Filed: Dark Moons 24th, 3130
The response to discovering Alpha Team had, in fact, survival after months of silence, and that they can complete their mission against all odds was shadowed by the news of former Captain Celebor’s death. All things perish, eventually. Even the immortal Elves find ways to die.
However, the loss of heroes such as Celebor are always a bitter pill to swallow. He had his differences of opinion with the Rangers. In his final years, he felt forced to self-exile rather than be drawn again into the internecine political squabbles of the Southern Kingdoms. Yet despite any lingering conflicts, he was, always, a Ranger, a hero, and a friend to Light and Life.
Dancing Clouds 19th, 3130
We now know, having had Farspeaker contact with the Team more details than previously known. I have attempted to update this and previous reports to reflect that information. So far as Alpha Team was aware, former Sergeant Finnlea “Rez” Runsplitter had remained back at the failing Sacred Grove watching the Team’s struggles via her own brand of divination. And, from Ranger Priests, we gather have been informed that Celebor’s spirit seems to have missed the appointed date in the Eternal Forest. Based upon Runesplitter’s prior actions, we strongly believe that the fallen archer now follows former Sergeant Runesplitter. What we don’t know is whether he is her ally…or whether he is a curse, a constant reminder of the cost for leaving the Team before their final battle.
Whatever the case, she vanished into the Northern snows. No one has been able to contact her or locate her. We do not believe she is dead, though there is no proof either way. Some, such as former Sergeant Enoc “Atlas” Blackheart, believe that she will return in time. Officially, the Rangers are concerned for her fate, but as she retired in the field, have no plans, or ability to commit resources to her retrieval. I, for one, hope she is well and pray to the Ascended for her safe return.
Unofficially, there are those who suspect that she knew her fate. That was, after all, her signature ability. If true, did she trade Celebor’s life for her own? It is terrible to believe any Ranger would make such a bargain, but those rumors persist.
Whatever the former Sergeant’s fate, after months of silence, Adepts were suddenly able to contact Corporal Liliah Harken. It was as she appeared from a well of nothing. One moment she was entirely absent, and then she flared into presence.
As soon as contact was made, Colonel Anderson was summoned. Ever since their disappearance, Colonel Anderson had required hourly attempts to contact the Team. After several months, most of Ranger command felt the expenditure of Farspeaker resources to be excessive, however, the Colonel was adamant that Alpha Team would return and triumphantly. And so, for weeks on end, every hour a Farspeaker reached out to the Team in sequence.
The Colonel was at dinner when contact was restored. It should be noted that in his rush to reach the office he never bothered to remove the napkin tucked into his shirt.
While overjoyed to hear the Team again, Colonel Anderson was heartbroken to hear the report. Sergeant Runesplitter gone, retired. former Captain Celebor dead, and Corporal Harken the last member of the Team standing. At least the rest of Alpha Team were not dead…yet…
Corporal Harken had not yet completed her report before Colonel Anderson was writing reports for dispatches. I was given a singular standing order.
Bring them home.
Later, when pressed, Colonel Anderson authorized me to use whatever resources, contacts, and channels needed to bring Alpha Team home alive and as well as they could realistically be.
It was then that I was again reminded of the enduring legacy of Alpha Team’s contributions not just to the Rangers, but all of Shaintar. When the call went out for help bringing them home, the response was overwhelming and swift.
We knew only they were in Kal territory, literally within the Everwall. I knew that former Alpha member Silverwing (then Steelwing) had been a member of the Gray Talons and might have contacts in the Region.
I do not know the particulars, though I gathered from the intensity of his response that whatever resources he was about to contact were never supposed to exist. I have no proof, nor details, but I fear he broke serious protocol and risked his own people to send out support for the Team.
To his credit, within hours, Aevakar were winging their way up and down the Everwall, risking death and capture in the hope of spotting Alpha Teams camp.
Meanwhile, the Gray Talons might be able to locate and secure Alpha Team, but they would not be able to escort the Team out of the Kal-A-Nar Empire safely. So, I reached out to Kythros command requesting contact with Unchained assets in the Empire. Such individuals are closely guarded secrets for obvious reasons.
Tor Mastak has spies even in the Ranks of the Rangers. Unmasking and locating Unchained agents within the Empire’s borders would be a huge victory for the Empire and a blow to the Rangers. Not only would we be denied a critical source of information, but trust in the Rangers would be shaken, making future such contacts more difficult.
Understandably, command was initially hesitant to expose a critical ally in such a blatant way. Colonel Anderson, however, made the necessity clear and arranged for the rather sizable payment of arms and gold to be authorized by Ranger command. Luckily, the Rangers were in contact with an Unchained camp not terribly far from where the Gray Talons eventually located the Rangers.
Safe harbor, or as safe as could be reasonably expected in the Kal, achieved, then came the hardest part…exfiltration.
Even as well trained as Alpha Team might be, they were already known to the Kal. Their entry into the Empire had not been quiet, and Tor Mastak was no doubt bending every resource to locate them. As such, without serious cover, and proper papers, there was simply no way for Alpha Team to make it across the Empire, let alone their borders.
Here, I reached out to a more controversial resource. In the past years, Delta Team had earned a reputation for “coloring outside the lines.” So much so that their Sergeant, Nichts, had retired after the successful liberation of A’Davar. Along with her, she took several members of the Team and their vast network of contacts developed during their operation in the west.
It has been rumored that she, and her people, were involved with, or behind several criminals, or quasi-legal, outfits now operating beyond Ranger purview. Whether or not this might be true, Captain Cromwell was known to have “unusual” resources at his disposal.
After contacting him directly, and explaining the situation, he put me on to local assets, who in turn, directed me to a local shipping business, who then, through channels, put me in touch with a representative of an organization that declined to share more information than their existence. After explaining our problem, and negotiating a staggering price, this organization agreed to retrieve Alpha Team from the Kal under the guise of buying them as slaves, also conveniently providing cover for transferring the pre-arranged payoff to the Unchained.
These, “associates” would “walk” Alpha Team across the border. At that point, I needed to secure passage across the defiant lands into “friendly” territory. In point of fact, I was contacted by the Legio Heroes from Legion Keep. They had become aware of Alpha Team’s situation and offered their services in whatever way necessary. Once learning the details, Captain Garrus, the post commander, took charge and ordered a sizable force of Legionnaires to mobilize and establish camp just south of the Kal border, near Barrinor.
Once Alpha Team was exfiltrated across the border, the Legio Heroes would escort them safely home.
All the arrangements were organized rapidly. Colonel Anderson, to his word, authorized every expenditure and gave me full latitude to make the necessary agreements. Whenever clout was required, he stepped in and supported the plan without reservation. In my experience, this ranked as one of the largest and most complex rescue operations in the Reginal Headquarters history.
Though lost, alone, and seemingly abandoned, I cannot imagine what Alpha Team’s impression was of their situation or the mission.
White Stagg 25th, 3130
During the conversation with Corporal Harken, she asked the date. When we informed her that it was the 25th of White Stagg, she was stunned and defeated. Our last contact with Alpha Team had been in the summer, Red Wolf 17th, 3130, when they had escaped the Kal-A-Nar Empire’s attempted encirclement, and been led north by Celebor.
Presumably, when they reached the Everwall’s failing Sacred Grove, communication was severed. Despite our daily, and later hourly, attempts to reach them, all failed. Eight months had passed. Nearly half a year of no contact, no word on whether they had survived.
According to Corporal Harken, no more than a month had passed for them as they healed in the grove and then began their assault. In fact, she claimed that only a couple of weeks had gone by. Apparently ending the Ice Lord’s Tempest ritual had pierced the time bubble bringing the Team back into ours. Or, perhaps, it was when they emerged from the Everwall. We may never know.
Suffice to say, Corporal Harken was shaken by the revelation but resolved to get her team out of the Kal safely. Colonel Anderson ordered her to retreat from the Everwall and find a secure location where they were still hidden from Kal eyes, but could, potentially, be rescued. She agreed and regular contact was re-established.
From that point, Corporal Harken revived Talhaer Starwind, before she found Celebor’s Hearth Rock and activated the hour of warmth for her team. Then, she set about dragging them into the heat of the campfire while Starwind moved from Ranger to Ranger, bringing them back from the brink of death.
It was cold, lonely work, but eventually, everyone was revived. Food and drink were passed around and the exhausted Rangers took stock of their situation. With the storm gone, the way back was still blocked by snow, but they could relatively easily dig through. The enemy’s final cavern was safe enough, but there was no food, and rescue could not find them there. While the others rested, Corporal Harken gathered frozen branches and warmed the kindling with the fire’s magic.
So, when the campfire’s magic ended, and cold flooded in, the weary Rangers rose to their feet. Forcing stiff muscles and joints to work, they dug through the loose snow, between the Ice Lord’s cavern to the Tempest Golem crevasses. Before leaving, they gathered Celebor’s Ranger Kit, his bow, arrows, weapons, and focus crystal. Then, Alpha Team turned and departed, through the Golem’s cavern out into the entrance to the caves and the field of dead. Starwind carried the unconscious Sylvia Harpy Vex, taking her bastard sword to replace his shattered blade.
All of the undead were stiff now, buried in ice and snow. But here and their, ghastly hands thrust out of the snow, their fingers curled in claws of frozen rigor.
Alpha Team crunched over the mound of corpses to find a little shelter in the evergreens south of the cavern. There, they took the kindling Corporal Harken had prepared and started an actual fire, using the heat to dry yet more wood.
Night set in and true winter snow fell. Despite their situation, and the corpse pile beneath them slowly thawing in the heat of their fire, the camp was peaceful there in the shadow of the Everwall. Corporal Harken set watches, and the exhausted Rangers threw down to rest and eat.
Gawain Cromwell, just now discovering his newfound powers of Life, cast Beast Friend to speak with an Arctive Fox who managed to return with a brace of coneys. Corbin Kai broke the bones to make broth in melted snow. Everyone waited as the stew boiled on the fire.
As spare as the far was, it tasted better than a homecooked meal to the starving Team. In the middle of dinner, Vex sat up from her unconsciousness, breathing heavily as if she had been running from a chase. The startled Rangers all glanced over to see which of her personas had emerged.
It was Vex, though she seemed troubled. After taking a moment to collect herself, she described a dream…or nightmare…of being chased. In a twisted and shadowed forest, she had been stalked by a tower of fire, and a dark shadow blotting the sky. The Rangers surmised it was the Darkness and Flame spirits within her.
Starwind cautioned that should she remove the collar again, there was a very real possibility that she would be consumed by one or the other…and perish for good.
And there they were, cold, isolated, sitting on a frozen pile of corpses, at the far reaches of the Empire, under the shadow of the Everwall, waiting for someone, anyone, to come to rescue them.
White Stagg 27th, 3130
For two days they slowly thawed the corpses and ate whatever small game the fox brought. Each morning, Ranger command contacted Alpha Team checking their status and confirming help had yet to arrive.
While Cromwell and Starwind are on watch in the early morning on the 27th, they spot a creature flying overhead. At first, they feared it was a gargoyle, or worse. But, as they scanned the sky, a 6’6" aevakar with brown wings and hair landed nearly in the snow with barely a whisper.
The aevakar, who declined to provide a name, informed Starwind that he and his flight had been sent to help Alpha Team. In truth, and I had not considered until just then, sending aevakar was brilliant because any other intruder might have been treated with suspicion and even fired upon, but no aevakar would EVER serve the Empire.
Despite the arrival of help, the situation was not without its challenges. The aevakar agreed to help escort the Rangers to safety, but he would NOT work with, or aid, Tempest. If they wanted help, and really they had no choice, Kai Corbin would have to be left behind.
As unfortunate as the proclamation was, it was understandable. Every peoples had suffered atrocities committed by Tempest. However, with their connection to Zavonis, wind, and lightning, Tempest had taken a particular perverse delight in torturing and turning the already rare aevakar. So, as much as the Rangers might hate their demand…it was understandable.
Starwind woke Corporal Harken with the news. Help had arrived, but to get it, she would be forced to abandon Kai. The Olaran flatly refused. Which is a very Olaran standpoint. Kai, however, understood that the Rangers would be dead without the aevakar’s help. And, as much as he had issues with the Rangers and the Team, he was still at least somewhat loyal to Corporal Harken.
So, the former Legionnaire made the choice easy. There, at the end of the world, Kai Corbin turned over his Ranger pin, leaving the Grayson’s Gray Rangers for good. She had already lost Sergeant Runesplitter, and now Kai. Losses mounted, but she was in command and needed to focus on saving the rest of her team.
Their goodby was brief. Kai gathered his things, turned over Celebor’s bow and quiver, and then disappeared into the trees. Angrily, Corporal Harken rouses her team for travel and sets out following the aevakar scout.
Surprisingly, the aevakar turned west not south, running almost parallel to the Everwall, angling only slightly south. The Rangers trudged through the snow while the winged elves floated above, keeping a keen watch. These aevakar scouts were careful never to reveal their true number, but the Rangers counted maybe a dozen.
White Stagg 30th, 3130
They traveled for three days over broken, frozen terrain. Each morning, command confirmed their status and assured Corporal Harken that they were on schedule. Late on the morning of the 30th, the lead aevakar landed nearby and climbed a snowy ridge. Corporal Harken climbed up to join him and was shown a distant Kal keep and mean village hugging a frozen stream.
The aevakar told Corporal Harken to take her team to the village. She would find help there. Then, he took to the sky and the aevakar winged away.
Cautiously, but with resignation, Corporal Harken lead her weary, threadbare Team down the valley and over to the village. They arrived before noon, obvious dark spots against the snowfield. From within the village, a figure appeared, garbed in thick skins and furs.
She, as it turns out, a woman of mid-20s or 30s, raiseed a hand in harsh greeting. Trying first Kal, then switched to a broken Olaran. Corporal Harken responded in kind.
The woman introduced herself as Misha. She indicated a man who had come to join her as her brother Mika. Alpha Team was expected, but Vex and Starwind must wear the shackle cuffs of slavery, though they would not be chained. Begrudgingly, the Rangers agreed and Misha escorted them to a low hall of wood, skin, and bone.
Inside it stank of smoke, blood, offal, piss, sex, and ale. But, it was warm. She informed the Rangers that they were in mid-winter and the roads were nearly impassable. They must remain for many months until the roads could be traveled.
Misha sent Mika to fetch clothes. He returned with a pile of reeking skins and fur. Misha instructed the Rangers to rifle through the pile and find clothes that fit. The clothes were all oiled skins and soiled fur. They stank worse than the hut, but they were warm and durable.
Once the Rangers were dressed, MIsha explained that to live among the Kal, the Rangers must pull their weight and work just like everyone else. No one ate who did not work. The work is hard, and the life harsher, but no one singled the Rangers out, though, no one but Misha deigned to speak with them.
Corporal Harken worked a forge. Cromwell helped care for the animals. The rest of the Rangers mended and repaired baskets or darned clothes. Starwind and Vex, as “slaves” are forced to butcher and dress animals for food. Despite his revulsion, Starwind carried out his task with the efficiency expected of Ironwood elves.
Gray Winds 16th, 3130
We learned from later reports that on the 16th of Gray Winds, three new Rangers arrived near the city of Barrinor in the Defiant Lands; Rat, Fitz, and Tearrag. Orders sent them to a merchant encampment north of the city. There, they were escorted by a massive brinchie warrior in blood steel armor through a large camp, into a massive pavilion filled with rich merchants from the Kal, the Defiant Lands, Dregordia, and the Eternal Desert. Though the gaggle of thickly robed merchants, their guide passed through into a back room guarded by hard-eyed warriors.
The room was sparsely adorned, stark in comparison to the lavish finery just outside. Here, a woman in heavy Olaran plate colored the black of midnight. She wore a white mummers mask completely concealing her features. She introduced herself as Lady White and informed them that the Rangers had made arrangements for her to extract people from the Empire.
Further, it was their responsibility to bring these individuals back to Barrinor alive, whether they wished to leave or not. The three brinchie were given leave to use whatever violence necessary to achieve the mission, short of killing any of those to be retrieved. If successful they would be richly rewarded, Failure earned them nothing.
A caravan was preparing to enter the Kal from the very camp. They were to act as guards and laborers with the caravan. She warned the brinchie not to fail her. Then, they were dismissed to meet the caravan master.
Outside the tent they found, as Lady White said, a caravan taking on last provisions. The Caravan master, one Ki Abim welcomeed them to his caravan and regreted that they must wear the shackles of slavery while in the Kal. None of the brinchie objected.
Within the hour, Ki Abim’s caravan was rumbling north. By the end of the day, they reached the southern border of the Empire. Ki Abim’s papers, and bribes, are accepted and the caravan rumbled into the brutal lands of the Kal-A-Nar Empire.
White River 15th, 3130
Almost two months after arriving, Alpha Team was alerted to the arrival of a caravan at their village hideout by a child running through the village to find Misha. Misha immediately ordered Alpha Team to take cover in the hut while she greeted the new guest. Through the door flap, Alpha Team watched Misha greeted a bejeweled and heavily robed Aradi merchant. They seemed to know or, at least, expected to meet each other.
After a few brief words, Misha summoned Alpha Team and introduceed Ki Abim. He would act as their escort out of the Kal. The Ranger command arranged for Ki Abim to “buy” the members of Alpha Team for sale in the Oasis of Flesh in the desert. Ki Abim will get them over the border into the Defiant Lands where they will be free to return to the Southern Kingdoms.
However, before leaving, Ki Abim had to visit the keep and at least keep up appearances, lest someone grow suspicious. Rat, Fitz, and Tearrag are ordered to protect the supplies and unload the 3rd wagon. Misha orders the vodka broken out and the village celebrates the arrival of stories and goods from “outside.” The attitude was celebratory.
White River 18th, 3130
Three days later, Ki Abim had finally arrived to prepare for departure having made good coin at the Keep. Misha, into her cups, explained to Corporal Harken that the village were actually members of the Unchained. They settled in the area and had a decent arrangement with the Lord of the Keep. His father had been a brute, but strong. When his father died, neighboring Lords had begun to attack, testing the Lord’s defenses. He was unprepared, too weak. So, Misha had promised to have her men defend the Lord’s lands, in return, he allowed them to live and operate without intervention or investigation.
The arrangement worked. Misha’s “cell” of Unchained was successful, relatively safe, and well located. For his part, the Lord’s lands were well defended against his rivals and at little expense. If he ever betrayed her, Misha knew that he would end up on the same Altar as she, given the Kal offered no forgiveness for any Lord working with the Unchained. That fear kept the deal alive.
Everyone was enjoying the last night of the caravan when the foul stench of sulfur swept through the village. Suddenly, a massive minotaur burst into the firelight, charging the three brinchie guarding the wagons. More Kal raiders stalked through the trees near the road. It was a RAID!
Rat, Fritz, and Tearagg were nearest the point of attack and faced the minotaur as it charged. Together Fritz and Tearagg stopped its charge and began a furious counter-attack. Rat sprinted for the cover a hut, hurling daggers and trying to gain position.
Near the main hut, Misha and Corporal Harken were sharing a drink while talking with the Rangers around a campfire. At the sound of the attack, Misha chugged her bottle, before smashing it against the wall. She bellowed for Mika to get the children out as she drew weapons and staggered in the direction of the battle.
Corporal Harken sighed, finished her drink, and mentally prepared for another slaughter. Cromwell and Vex, the last surviving Rangers, rose to their feet and drew weapons. Starwind asked for a sword as his had been shattered fighting the Ice Lord, and he had returned Vex’s bastard sword months earlier. Corporal Harken tosses him one before staggering toward battle.
Starwind and Misha cut right around the large hut, moving to support Fitz and Tearrag who were still battling the minotaur. Rat reached cover and started to scramble up onto the roof. Corporal Harken, Cromwell, and Vex flank left attempting to intercept the Kal raiders attempting to encircle the town’s defenders.
More Kal raiders poured out of the treeline.
Vex reached the Kal on the left flank first, blazing away with her handcaster. Misha moved up to support Rat who by then had been overwhelmed by several Kal Raiders. Fitz and Tearagg, still battling the minotaur were flanked by a couple Kal raiders who attempted to take them from the side and rear.
Starwind fired spells at the Minotaur trying to bring it down quickly. Everywhere buildings burst into flames under assault from fire arrows launched from men in the trees.
Finally, the minotaur burst into ash under the constant assault of Fitz, Tearrag, and Starwind. Misha and Rat put down a couple of Raiders. As did Corporal Harken, Cromwell, and Vex. Unfortunately, at this point in the battle, the enemy commander AND Acolyte made his appearance.
He first popped in, cutting Misha deeply before teleporting to face Starwind. Starwind saw him coming and drew on the power of Life, wrapping himself in protection. Unfortunately, the warlord was too fast, getting past his guard. Then, the Kal teleported away to confront Corporal Harken and Cromwell.
Misha and Rat FINALLY finished off their attackers with Vex’s help, as did Fitz and Tearrag. All turned to converge on the leader. With blinding speed, he wounded Cromwell and Corporal Harken before teleporting back toward Starwind who had just blasted him with Life energy.
Starwind saw him coming as the man materialized out of the air above him. Wreathed in green energy, Starwind stabbed up at his unprotected flank. But it was a feint, and the Kal’s flaming blade slapped Starwind’s aside before cutting through his armor, spell, and chest.
Starwind fell smoking to the snow.
Everyone closed, but as injured as they were, and as powerful as this being obviously was, victory was unlikely. At that moment, the sound of wings filled the air, and immediately after a shower of arrows punched through the Acolyte, taking him in both eyes his throat, heart, and groin. He went down in a steaming pool of his own blood.
Dark wings then flashed and vanished into the foggy night.
The battle was over. Only then did Ki Abim appear, dagger in hand, brandished as if he had any intention of risking his own life. The wounded were mended, the dead prepared for burial, and the enemy skinned and their skulls prepared for cups.
It was a brutal, disgusting display and the Rangers were overjoyed with Ki Abim declaring that they would depart in the morning. No one slept well.
White River 19th, 3130
Corporal Harken said farewell to Misha, and the caravan rumbled away.
Dark Moons 22nd, 3130
After an uneventful, but cold month, Alpha Team rumbled across the border near Barrinor. Once across, they were met by members of the Legio Heroes, led by Commander Garrus himself. Coin changed hands, and Ki Abim continued on his way south.
Commander Garrus led 30 riders with horses enough for Alpha Team. Unfortunately, here, Gawain Cromwell informed Corporal Harken that he, too, was leaving. Turning in his pin, he took one of the Legion’s horses and rode due east, on his way back to the Barbarian tribes to find his friend and mount, Gaston.
And then, there were three. Corporal Harken, Starwind, and Vex, all that remained of Alpha Team. Former Sergeant Runesplitter had left her Team before the final battle, RFC Ballen had been taken through a cauldron by a Minotaur warmaster, Kai had been abandoned in the north, and now Cromwell rode away, likely never to be seen again. Not to mention, they had lost one of the heroes of the War of Flame, Celebor.
The losses settled on Corporal Harken like a millstone. But, her mission was incomplete and she still had Rangers to get home. She shouldered her responsibility and ordered Alpha Team to mount for travel.
Dark Moons 24th, 3130
Two days later, the Legio Heroes column arrives at the Aralon Forest, the ancient home of the Iron Elves. Starwind rides forward as Iron Elf Rangers block their way. Commander Garrus hands over papers ensuring safe passage, but the elves are clearly unhappy about these new visitors. Nevertheless, the column sets up camp at the edge of the forest, prepared to continue south in the morning.