Lord Mayor, Colonel Baron Wolfhaven, Alexander
Commander of the Legio Heroes
Heroe’s Keep, Defiant Lands
21st Day of Gray Winds, Year 3127 Under the Light
White Stagg 17th, 3127
Each member of Alpha Team was encouraged to make final preparations before our mission. I had made clear that we may not return from transporting the Maker device. Most took my warning to heart. I know that RFC Grimm filed a Last Will. As did Corporal Blackstone, who also left his wedding ring behind for his wife who would arrive within a few days. The others meditated as Sergeant Sssahlissstaah, trained as Ranger Softpaws, or enjoyed the hospitality of my House. The Explorer consulted with Legionary members of my House Guard. They confirmed that the Maker device was active, but appeared dormant.
We departed late in the morning, heading east, then turning north toward Kore. Per orders, we left our Ranger Cloaks and Pins behind. It was unusual. I have spent the last five years in the green of the cloak, going without felt exposed, somehow. Yet, being back in the saddle was exhilarating.
The drudgery of command fell away as the miles passed under Thunder’s hooves. Despite the nature of the mission, I felt uplifted. And, to travel with the team I founded felt right. Five years, and again I command the first Ranger Team of Echer’Naught. It seems almost ordained.
We arrived late withing sight of Kore. Rather than enter the city, we turned west, and camped along the road to Rhion. Knowing the device is active lead me to caution. If we camped within a city, and the device activated, or our enemies attacked civilians to get to our column, I could not forgive myself. So many have died upon my orders, but life is precious. Never spent lightly, or without the greatest cause. I could not in good conscience endanger innocents, so we camped alone, away from collateral damage.
That charming thought keeping me occupied, I tried to make the best of our situation, and I must say. Camping that night was pleasant. Alpha Team conducted their business like professional soldiers. We have come so far from the trio of Rangers bounding around Echer’Naught with little clue what we were doing.
I could not be more proud. And, I have lamented so long that I have been unable to form personal bonds with the iterations of the team over the years. On this trip, for such time we have together, I am committed to getting to my Rangers. My Team.
In the FIRST place, I passed along wisdom I inherited from my first Sergeant. Spice is life. Properly seasoned, old boot leather makes a passable meal. Just the act of cooking stew and sharing it with the team was cathartic. I have missed this.
Funny thing. Over the years, I developed certain habits. Years in the saddle taught me to care for your mount first, gear second, and yourself last. Small things like that. I don’t know. It wasn’t until I caught Blackstone staring at my sword that I realized somewhere along the way I got into the habit of sinking the blade into stone rather than lying it down, or sticking the blade in dirt. Its just, when in the field, you have to set it somewhere, right? Most warriors lean their swords against trees, or lie them on bedrolls. Well, after every time you have to clean the blade, and polish.
Somewhere along the way, I must have idly stuck the blade into a stone and it sank in, stuck tight. Magic sword, right? I have no idea when that started. Just one of those habits.
White Stagg 18th, 3127
We take the King’s Road west to Rhion. The trip takes eight days. That being a major highway, traffic was fairly busy, but no one paid us any mind. We could have been any group of travelers.
White Stagg 25th, 3127
Early on the 25th we rumble into Rhion. Despite my attempts at subterfuge, the gate guard identified me instantly, cloak or no. But, he was smart enough to realize my intent, so, to the best of his ability, made little outward signs of recognition. I wonder how Longtail does it? The woman spends her LIFE in anonymity. Perhaps when I return, if I return, I shall schedule some lessons on how NOT to appear as Colonel Wolfhaven.
We were waved through the gates with perfunctory inspection. Rhion bustled with activity as it does. We rolled through, and then turns south, passing beyond the River Wall to the lower docks. there, we rolled out cargo onto a pier, away from the population. Once secure, I asked Sergeant Sssahlissstaah to venture into the river for some fresh fish, while I dispatched Sir Mansfried, and Corporal Blackstone for more command fare. I worked with the delightful Gravelheart setting up camp.
That night we had fresh fish, boiled and spiced rice, and heady Olaran ale. Ah, the life. I tried to enjoy myself, to revel in the company. We must treasure these moments. In the future it is our memories that must sustain us for the trials ahead.
The old habits came back hard. I worked with the Rangers of Alpha Team, teaching the to care for their mounts as a true knight. I hope I was congenial company. It appeared so. Though, I doubt any would have the temerity to say otherwise?
White Stagg 26th, 3127
According to my per-arrangements, a barge arrived just after dawn on the 26th. The Maker’s Device is heavy. Far heavier than its size would dictate. Our best minds feel it has something to do with the device’s power and use. Whatever the case, transporting across water presented a serious impediment. My only thought was a barge.
And so, just as the sun crested the horizon, a massive river barge bumped against the end of our pier. The captain tied off our end, before Sergeant Sssahlissstaah slowly drove the dwarven wagon off the stone dock. Everyone held their breath as the ropes creaked and the barge pitched. But, all held and we managed to secure the wagon in the center. I admit, the deck road nervously low in the water.
With our cargo secure, we then secured the mounts. Blackstone, Gravelheart, and the Explorer all hugged close to the horses and the wagon. I took post at the prow. If we were to be attacked, this would be as good a time as any. All in readiness, we shoved off and began the slow trek cutting across the Shaintar River. Over the course of the day, we drifted miles down the river. By the time our barge crunched against the sands on the far side we were within a few miles of Stahlhiem. Corporal Blackstone seemed of mixed minds on that matter. However, we were turning north, not venturing into the land of his people.
That night, we ate fresh fish again, and I cautioned them to be watchful as we neared the Malakar Dominion. We were not at war with the Dominion, had not been since the end of the War of Flame. However, they are uneasy neighbors at best. Alpha Team took my warnings to heart.
White Stagg 27th, 3127
In the morning, we ate a warm breakfast before packing out and heading north. The trip took five days as we followed the river on our right. Sergeant Sssahlissstaah seemed to enjoy the nearness, while others did not. Midway through the third day (29th), we turned westward, leaving the river behind us. On the fourth day (30th) we crossed the border into the Northern Gathers.
White Stagg 32nd, 3127
We reached the gather of Bralk. Again, we camped within sight, but not within the gather. Up to now I had followed roads for experience. However, we now entered unsecured lands. While the Goblinesh Gathers are not necessarily hostile, they are hardly allied. So, in order to make ourselves less of a target, I chose to follow less traveled roads. And, we swung farther south than reports indicate the Blood Witch’s fores operate. The hope was to pass unmolested. That did not happen, but all considered we did well.
I did take another opportunity to brief the team on appropriate behavior. So often just taking a moment to caution prevents later misunderstandings which can spiral out of control. I also pulled Softpaws as the forward scout, sending Gravelheart. Goblinesh we encounter may misunderstand her unwillingness to speak. I felt it better to keep her close.
White Stagg 33rd, 3127
Early in the morning, we head west again. Gravelheart was, I assume, distracted by thoughts of lunch because we walked right into an ambush. As it happened, Dominion bandits surrounded and attempted to rob our convoy. There was something indescribably funny about the situation. I have been waylaid many times. My Hammerfall unit stumbled into more than one Kal patrol. During my time with the Rangers, I have been ambushed by every imaginable villain. Abyss, I was once killed by assassins while standing in a command tent on the southern border of Shaya’Nor!
But, to have these, arguably, amateurs attempt to roll our unit was too absurd. I have no doubt Alpha Team could have cut through those “highwaymen” with little difficulty. However, I just could not see the value in wholesale slaughter. Yes, killing the bandits would have ended their depredation. Yet, we had no authority, save self preservation, and if I could end the altercation without unnecessary bloodshed, I intended to do so.
As luck would have it, I traveled with some fairly impressive and terrifying companions. Given the opportunity to reevaluate their course of action, their commander, the Red Bandit, saw the error of his ways and chose cooperation over confrontation. So, we agreed that rather than fighting, we would dine and drink together.
I am not a complete idiot, however. I post a watch on the wagon and ask the Explorer to shoot us some large game for dinner. Gravelheart prepares the spit, while Sir Mansfried and I dole out the ale purchased in Rhion. On the sly, I ask RFC Grimm to add a bit of flavor to the ale. Just enough to help our new friends into their cups. I must say, he performed most admirably. When the hunters returned with the Boar, we roasted and feasted. Everyone drank heavily.
Before bedding down, I pinned the wagon to the ground with my sword, erecting a barrier to prevent any of our new friends from allowing their avarice to overcome their good sense. As it happened, I needn’t have bothered. Grimm’s concoction worked to perfection.
Gray Winds 1st, 3127
In the morning, Alpha Team woke to two dozen dozing bandits. Mansfried’s ale, with a bit of help from Grimm, rendered the entire camp unconscious. I sincerely doubt any roused before noon. But, to be safe, we moved out quietly, letting them sleep of the drunk. By noon, we were miles away.
Some of the team commented on my choice of action. I pointed out that my Manor Home’s House Guard is commanded by Gendarre and his men who were formerly Prelacy Soldiers, bandits, and servants of Tempest. My Barony was defended by Sir Regillus and members of his Tempest Explorator legion. I welcomed them into my family. My wife is a Shayakar, and my brother in law a werewolf. Kill an enemy, you have one fewer enemies. Turn an enemy to a friend and you achieve the same, but then have one more ally.
The trek across the Northern Gathers was intense, but uneventful after that small interlude.
Gray Winds 11th, 3127
11 days later, we arrived at the foothills of the Black Mountains. During our turn north, we passed the hallowed ground were Grendel had been buried. I could see the great pall fall over the team at the reminder of his loss. As sad as his passing is, the devotion of him men proves his life was not in vain.
Gray Winds 12th, 3127
On the 12th, we arrived at the Arakk pass. At our best speed we were looking at a five day hike. Winter was setting in and at the best of times the crossing would be difficult. Under the conditions, nearly impossible. Worse, the Arakk pass had become hostile over the years. The Blood Witch’s forces were in the area, that much we knew. There were also Dwergs and Darkness creatures. Tempest. Bandits.
To make the crossing would require coordination, teamwork, and luck. I spread the team out, scouts and tails I took point. At some point, I expected an attack. I was right.
Gray Winds 13th, 3127
In the morning, with bone numbing cold setting in, we began our ascent. It took three days of pushing, pulling, and straining to get to the top of the pass. Given what I was asking my Rangers to achieve, I took it upon myself to push hard, remain on duty for the duration.
Gray Winds 15th, 31127
We reached the top. Damn it was cold. Light snow drifted down. Nothing stuck, but is sapped the strength from your bones. Near the 13th, I felt something approaching. An evil. Darkness.
Alpha Team are good. Top of their game. But the device took priority. So, I ordered Sergeant Sssahlissstaah to hold position while I engaged the enemy forces above us. Alpha Team instantly moved into position.
The horde grew closer. Leaving Thunder I hiked up the cliff on foot. When I reached a rocky plateau above our camp, I found a squad of dwergs and various other spawn of evil. A sizable party. I don’t believe they were hunting us in particular. Or perhaps they had some sense of the powerful magic of the device. Either way, they sensed my presence.
In the flickering shadows of my blade in the night, it was hard to get an exact count. At least a quarter had some form of invisibility. Best guess, some thirty all told.
I closed before they could take the advantage. Battle was brutal, and relatively swift. Unfortunately, I did not pay close enough attention to Alpha Team’s most recent missions or I might have made different choices. At some point, one of their casters hit me with entanglement and enfeeblement. Nasty spell, effective. I managed to throw it off, but the ruckus stirred up some nearby Wyverns. Storm variant.
One of them at least, went for the team on the pass. I could feel them, Blackstone’s channeling, the Explorer’s arcfire I pressed hard, cutting through the last of the arachnaurs, nasty half spider/half shayakar monsters.
From below, I could hear the battle with they wyvern. With a final blow, I dropped the dwerg commander and leaped down to support the team. As it happened, they did not require my assistance. The Explorer had already slain the beast with a single shot through the eye.
Unfortunately, the wyvern was crouched on top the wagon when it died. 15 feet and 1500 pounds of Storm wyvern corpse draped over our wagon and the device. Huh? It was unexpected,.
Fortunately, Softpaws and Blackstone had some idea of how to field dress and butcher the beast. However, when they tried to cut into the body, their blades couldn’t even scratch the surface. Only one blade could.
So, I spent the next five hours carving up a wyvern corpse with my father’s blade…
And, surprisingly, that was one of the most disgusting experiences of my life. Blood, gore and awful everywhere. And the stench. Oh Archanon the stench.
RFC Grimm, however, knelt in the pooling blood crying fat tears of joy. We would have finished an hour sooner had he not insisted on recording and taking samples of EVERYTHING. And I mean, EVERYTHING! Understand, I am also a student of the natural sciences. However, when I’m trying to get my exposed team off a mountain, my concerns are less with scientific curiosity, and more survival.
Gray Winds 16th, 3127
As dawn approached, the last of the wyvern was pushed off the ledge into the chasm below. We were all tired and hot, despite the chill. I was covered in blood and gore. Everyone else was in various states of distress. And then, the Explorer opened the wagon.
By the Ascended.
Every bit of run off that did NOT find its way over my chest and arms, or run off into the slurry of blood and snow, filled the wagon. There was now several hundred pounds of intestine, organ, meat, and offal filling the wagon, completely submerging the device in a red and black swamp of slurry. It was…unpleasant.
With great effort, I called all hands on deck as we bailed the butchering run off, by hand, out of the wagon. That moment will stay with me for many years, for a number of reasons.
Finally, we had reduced the level of filth. Nothing to be done about the stench.
I have seen great acts of heroism in my years of service, and each one left an indelible impression upon me. But, seeing the Explorer climb back into that wagon, sliding across the bloodsoaked boards to his perch guarding the device ranks as one of the more self sacrificing. It was as heartening as it was disturbing.
That done, we formed up and started down the back side of the pass. And there we were presented with yet a new horror. In addition to the stench, and for many of us, congealing blood, added to it was the high pitched, ear shattering shriek of the wagon’s breaks as Sssahlissstaah rode them down the pass for two days. One would think that prolonged exposure to the unpleasant odor and noise would render one immune. But, as it happens, over the course of the ride back down the mountains, the timbre and volume of the squealing breaks changed often enough to render it ever present. The odor, equally, continued to worsened, if such a thing can be comprehended.
There was little conversation those two days. And, as bad as it was for most of us, and it was inhumanly bad, the Explore bore the brunt. His fortitude in the face of such horrors is worthy of respect.
Over the next two days we suffered
Gray Winds 17th, 3127
Late on the 17th, we shrieked into Arakk. the Guardian orcs at the picket post were so overcome by our stench, that one of them was forced to empty his stomach into the nearby bushes. But, we were allowed to pass. Upon arriving at the Gather, the welcome party was equally offended and directed us to a nearby water source to douse ourselves. I relieved the Explorer, giving him first bath. I climbed into his personal hell, and quickly gained even more respect for the Builder.
In teams we bathed, washed the blood from our armor, and changed into fresher clothes. I was one of the last. The goblinesh of the Gather had generously offered lye soap and other means of cleaning. We even scrubbed out the wagon as best we could. When all was done, I met with the Mak Torkash. We were welcomed to the gather, and my Rangers ate well.
Gray Winds 18th, 3127
We broke our fast with our new Goblinesh allies, and rolled out before dawn. When we were clear, I paused for an update and informed the team that we would be skirting the Defiant Lands, a lawless, and dangerous region ruled in many parts by our adversaries. Once they were suitably warned, we followed the mountains north for three days, occasionally encountering ever more primitive orc warbands. But, save for one tense standoff, we passed through unmolested.
Grey Winds 20th. 3127
Late on the 3rd day, the 20th, Softpaws falls back to report riders approaching. Sure enough, 10 heavily armored stormfyre warriors crested the rise. I’m unsure if my relief showed as I rode forward to greet the Legio Heroes escort I had been expecting for the last day.
It was good to be in friendly territory.
Late that night, we arrived at the Legion Keep. We rolled the wagon into the palisaded camp at the base of the cliff. Well, I suppose it counts as a town now, at least a village. How it has grown in the last few months. Warriors from across Shaintar and beyond assembled for the common good. Damn inspiring.
I am still not fool enough to let my guard down, so I set a single rotating guard on the wagon, with the Explorer staying close by on his own volition. The others, I relieve of duty. They earned it. Everyone went to find food, ale, companionship, and baths.
My first stop, after rubbing down Thunder, was to find a washtub large enough for my horse, and sink into that for about a day. Once I was clean, I suited up and went to find the ground commander’s tent.
When I arrived, there was already an assemblage. Builders, Tinkers, Warriors, Legionnaires. They snapped to attention at my approach, but I waved them down, sat, and ate till I as full. Only then did I allow a situation report. As expected, all was in readiness for the following day.
Our best dwarven engineers and Builders had been busy constructing the crane that would haul the device up 300 feet to the Legion Keep above. Legion forces, and allies had assembled to defend the site, while a second force of 200+ Legionnaires were assembled to head off any assault. And we WOULD be attacked. Our enemies would not have missed the arrival of the device. The fact that they failed to catch us on the road I offer up to both good planning and fortune.
All was in readiness. So, I begged my leave and slept.
Grey Winds 21st, 3127
In the morning, I called the Alpha Team together and explained the operation. To Sergeant Sssahlissstaah I gave assignments. She sent the Explorer and Grimm up to the crane. She and Mansfried stayed below. Blackstone followed along, walking through the stone, with Softpaws and Gravelheart patrolling the switchback. Legion soldiers waited at every level, with more above and below. In the air, aevakar patrolled. We were as prepared as we could reasonable be.
With that, we rolled the wagon onto a lift, chained it down. Unhitched the draft horses. I took a post on the wagon. When all reported ready, I have the signal and the massive clockwork and arcfire crane began to laboriously lift the device into the air. As soon as we were clear, I tapped into the sword, my power, and my blood to erect a barrier around the platform. And there I sat for over 8 hours.
At dusk, I saw a flurry of activity below and the Legion column march north. On the horizon I could see a growing cyclone and the greenish glow of the Wild. They were coming. And all I could do was to sit.
At sunset, the Legion platform came into view and with a bone rattling clank, the guide chains hit the stops. Levers were thrown, gears ground, and arcfire generators shrieked. I felt the platform jerk, and then slide in toward the mountain. After another 10 minutes, the platform lowered gently to the ground…we had succeeded.
I dropped the shield as dwarves, tinkers, and Builders swarmed the platform. They dropped the chains, unbound the wagon, then tipped the platform till the wagon rolled onto a set of tracks.
It was the damdest thing. As I stood watching in wonder, they clamped the wagon to some clockwork engine, then fired up an arcfire generator and the wagon started rolling along the track under its own power!!!
What I could do with such if tracks were built between cities!
When the wagon reached the wall, a team of dwarven stonesingers opened a hole in the wall and the wagon rolled into the mountain. Behind them, the wall closed again and that was the end of it. I relieved my teams, and went to speak to Commander Garrus. He was in contact with a Legion farspeaker embedded with the troops. The battle had been intense, and the Legion company was preparing to withdraw, but once the device passed into the mountain, the storm fused Wild attacks lessened. Clearly, they had expected easier prey. Predictable.
Likely they had spies in the camp. It was all but inevitable.
By the 13th hour, the battle was done. We suffered 10 percent casualties, but retreated in good order.
With the device on its way to the Great Arc Gate, my teams off duty, the battle over, and the keep secured. I found my office, my bed.
Now I sleep.
Your most obedient servant,
Lord Mayor Wolfhaven, Colonel
Heroe’s Keep, Defiant Lands