. Second, the Farspeaker believed he was compromised and refused to relay any further confidential information. All future communications would be relayed directly to the Lieutenant.

Dancing Clouds 21st, 3126

The team departed the city early, via one of the northern gates. Here they found nearly as large a tent city as on the east side. However, the camp ended long before reaching close to the beginning of the sands, as the people rightly feared the storms. Within a short time, the Alpha Team was the sole moving group in the desert. And the true horror of the storms became quickly apparent.

The team attempted to follow the Lifegiver, but was quickly overtaken by a large sandstorm that swept in too fast to even pull in Serys from scouting. Though it came upon them fast, the storm lingered for three days, stretching their resources to the brink and nearly overwhelming the Tempari who appeared to struggle to protect them. Clearly, he was being honest with his previous statements about the Tempest involvement in the calamity in the desert.

Dancing Clouds 24th, 3126

The team dug themselves out of the sand and rushed to reclaim Serys who was unconscious. While working to rescue the scout, they gathered water from the nearby river. However, another storm struck and they were buried for two days.

Dancing Clouds 26th, 3126

Having made less that 20 miles progress in nearly a week, Alpha Team once again emerged from the sands and quickly filled water skins before making their way again north. They managed another 5 miles before another storm struck. This one lasting a day.

Dancing Clouds 27th, 3126

The team emerged, collected water and hiked north across the dunes by night. By morning of the 28th they were hit again. Just before going under, Grendel spotted strange man made shapes in the dunes, but they were unable to reach them before the wall of sand hit. This time, three day passed.

Dancing Clouds 31st, 3126

Emerging again, the Alpha Team quickly gathered water from the increasingly difficult to find, sand clogged river, and made for the shapes seen before. Arriving at the structures, they realized that these were the flat roofs of buried buildings, most likely a village.

Working together, the ogres and Tempari blasting holes, and Serys scouting, they managed to break into the first. Inside, the find the dried and desiccated corpses of a family of three, father, mother, and child. They also find dried grains in some baskets. Clearly, the family ran out of water before food. Hitting up on the idea, the team quickly foraged in the rest of the structures and managed to collect about a weeks worth of food for the team, if they reduced to half rations.

By that night, a storm hits, pinning the team another two days.

Dancing Clouds 33rd, 3126

Alpha Team emerges from the buildings and starts making their way north, after eating through almost half rations. They make three days moving at night, though covering less than 10 miles per “day.”

Forest Dance 3rd, 3126

However, with dawn approaching on the 3rd, the Tempari suddenly alerts them to a massive wall of black sand sweeping down from the north… They frantically search for cover when they spot a figure standing on a dune far to the west. Robed in white, the figure appears to be observing them for a moment, when suddenly dozens of white robed rides crest the dune and gallop toward them even as the wall of death and sand bears down.

The riders skid to a halt and challenge them. Lieutenant Volstagg shouts that they are allies seeking to stop the storms. The desert rider identified the Tempest mage, but summons mounts for the Rangers even so. All mount and turn, heading back west, the wall of black death closing rapidly.

Over the dune, the desert riders spur to a rocky ridge. With the Tempari carrying the unmounted ogres within a cyclone of air, and the Alpha Team riding hell bent for leather, desert riders, Alpha Ranger Team, and tempest mage make the desert caves just as the biggest sand storm yet smashes into them.

Once inside, the Rangers are surrounded and forced to drop their weapons. Now captives of the desert riders, they are taken to what appears to be a desert refugee camp, fed and watered by the riders. here, the Rangers are allowed to rest. The leader of the camp offers them the traditional gift and exchange of water. With that, they are left, more or less, along, though under heavy guard.

This is the last report I have received, though Farspeaker Moonsilver cautions that the deeper into the desert the team moves, the harder it is for her to reach them. It appears that the magical nature of the storms, or whatever has summoned them is powerful enough to interfere with telepathy and other means of magical scrying….

Much deeper, and we may lose contact entirely with Alpha Team. They will be, completely, on their own.

Addendum

High Command is not entirely pleased with the latitude I have taken in making “compromising arrangements” with enemy factions, and agents of questionable character. However, they continue to support my decisions given the extreme circumstances we now find ourselves.

Archanon and my Lady Celesia granted their faith in me is warranted.

Your most obedient servant,

Lord Mayor Wolfhaven, Colonel

Ranger Regional Headquarters, Echer’Naught, Olara

View
Campaign Report 92
Sand, Death, and...Cats?

Lord Mayor, Colonel Baron Wolfhaven, Alexander

Commander of the Legio Heroes

Wolfhaven Manor, Echer’Naught, Olara

As relayed from Echer’Naught Alpha team under command of Lieutenant Gunther Volstagg (via Farspeaker Daynore)

Thirteenth Day of Dancing Clouds, Year 3126 Under the Light

The Rangers say, “There is no heroism without sacrifice.” Olarans, “Mit Ehre sterben,” or “Die with honor” in the Galean tongue. Such things are more easily said than done.

I have always prided myself that I would never ask another to do in my name what I would myself refuse. However, as I write this report, I am no so sure I would have had such courage. Truly, these few are the best of us.

Festival Moons 33rd, 3126

The Rangers returned to the Emissary’s Estate in the wee hours of the morning. Though their “dinner” had been successful, Lieutenant Volstagg was forced, one again, to take a man’s life. I know from bitter personal experience the weight each death bears upon a soul. Even justified, it is a hard thing to take a life. Harder to live with oneself after.

But, my Rangers performed without failing, as they always do.

After this…spectacle, the Rangers were given time to rest, heal, and prepare for the next duty. I wonder, at times, if they could even comprehend that, however difficult the past weeks had been, nothing could prepare them for what was to come.

Dancing Clouds 2nd, 3126

After two days, Prince Velthana of Almahrad invited Lieutenant Volstagg and the Emissary to a private brunch. Leaving the rest of the team at the Estate, Vosltagg and the Emissary departed riding the Emissary’s palanquin that morning and arrived without incident at the palace. They were met by the Vizier who escorted the Ranger and the Diplomat to a familiar balcony, one the Prince had used to meet with the group before.

There, they found the Prince alone, awaiting their arrival. Food and drink were provided and the Prince played the gracious host. Once small talk and formalities were completed, the Prince then broached the subject that had inspired the meeting.

Lieutenant Volstagg’s “performance” with the investigation, and the subsequent execution, had impressed the Prince and now he wish to see a martial display provided by the Rangers. To prevent any unfortunate incidences with his nobles, or other guests, the Prince requested that the Rangers, instead, pair up and duel each other.

He asked that Lieutenant Volstagg select partners for varied fighting styles and for entertainment value. With the Emissary’s blessing, Volstagg agreed, though confirmed that the bouts would be with training weapons only. The Prince promised that the city’s artisans would recreate all the Ranger’s weapons faithfully with blunted versions.

That agreed upon, Prince Velthana dismissed his guest to go and make preparations. After departing the Prince’s company, the Emissary seemed unusually tense. During their meet, the Prince had expressly stated that he wished for the Rangers to put on this martial display for “visiting Dignitaries.” The Emissary noted a number of “new” factions operating in the city, seeking the Prince’s ear.

She produced a large gold coin and gave it to Volstagg. For months, almost a year, similar coins had been appearing in ports and trading hubs across Shaintar. Every expert confirmed that the coins dated back to the Empire of the Golden Sun which reigned across what we now call the Eternal Desert some 7000 years ago. And yet, the coins appear near pristine, weathered by time or sand.

Volstagg kept the coin, and once back at the Estate, the Emissary departed to reach out to contacts while Lieutenant Volstagg assembled the team and made arrangements for the combat. The team was paired as follows:

First Duel
RFC Danica vs RFC Nexus Zathlan Volstagg

Second Duel
Corporal Durlan Daynore vs Ranger Serys

Third Duel
RFC Grendel vs Trainee Ranna

Fourth Duel
Lieutenant Gunther Volstagg vs Sergeant Audric Amaroth

Before breaking, Volstagg also ordered the Rangers to keep their eyes open, to observe those watching the event. He relayed some of the Emissary’s concerns, and stressed that gathering information was FAR more important than the actual combat. Though, they also must impress the Prince and put on a “good show.” He showed them the coin and Grendel smelled upon it sand and death.

That done, the Rangers went about preparing for the coming event. The Emissary spoke with contacts.

Dancing Clouds 3rd, 3126

The following morning, the Rangers awoke to find a long table laid out with blunted replicas of most all of their weapons, warhammers and a few others aside. Leaving their “normal” weapons in their rooms, the Alpha team outfitted themselves with the well-crafted training gear and joined the Emissary at the gate to the Estate. There, a phalanx of guards stood ready to escort them out of the 4th tier, and through the 3rd tier of the city to a special venue that had been hastily erected just outside of the Grande Bazaar.

Already, nobles, and dignitaries were sitting under large, colorful awnings. The Alpha team made quite a stir marching heavily armed as they were through the city streets surrounded by an honor guard of the Prince’s own men. By the time they reached their destination, they had accumulated quite a following.

In an odd juxtaposition, the area was constructed of rough wooden planking around a sandy field. However, along the side reserved for the Rangers was a silk pavilion with attached awnings. There were cushioned benches, servants with palms and feathered fans. Even a banquet of light foods, wines, and “citrus water,” were arrayed before them.

As reported, they simple found their places, tightened straps and awaited their turn on the field.

Finally, the Prince and Princess arrived, taking their places of honor opposite the Rangers. Here again the Vizier announced the event and introduced each combatant by formal Title and Rank as they entered the field.

First, as noted, were Danica and Nexus. Danica chose to fight with a pair of sabers, a 3rd tucked in her belt. Nexus switched between warhammer, bow, and knifes. Their bout lasted far longer than any expected. So savage were the blows that with the first, Danica snapped her saber off at the hilt and had to rearm with her reserve. Despite fierce fighting by both women, ultimate Danica proved victor, though it was a narrow victory.

And then, Danica “won” a second fight when she hurled Nexus’ warhammer at Lieutenant Volstagg, I cannot say why, and felled a healer rushing to check on Nexus. Danica’s fiery temperament is well known. I hope she is able to keep it in check as they continue their mission.

Second up, Corporal Daynore vs Serys. Again, this fight lasted far longer than expected. Serys fired only one shot. Daynore used tactics to get inside the archer’s range and force a melee battle. However, even with use of his Adept powers, Serys was simple too fast and eventually managed to drop the Farspeaker, though not without suffering injury. Having never seen their close fighting skills, I am impressed with both men.

Third up, war of the titans. The ogre and ogress, Grendel and Ranna, squared off and beat each other senseless. I understand that they garbed themselves in tradition dress and warpaint. Just the concussion of their bodies hitting the sand caused structural damage to the area. But, in the end, Grendel proved winner. Though, I understand that a burgeoning respect, and possible infatuation, was born from this bout.

That, and Ranna was too large for any but Grendel to clear from the field.

Fourth, and final, was the long awaited battle between Lieutenant Volstagg and Sergeant Amaroth. I know the good Sergeant, at least, has sought this contest. This fight, from reports, was the most contested and brutal yet, if such a thing can be believed after the enormous display of the other Rangers. Both men fought until they were bleeding and staggered. It came down to perseverance and a bit of luck. However, Sir Volstagg claimed victory in his undefeated streak of 4 duels. I am unsure how pleased he is of such accolades, but the record speak for itself.

With that, the event was completed and the Prince seemed well pleased. The Rangers were again escorted, or carried, back to the Estate where they were showered with gifts, even a small purse for each from the Prince himself. Healers roused the fallen and they were treated to a feast by the Emissary in the Estate.

When they had time to speak, each discussed what they had observed. Serys and Danica both noted an odd faction watching their performance with cold intensity. Though dressed as the desert folk, there was something “off” about them. Moreover, Grendel smelled upon them sand, death…and cats? Clearly, these were the dignitaries the Prince wished to impress…or intimidate. Their duty done, each separated to their own devices, secure that they had done well…

And then, they heard nothing from the Prince, or anyone from the palace for days.

Dancing Clouds 8th, 3126

After a week of waiting, the Emissary grew concerned. I know of no specifics, but the reports sent back to Echer’Naught warned of dire events in the desert. Travel by any but Dwarven roads through the mountains have been totally cut off. Refugees pour into the few Clanhomes still accessible and A’Davar and Paradise are overrun. Paradise suffering the worst of it as thousands seek refuge or escape from the all encompassing Sand Storms obscuring the desert.

Most all of the carefully cultivated contacts fell silent. Only the new Xaos cultists appeared active in the desert sands. Whatever was happening was coming to a head and needed to be confronted before it was too late.

With my reserved blessing, the Emissary summoned Lieutenant Volstagg early on the morning of the 8th and revealed to him some suspicions. Having no other options, the Emissary asked Sir Volstagg to use his report with the Prince to arrange a meeting so that the Emissary might finally convince him to support a mission into the desert. And so he did, to his great sorrow.

Had we known the end result of this simple request, I would have forbade it. But, my Rangers have always done their duty, to the bitter end. More’s the pity.

The Emissary suggested Volstagg take Lady Volstagg with him, her beauty and charm being somewhat legendary. When the departed in the Emissary’s own palanquin, he was dressed in full Olaran White Silver plate, she like a desert goddess, adorned in gold and jewels from the Emissary’s own wardrobe.

They arrived to find the palace filled with other petitioners. There were city nobles, traders, craftsmen, and dignitaries from lands to the east and west. All had gathered to beg some favor or boon from the Prince. Even present was the faction of strangers wearing desert garb, but smelling of Sand, Death, and, again strangely, cats.

Pressing through the throng, and a few well wishers, Volstagg and Nexus found the Vizier and convinced him to permit them a moment with the Prince on a matter of extreme urgency. Grudgingly, the Vizier complied, but I understand that he bears little love for the Rangers.

Despite the obvious busy schedule, the Prince permits the Rangers a quick private audience. They are escorted by an aide through a side corridor where the Vizier awaits to lead them back to the throne room. There they arrive in time to witness a group of merchants just exiting an audience with the Prince.

Once the room is clear, they approach and bow before his Royal Highness. Only then, everything goes wrong. Immediately, the Captain of the Guard shouts and Lieutenant Volstagg and Nexus are surrounded by armed guards, blades at their throats. I can only imagine their confusion as Nexus is hauled roughly to her feet, Volstagg resisting the urge to fight.

At a run, the Vizier rushes up the length of the room, as Prince Velthana rises to his feet demanding to know why his guests are being ill treated. Only then does the Captain indicate the glint of metal tucked into the back of Nexus’ revealing dress. Reaching inside, the Vizier withdraws Nexus’ personal knife.

When confronted by the Prince, she admits the blade is hers, but last seen in her room where it was left before the contests days ago. The Prince then demands who dressed the Lady. Volstagg very nearly implicates the Emissary as it was the Emissary’s staff which dressed his wife, but instead he simply says, “staff.” Not a lie, but a deflection meant to save lives.

From what I have learned from the reports, the Prince clearly believed the Volstagg’s when they claimed innocence and ignorance of the crime of bringing a weapon into the presence of the Prince. Still, the law was clear and by violating this most strict principle, Nexus was in fear for her life. The Prince could order her execution and be in the right.

To save his wife, Lieutenant Volstagg suggested a mind scan, but the Prince countered that, A) such things could be evaded or faked, B) they had their own adept who might have arranged this assassination, C) He could not allow potential assassins to use such a ruse in the future.

The Vizier also pointed out that any favoritism shown the Rangers would only cause more resentment and potentially enrage the noble houses. Even Volstagg had to agree that a trial might not prove their innocent, and potentially damn other members of the Emissary’s entourage.

The Prince, Princess, and Vizier spoke privately, before, with a heavy heart, the Prince asked Volstagg how such a crime would be handled in his own country of Olara. Volstagg wisely accepted any justice the Prince order. And so, rather than execute Nexus as a potential assassin, the Prince ordered her receive 9 lashes.

As an honor to Sir Volstagg, the Prince offered him the whip as his own Captain of the Guard would surely do his utmost to take Nexus’ life. Though he warned Volstagg that any attempts to hold back the lash would result in her death, and likely his own.

I simply cannot imagine the pain and anguish both Volstagg and Nexus felt in that moment. Trapped by duty, a husband was forced to whip his wife, nearly to death. And she, to kneel taking the pain…for honor and duty.

As I said, I cannot say I would have had the courage or strength. That Archanon and my Lady the Silver Unicorn that such a task fell to better men and women. Though, I would have given up the entire enterprise were it never to have occurred. Once again, we owe a debt to these Rangers, a debt we can never repay.

The sentence passed, they were led to a nearby courtyard where Nexus was made to kneel in her gossamer gown of gold, and given a piece of leather to bite down upon. The Prince, Princess, Vizier and Guard Captain all stood in attendance, none looked away.

To her immortal credit, Nexus refused restraints, taking the punishment as an Olaran. More than.

And then, with the Princes command, and the Vizier’s low and solemn voice counting the lashes, Sir Volstagg raised the barbed whip…and lashed his wife over…and over…and over…

Nine times the lash fell, and nine times Nexu’s back as ripped to shreds, blood staining her clothes, and his. But she never faltered, never cried out more than clenched teeth and grunts as the wicked barbs tore and ripped her flesh…

To his honor, each blow was delivered with impassive brutality. Volstagg neither withheld, nor stuck with any passion. He did his duty. And I swear this, should either man or wife’s honor, integrity, or Olaran heart ever be questioned, I shall personally take a whip to any who doubts what blood flows through the hearts of these.

I have never met a more Olaran house.

When the last stroke fell on the brutalized Nexus, Volstagg returned the whip to the Vizier as the Prince’s own physicians rushed to staunch the bleeding and stitched the wide, open wounds across Nexus’ back. When he knew his wife would survive the assault, Vosltagg lifted her into his arms and strode out of the palace and carried her tightly against his chest all the way back to the Estate.

As they entered, Danica and Serys were on the roof doing some…calculations. Lieutenant Volstagg ordered the team assembled as he carried Nexus into the main courtyard and laid her on a reclining couch. The team arrive quickly, only to find Nexus weak with bloodloss and her clothes cut to ribbons and soaked in blood.

Serys demanded of Volstagg simply, “who?” but could not understand the answer when Volstagg replied, “Me.” The Emissary arrived and rushed to Nexus, checking her wounds. The Emissary demanded what happened and Lieutenant Volstagg grimly recounted the horror of the last few hours.

The Emissary ordered that he check their room to see if the dagger found on her person earlier was her own, or a replica. Lieutenant Volstagg, Sergeant Amaroth, and RFC Grendel went through the room but found no knife. The one in the throne room WAS her own, personal blade.

Hearing this, the other Rangers left to inventory their own gear, but nothing else was missing or out of place. Once together again, Nexus was feeling much improved, her wounds healed. Lieutenant Volstagg then ordered that until they were clear of the city, they would all share one room. Serys, who had apparently been preparing for this, provided the best room, guard rotations, and optimal watches for the Rangers.

With that, the Rangers all converged in one large room in the Estate and fortified it against attack.

At nearly the same, in Echer’Naught, Captain Rah-Sahn Hawksclaw emerged fully from his lengthy convalescence. I was called to his bedside on the evening of 8th to find him conscious and responsive, holding his son and wife. I cannot accurately express my joy at his miraculous recovery, due almost entirely to Farspeaker Moonsilver’s ministrations, and that of Eve.

Dancing Clouds 10th, 3126

After two days of rest, Captain Hawksclaw was finally well enough to move. His first order of business, wedding Eris Moonsilver. The ceremony was private, officiated by High Druidess Treesinger, and witness by my Lady and myself.

Once official, I took a moment to speak with Hawksclaw. Despite his obvious need to rest, I wanted to begin moving forward with his reinstatement if desired. We spoke, and he agreed to resume his post as Commander of the Ranger Outpost of Echer’Naught.

As of Dancing Clouds 10th, 3126, Captain Rah-Sahn Hawksclaw was officially reinstated as Captain of the Echer’Naught Ranger Outpost to resume his full duties upon certification for fitness of duty by Ranger healers. It is good to have my first Ranger back. And, to have Rah-Sahn liaison with my chief, Aradove. The world feels just a little more right in these dark days.

Dancing Clouds 12th, 3126

Later on the night of the 12th, the team was mostly asleep, save for those on “watch,” when A’kavir, the Emissary’s trusted guard, approached and informed the Rangers that they had a visitor in the main courtyard of the Estate. Roused, and well armed, the Rangers entered the courtyard to find the Emissary speaking with a cloaked figure.

As the approached, the figure stepped into the moonlight and lowered the hood to reveal the face of the Prince. He seemed genuinely concerned for Nexus and relieved that she had survived her ordeal without lasting injury. He apologized to both Volstaggs, but that was not the purpose of his visit.

The Vizier had examined the knife and found it coated in poison. Nexus protested that she would not have access to such, and the Prince confirmed. This particular poison was produced from a specific flower found along the banks of the Lifegiver River running through the heart of the Eternal Desert.

Then, he asked Sir Volstagg to venture into the desert with his authority and backing, find the would be assassins, and bring them to “Olaran” justice. The Emissary had what he or she desired. My concerns about the Emissary’s involvement in all of this, the Rangers had what they needed to pass through the Desert Princes.

And, under the guise of a mission for Almahrad, they would be able to discover the cause of the Sand Storms and prevent whatever catastrophe was about to befall the lands of Shaintar.

The Prince thanked them all, and offered the blade to Nexus who, understandable, refused. Afterwards he left. The Emissary then confirmed the Prince’s request, but also ordered the Rangers to seek out the source of the emerging threat in the desert. The Emissary also provided the name of a local guide, a dwarve named Stonefoot, who would be able to lead them over the mountains safely. Volstagg need but tell the dwarf, “The Emissary sends regards,” so Stonefoot would know they acted with the Emissary’s own authority.

Though Sergeant Amaroth suggested to sleep the night, Lieutenant Volstagg seemed more than ready to be rid of the place, and the Rangers had no objections. Gathering their gear, plus the coins provided by the Prince and Emissary, the Rangers left the Estate and were escorted under cover of night to the second Tier and the Grande Bazaar where they were fairly easily able to locate Stonefoot in a large tavern near the west gate, as the Emissary had instructed.

By the time they arrived, however, he was well into his cups, but seemed amiable enough to their request. He promised to be ready to leave by morning and suggested they drink. Lieutenant Volstagg chose to rent a room to sleep that night. The ogres rested under a pavilion out back.

In the morning, well before dawn, the team was awakened by a sober and chipper Stonefoot who rousted them out and downstairs where, surprisingly, a line of small, mountain ponies awaited, plus Muriel and King, along with supplies for everyone. The ogres would have to walk.

Everyone mounted, except for Corporal Daynore who was brutally kicked by his pony, Goat. But, after a bit of cursing, and a healing potion, everyone mounted and rode out.

This was the last communication received from a sore and tired Farspeaker Daynore. Archanon speed Rangers. Be safe, and may the Silver Unicorn guide and protect.

Your most obedient servant,

Lord Mayor Wolfhaven, Colonel

Ranger Regional Headquarters, Echer’Naught, Olara

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Campaign Report 91
Almahrad, City of Dreams

Lord Mayor, Colonel Baron Wolfhaven, Alexander

Commander of the Legio Heroes

Wolfhaven Manor, Echer’Naught, Olara

Thirty Third Day of Festival Moons, Year 3126 Under the Light

If we could afford the cost, I would put Farspeakers in every team. Corporal Daynore has proved himself a most valuable resource. Via his connection with Farspeaker Moonsilver, we have nearly instant updates on the Alpha Team’s mission to Almahrad. I can now divulge their destination as our enemies most certainly know the team’s location by now.

Festival Moons 7th, 3126

Sir and Lady Volstagg return late in the eve from their honeymoon in my friend’s Harken estate. Though I have never actually been to that particular home, I hear that it is most beautiful from spring to fall. From Sir Volstagg’s description, it was like sailing a sea of gold. And, for once, the heat was not as oppressive. I hope they made the most of their short respite. I have learned through bitter experience that we must bask in the light while the sun shines, for there will ever be shadows, darkness, and cold…

Festival Moons 8th, 3126

My day was met with news both boon and ill. Ranger Sara Schenkle (Longtail) of House Wolfhaven formally retired from the Rangers this morning. She explained that her duty to our Corps was one of the most cherished facets of her life. However, her experiences under deep cover had left her feeling detached, and hesitant.

She wished to put the pain behind her and move forward with her new husband, Commander Eric Schenkle. I could not have been more pleased, though I was loathe to lose her. And, in recognition of her exemplary service, her rank was promoted to Ranger First Class, and she was awarded a full, if small, pension for completion of a full three year contract.

On somewhat better news, a new arrival graced us with her presence. Ranna. She is an ogress, and crossbowman to boot. I have heard legends of the ogre heavy crossbow teams. More walking siege towers than warriors. I expect Lieutenant Volstagg to make great use of her skills. I also hope that she and Grendel are able to bond and find common experience being both ogres.

Worse news, after the Alpha Team’s meeting with Sir Halten at his manor, briefing on the mission, I was alarmed to hear fire bells in the streets. I, and much of my staff, rushed to offer aid, fire being a constant hazard in the city, where I came upon a strange sight. The courtyard of Sir Halten’s keep ablaze, Sir Halten himself laughing amidst the chaos as his household battled the blase, and his wife, the formidable Lady Halten, berating him and screeching in a voice that has seared into my memory. Seeing he had the situation well in hand, my Rangers and I beat a hasty retreat.

Later, I received a report. Apparently, the good lady found his manor “dank and dingy,” so she ordered something akin to 3000 candles to be lit in the halls to add light and atmosphere. Predictably, flame met curtain and the rest is the natural course of nature. Ultimately, the Lady claimed that the manor needed a remodel anyway and I saw construction crews on sight the following morning.

Sir Halten has, strangely, taken up residence with an associate elsewhere in High Towne. There is still the curious report of a broken wagon. It seems that just prior to the blaze, one of Halten’s hostlers reported that one of the wall tower ballista had shot one of Lady Halten’s wagons, running some of her personal effects. Which, would most likely have been a cause for uproar if the wagon, bolt, and effects not all burned moments later. Still, I have the entire city doing a thorough inventory of every bolt, arrow, and quarrel in the City Watch and the Rangers.

None are pleased with the extra work, but it should do well to instruct them NOT to be careless with their ammunition. If someone had been harmed…

Festival Moons 9th, 3126

I have heard that my Rangers, namely Sir and Lady Volstagg, and Sergeant Amaroth and RFC Moldova, quite enjoyed themselves at the Wayfarer’s Rest on this particular eve. I had not been made aware of a budding relationship between the dour “The Bloody” and the gentle pacifistic. Opposites attract? I hope their relationship had no bearing on her choice to depart the Rangers. That would disappoint me greatly. But, I cannot begrudge their finding happiness among all this pain and death.

Duty weighs like a mountain.

I would ALSO note that Captain Vasser, via Sir Halten’s runner, informed me that three of my Rangers, RFC Serys, Ranger Johns, and Trainee Ranna engaged in some extracurricular bounty hunting? They retrieved the bodies of three wanted felons. The Warrant was dead or alive, and they were turned in most assuredly dead. On the one hand, I dislike my Rangers, even on personal time, hiring out a killers. On the other hand, their actions were legal, and within keeping with Olaran law, which also keeps with the Charter. The entire incident is unsettling, but I am electing to refrain involvement…for the time.

Festival Moons 10th, 3126

In the early morning, Alpha Team departs the west (Elven) gate heading along the Greenway Road toward Eldara. I know at this point the team would be unaware of their destination, just that they were being dispatched on a “Diplomatic Mission.” Still, they seemed in good spirits as the headed west.

Shortly after my Alpha Team departed east, I departed west and then north. Over the summer of 3126, Red Wolf to Festival Moons, my White Silver Wolves had crossed the Crystal River and steadily pushed Shaya’Nor’s forces back. Word reached me that the army was closing in on Tirene. Being one of two key Darkness strongholds still within the region, I elected to take command personally. Though the Ranger High Command was not particularly pleased with my decision, they, nevertheless, afforded me the personal leave to conduct my affairs.

Details of that mission may be found: https://shaintar-j-l-rangers-at-large.obsidianportal.com/adventure-log/liberation-of-tirene-report-one

Festival Moons 12th, 3126

Alpha Team arrived in Erda’Meias. It has been reported that the Alpha Team in particular were very well received as they brought relief from the plague.

Festival Moons 15th, 3126

Alpha Team arrived in Eldara. Here, the Rangers bunked at the local HQ, while Corporal Daynore and RFC Nazir sought passage on a riverboat headed to the coast. Again, I cannot fault the results, but I am not particularly predisposed to Lady Nazir’s method of “negotiation,” regardless of how spectacularly successful she might have been.

Nevertheless, Alpha Team secured passage aboard an Elven Swan Boat, a treat I myself have never experienced.

Festival Moons 16t,. 3126

Alpha Team departed Eldara headed South toward Eastport aboard the Elven Swan Boat. Only RFC Danica took her mount, Muriel. All others were left in the elven capital.

Festival Moons 18th, 3126

Reports indicate that the team reached Loreli about mid day. Lieutenant Volstagg reported in to the local HQ.

Festival Moons 20th, 3126

Alpha Team passed Syvan in the morning.

Festival Moons 22nd, 3126

Alpha Team arrives is in Eastport. The first order of business, Lieutenant Volstagg reported to Captain Roberts of the Sea Ranger, a trusted associate. Their gear was stowed and the Rangers were allowed an evening to relax before beginning their sea voyage.

Festival Moons 23rd, 3126

Onboard the War Caravel Sea Ranger, under command of Captain Roberts, the Alpha Team departs for their final destination. Once in open waters, Captain Roberts and Lieutenant Volstagg meet in the captain’s room to read their orders. The Captain is instructed to sail the team to Granite Port and wait in port until Alpha Team makes arrangements with their contact in the dwarvish port.

Lieutenant Volstagg is ordered to proceed to Granite Port. There, he will be an associate of the Emissary who will make arrangements for final travel to the independent city of Almahrad. With that, the ship turns west and beats toward Granite Port.

Festival Moons 29th, 3126

The Sea Ranger arrives in Granite Port and the Alpha Team disembarks. I have never seen the port myself, but I have heard that it hosts marvels barely imagined. As described once by Therel Fateweaver who traveled widely,

“Granite Port is the sole Dwarven seawater port in the whole of Shaintar. Built into the foothills of the Black Mountains, the port is carved out of the southernmost cliffs, before spilling out into the lower marsh and tidelands. Everything in Granite port is granite, from the peers, to the shops, docks, and fortifications. What makes the port most remarkable are: A) dwarven sailors, entire clans of shanty singing, sea swept, gruff sailors, B) massive mechanical and clockwork booms and cranes, hauling tonnes of cargo out of the bellies of the beasts, C) iron ships with massive wheels, gears, and sails. Some of the smaller vessels even has what appear to be massive, hissing engines."

It is a wonder I hope to one day behold in person. Nevertheless, once on dry land, the Rangers headed to the largest Granite Inn and Alehouse where they managed to find lodging in the bustling seaport establishment. Here too, was running hot and cold water, massive fires and ovens, and every conceivable mechanical contrivance.

The Rangers bunked for the night. Even the ogres found rooms inside. That eve, they all had succulent meals from across the sea, before getting a full night of undisturbed rest.

Festival Moons 30th, 3126

In the morning, Lieutenant Volstagg apparently challenged the owner to provide a unique meal. And, with that, they were served Kraken!!! If that is to be believed. It was at this time, they were approached by their contact, an A’kavir, one of the Emissaries trusted associates.

He informed the Rangers that a ship waited for them at the headwaters and could leave then, or in the morning. Not wanting to remain in the open, Lieutenant Volstagg ordered the team to move while Corporal Daynore contact Captain Roberts and released he and his ship from service.

RFC Danica was forced to settled Muriel’s bar tab as the irascible mule had managed to raid the ale larder. With that handled, the Alpha Team headed on foot, with Muriel in tow, to a point where the Granite River flowed into the sea. Here, was docked a massive two masted galley! Oh to have seen such a sight.

Once aboard, the crew, two rowers to a side, began to pull away north, up the river toward the Black Mountains. Starting in the early morn, the rowers pulled for 10 hours, arriving in later afternoon at rising cliffs of the Black Mountains. Here, the galley reefed sail and slipped into a narrow cut through the rock face, carved over eons by the flowing river.

Just beyond, the Rangers entered a large, hidden valley of lush forests, farmlands, and fisheries. And, on the horizon, the Great City of Almahrad glittering like a jewel in the dying of the day’s light. Lady Moonsilver, upon seeing the image relayed by Corporal Daynore said one could weep for the beauty of it.

Just as darkness fell, cooling the hot valley, the galley pulled up at the Stone Docks, dwarven built like the Granite Port south of Almahrad. Here, they were met with an armed escort sent by the Emissary. The Rangers were then led by A’kavir through the city from the lowest tier to the upper, describing along the way each district’s unique essence and culture. As relayed by Farspeaker Daynore,

“Almahrad is a beautiful four tier city nestled at the base of the Black Mountains. It sits like a jewel at the north end of a hidden, lush, and verdant valley fed by the Granite river which flows through, and around the_ city in beautiful cascading waterfalls. The valley is safely reached via a narrow river cavern from the south, from the east mountain pass from Three Points, or from the West mountain branch where the LowHome road turns south toward Daltor.

Just outside the Southern gate, in the lowest tier, are the Stone Docks encompassing the Port area full of shops, fisheries, and netmakers. Within the walls are warehouses, and river trade district. Here, the dwarven metal and stonesmithes from Granite Port mingle with the traders and craftsmen of the city. The air is tinged with the scent of salt, soot, spice, and fish.

Up the main rode, finds the second tier. Here, the East and West gate roads meet in the Grande Bazaar. Dwarvencraft from Temper and Granite Port, exotic goods from the Desert Princes (via Low Home and Daltor), fine Malakaran goods from Lann and Centerport, and every concievalbe rare find fed from Sunset, Granite Port, and Westport, all converge in one of the worlds largest open air markets. All can be found for a price. And, these raw materials are taken and refined into the finest crafts by the artisans of Almahrad.

Nestled in the hanging gardens, the frescoed porticos of the third tier are the homes and studios of the famed artisans of Almahrad. None outside the city understand why the crafts of the city are so exquisite, but their perfection cannot be ignored. Here is the heart of the city, the prize and fame of Almahrad.

In the fourth, and last tier, sits the higher noble houses, and grande palace. From their lofty perch, the blood of Almahrad controls the money and power of the city, forging alliances, playing the game, and ensuring the independence and prosperity of the city.

Outside, in the valley are nestled farms, fisheries, and limited wood harvesting. Just enough to provide basic necessities, but the life’s blood of Almahrad is trade; trade and artisans."

When the party reaches the fourth and highest city tier, A’kavir escorts the Alpha Team to a beautiful Noble manor full of airy walkways, porticoes, gardens, and fountains in sandstone and marble. Upon arrival, each Ranger, or couple, is given their own private room, though lacking in doors, it seems, and a banquet of fresh and dried fruit, dried fish, figs, dates, and other local delicacies. Also, cool water to bath, and local garb already provided as the climate is hotter and dryer during the summer months than our native lands.

Once refreshed, Lieutenant Volstagg and RFC Zathlan were escorted to finally meet the Emissary. I had met her, or him, over a year prior before sending the Long Recon Team to escort the emissary on the survey mission into the Eternal Sands. I found the Emissary to be courteous, intelligent, but ambitious. I suppose that would be a necessary trait given his or her line of work.

From what I gather, the Emissary had “arranged” for a local noble to turn over his estate as the base of operations for the Emissary. When the Rangers arrived, he, or she, was reclining on pillows, as is the custom in that land, dressed from head to toe in emerald robes of fine silk and Paradise cotton. Only the Emissaries eyes could be seen.

The Emissary explained that the Rangers were there to assist in establishing diplomatic relations with Almahrad and then to help investigate the growing unrest in the Eternal Sands. They also had an audience with the Prince of Almahrad in the morning. It would be their first opportunity to impress and ingratiate themselves with the ruling family.

They would also be denied weapons outside of the manor grounds. I am aware that both Sergeant Amaroth and RFC Danica found great difficulty with this order, but they complied.

RFC Leora and Ranger Newt elected to remain with the Emissary in the Estate for the duration, at the Emissary’s request. Her man, A’kavir would accompany the Rangers, while the bard and the brinchie would protect the Emissary.

Festival Moons 31st, 3126

In the morning, A’kavir prepared Lieutenant Volstagg and Corporal Daynore in the traditional garb of the kingdom for their meeting with the Prince. They arrive early to find the Prince and Princess Velthana, and the kingdom’s Vizier awaiting them in the throne room, a long and columned, open air room. Per reports, Lieutenant Volstagg was the perfect guest and representative. Corporal Daynore even provided the Prince a gift of an everwood flute that he carved for the occasion.

As I understand, the Prince was MOST interested in Lieutenant Volstagg’s dueling record. The prince, it has been reported, is a duelist himself and I can imagine he would be intrigued by the Olaran Knight’s prowess. But, as it happened, it was not the Ranger’s skill with a blade he sought to test, but the Ranger ability to investigate crimes.

As they stood before the Crowned Prince, a prisoner was brought forth in chains. One, Al’Sahi, Master Painter. The poor, disheveled man had been accused of murdering his partner, Abin’Awahi. The murder had transpired three days prior. But, the report was that Al’Sahi had accosted his partner in a cafe in the morning, demanding money for back rent on their studio and threatening to kill Abin’Awahi when he refused to pay because he had spent all his funds buying a Masterwork Painting.

According to the City Guards, they responded to the house about an hour later to find Al’Sahi standing over the body of his partner while holding the bloody murder weapon. The Guards arrested Al’Sahi and he was scheduled for execution in three days. Al’Sahi claimed innocence, and the princess seemed to believe him genuine. Prince Velthana offered the Rangers three day to prove the condemned man’s innocence or guilt.

Corporal Daynore confirmed that the condemned Al’Sahi believed he was innocent. He also noted, while using his abilities, that the Prince, Princess, Vizier and many of the guards were all magically protected.

To Corporal Daynore’s mental probing, Al’Sahi admitted to accosting his partner, but after cooling off for a bit, Al’Sahi claimed he returned to his studio, but realized that he had forgotten his keys at home. He was about to return to his home nearby when he said to have heard a commotion within. And, the door was unlocked. Entering, the found the studio dark, all shades drawn, and as he moved inside he tripped over something. Stunned, his had brushed something which he unwittingly picked up. Only then did he realize he had fallen over the body of his slain partner, and he was covered in blood. That, and he now held a bloody sword. That is when the guards busted in. That is all he knew. He begged the Rangers to prove him innocent.

Dismissed, the Rangers assembled at the Emissary’s manor before heading off to the murder sight, the Paint Studio. Before departing, A’kavir informed Lieutenant Volstagg that the Prince was permitting HIM to bear a sword. Volstagg immediately strapped his longsword before heading out. Led by A’kavir, they arrived to find a small, but quaint studio off a small courtyard. There were two City Guards out front who confirmed that no one had entered or disturbed the site since the arrest of the painter. Inside, the Rangers confirmed the location of the body via dried bloodstains, though they found no sign of the masterwork painting. More curious, Ranger Grendel and Trainee Ranna discovered that the back door and the rear courtyard gates were also unlatched. Which would mean that every door to the studio was unlocked, but all the shades were drawn closed. Curious.

The guards outside were the very same to originally respond to the murder. They confirmed that a local citizen, a young woman, had rushed up to them claiming of a commotion in a nearby studio. When the arrived, the found the door open. Entering, they found Al’Sahi standing over the corpse of his partner, the bloody murder weapon still in his hand. They saw no one else in the studio, nor did anyone leave the rear while they were present. Though, they reported that a small crowd of onlookers had been drawn by the noise by the time they arrived, though none claimed to have seen anyone aside from Al’Sahi.

From there, the Rangers headed to the Al’Sahi’s house to find it locked. Sergeant Amaroth picked the lock, and the Rangers entered to find a spartan apartment. Clean, with a bit of stale food, about three days old. Curious, they found no keys. Nor could Al’Sahi have locked his own house without keys. Meaning, his keys were lost, or stolen, between his house and the cafe. Also, no sign of the painting.

The next task for the Rangers was to locate the who sold the painting to the deceased Abin’Awahi? For this, the Rangers, led as always by A’kavir, headed back to the palace to speak with the Al’Sahi and the Vizier.

Al’Sahi was chained in the heart of a lush garden, surrounded by opulence and comfort while he starved and chafed under heavy chains. Again, Corporal Daynore scanned his mind. This time, Daynore was able to make a rough sketch of the painting so they would know what to look for. From there, to the Vizier.

With a single glance, he determined the painting was a Marishi. He had been regarded as a Grand Master until his demise a decade prior. The Vizier provided the Rangers the only auction house he knew that would handle such a transaction, the Answaran Gallery.

Arriving at the Gallery, the Rangers were at first rebuffed by the Gallery master until A’kavir showed the Prince’s seal. From there, Lieutenant Volstagg, Corporal Daynore, and A’kavir were taken into the private offices while the rest of the team searched the grounds. Corporal Daynore presented his sketch and demanded to see the Gallery records. With bad grace, the Auctioneer produced the records, and they confirmed sale of the Marishi, but under an alias. The seller was equally obscured, but the Gallery owner suggested that only the family could sell such a piece.

When asked who retrieved the sale, he directed them to his dock master. That man, a Nazatiran, confirmed that the piece had been retrieved by Abin’Awahi the night before he was killed.

From there, the Rangers headed to the Marishi Estate. They met lady Marishi. She denied any knowledge or involvement. When Corporal Daynore produced his sketch of her father’s painting, she angrily led them to a central vault, allowed Lieutenant Volstagg, Corporal Daynore, and A’kavir entry and showed them that very painting still in the vault, bolted to the wall. She confirmed that only she and her Head Servant visited the vault, if rarely, and they certainly had not sold it on the black market.

Lord Marishi, the lady’s brother, was summoned. He refused involvement and suggested that he had not entered teh vault since his father’s death over a decade before. He also claimed that he was a disappointment in that he possessed his father’s skills, but not his creativity.

However, during questioning, RFC Danica noted a few oddities about the Lord Marishi. First, he blanched when the forgery was mentioned, and Second, he showed visible fear when he learned that the buyer had been murdered. Still, he professed innocent.

Oddly, though, he embraced Lieutenant Volstagg in a handclasp, a tradition of the Southern Kingdoms. The Rangers noted the unusual nature of such a gesture. After departing, Grendel commented that Lord Marishi smelled of paint, so he had obviously been handling such recently, despite his statement to the contrary.

Despite the lateness of the day, the team returned to the Palace to speak with the Prince. He was dining with the princess on a balcony when the entire team arrived. They began to recount their investigation so far, but he seemed to already know everything they had done. He even knew of their encounter with Marishi even though they had JUST returned from their estate.

They provided all their evidence and their belief that Al’Sahi was innocent. However, the Prince demanded proof. Where was the painting? Who was the killer? They had provided theory, but no evidence. Unless they could provide more, Al’Sahi would be executed.

With few leads left, they excused themselves from the prince and went to rouse the Vizier from his bed. In bad humours, the escorted them to the armory and allowed them to examine the murder weapon, a fine scimitar, if unadorned. It seemed unremarkable, but a find blade mostly likely carried by a noble.

At this point, being WELL passed the time most people would be sleeping, A’kavir suggest the team might eat and rest as they had not paused in their pursuit all day. Suddenly tired, and very hungry, the team returned to the Emissary’s manor to eat a late dinner, and sleep.

Festival Moons 32nd, 3126

Rising before dawn on the 32nd, the team resumed their investigation. This morn, they headed to the cafe of the initial confrontation. The proprietor confirmed everything that had been reported. He never saw the young woman who approached the guards. And, he only knew of the murder via news and rumor. Nevertheless, the team was certain Al’Sahi was innocent of murder, and there was great suspicion that Lord Marishi was involved in forgery and illegal auction of the painting, but they were still undecided on who murdered Abin’Awahi.

The Team headed back to Al’Sahi’s studio and confirmed, via scent that the painting had been there, and they found the unique burlap of the Answaran Auction Gallery, but could not track the painting, if it even still existed. All leads followed, they were stuck. Without some proof, they could not proceed. And, answers could only be found with the Marishi House. It was a risk, if they failed, it would likely cost Lieutenant Volstagg his life. But, without the evidence, they had nothing.

So, Lieutenant Volstagg sent the rest of the team to the Emissary’s Estate along with Volstagg’s sword. Then, taking Corporal Daynore and A’kavir, headed back to the Marishi Estate. This time, they were stopped at the gates by the Marishi Guard. It required A’kavir to demand entry in the name of the Prince. As the guards opened the gates wide, A’kavir noted to Lieutenant Volstagg that if they failed here, they would surely be executed.

Within, they found both Lady and Lord Marishi waiting, as well as their Head Servant. Again, Lady Marishi denied any knowledge of involvement and grew quickly hostile. But, Lieutenant Volstagg directed his questions at Lord Marishi who was reluctant. However, when A’kavir threatened to take the matter before the Prince, the Lord finally relented and admitted that he had forged the painting and sold it via blind auction to Abin’Awahi under alias, he still claimed innocence in the murder. Furious, the Lady Marishi demanded he leave.

Corporal Daynore requested to review the armory to compare the Marishi weapons to the murder weapon. Angrily, Lady Marishi complied and when the Rangers reviewed the armory inventory, they discovered one of the House scimitars was missing. In a fury, she demanded the Rangers arrest her brother. The Rangers asked to take one of the house scimitars and she snapped they could take them all. So, as he was allowed to bear weapons in the 3rd and 4th tiers, Lieutenant Volstagg slipped a scimitar into his belt.

Here, Lieutenant Volstagg asked who had actually taken the painting to the auction house and Lord Marishi admitted that their head servant had done so. Enraged, Lady Marishi demanded the Rangers take both men. A’kavir kept eyes on the Lord and his servant while Lieutenant Volstagg and Corporal Daynore searched the servants rooms where they found a set of keys.

With this evidence, they departed, leaving the Lord and the servant. Making their way first to the Estate to collect their team, and have Grendel smell the keys for verification, he confirmed they were covered in paint scents, the Rangers headed immediately to the palace and the Prince.

When the arrived, Prince and Princess Velthana awaited in the long, columned throne room, flanked on each column by guards, and standing just off their dais, the Vizier, just as they had when the Rangers first arrived. Under two guards, knelt the beaten and battered Al’Sahi awaiting his judgement.

The Rangers arrived, in a group, Volstagg surrendering his blade to a guard before entering the Prince’s presence. Once, admitted, they knelt and presented their case. They asked Al’Sahi to describe his keys, and Corporal Daynore was again allowed to use his powers in the throne room. He confirmed that the keys Al’Sahi described were those recovered from the Marishi House Head Servant’s personal quarters.

As they began, the Prince had both Lord Marhishi and his Head Servant brought in to testify. The Rangers reported that the murder had stolen Al’Sahi’s keys the morning of the murder and used them to enter the studio to steal the painting. In the process, he was surprised, or surprised Abin’Awahi and murdered him in the dark. It was crude work, not that of a warrior, or a noble.

Then, the killer stole the painting and fled out the back, leaving the back door and courtyard gate unlatched. Neighbors heard the commotion and alerted the guards. Unfortunately, Al’Sahi was just outside and entered, falling over the corpse and being found by the Guards.

The painting was a forgery, created by Lord Marishi, who admitted as such when demanded by the Prince, but he again claimed innocence in the murder. Here, the Head Servant stepped forward and confessed to taking the scimitar, following Abin’Awahi, stealing Al’Sahi’s keys, killing Abin’Awahi, and escaping as Al’Sahi entered. He claimed Lord Marishi was totally innocent in the murder, and had no knowledge. He claimed full responsibility.

The Prince was most pleased by the Rangers. In three days they had solved a murder, freed and innocent man, AND shut down an illegal forgery operation of one of the Great Masters of the city. Lord Marishi was stripped of his title and property, and then banished from the realm upon pain of death. Al’Sahi was released. The Head Servant was sentenced to death and lead away. He claimed to have no regrets.

As for the Rangers, in recognition for their amazing talent, the Prince hosted a feast in their honor that very eve. And, as a gift to thank him for leading the investigation, the Prince offered Volstagg the Headman’s axe. To him would fall the execution.

It is hard thing to take a man’s life. I know. In battle, there is a sense of chaos, everything happens so fast, so violently. You are trying to survive. Killing in combat is entirely survival. You have to kill them before they kill you. But executions are different. No one is threatening you. It goes against everything within a Knight to kill an unarmed, defenseless man.

But justice must be served. I cannot say I agree with the Prince in this, but I also believe that without consequence, often lethal, laws mean little. Upon hearing of this news, y heart sank. I have nothing but respect and admiration for Lieutenant Volstagg’s courage and fortitude in this matter.

With the confessions, the investigation was concluded, as was the audience. Prince Velthana dismissed the Rangers until that eve.

Back at the Emissary’s Estate, the Rangers prepared for the banquet, while mulling over recent events. It was not lost upon them that they had utterly destroyed the Marishi House. Just the taxes and penalties alone for the illegal sale of forgeries would ruin them, not to mention their loss of status.

Lord Marishi banished in poverty, the servant dead. And, they would soon learn that Al’Sahi’s hands were so damaged during his interrogation that he would likely never paint again. Justice bears a heavy price.

I know not if they decided to individuals, or as a group, but when the time for the banquet arrived, the Alpha Team had elected to wear their own garb, not that of Almahrad. Volstagg wore his heirloom armor, carrying his longsword, as per the Prince’s invitation. Lady Volstagg wore the colors of her House, with the Ranger Cloak and clasp. Sergeant Amaroth bore House Wolfhaven Colors, and Corporal Daynore wore his uniform and Night Chain. Danica wore her Golden Grphons color and the others, Grendel, Ranna, Newt and Seyrs bore their Ranger cloaks with pride. Leaora went as a bard, as ever. And the Emissary wore the silks of Almahrad nobility.

They must have been quite a site entering the Prince’s gardens. Lieutenant and his Lady were permitted to sit at the Prince’s own table. The Rangers were given pride of place just below.

Prince Velthana welcomed the Rangers and thanked them for their exemplary service to his City. He introduced them to the court before beginning the meal. At the height of the eve, the Prince clapped his hands and had the condemned brought forth in chains. He then turned to Lieutenant Volstagg.

Rather than take up his sword, Volstagg ordered a crossbeam, rope and stool be erected. Before the eyes of the court, the servants built a gallows in the garden, and the Servant was ordered to place his own head in the noose. Without taking his eyes off the Prince, the man complied.

The Prince offered him last words. All he said was, “I have no regret.” Then, with a word from the Prince, Volstagg kicked the stool and the assembled nobility watched in shock as the man died.

Once Lieutenant Volstagg had confirmed his death, the Prince ordered he be taken down and given a proper burial. Then, the evening continued, though understandably subdued. Later in the eve, before all were dismissed back to the estate, Corporal Daynore gifted the Prince once more, this time with a carved Karken barb. For his generosity and “peasants skill,” the Prince offered to introduce Daynore to one of the city’s Master Carvers.

Festival Moons 33rd, 3126

I returned from the front mid-morn on the the 33rd. Details may be found here: https://shaintar-j-l-rangers-at-large.obsidianportal.com/adventure-log/liberation-of-tirene-report-two. It was then that I received reports of the Alpha Team’s success in Almahrad.

They only returned to the Emissary’s Estate early on the morning of the 33rd of Festival Moons. Tired, troubled, but successful, the Rangers at the very least were able then to enjoy the beauty around them as they waited for the next task or summons.

I could not be prouder of Alpha Team’s performance. There are Ranger teams that categorically refuse Diplomatic encounters. Without something to hit or kill, they seem impotent. Yet, my Alphas understand that power is not measured in martial power, nor is success measured in the corpses of your enemies. True power is the ability to create alliances, and harmony so as to create. Yes, violence is necessary, sadly often, but the Alpha Team has proven beyond doubt why the are the premier Ranger unit in Echer’Naught.

Addendum

At home, in Echer’Naught, things continue. Sergeant Minor Longtail continues to train her staff, and I note spends many lunches with Sergeant Samira Regillus. It is pleasing to see such friendships growing. Family is vital to our shared strength.

Sir Halten continues to adjust to his new circumstances. Though, I fear that his Lady might soon begin to interfere with joint operations. Hopefully, he will manage to sort his personal finances. Im sure they would both be happier.

RFC Nazir’s Elven/Olaran project continues apace. The new leaders are proving capable, with help from High Druidess Treesinger.

My own projects continue. Though the announcement has been made to improve the city’s governance, the loss of the Seneschal has set us back. A replacement must be found before we can fully move forward. And, as always, there are new problems. Petty crime and gang activity has increased. Under Velkalar, there was a more uniform enemy, now we face dozens of competing factions. So far, their conflict has not spilled out of their own sphere, but the City Watch is ever vigilant against a crime spree.

Reports from the North indicate the White Silver Wolves 3rd and 4th Companies are closing in on Tieren and should be within range to siege within a couple of months. The fighting has been brutal, but with each mile retaken, new allies emerge. Of particular note, the Cavaliers of Camon seem to ever grow in numbers as they throw of ancient shackles.

But, news from the desert grows worse. Despite their victory, the Alpha Team will soon be thrown into that conflict. May the Ascended protect them. I will do what I may, but I fear they will be on their own deep in enemy territory.

Your most obedient servant,

Lord Mayor Wolfhaven, Colonel

Ranger Regional Headquarters, Echer’Naught, Olara

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Campaign Report 90
Aftermath and Wedding

Lord Mayor, Colonel Baron Wolfhaven, Alexander

Commander of the Legio Heroes

Wolfhaven Manor, Echer’Naught, Olara

Seventh Day of Festival Moons, Year 3126 Under the Light

I have lived my life by a simple code of Honor, Duty, and Sacrifice. In all things, I have tried to do right by the Law and my own Code. But, there is a simple truism that as one rises in authority and responsibility, the line between what is right begins to blur.

Should my Rangers have allowed Sir Halten to die at the hands of his own Olaran kin? They would have been within their rights, but would it have been right? The Sheriff’s office has never been particularly close with the Rangers, but could we have allowed such pettiness to affect our decisions? Or, did the relationship between Sir Volstagg and Sir Halten lead to the events which transpired. A relationship that I not only encouraged, but ordered Sir Vosltagg to pursue.

Is vital knowledge usable if gained with ill gotten means? Certainly we would never condone torture, but what about words spoken in confidence? Would Lady Moonsilver betray her oaths to the Farspeakers to save lives? The lives of her family?

Though I did not send Sarah Schenkle into Velkalar’s camp, I knowingly approved the mission and then lied to my fellow Rangers and friends. I looked into her husbands eyes and told him she was a criminal, knowing that she risked all to bring down a madman. But, had I not, she would be dead along with so many others. Was I wrong?

Somewhere, I suspect, someone held the knowledge that Streetrunner’s location had been compromised. Did they weigh their conscience, considering the risk of revealing that knowledge to the Rangers? Did we get a good man or woman killed when the information was made public? And yet, could I have saved Longtail’s husband if we were not so protective of our secrets.

Would that we could all trust each other to be honest, to fight for the same side. But history has proven such as falsehoods. Enemies abound and we can scarcely trust those closest to us for fear that behind their eyes lies a traitor and a villain.

Things were simpler in the war. On the back of a horse, riding into enemy lines, there is only you, your men, and the target.

Yet, sitting here, every thought, every word, every action is fraught with danger. Worse, inaction. Would that I knew no secrets worth keeping. But behind secrets are the lives risking all in faith that I am not the villain.

In the end, I suppose that each man and woman must draw the line in the sand upon which we will not cross and pray the the sum total of our actions, good or ill, will be weighed with kindness in the cold light of posterity.

Ever more often these words come to mind. “Die a hero, or live long enough to become a villain.” Some days, I pray for the honorable death…

Thunder Hawk 30th, 3126
I must confess the joy and utter shock at being reunited with my son and Longtail overwhelmed everything in those first few heady moments. Dimly I recall Sarah Longtail being wed to Commander Eric Schenkle. There was laughter, tears, and a mad, confusing gaggle trailing back up the street to High Towne and the Wolfhaven Manor.

After a time, things began to setting down. I hugged Sarah Schenkle tightly and welcomed Commander Schenkle to our bizarre clan. Though, not a sworn through his marriage to Sarah, he is, nevertheless, a fearless commander and a good man. Seeing her happiness filled my heart, though I could also see the hardness behind her eyes. It is the same I see in Alfred, Longtail…so many of us.

Our laughter always rings a little flat, our smiles just a bit forced. Given a choice would we live lives of simple mediocrity if it meant was need not suffer such indignities? Sadly, I fear any one of us would make the same choices given an opportunity. What does that say about us?

Though, the most difficult moment of the evening was facing Aradove. I knew I had done all in my power to save Streetrunner, and she understood the risks we all face everyday. But, knowing and accepting are very different things. Though our words were private, seeing her again…indescribable.

The party continued as we all laughed, danced, and reunited under a late summer moon. The weather was mercifully cool, despite the heat of the season. My Lady, Baroness Wolfhaven, was a delight. She floated among the guests, speaking easily with all assembled. I wish I had her ease in social situations. Without a mission or objective, I find myself at a loss for what to say. Late into the evening, I was surprised at the arrival of Evelyn (Eve) Afliem. She, apparently, had arrived at the behest of Lady Wolfhaven. They both took their leave to look in on Hawksclaw. It was hoped that her “powers” would be able to undo some of the damage inflicted at the hands of Velkalar and his men. I pray that it would be so.

Sooner, rather than later, my Lady returned and the night began to wind down. The newlyweds entered their carriage and rode away to his household. With that, guests began to break up. I spoke with many that eve, and more in the coming days.

It seems that with our great foe defeated, everyone is contemplating the future. Now that we have some reasonable assurance that a future is even possible.

Thunder Hawk 31st, 3126
In the morning, before the dawn, I asked the Alpha team to attend me in my office at the Regional HQ. Among other things, there was the small detail of the powerful artifacts they were all still carrying. Also, it appeared that the paperwork had not been filed to release Ranger Sebastian from his protective detail. I also need to invite Sir and Lady Volstagg to dinner that eve.

They arrived, Sergeant Minor Longtail and RFC Leaora with them. Malcolm had already arranged for the case, and Alpha team gladly returned the weapons of their former teammates.

Sergeant Volstagg DID warn me about the Ancient Von Dietrich sword. The analysis of the priests who cleansed it and certified it for use, cautioned that while it was not “evil” in the sense of Corruption, it was dangerous. I am glad Sir Volstagg suffered no ill effects from its use.
Also, in an emotional moment, RFC Newt returned to Sergeant Minor Longtail her lo-sska which had been added to the collection upon her “death.”

Then, Malcolm presented Longtail with her “personal effects” box. She now has two. One from her father, and one for herself. Ironically, my own effects had been collected and added to one of the same make. Two thoughts struck me. Who makes these boxes? And, how many Rangers over the years have managed to receive their own death boxes?

I would have preferred to handle the next bit myself, but the agreement with the Sheriff’s office guarantees that he approves, and executes all personel changes. So, with restraint, I bid the team head over to his office. Before they left, I did request that Sergeant Volstagg and RFC Zathlan attend me at my home office that eve.

From the signed papers I know that the following promotions were approved:

  • Sergeant Gunther Volstagg was promoted to Lieutenant Volstagg
  • Corporal Audric Amaroth was promoted to Sergeant Amaroth
  • RFC Durlan Daynore was promoted to Corporal Daynore
  • Ranger Grendel was promoted to RFC Grendel
  • Ranger Newt was promoted to RFC Newt

The second commendations were placed in the files for both RFC Gracelyn Moldova and RFC Nexus (Zathlan) Volstagg.

The Royal Sheriff, Sir Halten, also covered the team’s impending mission. Last year, an emissary was dispatched to the west to establish ties with the locals and to investigate disturbing rumors. She was escorted by the Long Recon Team, and met with local assets to provide security. Other than regular updates, we had heard little from her. But, a request reached out offices for the Alpha Team (by name) to join her in the independent city-state of Almahrad. We know very little about this small, but rich nation. Apparently, the Emissary is making overtures for official diplomatic relations. To that end, the Alpha Team will be dispatched to facilitate the negotiations and provide security. They depart as soon as able.

After the Alpha Team’s departure, I sat with Sergeant Minor Longtail and asked what she might want to do in the future. I hoped that she would be willing to remain with the Rangers, but truth be told no one would blame her for “getting out.” Thankfully, she wanted to remain, but was done with field work.

Malcolm and I had a few options already prepared for most eventualities. I offered her a position as the Staff NCO in my office. As a Colonel, technically, I ranked a Master Sergeant, but to be honest, I had not found the right fit for senior NCO. To my delight, Longtail accepted the position and the paperwork was finalized on the spot. Malcolm set up her office right outside my door and to the left in a small, vacant office. Interestingly, Sergeant Samira (Ravenwood) Regillus works in the Diplomatic office just around the corner and down the hall. Life is strange at times.

The rest of the day was spent in meetings. I fear most people mistakenly believe that my days are spent leading charges against the enemies of the Southern Kingdoms. While occasionally, I am let out of my offices to do just that, the overwhelming majority of my time is spent siting behind a desk filling out paperwork or sitting in endless meetings.

Of note, the Long Recon Ranger team under command of Sergeant Flint Ironfinder assembled on 31st as well. Before their next operation, I took a moment to also promote several members.

  • RFC Zathras, goblin, was promoted to Corporal and given second in command.
  • Ranger Wonderkill, brinchie, received commendation for actions during the Crystal River action.
  • Ranger Ssslikk, dregordian, was promoted to RFC

In addition, a new recruit Elrick, human priest of Light, also took the oaths and the cloak. As usual, Drew, our resident rogue demurred.

Formalities aside, I briefed the team on their new assignment and dismissed them to begin. Reports may be found here:

I was pleased to receive my commission for Alex; a White Silver Cavalry saber, cut down, of course, for a boy. When he is old enough to carry such a blade, he can grow strong with its use. Sir Regillus was perplexed by the gesture, but I have faith Samira can explain to him the concept of gifts for new births.

I managed to escape early and arrived home to find that my Baroness had the house in preparation for the evening meal. Our first as a House. Most of House Wolfhaven Blood and Sworn working in the city were invited. It was to be a thanks and celebration for their service and loyalty. A few notables were otherwise occupied. Sergeant Amaroth was busy putting together supplies and requisitions for the new mission. Paperwork initiated, odd enough, but Sergeant Minor Longtail and her staff. Odd times indeed.

Dinner went well, and by evening, I was sitting at the head of my table with my Lady beside me, Ferradin sitting her lap. To my right, Alfred, Sir Regillus and Lady Samira, with baby Alex in her arms. To our left, Longtil with her three kits crawling over her and, well, everything. Beside her, Sarah Schenkle and Commander Schenkle looking stiff and out of place. Then Rah-Sahn’s mother and sister who have lived with us for years now. My family.

At the appointed hour, Sir Volstagg and Lady Nexus appeared, joining the festivities. I was honored to present them with the gift of an overlarge tub in their home, with dwarven engineered plumbing. Though hardly appropriate, Anaxelum was likely correct in that the tub would be used for “communal bathing and fornication.” I nearly spit my beer at that one. I ALSO gifted them with three days in a villa north of Harken. Owned by a Captain within the Hammerfall Riders, the estate is a beautiful ranch spread which he has little use for as his duties have him posted on the far side of the country. He was kind enough to lend the villa and its staff for the purpose.

To Sarah and Commander Schenkle, House Wolfhaven gifted coin, and leased land at the southern edge of Barony Lands. Sarah has requested to build a “girls school” for education and training. There are few of such things in Olara, but refinement must be taught. The plans are being reviewed for approval.

After presenting the gifts, I retired with the men to the front parlor while the ladies remained in the grande dining hall. It is seldom that I can relax with men of my House. I fear we got a bit carried away as Sir Volstagg desperately tried to instruct Sir Regillus in the “art of relaxation.” I have always been seen as a bit too rigid, but I have met ironwood more flexible that Anaxelum. He shattered seven good chairs in his attempts to “flop”, while Eric Schenkle looked on in mute horror. Alfred found the entire scenario hilarious.

I worry, though. Despite his easy nature and ready smile, I sense a deep wariness in my son. Only those who know him best would see, but he is not nearly as relaxed as he appears. Whatever trials he endured during his undercover mission have left deep and abiding scars.

I had many talks that night, with Lady Zathlan, Sir Volstagg, Sergeant Minor Longtail, and more. Of those conversations, I will say only that it warms my heart to see my Rangers planning for the future. I only hope that all of their dreams might be realized.

Before bed, Lady Wolfhaven informed me that she would be meeting with Lady Nexus in the morn to help instruct her in the ways of Olaran Ladyship. That night, I sent a silent prayer to Archanon and Celesia for the poor young woman. My wife is generous of spirit, and capable of absolutely altruism, but she is also a severe mistress and taskmaster. Of those she commands or instructs, she has little room for foolishness and expects excellent.

Thunder Hawk 32nd, 3126
More meetings. More paperwork. Where Malcolm finds them, I shall never know. He seems content enough with his duties so I try hard not to distress him overmuch. Longtail seemed to be fitting in well. Her staff were just beginning their duties, but seemed capable. She is much as I remember her to be, efficient, careful, and cunning.

It is good to have her watching my back.

Early in the morning I met with Sergeant Amaroth concerning the man he slew during the battle of the Vale. As it happened, I had Rangers collect the body for processing. Everything was inspected and cataloged. Everything, including the autopsy report was rushed to my office.

He went by many names. His most recent, Kalath Morgram. Upon his death, he served as a recruiter for Velkalar’s forces, having worked for the mercenary army over a year. Prior to that, we know that he served as a bandit and sell-sword for various unsavory companies, prominently with the Maelstrom during the War of Flame. Before THAT, however, he served as a regular in the Kal army.

All of this was turned over to Audric along with the man’s bloodsteel dagger. The truth, sadly, would be found in the Empire. I hope that he is able to find his answers. He deserves as much. I also hope, in doing, that he can overcome his more heated nature and bring the man in for justice, not seek revenge. I fear that that singular moment, whatever choice he makes, will seal his fate, or free him from his bonds.

Whatever befalls him, his team will be there to comfort or destroy him should he fall.

At mid-afternoon, I broke and headed home to prepare for Streetrunner’s Last Call. War makes strange bedfellows. I know that Streetrunner was a criminal, and a thug in his time. But he was also a husband to Longtail, a father, and a good man. Can one be both? Can one makes questionable choices, lead a troubled life, but still be honorable and good? I pray that is so.

For I have sent men and women to their deaths. Sometimes fruitlessly. I hope that I too can find redemption in the end.

We arrived at the Wolfhaven Refuge for Children. We were one of the last to arrive. Already the room was filled with an odd assortment of Rangers, local notables, and “performers” from Low Town. Skullcrusher met us more kindly than usual, but she demanded our papers anyway. She is a formidable woman.

After that, the Last Call. Longtail spoke. Then I. then Volstagg. Then others. It was a solemn affair, made more so in that so few had been there. Only I and Sir Volsagg saw his end. Us and the children. The memory of that still haunts me.

Of note, I need to speak with Longtail about the children’s “extra curricular” activities. I hope her staff is doing their best to curb such illicit tendencies. Like Aradove, these children have survived on cunning and guile, but the purpose of the Orphanage is to provide a refuge, education, and a better life. Not train delinquents, however cute they may be.

My wife and I departed early, not out of disrespect, but moreso to allow the others to relax. I know many in the room felt a distinct awkwardness at my presence, being both Colonel of the Rangers and the Lord-Mayor. So, I paid respect, and departed.

That even, though, I returned at the 13th hour. Orders forbade any official recognition or celebration of Therel Fateweaver, but there were no orders that he could not be honored by his family and Aradove was that. Family.

At my own expense, and through personal channels, I had an urn prepared the Olaran fashion. Though, in deference both to Fateweaver, and to his past iniquities, only his name, There Fateweaver, and his works under that guise were engraved on the surface. He will be remember for who he is, not for what he was.

I know not his sins, I never asked and, to be honest, I do not wish to know. Only, in a moment of unusual frankness he once told me that he sacrificed everything for Love, his name, his honor, his all. But, that stories of his past were told by those who wrote the histories, and not by those who knew the truth. That was all. I never pressed.

Now, the past will remain buried. The Crown has seen justice, and Fateweaver paid for those sins with his life. For my part, I will accept him as he was, criminal, hero, bard, noble, a villain, and a good man. Perhaps one can be all?

Trokash appeared. That orc does get around. He presented me a copy for Davos Olandoran/There Fateweaver’s Completed Works. I admit I was aware that there were those who sought its collection. And, I knew that the Great Library at Rhion kept copies of all Olaran bardic works, even those out of favor with the Crown. I had nothing to do with the collection of said works, my honor would allow no such thing, but I did sign off on the joint taskforce to collect the memories of those who attended the House Zathlan wedding celebration that ended in his death.

The reasons for collecting that information were sound, and had been demanded by the Galeans, the Olarans, and the Rangers. But, I also knew, that friends would have access, it being public record, and it might be used to recreate that seminal piece of art, his last concert. I fully admit my desire to hear him sing, if only an illusion. But, Baron, I could offer nothing in the execution of any endeavors forbidden by the Crown, even if I disagreed personally.

Personal feelings do not superseded duty. Were that not the case, I would find the bastard responsible for those damnable Wolf-Man figures and have him publicly flogged.

As for Fateweaver’s ashes, I never asked how Longtail arranged to collect them. I know she did nothing personally. I also know that they were not stolen, not exactly. Because, after the examination, and the cremation, his ashes were tossed in a midden heap, to be discarded as refuse and forgotten.

Criminal though he may be, would we even treat enemies with such disrespect? Al to serve as a cautionary tale. Should our own stars ever wane, we can expect no more than this, a paupers funeral and to be cast aside and forgotten. I have never once willingly cast aside honor or duty, I would not shame my name in such a way, but there are times when I wonder if our vaunted Olaran pride is not as flawed as those we profess to condemn?

For all his bluster, would Sir Halten not admit as much seeing as that pride nearly cost him his life?

Nevertheless, I honored my Sworn and her mentor, but could do little more. Trokash presented me a copy of the book, which I refused. He then, adeptly, professed outrage at such a refusal. I accepted, if only to keep peace. A mummers farce, perhaps, but an important one.

Trokash had one last gift. The last page of the book, his final work, “The Ballad of the Stagg and Lion” had been bespelled, so that those who laid a hand upon it and uttered the true name, There Fateweaver, Master Bard, would be immediately, and magically, returned to that moment in time, to witness the duet and of Fateweaver and Leaora Nazir serenading the union of Vosltagg and his bride. Fateweavers last, and finest work.

The controversial tome in hand, I departed then and returned to my bed. But I could not sleep. Are we good men? Truly? In a certain light, our feud with Velkalar was one of honor. His story is as tragic as Fateweavers. Some men would call them both villains deserving of their death…but is that right? Or is the truth more complicated? I admit I slept none that night.

Conscience and honor. Can both be met, or only one at the expense of the other?

Thunder Hawk 33rd, 3126
Just as well. I was alerted by Lady Moonsilver that a body had been found. Alpha Team, still communing at the Orphanage were dispatched to “Mitty’s” establishment. He, the goblin fight promoter and trainer who ran a gym long suspected a front for Velakalar, and also believe to provide “muscle” for his local operations.

In a twist of fate, Danica was in the city, on leave for her work with the Olarans. She had, in another life, gone under cover in Mitty’s crew as a fighter. Danica knew more about his operations than any other Ranger, so she was summoned by our chief investigator, Lt. Barand.

When the Alpha Team arrived, they found the fight club littered with the bodies of Mitty’s former associates and Lt. Barand’s team processing the scene. Barand led them to Mitty’s back office where they found the goblin tied to a chair, tortured, and killed by pouring molten gold down his throat.

Corporal Daynore posited that the gold might represent the “Golden River” of Red Store or the Dominion. Perhaps Red Store is taking out the competition now that Velkalar is dead. Lieutenant Volstagg suggested that this looked like punishment of a snitch. It could be that Velkalar loyalist were cleaning house. Whatever the truth, I fear that the power vacuum of Velkalar’s removal will spark an all-new shadow war as various faction vie for dominance in the underworld.

A troubling prospect.

Lt. Baranad and his adept reviewed the older cases with the team, and have put in requests for that information to be compared to existing accounts. Perhaps some new piece of information might be remembered.

Danica noted that a number of Mitty’s closest associates were not among the dead. Alerts have gone out, and their sketches have been posted at every gate in the city. If they remain alive, they will be found.

Festival Moons 1st, 3126
It should not affect my now, losing members of my teams after so many years, so many Rangers. However, it does. Though, I much prefer to lose Rangers to leave, retirement, or transfers rather than the alternative.

Per her request, I allowed RFC Moldova to inform the team herself. She requested leave for “personal reasons” and left the team. In one of those twists of fate, Danica was herself on leave from the Olarans and was available to rejoin the team. I approved it.

With hope, she will remain for a greater length during this tour. Of better note, Ranger Sebastian’s promotion cleared.

Sebastian was promoted to RFC Sebastian.

In the happiest news, Sir Volstagg and his blushing bride departed Echer’Naught on their honeymoon in Harken. Two days to the city, three days of bliss, and two days back. They were scheduled to return the 7th.

More meetings. More information. More investigations.

So far, nothing has turned up on the missing Mitty’s men. Also, no word on RFC Moldova’s brother or his team, other than the one which died in the explosion at Velkalar’s Vale Gate.

After each Victory, another battle, another foe. It never seems to end. And with it, the choices get harder. The lines…blur.

But, as I sit here, in the cool of the eve, Rah-Sahn breathing easily, Eris asleep by his side, I listen to the sounds of the household. Ferradin chasing the cat, oh, we have a cat now. My wife, chasing after him. In the hall, I can hear Alex fussing, Samira singing softly. Anaxelum murmurs something low.

Outside, in the yard, Wolf’s Guard chat, laugh. I hear the Sergeant of the Guard making the rounds, exchanging the pass phrase in hushed tones. All clear.

The enemies will come. They always do. Both outside our ranks, and within. But we will face them as we always do. Together. And, we will prevail.

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Campaign Report 89 (Third Movement)
All Dreams (KellyCon 2017)

Lord Mayor, Colonel Baron Wolfhaven, Alexander

Commander of the Legio Heroes

Wolfhaven Manor, Echer’Naught, Olara

Thirtieth Day of Thunder Hawk, Year 3126 Under the Light

I have them back. Thank the Silver Unicorn. I have them back.

Thunder Hawk 16th, 3126

In the distance, I could still hear the occasional clash of arms, or the shout of dying men. But for the most part, the skirmish for Velkalar’s hidden vale was won. Not without cost, however. Already the hastily erected infirmary tents were overflowing those that could be saved. Those that couldn’t were being laid out in rows. All that could be done for them, a quick prayer by our priests, and then tossed in the pyre.

Smoke was already coiling up into the lightening sky as the funeral details went about their grim and thankless work. I rode passed. They had their task, and I mine.

I found my command tent already set by the time I reached our forward post near the east end of the vale, a hundred yards inside the treeline, but close enough to see the enemy fortification blocking our way.

Soon, I convened a meeting of commanders, and dispatched someone to locate and collect the Alpha Team. It concerned me that they were not present when I arrived. My heart lurched, but I could not spend time on the lives of so few, no matter how important to me.

The entrance to the vale was narrow making it laborious and time consuming to move troops into position. We were exposed and flanked on all sided by mountain which the enemy had had years to prepare. Our position would quickly become untenable should the enemy counterattack with any real force of arms. Plans had to be made, troops positioned, and a strategy developed.

I sent for all commanders to hurry to the meet, and most were close enough to arrive by early morning. Tired, weary, muddy from the rode, but they arrived. With such an eclectic force, my command tent filled to capacity. Captain Walter Vasser of the Echer’Naught City Watch, Lord Zathlan of House Lyonn, Mak Torkash Grimbore of the Stone Tower Gather, a handful of Wolfhaven Free Company Captains, three Lieutenants from the White Silver Wolves of various companies, Captain Celebor and his “team”, and too many others to recount.

There were a few who surprised me. Sir Eckhart from Eckhart’s keep. I had sent a missive, requesting aid, but had not expected any response. With the recent events involving Sir Halten and his family connections to the Eckharts, and the Crown, I assumed that they would decline any involvement in my “personal vendetta.” To my surprise, they were the first to arrive. When asked, the knight, uncle to the current lord of the castle merely responded, “Eckharts pay our debts.” Nothing more was said. Nothing need be said. And so, he stood in the back of the group, grim, but his men had taken the van and more than a few of his kin now burned on the pyres.

Not surprising, Sir Hevain. I knew Sir Halten could not participate, should he even desire to do so. I understood. Having read reports, and spoken with Sergeant Volstagg about the enigmatic Sir Hevain, I knew not what to expect. When we met on the field, he was wrenching a blade free from a woman wearing the bloodstained colors of the Maelstrom. As I rode upon him, Sir Hevain, looked up, smiled and saluted with a bloody gauntlet before quipping, “Lovely night! Though twould be better with a woman.” He seemed to notice the corpse sliding off his blade for the first time. “Perhaps not this one.” And then he sauntered off whistling. In the trees, I could see other figures moving furtively. Not elves, or dwarves. Olarans. They seemed at home under the green canopy of the forest. On I rode unsure of how to respond.

There were others in the tent. Uninvited, though not unwelcome. A man in embossed Kal spiked plate standing beside another figure in full Olaran plate embossed with the Volstagg crest. It occurred to me that Sergeant Volstagg might know the man, or woman. Perhaps once all was said and done? I caught a glimpse of Longtail’s “friend” the sometimes ally, sometimes enemy assassin with no name to speak of. There were also members of the Artisans Guild of Malakar, there to ensure their investment was being wisely managed. There were also at least two of Sery’s elven associates. Well, two that I noticed. And more. I could fill volumes with the names and titles of the assembled. Suffice to say, we made a curious war council.

My runner returned and informed that the Alpha Team had been located. Sergeant Volstagg was in the infirmary. No surprise to me. With him, his wife, RFC Zathlan, RFC Daynore, and Grendel. They had brought their commander, but were themselves, unharmed, or at least not critically so. Corporal Amaroth was found sitting on a mound of bodies, taking a breather from battle. RFC Nazir was already at the tent. She found me in the field and immediately reported the situation. Newt was…hunting. That was all I was told.

After a moment, they arrived. Sergeant Volstagg’s armor was scraped and dented and he moved like a man suffering affliction. Stranger though, his armor glistened if freshly waxed and he smelt of…bacon? The others looks about as I expected, save for Corporal Amaroth. The man was covered from the top of his head to the soles of his boots in blood. It smeared his face, and ran down his arms leaving a bloody trail wherever he walked. Many of the assembled stepped back in shock.

I resolved to deal with him momentarily. First, however, I focused on the Sergeant and demanded a report. He recounted their arrival, the investigation, and the subsequent trip to the vale. He then spoke of the man who staggered into their lines, of the gibberish he spouted before exploding in their faces.

The sergeant’s description of the man elicited a gasp from RFC Moldova. She recovered quickly, but not quickly enough. There was little time for secrets or intrigue so I asked outright whether she knew the man. She did. He was her brother’s best friend and member of his squad within Echer’Naught’s City Guard.

RFC Moldova had reported her brother missing some time back. As it turned out, his entire team was taken. And they were not the last. The Corps had suspected Velkalar’s involvement, but could never produce evidence. I would say the proof is fairly clear now.

The mixture of hope and anguish on the young Ranger’s face tore at me, but I focused on the investigation and turned the conversation back to what the ill-fated man had said before detonating. When pressed, Sergeant Volstagg and Corporal Amaroth were able to piece together what the man had repeated well enough to get a translation.

I had RFC Daynore contact Eris for translation, and after twenty minutes of back and forth, we learned that the language was that of the builders. The message was as simple as it was familiar. “Long shadows gathered upon the floor in days grown longer than before. In angst like toys row by row, stood silent, girded, dire wrath to sow.” How many times had I heard those same lines?

Most of the Olarans in the group mouthed the words as they were spoken. The older ones at least. Everyone else seemed confused, and more so that it was familiar to us. For their benefit, I explained. The words were the first lines in an ancient Olaran story, more parable.

In a time long forgotten, a knight, called the Blue Knight, in the story, had greatly offended his peer, called the Green Knight. The Green Knight vowed vengeance upon his neighbor, but rather than stand and fight with honor, the Blue Knight retreated to a mountain stronghold. Undaunted, the Green Knight pursued with this entire host, and eventually overwhelmed the mountain keep, slaying the Blue Knight’s house to a man. None were spared.

The theme is common in Olaran story, but this particular legend is unique and often used as a training exercise with the esteemed Helt Academy. Which is where I first hear the words. For you see, the message of the parable depends entirely upon interpretation.

Most assume that it is a cautionary tale against cowardice. The Blue Knight doomed his people by refusing honorable battle and, instead, made a tactical blunder by trapping his force in the mountains with no avenue of escape. But a second interpretation centers on the last verse of the tale. For, in his rage and arrogance, the Green Knight lost the lives of nearly all of his men in his headlong rush for vengeance. He too was slain, and every male who carried his blood. Thought the Green Knight’s house was victorious, their line died on that field, and their house did not survive to the next generation.

So, is it a tale to caution against cowardice, or vengeance? As with so many things, it depends entirely on perspective.

Of course, there was another message as clear to me as the irony of Velaklar using that particular tale. The name of the legend is, “The folly of the Mountain Keep.” Our host was telling us exactly where he waited. His Blue standard versus my Green cloak.

I thanked Sergeant Volstagg for his report, and dismissed his team. But, before they departed, I stopped the Sergeant and the Corporal. Turning to Corporal Amaroth, I asked simply whether he was in control. He merely nodded. Sergeant Volstagg confirmed, saying that this was just Audric, and had nothing to do with Flame. Taking both men at their word, I released them to rest and prepare.

Over the course of the wee hours long lines of road weary men shuffled into position. Banners were unfurled, and last minute checks were conducted on arms and armor. I chocked down some bread and cheese washed with warm ale while ready reports trickled in. With light peeking over the ridge line, I had sufficient force to begin my assault.

Leading the attack, my White Silver Wolves, Eckhart, and Zathlan men. Behind him, Amaroth’s mercenaries, Rangers, and the Echer’Naught City Guard, bolstered by men from the City Company as well. My flanks were secured by Sir Hevain’s company to the south, and a company of the Order of the Stone Rangers to the North who scaled the scrabble like goats. Lines of Ranger archers and Celebor’s unit equipped by “friends” stretched across a low ridge just inside the treeline on my right flank.

In reserve, I held Grimbore’s Gather, and most of my miscellaneous forces. For this assault, I needed sharp, close-order lines. Alpha Team also stood in ready reserve, resting for when I would need them most.

As soon as all was in place, I gave the order and the assault began. Out of the trees my ranks of soldiers marched, straight into the teeth of oncoming fire. At extreme range, the enemy fired arcfire projectors cannibalized from golems. Burnt orange meteors shrieked through the air to explode, ripping huge rents through the ranks of men. But the disciplined Olaran and Galean troops simply closed rank and marched on. The first wave reached halfway before being pushed back by the sheer intensity of incoming fire.

They withdrew in good order to reform their lines within the cover of trees, just out of the range of the enemy projectors. Again, I gave the order and again, they marched out. Enemy projectors opened up immediately. But this time, behind my lines, special units, recently arrived, followed them onto the field and began to set up my “surprises” for Velkalar’s mercenaries. My lines made it another dozen yards closer to the wall, before they were again forced back.

This time, however, the order came to split, and in perfect synchronization as if on the drill field, the lines separated opening gaps for my special units to pass through. The instant they were clear, the crews dropped the facade and opened up with our own arcfire projectors. Over the years, several badly damaged arcfire golems have been recovered in various fights. In each case, I have had them dismantled, but recovered select critical pieces.

Working with the Siegemaster of Echer’Naught Withenbrow “Whit” Brimstone, we managed to mounted the arcfire projectors on wagon wheels making them, relatively mobile. Unfortunately, something about removing them from the golems makes them highly unstable. Many brave souls selflessly sacrificed their lives when these wheeled abominations self detonated killing the crews and anyone standing around. But, they did their bloody work.

For an hour, siege artillery dueled. Heavy trebuchet launched massive boulders to smash against the wall, while our arcfire traded counter-battery fire with theirs. But in the end, numbers were on our side and slowly their fire slackened. I knew that they would soon bring up fresh troops, supplies, and projectors, so time was now essential to success.

Even without their larger projectors, they still had arclances and boom troopers, archers and crossbowmen, and the standard siege fare, oil, flame, and stone. Taking that wall would cost countless lives. More than I had to spend. The cost was already high. Bodies littered the killing field.

Once again, it would fall to my Alphas. My heart was heavy. They had endured so much. Yet, I had no choice.

In they would go, but not alone. Not this time. For months I have prepared. Ever since my rebirth, I have had a singular goal, to prepare for this battle this day.

And so, I have squirreled away assets, established secret training bases and sneaked off my best commanders under pretext. Celebor’s injuries were hardly exaggerated, but his recovery was swifter than reported. Though he will never fully recoup, he is more than capable of service. Who would think to find arcfire training camps in the very heart of sacred groves? The very idea is sacrilege. And so, it was done in secret, and well so.

Captain Celebor was not the only trick up my sleeve. I lifted my head and shouted above the din. WRECKING CREW! And my call was answered. Two, deep bass voices rumbled from the rear of my army.

Reking KRU!

Fekla, and Grek. Two massive forms strode through my lines like titans of old. Each bore a massive plate of Albrecht steel 16 feet tall, by 8 feet wide enhanced by magic. Crude mockeries of the Tempest tower shields with “Reking Kru” written in white across their faces.

My guardians reached the front lines, just inside, and towering above, the trees. A message dispatched, the Alpha Team was ordered to assemble behind the ogres. My plan, simple. Behind the cover of their shields, Fekla and Grek would cover the Alpha Team to the gate. Then, the Ogres would smash the doors, and the Ranger would hold the breach long enough for reinforcements to arrive.

It would work. If they could withstand the fire. If they could break the gates. If they could hold them. If…if I did not lose them all.

Motion to my right drew my attention. Coming to stand beside me, Tina, Grek’s goat companion and RFC. Striking a pose not unlike Thunder, she watched intently as Grek started moving forward into the killing field.

Just as they cleared the trees, I unleashed my next surprise. With a signal, a banner was waved, indigo with an azure lighting bolt; Tempest. From behind me, to the left, a lone figure rose into the sky, cracking with lighting. Instantly, storm clouds began to gather. Nell, Storm Druid. Once a slave to Tempest, she broke free her mental bonds with the help of Alpha Team, though few of those Rangers live today. She has never had any love for the Rangers, or me. But, she owes Hawksclaw a debt. His name was all I had to utter and she was here.

At her command, the skies darkened blocking the light and a thick heavy fog rose to fill the vale and obscure our advance. If they wanted to hit the Rangers, they would now need magic…or luck.

Velkalar’s mercenaries were no fools. The moment the breaching team was in range, or they believed them to be, every weapon on the enemy side opened up raining arcfire and death. They all zeroed in on the two ogres, and the small team huddling in their shadow. In the shadow of the fog, all that could be seen were bright flashes in the fog, followed by muffled booms. And then, the screaming as arcfire arced through the sky, only to explode. In each flash, we could see them, backlit for one horrible instant, before being consumed by darkness.

The fire was so intense, the grass and bodies around the target zone burst info flames, flesh melted, bone charred. Nothing lived, nothing COULD live in the hellfire… But with each flash the team was revealed, leaning into the oncoming fire like a gale force wind. And step by agonizing step, they closed.

The enemy realized it as well. Halfway to the wall, they started lobbing blasts, huge gouts of flame erupting throwing up columns of earth that rained down like hail. The earth bucked and buckled from the barrage, but the Rangers never faultered. Even as their shields were chipped away, cracked, and scorched, Fekla and Grek, heads down, marched on. Behind them, Alpha covered themselves as best they could from the horror.

And then, they reached the wall. A cheer went up from our lines. A cheer which turned to cries when a pair of projectors unleashed bursts of arcfire, liquid fire into the ogres faces. My commanders looked at me in horror. Nothing could survive that. Nothing.

I did not look away, just raised a hand and ordered my lines forward. For a heatbeat the signaler regarded me as a madman, but raised the flag and sent the lines of Olarans and Galeans once again to their deaths.

Across the field, alone, Fekla and Grek discared the shattered remains of their useless shields and went to work on the gates, ignoring the flames consuming their bodies, or the arcfire shredding their armor. Behind them, Alpha Team opened up, providing the ogres cover, while taking cover behind the ogres.

The ogres battered at the doors, and then…a crack. The gates were breached. Fekla and Grek grabbed the ruined doors and hauled back.

A commander behind me shouted in shocked disbelief. “They’re THROUGH!” I said nothing. Of course they were through. My Rangers have never failed me.

Then the battle shifted. Alpha team poured through the opening and disappeared from my view. Mages and Adepts continued to give reports using magic to scry the battle even from this distance. Seeing the opening in the wall, our battle lines broke into a run, roaring in triumph, but they still have half the distance to cover and Alpha Team was alone.

As I watched from my vantage point, Fekla climbed up on the wall and began to smash the arcfire projectors and their crews. Flashed from behind the wall confirmed that Alpha Team as still alive and fighting. And then, our lines reached the wall and swarmed.

We held the gate.

I called for Tina to follow, and spurred Thunder. I rode down the hill, through the trees and onto the killing field. The scent of burning flesh and hair hit me like a wave, making me sick. But I did not flinch, did not avert my gaze. These men died on my orders and I would not dishonor them.

Over the carpet of dead and dying I led my commanders. Around us, troops rushed forward to hold the gate. But, the enemy had pulled back with no heart to counter.

I rode through the gate, under the pocked and smoking stones, out into the courtyard beyond. Around me men moved bodies, gathered weapons, treated wounded, and began setting up camp. To my left, Alpha Team sat or reclined in the shade of the wall.

Miraculously, they all lived, though wounded and scorched. I paused, my staff reigning up behind me. Sergeant Volstagg stood and approached. I thanked him for he and his team’s superb display and ordered him to rest, recoup, and heal. In the morning, I would have need of his team again. He saluted, but the fatigue was plain on his face. I left them there, in the lee of the wall, an all too familiar weariness in their every movement.

I rode on. Ahead, a narrow path, wide enough for a cart, inched its way up the mountain, zigzagging until it vanished high above our heads. Already battle was joined at the first bend. Fire, oil, and stones rained down as Grimbore’s Gather, ogres hurling massive stones, battled and died for every foot of path. My staff and I pulled up short, out of easy bow range, though far closer than my guard would have liked. An occasional ambitious archer or arclancer took a shot in our direction, but only ever found their mark once. My herald took a bolt through the throat and died at my horses feet. We were otherwise untouched.

Throughout the day, the fighting inched upwards, pushing the mercenaries back as we crisscross the face of the mountain. Every section was littered with bodies, our and theirs, the stench of offal, blood, sweat, and fear curdled in the summer heat. There was not a cloud in the sky. In fact, there could not be.

Veklakar controlled this mountain, but I controlled the sky. Nell saw to that. And so on a beautiful cloudless day, we went about the bloody business of brutally battle.

Thunder Hawk 17th, 3126

Fighting raged all day, and through the long night. But, by dawn of the next day we had almost reached the summit. Only one more barrier stood between our forces and Velkalar’s door. I could see the commanders around my stifling yawns, a few looking longingly at the soldiers sleeping on the side of the path wherever they happen to drop. I never acknowledged them, and to their credit, not a man asked to be relieved. While was sat upon our horses, protected by guards, and sipped from cool canteens, our men fought and died in the relentless heat, or were pushed to their deaths at the foot of the mountain. We could do them the honor of sitting on our hind quarters while they did so.

By mid morn the army was flagging. Even rotating troops could not counter the heat, the lack of room to camp, the hunger, or the simple fact that these men and women had given more than any could have ever hoped. There was no shame in being tired. It was well earned. And so, I summoned them again.

Alpha Team.

Came they did. Rested, if only a little, Sergeant Volstagg reported to me there on the side of the mountain. I explained simply that there was a final obstruction preventing our forces from reaching the summit. I had a team of arcmancers prepared to reduce the barrier to rubble, but I needed Alpha Team to protect them while they sapped the wall. Sergeant Volstagg saluted and assembled his team. Fekla and Grendel advanced with Sergeant Volstagg, Corporal Amaroth behind. The rest followed, Serys bringing up the rear. Behind them, the arcmancer sappers followed letting the Rangers take the fire while they went about their work.

From two hundred yards away, I watched as the Rangers battled. Fekla smashing stone walls, Serys, and RFCs Daynore and Moldova covering the advance. Sergeant Vosltagg, RFC Zathlan, and Corporal Amaroth charged the wall, eventually gaining the left battlement and pressing the defenders hard. Then the signal went up and everyone scampered back from the blast.

The mountain shook as the wall was blasted into the sky. Bits of stone, bone, and blood rained down, coating everyone in soot, ash, and offal. Two of the surviving sappers died in the blast. Alpha Team was scorched, but unharmed by the blast. The fighting had taken its toll.

Riding on, I congratulated Sergeant Volstagg on his success as I passed their position. Though he doubtless never intended it to reach my ears, I heard him say, “There goes the Green Knight.” I pray he is not right.

By late afternoon we reached the summit and stood before the gates to Velkalar’s keep. It was well construction, hugging the mountain. To one side of the gates, a sheer cliff. To the other, a sheet drop. The walls, 15-20 feet high and reinforced by magic. So too was the Black Iron bound Ironwood doors the size of Fekla. Twin towers flanked the gate and bristled with ballista, mangonels, archer slits, murder holes, and, of course, arcfire. It was a death trap.

We rested for a few hours, gathered ourselves and hurled everything we had at that barrier. Nothing had the slightest affect. Stones shattered harmlessly. Magic fizzled or deflected aside. Even what little arcfire projectors could be brought to bear were destroyed long before they managed to do any damage. Any frontal assault would be suicide. Which left siege. Unfortunately, we hadn’t the time, nor could I guarantee that the keep had no hidden supply lines, or magical transportation.

We had reached the end, only to find our way barred. There was nothing left but my last plan. A singular act of desperation that would see victory or defeat.

I summoned Alpha Team again for one last mission. When they arrived, all I could do was explain our situation and order them once again into fray. But, before this final fight, I had a chest brought forth. This chest, shielding in the greatest magic held my most precious possessions…the weapons and gear of every fallen member of Alpha Team throughout the years. Within each, was the essence, the spirit so to speak of our fallen comrades. It seemed fitting that we would battle together once again, past and present, for our future.

To Sergeant Volstagg I handed Von D’s enchanted Black Iron bastard sword. Lifting it from the case, I could feel the deathly cold biting through my gauntlets despite the heat. It steamed in the air as I handed it to Volstagg. To Serys went the Ironwood Bow of Echer’Naught, passed from archer to archer. To Moldova, Evoran Que’kasaars’ staff. Ironwood, scrolled in living vine, one of our most powerful and precious artifacts. To Amaroth, Von D’s elven blade, white silver and a slayer of undead. Lastly, to Newt, the Brinchie, the personal lo-sska of our fallen hero, Aradove Longtail, my sworn, daughter of my heart. Just holding the blade filled me with sorrow.

So many gone. But there was a task to be done. And so, I closed the case and gave what might very well be my final orders.

I and Sergeant Volstagg would face Dom Diego. He was a duelist and would not resist the chance to slay a known Olaran duelist and a commander. His pride and code would ensure he remain just were we needed. Fekla and Grendel were tasked with holding Korash as long as possible. He would see Fekla as the biggest threat and focus mostly on her. And, she was the only one of us who could stand long against his blows. Audric, Newt, and Zathlan needed to protect Moldova so she could get close enough to Korash to use her power to confuse and disorient him.

Serys I ordered to spot for the shooter. Once done, he was free to clear the field. Of Daynore I asked the most. Somewhere the adept lurked. If she managed to puppet Fekla, Volstagg, or I, it was all over. But, Daynore had ruined her plans at Erlgen keep and in doing, embarrassed her. She would seek him out. More so, if he were close to revealing her position.

I knew that RFC Daynore lacked the power to stand against her long, but he COULD last long enough to keep her distracted. I asked him to die. He agreed without hesitation as I knew he would. Daynore took a special potion I had had brewed to give him some protection from her powers. But there was nothing more I could do.

Our plans prepared, we readied and struck. Calling upon the Silver Unicorn I teleported Felka and myself just behind the massive gate. At first she was disoriented, but quickly turned and put a shoulder to the massive bar weighing more than she. I put my back to the ogress and faced off against Dom Diego and Korash.

The duelist was on me before I knew he was there. His moves were quicksilver, his blade a faint blur. It was all I could do to keep him at by as his tiny rapier pieced my White Silver plate with ease. My blows were ineffectual and clumsy.

I have never counted myself a great warrior, certainly no duelist. But this man outclassed me in the sword arts at levels I never knew possible. He may well be the finest I have ever faced. I gritted my teeth, kept up my guard and kept a wary on the massive Ogre who was lumbering toward Fekla’s rear with death in his eyes.

Fekla strained to lift the massive beam. Even as the shadow of Korash fell over the 14 foot Fekla, she focused her one eye on her task and gave it one final mighty heave…

…and the bar slipped from from the massive iron fittings and crashed to the stones, shattering them like clay. The doors creaked open and the team leaped through.

Sergeant Volstagg rushed Dom Diego and took a blade through the side for his efforts. Corporal Daynore, RFC Moldova, Newt and Grendel closed on Korash who was too focused on Fekla to see the danger. As a team they battered, hacked, and slashed, but his armor was too strong. Then, Newt fell on his big toe, Longtail’s blade opening his armor like a can. Fekla recovered and swung hard.

RFC Daynore appeared and dropped Thorgram’s shield for Moldova to take, before striding through the battle, a man without concern. Invisible to the eye, he stretched out his mind for the adept, and she found him. His body jerked as she assaulted him.

Dom Diego, grinning like a madman pressed us back. Neither Volstagg nor I even came close to landing a blow. We both bled from multiple wounds forcing us to give ground.

Korash recovered and in a mighty swing swatted Fekla and Moldova aside. The young Olaran sailed through the air like a meteor, crashing to the ground. Then, the shooter opened up.

I never even saw the bolts that passed through my body. Nor did the other. Fekla took a hit and went down at Korash’s feet. In that some instant, the Adept shattered RFC Daynore’s defenses, and ravaged his mind. Blood poured from his eyes, ears, and mouth as his face contorted into a silent scream.

Dom Diego saw victory and attacked with renewed ferocity. Korash raised his maul for the finishing move on Fekla. The shooter put a bolt through Serys who had just reached the courtyard. Defeat seemed all but certain.

Yet, even as he fell, Serys shouted, “South West!” and then went down. Moldova, having teleported closer to Fekla with Evoran’s staff now rushed to heal her, dousing her wounds in healing potion. The ogress roused, Korash looming overhead.

Seeing her stir I ordered her to crush the South West tower of the keep. Paying not heed to the killing blow falling toward her head, Fekla staggered up and rammed the tower. It toppled like children’s blocks, a figure being thrown clear, and over the side of the cliff…

Korash’s death blow never fell. At the last moment, a figure appeared as by magic. Clutching Ramshorn’s shield, RFC Moldova intercepted the blow. It was sheer insanity. The maul was many times her size and moving with the force of a 20 foot ogre, and yet, maul met shield and there was a resounding CRACK! The blow deflected, and smashed through a wall just above Fekla’s head. Moldova was smashed across the yard. I knew for certain she was dead, but I swear I saw as she fell, the ghostly outline of a green-skinned figure wrapping her tight as she slammed into the ground and skidded to a stop.

In that moment, I played my final trump card.

Lady Eris Moonsilver, Rah-Sahn Hawksclaw’s betrothed, Farspeaker, and the most powerful adept I have ever known strode through the open gate. It might be treason against the Ranger Corps for bringing the Regional Headquarter’s senior Farspeaker into battle. I know well that I may face charges for doing so without authorization. But I also know that not even Velkalar would suspect I would be so foolhardy, so reckless.

And so, the enemy adept was caught completely off-guard by Lady Moonsilver’s sudden appearance. Worse for her, RFC Daynore had forced her to reveal her position, marking her for Moonsilver. She never had a chance. In her moment of surprise, Daynore broke free from her grip. Our Farspeaker dispatched her with a thought.

Lady Moonsivler instructed RFC Daynore to go and search the body while she dealt with the other two. As for Korash and Dom Diego, they suddenly realized the tide had turned. And so, I stepped back and gave them the opportunity for honorable surrender. If they refused, I promised that Lady Moonsilver would summarily destroy their minds. Korash surrendered immediately, and then asked Fekla out for drinks. She refused, but admitted the fight was good.

Dom Diego considered, but in the end, he too saw reason. Gladly, neither mercenary took a hard look at Lady Moonsilver. Taking a life once before nearly killed her, but she did so to protect Hawksclaw. Today, she had done so again, but this time to save him. She would kill as many as required to see her beloved rescued, but one more might very well cost us her life as well.

Once they mercenaries were secured, I checked on the team. They had weathered their ordeal well. We healed up and prepared to move. We still had the great hall, and Velkalar most surely waited within.

RFC Daynore returned wearing the mask of Ben Toma. It has been in the possession of the woman, not an adept, but a Shayakar Nightmaster. Eris Moonsilver bled from her ears, the stress of taking the Nightmaster’s life, but she nodded that she was still in the fight. RFC Moldova was unharmed by her fall. Maybe I was not seeing things after all.

I looked at them, ragged and wounded and filled up with so much pride I felt my chest would burst. They had trusted without question, and relied upon each other without hesitation. Serys spotted for me, so Fekla could take down the shooter. Daynore held the Nightmaster until Moonsilver could arrive. Volstagg protected me by engaging Dom Diego, knowing he would most likely fall. RFC Moldova was willing to die to protect Fekla so she could take he shot. Newt, RFC Zathlan, and Corporal Amaroth had stood shoulder to shoulder against the Army Slayer, never once giving ground.

Perfect unity. Perfect harmony. Perfect love.

But the battle was not over, and they would need all and more if we were to finish Velkalar. And so, we readied for the final fight.

I can only imagine that we appeared a ragged group gathered at that door. All bleeding, all so fatigued we could barely stand. Duty, and love, alone kept us going. But we had come so far, and sacrificed so much that none wished to be left behind. Only Fekla and Serys did not join that final battle. Fekla was simply too large to enter, and I needed her to keep Korash in line. Seyrs…Seyrs had been far more injured by the last shot that he let the others know.

So, I, Sergeant Volstagg, his bride, RFC Zathlan, Corporal Amaroth, RFCs Daynore and Moldova, Grendel, and Newt stood outside the door to Velkalar’s hall, and steeled ourselves for the end. I looked at them, one to the next, and received a nod in return. I kicked the door open…

…and was blasted back by accurate arcfire blasts. Two golems waited inside and they laid down a withering fire. Sergeant Volstagg charged, followed by the rest of the team. I picked myself up, coughed up blood and tried again. THIS time, I made it through the door.

Volstagg, Aurdice, Newt, and Grendel were already battling the Golems. I joined them. I managed to mortal damage one, but it detonated blasting me back. Corporal Amaroth got caught in the blast and went down. The others managed to avoid the debris. Grendel rocked the second and Sergeant Volstagg stepped in, Von D’s blade crackling through the air. He caught in the generator, frosting spreading up his arm.

Another detonation and Grendel was down.

Volstagg covered his wife and they were blasted to the other side of the room. Nest was up, singed. RFC Daynore took cover nearby, and RFC Moldova was moving, using the shield for protection.

And then I saw him. Reclined in an ancient stone thrown, a large figure mockingly watched as we battled for our lives. Entirely encased in Builder armor, Velkalar looked more machine than man, arrogant, and evil. He rose, lifted a heavily modified boomcaster and opened up on us. The most intense barrage of arcfire shattered columns, splinted the floor and riddle the team.

One blast lifted Newt off the ground and dashed her into a wall, Daynore took a shot that spun him to the ground. Moldova was blasted back, the shield saved her again. Zathlan…went down behind Volstagg.

I could hear Velkalar’s mocking laugh above the roar of arcfire. He had reason to gloat. Between our place cowering behind the stone columns and his throne stood a shimmering red-orange field. An arcfire barrier. Heavily modified and immune to our weapons. RFC Moldova was barely alive. The rest were down and reinforcements would be walking into an ambush assuming I could make the door to summon them.

Either way, this maniac would be gone before we ever got back. This ended here, for I saw what was hidden from Volstagg’s view. A kneeling, naked figure. Emaciated, head hung…but unmistakable. Rah-Sahn Hawksclaw was here…and alive. And that BASTARD was using him to taunt me. Velkalar died here.

I could never make it through the hail of fire, breach that barrier AND reach Velkalar. No one could. But I could clear the way.

I shouted at Volstagg who was just looking back at the figure of his wife bleeding out on the floor. He seemed almost unaware of the arcfire buzzing around him. He looked back.

And then I realized. It was him. All this time. I, Paladin of the Silver Unicorn, and she chose him. Now I knew why. This task was not for me. I alone could take the fire long enough to another to breach the barrier. I was only here, to help him. He who had never met Hawksclaw. He who raged at the ascended. He who had only ever served Lady Celesia because it was necessary, never out of love or respect.

I could have laughed. But, to serve it to have faith and I could see the guilt, the self anger in his eyes. I too had watched my family die, while I could do nothing. I knew that pain, that anger, and that guilt…

If he were ever to move forward, if he were ever to reach his full potential. He HAD to forgive the Ascended for not saving his family. He had to forgive himself.

I said the words, and prayed. He looked back at Nexus, then at me. And nodded. I nodded back.

All great strategies and plans, almost always devolve into such moments. When all the tricks are played, when you have nothing left but to throw yourself into the fray and hope that the man behind you will reach the goal alive. With a silent prayer, and my wife’s name on my lips, I rose from my cover and charged straight into Velkalar’s fire.

Pain. Pain and blackness.

I came too, coughing blood, surprised I survived. Even now, I do not know the full limits of the changes I have endured since my “death.” Rising to my knees and looked toward the throne and froze.

The scene will be forever seared into my memory. Volstagg stood to the left of the throne, just then taking a handcaster from the hands of a barely clothes young woman… SARAH! She was alive. I coughed again and asked if she was still with us.

She said, “Yes, she always was.” My heart soared, then plummeted like a stone.

Lying in a tangled heap at the base of the stairs was the body of Hawksclaw, so starved, so malnourished that I almost mistook him for a ghoul. And smoke coiled from his back where Velkalar, in one last moment of spite, and shot him point blank. Reason fled.

I crawled on hands and knees and pulled the body into my lap. He weight NOTHING. I felt no warmth, his chest was still.

NO NO NO!

Was I screaming? I looked up at Volstagg, desperate.

HELP ME! PLEASE?” I begged. I had to save him. I had to…had to…

Volstagg was there, hand on my shoulder, hand on the Hawksclaw’s limp form. And I prayed. I prayed to the Silver Unicorn. I prayed to the Ascended. I prayed, and I begged.

I could feel Volstagg beside me, still vibrating with the silver light of the Unicorn. They answered, him or me, I know know. Nor, do I care.

A vision appeared before me. Three figures stood opposite me. I recognized them instantly. Dour, stalwart Dranak, Lovely, living Landra, and, of course, my lady Celesia, the Silver Unicorn.

She smiled down sadly, but with hope and said something. But I could not hear. Volstagg could, and looked…changed.

And then they faded into light…and Hawksclaw took one ragged breath. Then another.

I stood then, lifting him into my arms. This would be the second time I had carried him like this. The second time I begged the Ascended to intercede on his behalf. I hoped that it would not happen again.

Outside, soldiers and healers flooded the courtyard. I yelled for them to see to my team. Seeing us, Eris rushed over, placing a delicate hand on Hawksclaw’s forehead. I glanced at her, with silently imploring eyes. She paused, hesitantly, and in my mind…he was still in there. He could be saved.

He needed a healer far more skilled than a battle medic. I was moving toward the gate when Sarah caught me. Velkalar had one parting gift. He had minded the keep. We had moments to escape before being claimed by the mountain.

We ran. All. Most reached safety, but not all. Fortunately, Alpha Team was already being evacuated. They survived.

Turning, I watched the keep erupted into flame, before the cliff face above detached, and crashed down, filling the void and burying the site in tons of rock. And then, it was well and truly done.

Velkalar was finished. His operation shattered. Hawksclaw was saved. I only wished, at that moment, that Longtail and Alfred had lived long enough to see this. To have us all together again…

…but life cares little for wishes.

There was nothing to do but return home. Down the mountain. Out the vale. On the road. It was a slow, quiet trip. No one seemed interested in speaking. We were all too…drained.

Lady Moonsilver remained in her armored wagon with Sarah and Hawksclaw. I rode in my customary place at the head of the column, but my mind and heart were with them.

Thunder Hawk 25th, 3126

We made the Stone Tower Gather on the 25th of Thunder Hawk. Here, most of our force departed. Goodbyes were heartfelt. A bond had been forged.

Sir Eckhart survived, though the cost had been high. We departed amicably, but his debt to us was paid. I know many Olarans feel that house’s glory days are long passed, but there is strength yet.

I know that the Kal armored man and the other Volstagg spoke with Sergeant Volstagg, though I know not why. There were other farewells. Too many to recount.

Thunder Hawk 29th, 3126

The column, much reduced, continued on, reaching the south gate of Echer’Naught by morning on the 29th of Thunder Hawk to find our way blocked by a lone man on horseback. Commander Eric Schenkle, Echer’Naught Milia, sat waiting. How long he had been here, and how he knew, I may never know.

I called the column to a halt as he dismounted and approached. He greeted me formally and asked to speak with Sarah. She was already there, walking to meet him. I chose to let nature take its course.

They did not embrace as I expected, nor were many words exchanged. When she had joined him, he simply knelt an asked her hand in marriage. She agreed with a smile. Only then did they embrace. His next words shocked me.

Tomorrow. And, she agreed.

And so, as we entered the city, to no fanfare but for the City Watch assembled for review, already we had a wedding to prepare for. I remained at the gate to ensure that all parties arrived and were billeted adequately per their station. I did not that the Zathlan House had continued to Echer’Naught rather than return home. It was good to see the couple getting on well with the families. That is often of concern.

It was afternoon before my duties allowed me reprieve. I turned Thunder toward home to find my Baroness waiting nearby on her horse surrounded the Wolf Guard. She rode toward me, taking my hand in hers. Weariness finally overtook me and I swayed in my saddle. She caught me, and barked an order.

My guard help me, and we made it back to the Manor without great embarrassment to my person or honor. Lady Elyanna ordered me immediately to the bath, and then bed. She brooked no insubordination. Not that I had energy to argue.

I admit to a pang of guilt as I slid into Sir Regillus’ copper tub. But the feeling of that warm water soaking into my aching bones… I now understand Sir Volstagg’s obsession with these contraptions. I slept the sleep of the dead. Were it not for my lady, I surely would have drown. An ignominious death for certain.

Somehow I wound up in bed, but of that I remember nothing.

Thunder Hawk 30th, 3216

In the morning I woke stiff and numb. My house buzzed around me, making preparations for the coming nuptial, but I could must no feeling. I ate mechanically, then headed upstairs to dress.

As normal, I waved off assistance. In the field, there are no servants or bodymen. I have always counted it a virtue not to become accustomed to such luxuries. Better to remain sharp, prepared for the next call.

It was a toggle on my tunic. A small, metal bar. No matter what I did, how I curse, or raved, it would not clasp. Such a stupid thing. But so often it is the small things.

My wife heard my shouts from somewhere in the house and shooed away the terrified servants at my door. When she entered I was engaged in mortal melee with the thrice damned garment and had very nearly achieved victory when she took my hands in hers, firm, but not harsh. I stopped, realizing the foolishness of my outburst. I opened my mouth to apologize, when she leaned up and placed her forehead against mine and stared into my eyes with hers of shimmering violet.

I lost myself in those pools. It all hit me with a rush. Hawksclaw, Longtail. Alfred. Sarah. Fateweaver…Streetrunner. All my Rangers. All the dead. Everything came out in a rush, and I just sank to the bed, clutching to her for dear life. How long she held me as I cried, I know not. But, there were servants outside anxious that we not be late.

They knew better than to disturb us. Not for fear of me. She runs this house. Not I.

After a time, I felt better. Weak, but better. Without a word, she helped me make myself presentable, selected another tunic, helped me dress, then went out to finalize preparations. Somehow, I cannot imagine any of the staff will dare mention my episode.

Eventually, I felt strong enough to venture out. Everything was already well prepared and waiting. I was offered a coach, but honestly, I feel surer mounted than anyway. So, my lady called for mounts and my House made its way to the Church of Light. Beside my, my Lady looked radiant. She smiled at me and all my fears melted away in her love.

We reached the Church long after most of the others had arrived. It was a packed house. I saw Grimbore, Fekla, and Grek outside. Fekla even bathed. A rare honor. Nearly ever ranger not on duty. I greeted Sir Regillus and Lady Samira at the gate. She was holding a small bundle to her chest. As I approached she pulled back the blanket and there was the most beautiful baby boy. Anaxelum beamed. I kissed Samira on the cheek and asked when.

Apparently, Alexander Rah-Sahn Regillus had been born Thunder Hawk 17th, the same day of our Victory of Velkalar. Also, his birth was accompanied by some bizarre local weather. As she explained: a tornado cluster, severe lighting storm, a flash flood, hail, and a brush fire that torched acres of grasslands north of the city. Samira seemed slightly abashed, but secretly proud. I wished them well, and greeted other guests; Lord and Lady Zathlan, Royal Sheriff Sir Halten, but not his wife, and many others.

It was a joyous, crowded occasion. I DID manage to find Master and Mistress Schenkle in the crowd. The glowed with joy.

Eventually everyone found their seat and Eric Schenkle joined Bishop Vallandrian at the alter. The music began and I was suddenly I thought of Fateweaver. He would have loved this…

My reverie was interrupted by Sarah’s hand on my arm. I looked down and was taken aback. She. Was. Stunning. No longer the young girl who used to cook and clean at the local HQ, Sarah Longtail was a woman grown. Longtail…

I felt tears welling up again. Sarah smiled, knowingly, and nodded toward the waiting crowds.

Reminded of my duty, I escorted Sarah down the isle and to her beloved Eric. My task done, I stepped aside and joined my wife. Music played, Vallandrian prayed, and light shown through the stained glass above the alter, the blue sword of the Church appeared to glow.

All was perfect.

Vallandrian looked at me. “Who gives this woman away?”

I opened my mouth to speak…and another voice spoke from the open door at the back of the church.

Was I dreaming? I knew that voice as certainly as I knew my own. I turned, stunned. So did everyone else.

Two figures stood in the open double door, backlit by the light of a setting sun. I could not see faces, just silhouettes, but it couldn’t be. Together they stepped into the church and the room gasped. Standing side by side, in full Ranger formal dress, were Sergeant Minor Aradove Longtail, and my son, Sergeant Alfred Wolfhaven.

My world spun and my knees when weak. I staggered, pushed myself off a pew and staggered drunkenly into the isle. No one else moved. It was if they were all be spelled by some magic. Mouths open in shock, they simply stared.

My vision swam, blood roared in my ears, but managed to make my way to the figure of my son. He stood there, the boy I remember but older, sterner, harder…a man, a warrior. He smiled, a genuine, but shaded smile. I reached out to hug him, suddenly afraid he was an apparition. But no, he felt solid, he felt real.

How?

Behind me, Sarah Longtail regarded her mother without surprise. She said, “You’re late, mother.” She KNEW?!

Longtail grinned and apologized. Voice started, a confused jumble. Longtail’s kids rushed into her arms. No one seemed sure of what to do.

And then a voice rang out.

“This is it! This is the moment!” Volstagg. And he began to clap. Slowly at first. Then faster, louder. As if an adept puppeting the room, everyone else joined in. What else could they do? And the room erupted. Some people kept clapping, other rushed Longtail or Alfred. I was jostled. I think Zathlan left Sir Volstagg to go join her mother, who I noted in that crazy moment was sitting FAR away from Volstagg. Curious.

Vallandrian’s voice rose above the din, and order was mostly restored. Everyone resumed their seats, Alfred joined me and his mother. Longtail joined Sarah and the ceremony continued. The Bishop chose the better part of valor. He asked each, “Do you?”

Sarah and Eric pledge themselves to each other, and they were wed. Again, everything was a confused jumble..when a deep, bass voice rang out. “Pretty Kitty!” And Grimbore was there, forcing himself into the Church, shoving guests out of the way. He reached the alter and scooped everyone into a hug, Longtail, the kids, and a very confused Eric. Vallandrian had the presence of mind to flap out of the way.

I confess, after that, it was madness. We made our way to my Manor, all a mass of talking, crying and hugging. There was not time to talk, to grasp the situation. Everything within me compelled me to run to Longtail…but something held me back. An unspoken terror. Streetrunner.

Would she forgive me? Could she? I was too late. I couldn’t save him. I couldn’t protect her family…

It is eve now, the crowds are still gathering in my lawn and in my hall. But, I sit in my suddenly, staring at paperwork and a sword. Rangers, friends, family, are leaving us. Will Longtail leave again as well? Hawksclaw if he ever wakes? I touch the sword…

I am afraid. In my wildest dreams I could never hope to have them back…I cannot lose them again…

Celesia help my I cannot…I am not strong enough…

Your most obedient servant,

Lord Mayor Wolfhaven, Colonel

Wolfhaven Manor, Echer’Naught, Olara

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