Lord Mayor, Colonel Baron Wolfhaven, Alexander
Commander of the Legio Heroes
Velkalar’s Front Gate, North of Montrel, Wildlands
Fifteenth Day of Thunder Hawk, Year 3126 Under the Light
Tomorrow. Tomorrow it will end.
For Rah-Sah. For Longtail. For Sarah. For Alexander. For Sir Lugard. For Argus. For everyone this monster has taken from us. For everyone he may even think to take.
I will kill Velkalar. I swear by my Lady. He will die by my hand. Or should I fall. I will open the way. So help me.
Eternal Sun 31st, 3126
It began, as so many things small. While my Rangers rested and mourned, I prepared. Before they ever reached the city gates, I had confirmed from the King’s own Grand Chancellor His Excellency Lord Helmut Van Bach that Fate weaver was, in fact, this Olandoran person. The warrant had been valid. And, had been dead or alive. So, in the eyes of the Olaran Crown, Dom Diego had fulfilled the wishes of the crown and was owed a reward.
My request for information as to the whereabouts or disposition of Fateweaver’s remains was flatly rebuffed. I can only assume he will be burned, then dumped in a criminal’s grace. As treasonous as it may sound, I wish that Longtail were here. I can only speculate her reaction. No, I know for a fact Fateweaver’s remains would already have been liberated and buried in some sacred place, far from the eyes of the Olarans where he might rest in peace. In truth, were that the case, I would commission the memorial marker myself.
My orders? No official service or memorial was to be conducted. The Crown would consider it a great affront. I imagine some Olaran undersecretary was dispatched to Echer’Naught just to monitor our activities to report on any such sacrilege to Olaran honor. I may disagree with the orders, but I will follow them to the letter.
That does not mean that a private gathering would offend any. Why should it? The Crown is no more the master of my private affairs than I. I am, of course, a married man.
So, I invited many old friends, and new ones to gather at my home in the city on the eve of Eternal Sun 31st, 3216 for a dinner and drinks. Many joined. Of note, the Alpha team, Captain Walter Vasser, Lady Treesinger, and many, “ah, performers” from Low Town. There were others, minor nobility, and Rangers who knew Fateweaver well.
I invited all and raised a glass. My words were inadequate. It struck me then, that Fateweaver would know what to say. So, I just said goodbye as any Olaran would, and returned to my wife’s side.
All seemed well enough considering, when Sergeant Major Stormhammer pulled me aside and begged an urgent word. Anxiously, we withdrew to my study where he informed me that “informants” had reached his ears with two pieces of information. First, they believed that the area in, or around, Montrel to be the likely epicenter of Velkalar’s operation, if only locally.
My heart raced. I almost dashed off just then to convene a council of war, when the Sergeant major’s grave face gave me pause. In that moment I realized that the second message far eclipses the first, and I dreaded what, if anything, could be more vital, more critical, more urgent than to finally learn where to find Velkalar…
…but learn I did and my heart froze in dread. Only to be washed away in a tide of white hot anger.
The second piece of information was that “informants” believed Velkalar had learned the location of Aradove Longtail’s family.
I saw white. Where, my only question.
And then, I could see the shift behind Sergeant Major Stormhammer’s eyes when he claimed that finding that information might be difficult.
Looking back, I think very much had he not answered my question then and there, I would have cut him down then and there. Of course, not having my sword at hand, I most likely would have brained him with one of Olgor’s heaviest tomes, appreciating the irony there.
I think Sergeant Major Stormhammer saw my look and realized his situation. I drove it home by raging at him that he would tell me or else…
The or else I left implied. Strangely, he seem almost unable to resist speaking. And he did tell me. By the five Ascended he told me. I was gone.
Out the door, I shouted that any who could ride to meet me at the south gate in moments or be left behind. And then I bolted for my armory to done my gear. Outside, I heard the mad scramble, but I cared little.
They found them. They found them. They found them!
It was a horrifying mantra that I could not seem to shake. Every second stretched into an eternity. Every movement felt slow and laborious. I had to move faster, run harder, ride swifter.
Thunder, ascended bless my horse, was saddled and waiting. He seemed to sense my urgency.
My Lady Elyanna said nothing to stop me. She threw readied saddlebag across Thunder’s rump as I strapped my weapons to their mounts. She squeezed my arm once, and then stepped clear. One nudge and Thunder surged beneath me.
We reached that gate in…moments. Already a few had gathered. Some without armor, some without weapons. Most without saddles. I waited five minutes. It felt like a lifetime. Thunder danced beneath me, feeling my anxiety and impatience.
And they arrived, in ones and twos. The Alpha Team among them, better geared than most, but without provision or kit.
I addressed the assembled. We would ride. Hard. No stopping, no resting. Remounts at the Goblinesh Waystation. Fall behind, get left behind. Just like in the war. And then I spurred Thunder and the ground rushed beneath us.
I never looked back. I held Thunder to a pace they could at least match, more or less. Only on horseback did I feel that I was moving at speed. The sky split with lighting and the rains began to spatter down. I never even noticed. Eris was in my mind.
Colonels were literally rolled from their beds, every tavern in Echer’Naught was emptied of Rangers. I would save Longtail’s family.
And then I was coming for Hawksclaw.
We rode hard. Day and night. I could hear them falling away, horses screaming as they snapped their legs in unseen holes. But I pressed on.
Eternal Sun 32nd, 3126
We reached the Goblinesh Waystation by morning on the 32nd. It is a hard two day ride from Echer’Naught to the station. We made in one.
I paused long enough for those that remained with me to drop from their saddles and remount. Waiting for me, horses saddled and ready, Corporal Rildrirr. Seeing him…emotions hit me like a wave. He just nodded, never one for long speeches.
And we were off again. Thunder had run hard for a day, and he took off as if fresh. East now, and hard…
We ate the distance like men deranged. Flashed past the Stone Tower Gather. They were a hive of activity as we rode by.
Grimbore stood at the gates, his face a mask of rage. He knew. Eris told him. He owed Velkalar more than we. Many of his had died at the hands of Velakalar’s men.
All night we rode. Dawn came bright and with it the heat. I felt nothing, just numbness and urgency.
With the dawn came a smudge of smoke on the horizon. My heart fell and a sickness spread through my gut. I picked up the pace, a bit. The few with me, Sergeant Vosltagg at the head began to fall back, unable to match Thunders murderous pace.
Ascended please do not let it be…
…burning Brinchie wagons.
I spurred Thunder and he surged. Two days of punishing pace and he never once flagged. Thunder filled my ears. Pumping blood and the sounds of his hooves tearing holes in the earth.
As we closed, I could see the bodies scattered everywhere. Dozens of brinchie, dead, the wagons in flames. The road turned, wagons blocked my view. I put Thunders head into them and I could feel him bunching beneath me, then her leaped. We cleared the roof of the six foot wagon with feet to spare. Then down again, I slammed into the saddle, kit clattering.
Only then could I see. Half a dozen yards, in an open field. at least size brinchie warriors lay dead, all trying to delay the inevitable. Only one remained, Streetrunner. He was badly wounded, and staggering, but he still fought on, his three kids behind him in the grass, crying.
Then, his attacker turned.
I charged, lowering my father’s sword. Diego’s eyes widened and he hit a device on his belt, disappearing in an arcfire flash. I let him go. He was a sword, a weapon. I knew who guided his hands. Soon enough, Velakalar would feel my wrath.
Without slowing, I sprang from the saddle and hit the ground. My knees very nearly gave. I am no longer as young as I once was. Or at least, my body is not.
By the time I reached him, Streetrunner was on his knees, using his lo-sska as a crutch to keep himself upright. Closer now, I could see his wounds were mortal. It was a wonder he had lived this long. Love. Love for his children drove far passed the point of physical endurance.
I reached to heal him and he hissed, snapping at my fingers, his fangs barred.
Confused I started to ask, but then I felt it. Like heat rippling off his body, Flame. His fur smoldered and he was surrounded in a crackling heat shimmer. And like that, years slipped away. I was running into an ally to see him lying beside Longtail, both apparently dead. It was the first time she had “died”; stabbing herself in her heart to save Sarah’s. He, then sold himself to someone to save her’s. They have each other’s eye now, literally, one green, one amber.
And his deal was due. If I healed him, he would only fall that much faster. He confirmed as much. And then asked me to do the unthinkable. Longtail’s husband asked me to kill him. She was gone, and he called upon my love of his wife to take his life…if only to save his soul.
Hot tears rolled down my face as I lifted the sword. Faces swam in my fuzzy vision. All young, all full of life.
He thanked me as I cut him down. I poured every ounce of Faith I had into that blow. I called upon the Silver Unicorn, Archanon, the Ascended…
The sword suddenly became too heavy to life, so I plunged it into the ground, lifted my face to the heavens and screamed out all my rage, my sorrow, and my loss.
I screamed until my voice cracked, and then I dropped to my knees and wept. I could hear Sergeant Volstagg approaching from behind. I gave myself only one more moment of self pity, and then I picked myself up, holstered my sword and approached the kids.
They had stopped screaming. They looked up at me with those wide, feline eyes, fur matted with tears. I was so afraid they would recoil from me. I had just killed their father. But instead, they swarmed my in a furry mob, burying their faces in my neck and clutching me with their tiny claws. Tears poured again, but the time for mourning would come. Now, their safety was paramount.
So, I instructed Sergeant Volstagg to bring the body, with all honors, and I returned to Thunder who waited, breathing steadily, but not hard. My foundation, the last gift my father ever gave. And he had never failed me, not once in all these long, brutal, bloody years.
For the umpteenth time, I hauled myself into the worn, familiar saddle and turned his nose west, toward the Stone Tower Gather. There were others around. A few from Alpha Team had managed to hang in. Free Riders. Others. I cannot recall. My mind was miles away, and my heart was bleeding.
Thunder Hawk 1st, 3126
We made the Gather that night, or maybe the next day. I know not. The hours and miles began to blur into one another. My world had been reduced to the rythm of Thunders gait, and the three small, warm bodies wrapped in my thick, woolen cloak, heedless of heat or rain, snuggled against my chest. I could feel the slight vibration of their sleepy purring even through my armor. It reminded me suddenly of their mother.
How many time had I gone to sleep in the field, wrapped in my cloak, a dying fire warming my face. Somewhere a lump of beard and iron, Highwall. Across from me, the rakish face of Hawksclaw, peaceful in slumber. And above us, like some ferocious avenging spirit, Longtail, purring softly where she perched on a branch. One of use always alert while the others slept soundly, knowing that so long as we were together, we were safe.
I dozed, in and out of consciousness. In and out of time. Past. Present. Future. On that long, dark ride, I was as lost and timeless as I was in death.
But, dawn came. And in the growing light, the wooden palisade of the gather. Already tents sprang up around the walls like mushrooms. Those that had fallen away were gathering, per my orders. More soon to come. We met Grimbore at the door. Mak Torkash he may be. But, when those three children sprang from my arms to his, he was just a doting uncle. Massive, and ungainly, they crawled over him with practiced familiarity. And they were safe.
I would make sure of it.
When Sergeant Volstagg carried the wrapped body through the gate, the entire Gather stopped and began to keen and wail. The sound was haunting, matching the sound within my own heart. They mourned all night. And, in the morning, they began preparations for Streetrunner. He was never really Brinchie. That was always Longtails aspiration. Nor was he Olaran, like his friend, mentor, and brother, Fateweaver. Streetrunner had no real home, only his friends, and family.
So, the goblinesh of the Stone Tower honored him as they would their greatest warriors. Longtail would approve. Fateweaver would have found it absolutely amusing. Streetrunner. He would not have cared, so long as his children were safe. We never like each other much. But he had my respect. I believe I, his. At any rate, I left that to our hosts. For me, there was work to be done.
Breakfast, hot. A change of clothes, cool. And a moment with my wife, courtesy of Eris. That was all I could allow.
My Rangers sagged to the ground, hungry and exhausted. But they had stayed with me. On that ride thru hell. I wished it were over. I wished…but life cares little for wishes. It was just beginning. And, in a few days, weeks, even those that lived through what was to come would look back on this moment and a lifetime would seem to have passed.
How many such moments had I experienced? Too many. And more to come.
I called them to me. Alpha Team. My orders. Call in every favor, beseech every friend, every ally. Promise whatever it took, but bring me an army with which I could destroy Velkalar. They had until the 8th of Thunder Hawk and then I needed them back there. To that place. For, on the 8th, the War began.
And with that, they rode. Husband and wife, Volstagg and…Volstagg. Sergeant Volstagg took RFC Zathlan north to find Sir Hevain and others. Before she left, RFC Zathlan contacted her family, both in Galea and…elsewhere.
Corporal Amaroth, RFC Moldova, and RFC Leaora returned to Echer’Naught. Moldova summoned Captain Vasser and the Watch, Corporal Amaroth mercs from Low Town, and Leaora…she brought friends.
Serys just left. Alone? Perhaps. I never asked.
Grendel remained to help the Stone Tower Gather gird for war. Grimbore mustered every blade, club, staff, and shaman this small Gather could muster. But I would take one of his over a hundred trained swords most any day. How long had Grimbore stood at our door? How many times had that simple, giant saved us? How many times, after he was cast out, exiled, had he returned to stand beside us. Eckhart keep. Velkalar’s outpost.
I have never asked when Grimbore has not come willingly, ready to protect his friends and honor his “pretty kitty.”
From the 1st to the 8th I planned, prepared and gathered the army.
Thunder Hawk 8th, 3126
They returned, as ordered. Sergeant Volstagg and RFC Zathlan were so tired and saddlesore, they looked half dead. But they returned, mission accomplished. Even Serys returned, his clothes in tatters, boots near worn through, but he simply nodded. His men would come and they brought death with them. It cut me deeply, pushing them. But, I had little choice if we had any hope of victory. And so, I let them a few hours to rest, wash, and eat.
Then, I revealed to them the information I hard harbored, protected like a precious gem. The whereabouts of Velakar’s operation and our target. Montrel.
A city in the Wildlands, cradled by the Northern Hills. Sprawling and unruly, Montrel was one of hundreds of ideal location for Velkalar’s base. But, we need more accurate information if we had any hope of attack. So, I once again I tapped my Alpha Team. Thunder. Grimbore. My Alpha Team.
Though their members had changed over the years. The spirit never so. When the moment came that I victory demanded absolute trust, unrelenting excellent, I called my team. MY Alpha Team.
I ordered them to A) Travel to Montrel, B) Scout the area for actionable intelligence on Velkalar’s whereabouts, " C) Set scout camp and prepare for my arrival.
After loading up on the finest equipment and gear provided for the Artisans Guild of Malakar, courtesy of RFC Daynore and my White Silver Wolves, they rode, that very day.
Thunder Hawk 14th, 3126
They arrived in six days, by the 13th of Thunder Hawk along with a dozen Woflhaven Free Company riders, and four specialists. Sergeant Vosltagg sent the riders in pairs to scout the lands outside the city, while his team posed as members of the White Silver wolves looking to spend some coin.
Finding lodging was easy, though all members report feeling as if they were being watched at all times. They waited till evening on the 14th before heading to the tavern to carouse for information. By all accounts, RFC’s Nazir and Zathlan make an alluring pair. They were actively recruited to serve as entertainment for a large operation north of the city. Grendel watched RFC Moldova drink a dwarf under the table, before passing out herself. Though, not before the dwarf admitted to working as a caravan guard making the “north run” 3 times weekly.
Sergeant Volstagg, Corporal Amaroth, and RFC Daynore drank with mercenaries who willingly told them of the lucrative contracts in the city. Someone was paying top coin to assemble an army of mercs, and then pay them to sit around and drink. He claimed to have been living high for six months and happily provided the Rangers with the name of a local recruiter.
Serys watched the horses while the Rangers got a well deserved rest.
Thunder Hawk 15th, 3126
Mid-morn, Sergeant Volstagg, Corporal Amaroth, and RFC Daynore headed out the “sign up.” They found a man lazing outside a dive tavern who gladly signed the men and even offered them free drinks at the establishment. As they were entering, he recognized Amaroth from his merc days and offered to get drinks later that night. Realizing this man might have information on the traitor who killed his lord, Corproal Amaroth requested the team stay long enough for him to meet the man.
However, RFC Daynore contacted Eris through an ingenious method of sending the missive via the Farspeaker network, but flag it low so it would not be intercepted. The response was swift and without room for interpretation. Track the leads, find Velkalar’s camp.
So, the team mounted up and headed north. It was getting on toward evening when they spied a caravan of wagons on the horizon, heading toward the mountains. With Seyrs tracking the wagons, they followed the road north, until the wagons suddenly veered east, off the road and headed straight into the mountains. Soon, they came to a narrow cleft in the rock face where the wagons squeezed through. After some debate, they decided their orders required that they enter, and so Serys once again led the team in.
What seemed a tunnel, turned out to be a short, but narrow cut through the mountains leading to a wide, and fertile vale hidden in the foothills of the Northern Hills. Very hard to find, very defensible. Now, they were faced with a bowl shaped forest about 1/4 mile wide and almost 1/2 long. So, they were breaking into a skirmish line, when the Wolfhaven Free Riders thundered up demanding to know why they had been left behind.
Reunited, the forces joined to spread out through the woods, cavalry leading, and sweep the forested vale front to back. With the light dying behind the mountains, their lead scouts found the end of the vale, AND the entrance to Velakar’s hidden keep. It appeared to be an ancient wall, and wide door which nestled in the rock’s natural formation. Beyond it, one could just make out the beginning of a narrow switchback which lead deeper and higher into the Hills.
With this, the Rangers set up camp and alerted Wolfhaven who informed them that he was already on his way and would arrive in a day or two. They were left with nothing to to but watch and wait.
During the 13th hours between the 15th and 16th of Thunder Hawk, Corporal Amaroth, RFC Zathlan, and one of the Free Riders were on watch when a strange thing occurred. From their vantage point just in the treeline, it seemed as if a small door had opened in the wall and release a naked man who began to stagger across the 300+ yard killing fields to their location.
As they watched in bewilderment, the man continued to approach. Sergeant Volstagg was fetched and he too stood watching, puzzled. Eventually, the man was close enough to make out distinguishing marks. He appeared starved, beaten and, again, stark naked. As he stumbled into the trees, Sergeant Volstagg stole up behind him and, clapping a hand over his mouth, dragged him deeper under cover.
After securing a promise the man would not scream, Vosltagg released him and ordered water and food be brought. The man gratefully gulped water and then seemed to really notice Vosltagg. At which point he asked if Sergeant Volstagg was indeed Volstagg. No sooner did the Sergeant confirm, then the man said that he has a message and started spouting gibberish. Everyone took a step back, when zigzag lines of arcfire began to glow beneath the man’s skin.
Everyone turned to run when the man detonated. Sir Volstagg shielded RFC Zathlan and was hurled into the trees. The Free Riders was killed instantly. Corporal Amaroth was hurled several feet before bouncing off a tree. He was, however, more singed that hurt. Due to the bravery of her husband, RFC Zathlan was spared much more than small scorching. The forest, however, was ablaze.
Worse, the rest of the Rangers, awakened by the commotion, woke to find the army of mercs from Montrel had sneaked up behind them. At the moment of detonation, they fell upon the Rangers and began to push the surprised and disorganized Rangers toward the killing field.
From here, the battle degenerated into insanity, with dozens of small, but intense skirmishes raging through the vale. The Rangers performed without question admirably, but they were vastly outnumbered, trapped and were forced to slowly give ground. RFC’s Zathlan and Daynore fought hard, Serys claimed many lives.
Of note, RFC Zathlan immediately went in search of her husband. She found him, bend over, unconscious, and wedged in a half rotten log. She lacked the strength to free him, so she shouted for Grendel who was busy fighting. He barreled his way through and the two grasped Sergeant Vosltagg by hands and feet. Yet, even they were unable to free him. Ultimately, RFC Daynore arrived, and had the presence of mind to use the salted grease from the WolfPack to slather Sergeant Vosltagg, making him just slick enough for the three of them to wrench him free.
Meanwhile, in the blast zone, Corporal Amaroth was quickly set upon. During the fighting, he faced off against the recruiter who he was to have had a drink with that very night. They battled, but ultimately, Corporal Amaroth proved the victor. With his dying breath, the man revealed that he knew secrets of Corporal Amaroth’s former house, but before he could be made to talk, an arrow took his life. In a rage, Corporal Amaroth ruined the body and then waded into the enemy with alarming ferocity. Yet, even this was not enough to turn the tide.
My force was at least two days away, but I assembled an advanced force and with the help of magic and good mounts, we managed two days in one night, arriving a few hours before dawn. We easily overran the mercenary rear guard who was spending more time drinking. After all, their had trapped a small force of rangers in a barrel and then overwhelmed them. It never occurred to them to be on the look out for our arrival.
Then, we rode into them. Fekla, Grek, Tina, Tiny. I seem to recall one moment where I spied a white silver man-sized doll riding through battle atop Tiny. This I chalk up to fatigue and stress.
For their part, the mercenaries fought well. Trapped now in their own trap, they turned and fought with a vengeance. But now, the tables had turned and they were ridden down and slaughtered. We captured a few for questioning. But, for the most part, the opening skirmish of the war was ours.
I sit and write this with a few hours of darkness left. Tomorrow, the assault truly begins.
Hawksclaw. I am coming.
Your most obedient servant,
Lord Mayor Wolfhaven, Colonel
Velkalar’s Front Gate, North of Montrel, Wildlands