Falling Ice 32nd, 3127
My first mission with the Rangers was a success, though departing this paradise of a city leaves me with a sadness I cannot deny. Such beauty. I envy Captain Volstagg and his wife. She is a beauty. They seem happy, and content. Though, from the stories and the look in their eyes, I know the road to happiness was long, bloody, and harrowing. I wonder if I shall ever find such contentment?
No, I suppose not.
My flight ends only one way. Flame, blood, and death. So, drink well, and love with abandoned, for tomorrow, you face the fall.
Falling Ice 29th, 3127
We woke from the party, honestly a bit rough from the overindulgence. In those quiet moments between sleep and awake, I could feel their two hearts beating as one, their soft breath on my skin, warm bodies pressed tightly beneath a blanket of silken feathers. For just a moment I lay there, listening to the sounds of the Household rousing from slumber, and held that perfect moment, like the first snowflake in winter…
But, duty called, and I rose, letting the chill wake me. My movement woke Ingrid and Kenzie. Ingrid rose to join me. I watched as she slipped the tight breeches over her hips, then wiggled into the green cotton tabard, cinching it around her slim waist. Lastly, she draped the green cloak, clasping it at her shoulder, then freed her raven hair with a practiced motion. Light shimmered as it caught the strands. Every inch strong, firm Olaran woman, despite her tender age. Beautiful. She didn’t catch me watching.
Kenzie, as usual, nested among the sheets, reveling for a moment in solitude. She is funny like that. One moment craving company, and the next, pulling away. Like a doe. We invited Kenzie to join our breaking fast. At first she declined, but then, as always, darted out of bed and started hastily dressing. Ingrid DID catch me watching Kenzie tug on her breeches, then button her half coat over her lithe body. She just rolled her hazel colored eyes a bit.
Kenzie threw on the cloak, shaking out her red hair to cascade over the green cloak, a beautiful contrast, and flashed her magenta eyes. For the second time in as many minutes, my heart skipped.
Together, we headed into the commons area for food. Having only been with the Rangers, I have no real basis for comparison, but this outpost seems far more…expensive than others. Our stay felt more like fine dining and dwelling in an upscale in than a military outpost. We sat at a long table as servants brought menus and glasses of wine, juice, water, and morning ales. I selected fruit and nuts. In moments, my food was delivered. Delightful!
We were joined at the meal by Captain Volstagg, the Crimson Knight, himself. Over half an hour, the other members of the team drifted in and joined us. At some point, Ranger Blackstone produced an official looking message from the Black Mountain Clanhomes. Apparently, he had entered into negotiations over ales. They now sought for formalize whatever agreements he had made. Captain Volstagg looked angry enough to chew iron, but tersely agreed.
The REST of us were ordered to assemble in the yard. Corporal Grendel seemed intent on leaving Almahrad as quickly as possible. Apparently the unit had previously had some bad experiences, though I cannot imagine what would compel anyone to leave such a beautiful place. So, Corporal Grendel, Corporal Sssahliissstah, Kenzie, Ingrid, and I assembled, along with four City Watch, and headed down to the Granite Docks in the harbor. The trip through the city was invigorating. We got there mid morning and found out way to the HarborMaster’s office. Polished sandstone walls, tiled frescoes, and painted columns, the office was gorgeous. We entered the queue along with traders from all over. Eventually, the Corporal’s were allowed to approach the Harbor Master’s desk.
We could see them through a polished, waist high wood railing. But, with the draped silks blowing in the breeze, the din from outside, and the low murmur of voices, there was no way to make out what they were saying. Eventually, the Corporal’s were escorted to a nearby room. So we waited. And waited.
Almost an hour later, Corporal Grendel popped his head through the door behind us. Apparently, they had filed the appropriate paperwork and initiated a request for our departure. We stepped out onto the docks, stinking of soot, fish, and brackish water. Even over the noise of the criers, the cranes, and the stevedores, we could hear the low, angry rumble of the dwarve’s stomachs. I had to admit I was a bit peckish myself.
So, with our guard around us, we headed up into the bazaar. Scents assaulted our noses; spices from Nazatir, freshly butchered goat, ox, lamb, and even horse. One stall reeked of fish, another urine and boiled leather. The sounds and colors were not much better. Men and women shouted in a dozen different languages, extolling the virtues of their various wares. Nazatiran silks, shimmering Korindian shell armor, steelcraft from Olara, swords from Camon, and more…
The world was at our pleasure.
Wending our way through narrow, congested streets, we found a food district. Corporal Grendel followed his nose and found the least offensive offering, some meat, heavily spiced and on a stick. But, when the Corporal went to pay, he fond his wallet had been stolen. Great…
About that time, a kindly Galean, likely spotting fellow foreigners, approached, and was stopped by the Almahradi Guards. He extended Corporal Grendel’s purse to him, with apologies. Apparently, the ogre had lost it somewhere along the route. Though, I suspect small hands had relieved the ogre of his funds. How the Galean came to recover it, who can say. Though I am certainly pleased he did so.
Coin returned, we all enjoyed the sweet and spicy treats as we made our way back to the outpost. We arrived shortly after Corporal Volstagg, and Blackstone had left for their meeting with the dwarves. Blackstone was only gone for a few hours. He returned along with most of the post Rangers by dinner time. They arrived lugging a massive metal cradle for the Volstagg’s. A gift from the dwarves. Corporal Grendel and Corporal Sssahliissstah interrogated the poor dwarf. All he would say was that a “package” had arrived and that Captain Volstagg would have to explain further. We were ordered to private chambers, but even in complete isolation, he would say no more. Frustrated, the Corporals dismissed us. I asked permission to remain with Ingrid and Kenzie. Corporal Grendel allowed us, to my joy.
I caught Blackstone mumbling something about marriage negotiations as he left…wonder what that was about?
The rest of the day was relaxing. I spent most of the time with the girls, when they were not not otherwise occupied. Around three, the Emissary, Captain Volstagg, and Ranger Blackstone departed the Outpost to meet with the Black Mountain dwarf contingent. Ingrid, Kenzie, and I decided to sample the Outposts rather extensive wines, ales, and liquor. We laughed, drank, danced…and then they passed out.
So adorable, hair a mess of black and red, Kenzie huddled against Ingrid who lay half on, half off the mattress. Our party done, I cleared the bottles, undressed and cleaned the girls, before trying to get some sleep. Sadly, sleep never came. I was…overstimulated.
Around 1 AM I heard a commotion outside. Looking out over the courtyard, I saw Captain Volstagg, the Emissary and a third figure arrive. They were met by the Corporal’s I endeavored not to overhear, rather returned to the warmth of my bed.
Falling Ice 30th, 3127
After untold hours of staring at the ceiling, I welcomed the weak light of morning filtering through the silken screens. Neither Kenzie nor Ingrid so much as stirred when I rose. They were both quite out. I went to find Captain Volstagg’s subaltern. A Lieutenant Crasser. He was walking the walls when I found him. A nice enough fellow, he seemed out of place amongst all this posh, but he confirmed I was permitted to fly, so long as I avoided leaving the grounds. With his approval, I took the morning to fly off some of my excess…ah…energy.
By the time I was wrapping up, I spied most of the team already breaking their fast, so I joined them. Captain Volstagg looked…disgruntled. Something about last night’s meeting had not set will with him. Of the mysterious third figure, I saw nothing. Again, breakfast was excellent. And, while eating, Ranger Blackstone received yet another missive. This was an invitation to drinks with the dwarves that evening. Reluctantly, Captain Volstagg agreed and Kenzie volunteered to join him. More time to spend with Ingrid!
We were also treated to an incredible display of horsemanship by a horse, two goats, and a mule…the other mule, a Sergeant Muriel, chose to join us at the table. Blackstone shared his ale, and I swear the mule showed gratitude. Something odd about the animals of Alpha Team. Someone will have to explain these creatures.
Let’s see: We have Sergeant Muriel and King, the mules. Then, there are the three goats, Sergeant Tina, Tiny, and Max. Tiny is a size of a pony, and oft ridden by Blackstone. Max is…special. He seems able to eat anything. I have personally witnessed him devour metal weapons and armor, wagons… I’m curious whether he has some supernatural abilities.
They drilled outside showing surprising military bearing. Even snapping to attention when the Captain entered, or exited the room.
Speaking of, while we ate, the Captain informed Alpha Team that our presence was expected at a formal ceremony at noon. So, for the rest of the morn, we had to ourselves. I saw Corporal Sssahliissstah head off with Blackstone, a research project. I followed the girls to the stables to check on the animals. Diego seemed to be getting along well enough with the others.
At noon, we all arrived in the formal chamber. There, I noted the trappings of a swearing in ceremony. Apparently, we were to receive a new Ranger to our ranks. Captain Volstagg took his position at the head of the room and signaled for a door to open and our newest Ranger entered…a Builder. Around me, the team gasped or looked on incredulously. Save for the Corporals…and Blackstone.
I for one, am not familiar with the red skinned devils from the Hard Lands, but I have faced them and their cruel artifice, arcfire. More than one Aevakar has been struck shrieking from the sky, wings burning like torches. I have no love for them, but the bleed just like any other. At least a bit of the blood on my blades once flowed through the veins of a Builder. I will try not to hold the sins of his people against him, though I cannot say I trust him, yet. Trust is earned.
Captain Volstagg introduced the Builder as The Explorer. The Explorer speaks Galean well enough. Better than we speak his tongue. At that, Captain Volstagg handed the Papers to Corporal Grendel who led the Explorer through the Ranger’s Oath. I wonder if he means the words. I know very little of his ken, but they are a mysterious lot.
Once that was complete, the Captain had another surprise. He rang another bell and a pair of large, vaguely human shapes, draped in sheets, were wheeled in. With a dramatic flair, he ripped away their shroud to reveal matching sets of full Albrecht steel ogre plate. Corporal Grendel nearly fell over himself. Ranna was more reserved, but I could see the gleam in her eye. Captain Volstagg, with Lady Volstagg now in attendance, thanked the ogres for protecting their trials in the desert, and allowing for the life they now shared. Captain Volstagg also provided the ogres a large purse, and an offer to take the Oath of Sworn to House Volstagg.
Again Corporal Grendel leaped at the chance. Ranna was more demure. I have a feeling we shall soon have an ogre Olaran. I wonder how the starched shirts back home will take that? Regardless, it was a joyous occasion. We celebrated, welcomed the newest member into the unit.
We also learned that afternoon that we had received authorization to leave. Which mean, that we were soon to depart this beautiful city. That evening, Kenzie accompanied Blackstone to another party with the dwarves. This to celebrate the successful negotiations. Ingrid, Corporal Sssahliissstah, and even Tina the goat threatened him should she come to harm. I declined. For all her timidity, she is hardly defenseless. I pity the fool to underestimate her. She is far more fierce than the others realize, though I see it.
I spent the eve with Ingrid. Quite enjoyable.
Falling Ice 31st, 3127
Early in the morning Kenzie returned. She was a bit tipsy, but none the worse for wear. Before drifting off to sleep, she muttered something about a Blackstone marriage to a Ruby? I’m not sure if she meant an actual gem or someone named Ruby. Though, she did manage to tell us about using her ability to speak to animal’s as a “party trick.” So long as my gift kept her safe, I am pleased.
As this was our last day, the Captain planned a grand, private feast for us. We met a bit after noon in the private quarters of the Volstagg’s, even The Explorer joined. Around the table, Sir and Lady Volstagg invited us all, and thank us for our service. They talked of Alpha Team members past, and cautioned us to rely upon each other, trust the team, and together we could survive any trials.
With drinks flowing, the stories began. Blackstone explained the armor he recently acquired. Apparantly for generations, one member of his bloodline inherits the armor, and the title of “Mountain.” That dwarf holds a deep connection with Dranak, gaining longevity and other gifts, but a responsibility to serve as Dranak’s representative to the clan. Sadly, when the armor passes, the life of the previous bearer ends as his service is no longer required. Somewhere, Blackstones ancestor dies so that he may carry on the mantle.
Lady Volstagg told of the time the Captain found himself stuck, ass first, in a rotten log. During one of the engagements against the villain known as Velkalar, he was blown into a forest while shielding her from the self detonation of a man charged with arcfire energy. I watched The Explorer carefully during the story. He didn’t react, though I noted him scratching in his journal. Anyway, once she found him, amidst the carnage of battle, even the strength of Grendel could not dislodge the knight. Eventually, they slathered him with rancid pig grease to get him free. Captain Volstagg seemed mildly embarrassed by the story, but took the ribbing goodnaturedly.
Corporal Sssahliissstah spoke of her old team, from the wildlands. How there was one member, a girl, who showed her kindness. Apparently, the other members were prejudiced against her species, being a “murder lizard.” A moniker she rejected. Until the day her one friend was slain by Tempest. Only then did she succumb to the battle rage of her species. In that moment, she became what they most feared. She could not save her team, but she avenged them. I could see the pain writ on her face…
These Rangers are more like me than I had imagined.
To break the mood, I think, Captain Volstagg shared a memory of one of the most famed members of the team, RFC Thorgram Ramshorm, of the shield Blackstone now bears. Apparently, early in his career, Alpha Team found themselves in an inn run by creatures of Darkness using some high magic to cloak their true identity. A vampiress seduced the young Thorgram and proceeded to perform fellatio on him, before trying to drink his blood…
Captain Volstagg finished the story by regaling the story of how Thorgram died, facing down an army of werewolves, sacrificing his own life to save the team. At that, the Volstagg’s bowed their heads. I asked how many they had lost. “Too many,” was the reply.
Corporal Grendel stood and yanked the cord from the summons bell. At the signal, a servant brought forth a wrapped bundle and the Corporal presented to Captain Volstagg a beautiful Hek-Chucktar for his eldest son. Captain Volstagg accepted, and we toasted the couple.
After that, we talked, drank, and shared the moment. The Explorer just watched and wrote. I enjoyed the company, but was plagued by ghosts of the past. At least, I learned about the plaque outside the Local Ranger HQ in Echer’Naught. It lists the names of all the commanders of Alpha Team over the years. In five years the team has gone through six leaders…
Captain Gerald Manning
Colonel Alexander Wolfhaven
Captain Rah-Sahn Hawksclaw
Sergeant Evoran Que’kasaars
Sergeant Amelia Whitestone
Captain Gunther Volstagg
Corporal Grendel will be the next name on the list. Though, only if he survives long enough to transfer out…or doesn’t survive.
We drank late into the afternoon. Before asking, I asked Ingrid for a private date with Kenzie. She smiled, and nodded.
After, I invited Kenzie to join me. While flying about the outpost, I had found a few out of the way spots. She joined me in the stables, where I had prepared the loft. There, above the sleeping animals, and beneath a roost of pigeons, we talked…I talked. She told me of her home, before Kal’Montak. I told her of my home…or, the loss. Then she asked to fly.
So, we headed to one of the outposts towers. She stripped while I prepared the harness. And we flew…
After, I thought, for a moment…but no. She wanted to walk, so we walked the walls, and towers. The quiet places and watched the lights of the city below us, shimmer in the prism of the waterfalls. It was…near perfect. Beautiful.
We slept well that night.
Falling Ice 32nd, 3127
Morning came too early. Preparations were made We all packed and prepared to leave. Captain and Lady Volstagg accompanied us to the docks, along with the post Ranger contingent, and half a dozen City Guard. At the pier bobbed a large trader ship. The ship’s skipper agreed to transport our group, along with our animals to Granite Port. From there we could find a ship to return us home.
We filed across the gangplank while the Rangers of Almahrad lined the docks opposite. Corporal Grendel and Captain Volstagg embraced as the lines were thrown. Volstagg thrust a wrapped parcel into Grendel’s hands, and the ship cast off. Our parties drifted apart. Captain Volstagg called a salute, which we answered with our own. And then, the boat picked up speed and the Almahradi Rangers shrank out of view.
It took most until that evening, but by night, we reached the narrow water gap through the Black Mountains and as the shadow of the mountain fell over the deck, the glittering jewel of the City of Dreams faded from view. And with that, Alpha Team was again, on its own.
I admit a feeling of longing fell upon me. I may have hugged Kenzie and Ingrid more tightly that night…