First Hunt 2nd, 3127
We can never outpace our demons. This much is true. How much worse, then, when one’s demons are actual…demons?
Falling Ice 32nd, 3127
We slipped out of sight of Almahrad aboard the merchant boat. Though I shared my bed with Kenzie and Ingrid, we did not share ourselves. Quarters too cramped and I fear that the good Corporal has allowed his position of power, and moral authority, to begin imposing his will upon us.
That will go poorly for him in the end. But, for the time, I must abide.
The trip was a lazy, if boring, drift down the river to the port city of Granite Port.
First Hunt 1st, 3127
We arrived in the soot covered city late in the eve on the 1st. There, we disembarked, along with our animal companions. All were winched, or led, safely to the docks. Muriel, ever the ass, elected to leap off the boat and swim her way to shore.
Once on solid stone, Corporal Grendel elected to split the party. He took Ingrid and Aronzo with him, leaving Corporal Sssahliissstah in command of the rest. I take it, from his tone and bearing, that he intends to intentionally keep me apart from Ingrid. Which, is entirely within his purview, though if a case can be made that we are being singled out for biased treatment based upon his own proclivities, I will have no choice but to file formal charges.
If fraternization within this unit is disallowed, so be it. But, for the good Corporal to maintain a flagrant relationship with someone UNDER his command, and punish peers for similar conduct, that will not stand.
Corporal Grendel, and Rangers Ingrid and Aronzo headed down the docks to find a ship home. Corporal Sssahliissstah took the rest of us into the city to find lodging. It was only well after this, that we were informed that the Corporal’s had made no provisions to link up after our tasks were done.
If that bit of poor planning were insufficient, Corporal Sssahliissstah got our party well and truly lost, at night, in a foreign city. Things became so dire at one point the ass strolled into a nearby bar and purchased a drink, with the druid Blackstone, and my dear Kenzie trying to lure her back. At that moment, I was sore tempted to join Muriel.
Once she returned, I was ordered to fly aloft and find the others.I did so, though the process was both foul and infuriating. Still, I did my duty and spotted Corporal Grendel, standing on the docks where we had parted was hours before like a lost child waiting for its mother.
So, covered in soot and grime, I led my group back to the docks. And if that were not bad enough, things were about to get far, far worse.
We reached a sidesreet between a row of taverns perpendicular to the docks, and just in shouting range of Grendel’s unit when RFC Ranna, who was with our group, stopped, raised her crossbow, and fired a bolt into Grendel’s head…
That was about the time I realized that we were all going to die.
Crossbowmen appeared on the roofs to either side, and RFC Ranna racked another shot.
The alley exploded into action…and also it exploded.
The fireball lifted me up, and dashed me into a wall. Also, it lit my wings on fire.
The rest of my group were scattered, dazed and badly burned, save for maybe the dwarf. I’m not entirely sure. I did spot some of the animals, King the mule and Max the goat, fleeing with their tails, quite literally, on fire. The others, better trained, stayed their post. Mores the pity for them.
Then, something landed heavily on the Explorer. Some gangly for armed monster. Before we could help, it clamped down on his rifle sack over his shoulder and started…feeding.
Great, now the winghunters have creatures that eat arcfire. Ranna continued to pour fire into Grendel who was charging her. In that, at least, he put duty above his tarse.
Crossbow bolts rained and a figure stepped from the smoke behind us in the alley.
Andak-Gol Ivar ki Novri
My worst fear was realized. And these damn fool Rangers would probably stay in this charnel house until his men cut them down…every, last one. To save them, I would have to possibly kill Ranna and then lead that bastard away. If not, I would have to watch him rip the hearts out of more women I love…
He flicked through our ranks like a thratchen, his blades cutting a bloody swath through the Rangers. And then he came for me, as I knew he would. I danced back, pain shooting up my wings. He missed, his bloodsteel blade biting deep into the cobbles. Before he could reset, I moved.
Wings ablaze, the heat and agony making me dizzy, I launched, clawing to gain altitude. Ranna was easy to hit. A wing blade across her throat…and she topped like a child’s toy. I heard, more than saw, her crash through the front display of one of the tavern.
Behind me, Novri howled in rage…and then pursued. I could feel the heat of his rage, hear the sick pop as he winked into and out of existence. I had little time before my feathers all burned up and I was a dead man. But, I had speed. Even his little magic trick was little match for Zavonis’ child.
As I turned the corner out of the alley, I screamed for them to run…though I very much doubted commanders had that much sense.
I poured on as much speed as I could, ignoring the stench of my feathers and flesh burning. Below me, ale addled faces stared up in mute horror and fascination as I roared past like some crazed meteor. Slowly but surely, I gained ground and put buildings between myself and the hunter.
When the time was right, I dove into a canal, plunging into the oily, stinging water. Instantly my wings doused, and I passed out from blood loss and pain. Novri obviously didn’t find me. And I don’t know how long I was out. Not long, as I didn’t drown…though very nearly did.
Crawling out of the drink, I got my bearing and tried to move my charred wings. The agony was too great. I couldn’t flap…but maybe glide?
So, like a damn fool, I mounted a nearby roof and tried to get altitude for a least a brief flight…and simply crashed through the front of a bar. My vision swam as pain quickly overtook me. Before I blacked out again, I availed myself of the ready ale, trying hard to dull the pain in the wings.
I was well and truly in my cups when boots crunched on the glass behind me. As drunk as I was, I showed far less apprehension that I should have, given the circumstances. But it was not Novri, or any of his ilk, but the Builder, out hunting on his own.
Dear ascended, what terrible calamity must have ensued for the Builder to be off alone. Was he the only one left? Even through the haze of alcohol my heart sank.
But, it seemed my worst fears were not realized this day. Most of the team had actually survived. Well, not the COMMAND element, but based on their recent behavior, I am neither surprised, nor particularly put out. Honestly, Muriel and Tina seem to have the most experience, sense, and grit than the rest of us. Were it up to me, I’d vote for them to take command.
Anyway, the Builder covered me as I staggered north. There, he pointed out a seemingly abandoned warehouse where, it seemed, that the team were holed up. A new character, I would discover after sobering her name was Newt. An attractive Brinchie. Coal black with a white tipped tail.
You know, I’ve never been with a Brinchie. Something about cats and bird, but…I’m not averse to the idea.
Blackstone appeared with the Brinchie. She bore a Ranger cloak, RFC pin, and a faded and charred Alpha Team patch. Hmmm?
Someone led me to a bed. I think it was Blackstone as the hands were rough, and right around my left knee. I THINK Ingrid and Kenzie tried to come to me, but were prevented…again. This by the cat? Maybe? There was a lot of shouting and I was, if I have not said, quite sloshed.
Someone steered me into a bed and I remember nothing else…
…until Newt kicked me awake and shoved something between my lips. It tasted foul, but damn if it didn’t pick me right up. First off, my wings sprouted new feathers and my inebriation vanished like shadows at dawn. I was healed, mostly, and sober.
First Hunt 2nd, 3127
Sometime during or after the 13th hour, I stood in a back safe room with what remained of the Alpha Team. So far as I can gather, this is what happened after I led Novri away.
Aronzo got the bright idea to run away. For some reason, the four legged monster went after him. Kenzie got a vision from the Silver Unicorn to retreat north. Which, of course all NCOs ignored. Corporal Grendel was puppeted and nearly slaughtered Kenzie. The explorer took out Grendel, leaving Corporal Sssahliissstah in command. She went berserk.
This left Blackstone in charge. HE ordered the team to retreat north. Finally. So, he, riding Tiny, and Ingrid, on foot headed north, and the Builder loaded Kenzie on Muriel’s back, and covered her north.
Wait, I completely forgot the part where in the midst of this insanity a flamedancer appeared cutting Rangers down, then ordered the puppeted Grendel to pick up Ranna and take her south along the docks.
What makes that interesting is even AFTER regaining what passes for her sense, our fearless leader, Corporal Sssahliissstah, charged after the Ogres, for some damn reason. Oh, and a gargoyle, or Aronzo appeared. Still confused on that point.
Anyway, someone FINALLY did the sensible thing and dropped Sssahliissstah. Our or theirs, hardly matters. And Aronzo fell into the ocean. Tina had to save him. See? The mule and the goat. Clear leadership material. Can’t hardly do worse that the Ogres and the Dregordian?
Now, The team is safe, save for the Ogres who are LONG beyond resucing without a team effort. And Sssahliissstah who is bleeding out on the docks. Oh, and Aronzo who is puking in the water.
The team, en mass, elects to go back to rescue Corporal Sssahliissstah. Makes sense, right? Except, those crossbowmen that were riddling them with bolts about five minutes before, are just covering the Dregordian’s body waiting for one, or two of the Rangers to break cover to rescue her.
The ENTIRE team obliged.
I was honestly at a loss. Blackstone resurrects Corporal Sssahliissstah putting her back in charge. Now, in her defense, she was not aware that they were standing in the crosshairs of the bowmen. But, instead of pulling her decimated and HIGHLY injured team back to regroup, no, she orders most of the Rangers north with Newt, who she did not know, and she orders Kenzie, on Diego…
…Oh, yes, during all of this, Blackstone healed Kenzie and Ingrid as Newt collected the scattered team after the fight. Sorry.
Back to the docks. Corporal Sssahliissstah decides to run down the docks, into the night, after the flamedancer who just wrecked her team, with just Kenzie. Oh, and she AGAIN did not establish where the rest of the team would be. So even if she HAD found the ogres, who would she tell?
Then the crossbowmen opened up and started dropping people. RFC Newt leads most of the rest of the team out of danger, but Kenzie, my beautiful, bold Kenzie followed orders…
Until Sssahliissstah went berserk, rushed the crossbowmen and was cut down. After repeated insane orders, Kenzie took command of the situations and got herself and Diego to safety leaving the Corporal bleeding out on the docks.
Newt led them to her safe warehouse. Where Blackstone healed up the Explorer with the last of his juice. He came to find me and that’s where my recollection began…
This was all explained as a stood alternatively bewildered and seething with rage. Every fibre of my being screamed to leave the ogres and dregordian to their fates. But, I swore an oath, and I am a man of my word. So, I agreed to help the Explorer hunt down the ogres.
Slipping out into the wee hours, we stalked through the city, my low flying, his covering me from the ground. It took hours, but we found ourselves at the southern docks. Where I expected this chase to end.
So, while the Explorer perched on the roof of a dockside wainright’s office, I spent an hour low flying every ship in the harbor. Dozens of ships. One of the farthest out was a massive three masted carrack.
I’m no sailor, but the ship was large enough for hundreds. No sooner did I buzz the mast then archers opened up. Two grazed me and I could feel the bloodsteel burning. Yep, that was our ship.
Making my way at top speed, I dodged missiles until I reached the Explorer. He covered the ship while I headed back to report. So, the Ogres had been taken by the Kal to their ship sitting a quarter mile off the coast. They had maybe a hundred Kal soldiers, plus crew. Let’s not forget the flamedancer, the beast, and Novri himself.
I requested permission to return to the Builder. Mostly because I feared leaving any of our team alone in this particular theatre of war. But mostly because I was beyond caring what insanity we embarked upon.
We were going to attempt a rescue. That was a given. How many we would lost for the sake of two? That remained to be seen. But I swear to whatever powers hear such things, I will die before those bastards take Kenzie or Ingrid. If only I could make the Rangers understand. This whole operation is suicide.
We have only three options. Run, and live at least for a while. Eventually Novri would find us in Echer’Naught, but there we would have the backing of the corps. Yes, we’d lose Corporal Grendel, RFC Ranna, and Corporal Sssahliissstah. But, truth is, the dregordian was gone. He body had been removed from the docks and we have no idea if the Kal took her or another faction.
Second option, fight. But, what the Rangers fail to understand is that the ONLY was to survive is to kill EVERY LAST KAL. If even ONE lives, they will never stop hunting us. These are Winghunters. They do not stop, they do not relent. Only the Tor Mastak are more dogged, and odds are that Novri and the Empire’s secret police have quite a cosy relationship.
Honestly, we’ll probably all die no matter what we do.
An hour before dawn, the team arrived following RFC Newt. They were all kitted up with warfaces on. As I feared. Group suicide.
From the harbor, a longboat padded quietly to beach on the sand nearby. A swarthy boatswain stepping off and scowling at Newt. In short, Alpha Team had hired a flotilla of pirates through criminal proxies to assault a Kal vessel under a sovereign flag in international waters. And, during the midst of the assault, our team was going to board the ship and effect a rescue of two towering ogres, on the ocean, with nothing more than a dinghy and gumption.
Damn my word.
With the rising sun, three black sails appeared on the horizon. They turned like sharks toward the carrack bobbing lazily in the distance. As they closed, they hoisted the flag of the Dominion’s Black Armada. The worst of the worst. The Maelstrom of the sea. Perfect.
RFC Newt ordered the team, sans the animals, into the boat and the oarsmen pulled away from the beach. I floated above until they rowed past the congestion of ships into the deep greenwater of the coast. Out to sea the carrack’s siege weapons woke and went about their deadly work. In answer, the war caravels of the Black Armada circled raining their own death upon the Kal crew. Overhead, the clouds spun as the wind picked up, clawing at sails, cloaks, and flags. Sea magic.
Battle was joined.
The oarsmen put their backs into the work and the little ship lurched into the teeth of hell. With a kiss to my ladies, I sprinted ahead, tasting the wind. If we are to die, let it be glorious. Tonight, we dine in the Abyss.