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.
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.
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.
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