Lord Mayor, Colonel Baron Wolfhaven, Alexander
Commander of the Legio Heroes
Exile, Norcan Dar (Hard Lands)
7th Day of Dancing Clouds, Year 3128 Under the Light
I made good on my promise. We escaped Norcan Darr, but I know not to where. Even so, the cost was too high.
Dancing Clouds 5th, 3128
Lady Arwen Que’kasaars, Sergeant Egon Mansfried, and I continued our hard trek across the red and burning sands of the Hard Lands. We were close enough to see the rocky outline of the mountains in the distance, but too far to reach them before the battle began. Thanks, as always, to Toma’s mask, I was kept updated as to the progress of the assault on the enemy Citadel.
By mid-morning, after I had spoken with Sergeant Minor Blackstone, the Chief scout remaining among the Builder forces selected Alpha Team as one of the small scouting parties to be sent to recon the ground for the assault. A wise precaution. Alpha Team was assigned to scout the eastern rock ridge from the Builder Encampment to the bridgehead cliff face. While Corporal Grimm brewed potions, the team re-upped and rearmed for the mission. Forsaken scouts allied with the Builders warned of enemy Builder recon “drones” the small, flying arcfire drones they used to flush us through the cave system during our previous battle.
With so much free time, it occurs to me that I read a report from many years back during the initial hunts for the Mad Bomber, a lifetime ago. I remember that Athrate Alystar, I believe, led a raid against the bomber who deployed devices similar to this. History repeating itself. And like those drones, engaging or destroying any of them would signal the presence of our force and blow the entire operation. Just another day as a Ranger.
By dusk, Alpha Team was moving through the rocks, keeping one eye on the ground and one on the sky. RFCs Softpaws and Gravelheart served as forward scouts, with RFC Killian bringing up the rear. Corporal Grimm stayed with Sergeant Minor Blackstone while The Explorer remained with his own team back at the camp, waiting for his own mission. High in the mountains, in the shade, the temperature was rather temperate, not much over 100 degrees. They move swiftly and silently.
A few hours into their patrol, Softpaws and Gravelheart spot the telltale glow of arcfire overhead. They go to ground, alerting Sergeant Minor Blackstone through Toma’s mask. He sent Grimm to ground, before Stonewalking back to alert Gravelheart. And like that, Alpha Team faded into the rocks. Well, save for Grimm. It is possible he was spotted. One of the"drones" circled for over ten minutes. But, they never attacked, so, the Team moved on.
Within the hour the team reached the peak of the ridge. The eagle-eyed scouts spotted at least a dozen enemy sentries patrolling the entrance to the Builder citadel, over a mile away. All they could see were tiny sparks of arcfire moving in the dark.
Dancing Clouds 6th, 3128
By dawn, the team was in position high on the ridge overlooking the citadel gate, the great chasm, and the bridge pylons. With a perfect vantage point and the mask to report in, the team elected to remain in position and report updates. They also wanted to observe and record the sentry rotation schedule. AS they watch, the sentries rotate on and off every four hours like clockwork. At shift change, they double the guards making it the most difficult time to attack. All of this the team reports to the Maker, and to me.
The Maker alerts me that about midday on the 6th, they “spoof the signal” informing the Citadel that a team of survivors from the battle is returning in need of immediate attention, with vital information. Taking a team of five specially trained arclancers, The Explorer and his infiltration team don enemy uniforms and head east into the red death, before turning back west and marching up one of the enemies prepared paths. Though the enemy Citadel dispatched no troops, scouts reported a number of the arcfire drones the sky.
By the 13th, hour, The Explorer’s team was standing at the south bridge pylons, across the chasm from the Citadel’s gate. An arcmancer and team of acrlancer sharpshooters joined Alpha Team to provide cover. Arcfire drones circled and scanned The Explorer, eventually buying his disguise. At any rate, they were allowed to cross. It was about this time that I and my team arrived at the base. We had just enough time to change, drink, eat a quick bite, and armor up before he stepped on a teleporter and started skipping our way to the front.
Dancing Clouds 7th, 3128
At the gate, additional forces and a pair of Golems deployed in defense. Then the Builders extended their bridge and allowed The Explorer’s team to cross. Once on the far side, they were stopped by the sentries. The Explorer was pressed for his identity and the watchword, both of which he had well memorized. Obviously, our allies had done their work well. The watch commander gave the nod and our infiltrators walked toward the opening gate. However, just before they passed through the narrowly open gate, one of the guards called a halt. What the Builder noticed, we will never know. But, The Explorer knew the procedure all to well. In moments, their deception would be unmasked and the door closed in their face.
Before anyone could react, The Explorer drew his arclancer and gunned down the guard, starting the battle. From the ridgeline, the arcmancer activated his teleporter and sent Alpha Team straight into the breach. In an instant, the outer gate was a confusion of arcfire and death. Alpha team cut into the surprised sentries as Sergeant Minor Blackstone shoved prepared blocks of stone into the closing door singing them into the ground, jamming it open. Killian took down a Golem that was trying to bore through her chest, while the rest of the team and The Explorer’s arclancers carved a path through the sentries.
Taking point, The Explorer and his men leaped through the door, coming under fire from auto-turrets and a pair of golems protecting the inner door. The enemy had also erected arcfire barriers sectioning off the entrance room. Within each section, the defenders could teleport defenders ambush our assault. But, with the door breached the rest of Alpha Team leaped through, with Blackstone singing a second stone block into place for good measure. Last through was Softpaws. She stopped in the small gap created by Blackstone’s blocks and held off the handful of enemy arclancers are the far side of the door.
Now in the first chamber, the team engages the turrets and golems. The Explorer opens fire on the turrets, missing the first shot, but scoring a second. Not before the defense turret his Blackstone with a blast nearly powerful enough to take him out in a single hit. The Explorer’s squad takes out the second turret as more enemy builders teleport into the second chamber, setting up a fireline just beyond the barrier. A presage of the fight to come.
I and my team arrived at the nearest teleportation location and were immediately ported across the chasm. Giving my team to press on, I charged into the rear of the enemy arclancers stacking up outside the main gate. So focused were they on stabbing Softpaws they never hear us coming. Five fell before the last realized they were not alone.
Sergeant Mansfried leaped through, taking up a position to support the center of the team. RFC Lady Arwen Que’kasaars charged through the battle, unleashing a beam of pure eldritch energy, punching through the first energy barrier. Corporal Grimm widened the hole with a grenade. Instantly, the team came under fire from the Builders are the far side. Projector and arclancer fire poured into their ranks.
Seeing the golems closing in, I called upon the Silver Unicorn and teleported across the field to the head of our forces. My first blow struck down a golem. From behind me, acrfire felled the second. And we were through the first barrier, cutting into the defensive line of builders. Flashes ahead alerted us that another defense line had been teleported behind the second energy barrier. They aimed and waited for us to breach.
Without hesitation, Que’kasaars and Grimm assaulted the second barrier while the rest of the team opened cut through the arclancers. Our team poured into the gap into the next chamber. We took down their central golem so quickly, it barely had time to get off a shot. Their defenses fell so fast, the enemy had hardly enough time to set up a fire line before we punched through. Behind us, squads of allied arclancers and forskaen teleported onto the outer ledge and charged into the room. Quickly, the tide of numbers turned. Still, the enemy autoprojectors and Golems kept up a murderous fire.
Ahead we had the last large barrier and then an energy field protecting the final flight of stairs. Grimm blew a hole through the first barrier, opening a shot for Lady Que’kasaars. One two, and last barriers were breached. Softpaws, seeing the opening, charged ahead, taking fire from projectors on the walls and towers. The rest of Alpha Team pressed on, ignoring the arcfire ripping through them from all sides, and pushed through into the last chamber.
Seeing the way open, I summoned once again the Silver Unicorn’s power and teleported to the massive inner gate itself. My father’s sword crackled with energy as I slashed with all my might. The door gave way under my onslaught, exploding inward. The entryway was ours. And the enemy knew it. Their arclancers immediately began teleporting away, but not before tossing a pair of grenades into the midst of Alpha Team which was bunched coming through the last barricade. I turned to see the team disappear in arcflashes and smoke. When the air cleared, half the team was down, the rest wounded. But, behind them, allied troops, arclancers and forskaen, poured in.
My Rangers had done well. I ordered the Builder medics to set up a triage location to the side and care for the Rangers while the reinforcements pressed deeper into the mountains. And there, I left them to recover.
Despite losing their main gate, the enemy was hardly done. My Builders stacked up, Boom Troopers in front, backed by a row of elite Arclancers. We marched into the darkened corridors, lit only by angry red lights. Auto projectors popped out of recesses and cut into our ranks. We took them out, but at the first junction, the enemy had erected a barricade and heavy projector. We lost half our front rank before a grenade took down the gunner.
My squad stormed their position, fighting hand to hand. We killed most, with only a few escaping back down the hall. That is when we heard the sounds of clanking and vibrations through our boots. They were lowing defensive doors, blocking off passages and trying to funnel us into more ambushes. Since we did not have a detailed plan of the Citadel, only what we could glean from our former captive, we had to make certain assumptions moving forward.
When we encountered a wall, we took the time to breach, rather than be funneled into their fixed positions. That was the plan. More often than not, we’d waste time cutting through walls, only to then stumble into ambushes anyway. At every juncture shields impeded our progress and auto projectors cut us down. I’d lost more than a dozen in the first hour alone, though we managed to defeat at least twice that number. There was a desperation in their fighting. These were not soldiers, yet we date not stop.
It took over two hours to fight our way to their main power generator. We would have managed it sooner, but we spent much of the time stumbling about without a true sense of direction. That was our biggest fight. Every able-bodied Builder waited for us inside. Heavy projectors were set behind barricades and on catwalks. It was a charnel house. Stacking up outside, our arcmancers prepared teleportation devices. On my signal, squads of Boom Troopers teleported into the midst of the defenders while arclancers charged the door. I took the lead. Arcfire ripped through my armor, burning through to my bones. It was the most intense fighting I have faced since arriving in Norcan Darr.
Neither side possessed a clear advantage. There was no retreat for any of us. Here their Maker took his stand, surrounded by golems and elite troops. They fought bravely and died well. The room cost a quarter of our forces, but they fell to a man. Once the room was secure, we took a moment to assess. Now that we had control of their main power, our arcmancers could take down their inner energy fields and auto projectors. As I leaned against a rail with a medic plugging holes, I received RFC Softpaws desperate summons via the mask.
My worst fears had been realized. He was here.
Ordering the Builders to take the gate room at all costs and begin immediately transporting out, I took up my Father’s sword and charged back up to the gate room. The halls were carpeted by still smoking bodies, ours and theirs entangled in a horrifying mess. When I reached the gate room, I found the Alpha Team standing in the inner gate, looking out with fear. Only the Explorer and RFC Lady Killian stood near the main gate. I did not need to see, for I could feel the energies being unleashed outside. We had to get our people in the mountain!
I sprinted forward, calling Sergeant Minor Blackstone to me. When I reached The Explorer I ordered him to set up his Main Weapon at the top of the stairs, with a line of sight to the front gate. The main room energy barriers were still up, meaning they operated on an independent power source. However, the gaps in the barriers lined up for a sign shot on the door. But, for my plan to work, I would have to position the enemy perfectly.
The Explorer and Lady Killian immediately began setting up their weapon. Terrified builders streamed into the room as it shook from detonations outside. Before charging out into the fire, I ordered Sergeant Mansfried to gather all the able-bodied Rangers and builders and establish a fire line, in ranks, up the stairs, but to be sure to obscure the weapon from view. If our enemy had any inkling of our plan, it would be undone.
And then I leaped through the door, shouting for Blackstone to sing the stone blocks away.
Outside was madness. What remained of our forces that had not already entered the Citadel were being systematically wiped out. More and more enemy forces teleported at every moment. These were not the ill-trained citizens of the Citadel, but elite warriors, better trained and equipped than almost any I have seen. And above us…three…pyramidal platforms. What expenditure of energy would it take to make something that massive float?! What excess. Arcfire projectors the size of thunder lizards raked the ground, turning stone and sand to so much glass and slag. The heat was unbearable.
In the middle of the conflagration stood a being nine feet tall and shining with sidereal light. The enemy commander, and their greatest weapon. His eyes shown like stars, and the pair of battle axes in his hands vibrated with unwholesome energy. Offspring? Scion? Some foreign god? I knew not, though I have my suspicions.
My Builders needed time to reach the gate, and more to begin teleporting our forces away. I had no hope of winning this fight, but I could buy time. Summoning all the power granted me by my blood, the Silver Unicorn, even Tempest, I hurled myself at the man with abandon.
I might as well have been a child. He seemed to sense my every move, turning aside lethal blows. I, in turn, ducked and dodged, teleported and rolled staying one step ahead of his axes…mostly. Despite my best efforts, I felt the pain of his blows on my arms, legs, and back. As the battle raged on, more and more attacks breached my defense. I could feel my strength waning. I retreated to the gate, putting myself between the monster and my forces.
His forces did nothing. They seemed almost entranced watching our battle. As I was pushed back, they slowly gathered in a crowd arrayed in a semicircle around us. No sound escaped them, they looked neither concerned nor excited, merely, curious as their god battled. Which is good, it was taking everything I had to stay alive. If they opened up, my plan would die along with myself.
Step by step I retreated until I felt the cool metal of the door press against my back. I had no more room to move. The being sensed my desperation and slammed me with a wave of power I have rarely experienced. My armor bucked, my bones cracked, and the door behind me shattered. I was dead for a moment.
When I woke, I saw Blackstone’s body falling, his ancient armor rent by the fiend’s axe. Across the room, a ragtag group of Rangers, Builders, and Forsaken huddled before the inner gate, their faces matched expressions of shock. They looked desperate, defeated…perfect.
Sensing ultimate victory, and an audience, the being taunted me in a language I have never heard, but understood. He called me “cousin” and mocked my feeble attempts to escape as I crawled away from him on my hands and knees, a broken man. I just managed to reach the first breach in the first energy barrier when I felt his boot flip me over on my back. There he loomed, his face a mocking sneer as he raises his axes to end my life. And, I have no doubt those ancient artifacts have the power to even take the life of a being as powerful as he. But, creatures of power are also creatures of hubris. He could not help but take a moment to torment my men, to mock them with the demise of their champion. He needed to gloat.
And just as Blackstone’s distraction bought me the time to regenerate enough to regain consciousness, this moment of arrogance distracted him long enough for me to draw a shard of crysarium taken from the ancient, tiled pyramid. Pure, arcfire energy hardened into an impossibly sharp crystal. As he leered, I plunged the shiv into his thigh. I felt it sink through his armor, biting into his flesh. He grunted, more in annoyance than pain. The look of surprise on his face was heartening. Rage filled his eyes at the sheer audacity of my act. Vengeance consumed him. He no longer wanted to humiliate me, he needed to destroy me utterly. It filled his every thought.
And that is why he failed.
At my signal, the defensive line dove aside and The Explorer pulled the trigger.
Everything after that happened in slow motion. The being’s expression of rage twisted into confusion as he sensed the danger. I felt him try to pull away, but my shard held him fast. Only then did her realize my plan. Apoplectic rage rippled off him in waves…a split second before a beam of pure arcfire as big as a plump melon took him in the torso. The shockwave scorched my face and melted the front plate of my armor. However, the enemy commander got the worst. The sheer physical impact folded him in half and blasted him backward at the speed of an arrow fired from a bow.
Yet, the shot moved much faster, punching clean through him and out through the breached gate. In the far distance, I heard a ridgeline explode even as the commander cartwheeled out the door and off the cliff. Outside, his assembled Builders had matching faces of shock and incomprehension. That would not last.
As my body knit itself back together, I levered to my feet, scooped up the body of Blackstone and sprinted for the inner gate, shouting for everyone to retreat. Our wound was a grievous one, but hardly lethal. As I sprinted past, I ordered The Explorer to trap the weapon, before leading the survivors down into the bowels of the captured Citadel. For a moment, many of the assembled were frozen in shock at what had transpired. But, I knew we had moments before the enemy Builders recovered their faculties and launched an attack. So, I shouted at them to follow and ran with Blackstone tucked under my arm.
They did so, The Explorer last, having rigged his masterpiece. We charged back down the charnel house corridors with their blood, soot, and death. In the bowels of the Citadel, we found hall to the gate room packed with weary, bleeding, and desperate Builders and Forsaken, packed in like so many sheep. From the far end, we saw a flash and hear the whine of the arcgate spin down. A Builder commander shouted for the next group and the crowd shuffled forward a few steps like a pack of zombies. Bloody Abyss.
I left the Rangers there and grabbed the nearest guards who looked have able to fight and ordered them to follow me. We needed maybe, ten minutes.
Up we ran to the last major junction to the arcgate room. There had been a minor skirmish here, but with the automated defenses down, the defenders were quickly overwhelmed. Their heavy projector, however, hung limp on its tripod. I ordered the arclancers to man the gun and prepare to repel the assault. From down the hall I could hear the measured tread of heavy boot falls. Ten minutes.
While the arclancers prepped the weapon, I headed up the hall to a corner and waited. Dozens of enemy troops crunched toward me, weapons at the ready. As the sound of the approach grew near, I closed my eyes, slowed my breathing and waited.
A golden bronze barrel appeared around the corner, so I grabbed it and yanked down hard. The first enemy arclancer stumbled out of position opening a gap in their formation. Into the void I stepped, my father’s sword singing in the close space. Half a dozen fell to my blade before their reinforcements managed to target me. The incoming fire was a hailstorm of arcfire.
Ducking back around the corner, I sprinted back to the room with the heavy projector, slipping inside the door just as the enemy rushed around the corner straight into the fire from our heavy weapon. My men cut down their first two ranks before they retreated back around the corner. A stalemate worth maybe a minute…two?
As expected, a pair of grenades bounced down the corridor. Summoning the Silver Unicorn I stepped into the open, slashing them both. Dual arcfire explosions tossed me off my feet, but the gun remained untouched and opened fire as the enemy charged forward-thinking they had taken out our big gun. Another five died under that delusion. Again, they retreated around the corner, and I picked myself up, my body knitting.
From the hall, I heard the enemy shifting. Something heavy was coming. Still, a couple more minutes bled by. This time, they came in a tight block behind heavy arcfire reinforced tower shields. Our heavy projector opened up, but their defense was too strong. Step by step they leaned into the hail of arcfire, inching their way down the corridor to our position. From behind the shield wall, arclancers sniped at us, keeping the gunner’s head’s down. I waited to the side, till they were close enough for a blade.
When they reached the doorway to our room, I rolled in from of them, slashing under their shields. The heavy troopers toppled forward and our heavy projector tore through their tightly packed formation. Another half dozen died in a blaze of arcfire, but one of their grenades rolled in front of our weapon nest. The explosion knocked the heavy projector off its supports. From down the hall, they charged again, sprinting for us before we could recover.
I stepped into the hall and tore into them. Builders dying on my blade. Behind him, I heard a shout from our gunner and stepped aside as the repositioned heavy arclance went to work. I had managed a single breath when a glowing battle axe cut through the gun and the two builders operating her. He was back.
I ran, back down the hall. Had we held them long enough? When I reached the hall to the arcgate, my Rangers were just mounting the dais. I sprinted for them, squeezing next to Mansfried and Killian. The operator hit the controls and jumped into the spinning arcfire rings. From down the hall, the being appeared and realized we were about to slip through his fingers. With a mighty heave, he hurled his axe at us. It spun through the air like a shot from an arclance. I managed to get my father’s sword up just in time to deflect the blow, but the axe severed one of the rings and smashed the controls just as we flashed away….
May the Lord of Light and Celesia watch over us.
Your most obedient servant,
Lord Mayor Wolfhaven, Colonel