Lord Mayor, Colonel Baron Wolfhaven, Alexander
Commander of the Legio Heroes
Builder Citadel, Norcan Dar (Hard Lands)
28th Day of White River, Year 3127 Under the Light
I prayed never to see these red, blasted lands. Yet here I am. It seems my life must be spent taking on the duties I most dread and despise.
Grey Winds 22nd, 3127
It took a day to bore into the base of the mountain where the Great Arcgate was housed. The small team of Dwarven Stonesingers sang themselves hoarse, but they finished the job. From there, the retired and turned over the device to the builders, tinkers, and tempest.
I was informed by the lead engineer that blending the Maker device with the Great Arcgate would take a considerable amount of time. They could provide no specifics, but I expected weeks, maybe months. Therefore, I gave Alpha Team some time to themselves. I had other duties to attend.
The Kingdom of Camon has already experienced a rash of border skirmishes and retaliatory killings. The Queen retains her throne, but Church power plays threaten to destabilize the fragile peace daily. By Archanon, I do not know who will win if it all goes down in flames.
First through fourth companies of the White Silver Wolves marched north into the Gathers, seeking to reinforce the Guardian Gathers against depredation by the Blood Witch. Despite the fact that more than a few resent our presence. Fifth company continued to secure assets in the desert, struggling to forge a coalition among the various Princes. Xaos continue to muddy the waters. We still don’t know how many Princes are compromised. Fortunately, with the liberation of A’Davar and A’Morgal, the Empire’s relentless march south appears to have stalled.
And then, there are the rumors of wars in the Jungle. Our few Ranger assets report strange forces, and disappearing villages. I do not know what to make of them, but I fear some new threat looms on the horizon.
Echer’Naught continues to prosper, but the attack on High Towne displaced the most powerful people in the city, all clambering for reimbursement. The Crown and Harken place responsibility squarely on the Rangers, straining coffers. Without an infusion of capital, city budgets will be strained for the foreseeable future, increasing the risk of future attacks. Though, the absence of the overwhelming majority of dignitaries does free up funds normally directed to their protection.
And, there are a myriad power players calling for blood. The less militant voices merely seek my dishonorable discharge, perhaps arrest. The more militant have accused me of various crimes, treason, grand theft, pederasty. My unilateral decision to relocate the Maker’s Device has not been well received by the Olaran Crown, the Harken Duchy, or even the Rangers. My sudden vacancy from the city has some leveling charges of desertion. I am unsure of what welcome I might receive upon returning home.
Despite my absence from the city, I still had a job to do. Several in fact. So, I spent my time reading reports, moving pieces across the board, and daily communications with my wife.
White river 17th, 3127
I became aware of a curious report over dinner with Commander Garrus. Border security found the body of a local merchant hidden in a copse of trees with his cart and horse, neck broken. When the guards opened his goods, they found pickle barrels full of the body parts of nearly a dozen human and elven infants. Someone had discovered his treachery and had him eliminated. The guards ruled his death “accidental.” On a hunch, I contacted a friend to look into the crime scene. Interesting, indeed.
White River 25th, 3127
Late in the afternoon, a report reached my office that the work on the gate had been completed. We now possessed the only known precise Great Arcgate in Shaintar. And everyone who would use it for evil knows we have it. Time is of the essence. So, I summoned Alpha Team for a meal, something of a last collegial moment together. We were joined by Commander Garrus, “Val” Que’kassars, his niece Arwen, and the rest of Alpha Team. The Explorer joined us for the first time since entering the mountain. After a brief toast and good food, I asked for a situation report from The Explorer. Our device was prepped, though I could see the doubt in his eyes.
I knew where we were going. I have been there. And, it was one of the most difficult challenges in a fairly challenging life. No sane person should every consider going to the place of demons and Childer, but we had no choice. Or, I had no choice. They did.
So, I gave them a choice. Without knowing where, or why, I asked them to follow me into hell. To a man, they stayed. Even Evoran’s young cousin joined Alpha Team. That was the hardest. So much Que’kassars blood had already been spilled. To cost the family another. But, as arrogant and cold as they often seem, I found found the bloodline to be surprisingly passionate.
We drank. We ate. We talked. I knew it might be our last meal. At the end, I ordered the team to kit up and meet me in the AM, 0500.
White River 26th, 3127
Before dawn, the team assembled, ready for war, though no knowledge of where they were heading. We headed down three levels off the Heroe’s Keep. From there, we passed through the gilded door to the underground staircase into the heart of the mountain. Down through the recovered Builder Citadel, and into the Gate Room. There, the monstrosity that is the Great Arcgate hummed and vibrated with power. I had not imagined that any more power could be passed through the gate without reality tearing itself apart. I was wrong.
In one corner huddled the Maker’s Device, half melted but humming ominously. Wires, cables, and filaments spider webbed across its surface, snaking across the ground and plunging into the gates dais. Everything was ad hoc and hastily rigged. The dais itself had been cut open, with panels removed and sparking gears, nodes, and exposed cables sparking and smoking. To channel all the raw power, copper wires had been wound around the three gimbals. Arcfire rippled and sparked, the internal mechanism groaned and smoked. All was wired into a trio of copper panels covered with pulsing and flickering runes. One Builder, one Tinker, and one Legionnaire stood behind the panel, nervously manipulating various dials, nobs, and toggles frantically keeping the arcgate from imploding or exploding depending on who you asked.
There was nothing to do. It would work, or it would not. If it worked, we faced a host of new problems. If it did not, it would no longer be our problem. So, in silence, we mounted the dais and waited. Commander Garrus stood in the doorway shaking his head. But, he followed orders and with a nod from me, signaled the operators to trigger the gate.
The three gimbals rings rose from the floor and began to spin around us. Flashes of Arcfire flashed from ring to ring, growing in power and intensity. The sound began as a low moan and quickly rose to a high pitched shrieking which set my teeth on edge. Fast and faster the rings spun until we were encased in an energy arcfire sphere. Through the crackling energy field I could just make out Garrus’ face as he shielded his eyes from the flash.
My existence was torn apart by fire, before being reconstituted into a reasonably facsimile.
I found myself in a pyramidal room of a similar black stone/metal I expect from Builder citadels. We stood on a smaller, circular platform with a single curved copper arm that slowed to a stop. Dimmed arcfire wall sconces flickered, but otherwise, we stood alone in the room. Suddenly, the wall in front of us split and slid apart revealing a lit hallway and five Builders. The first was garbed in robes, clearly official. Flanking him were eight Builder arclancers. Around me, the Rangers tensed. Most encounters with the red skinned dwarves had ended badly for us.
However, rather than attack, the lancers stepped back, and faced inward, creating an honor guard. The leader, a Maker I assumed, greeted me, and then the Explorer, who he addressed by name. Rouland Abhenráck. Then, invited our party to follow, turned and led us into the citadel. The air was stale, old.
Over the years, I have spent considerable time in Citadels, though never in any but ruins, save for the one beneath Heroe’s Keep. I have never before entered a Citadel as it would have been during the reign of the Builders. Behind me, the team followed, flanked on all sides by our honor guard. The Maker lead us through a series of identical corridors, until we came to an ancient, and weathered door. I could tell that none had passed this way in centuries.
With great ceremony, the Maker activated a door panel open. A heavy door slides upward to reveal a tableau of red, ocher, and orange. Norcan Dar. The Hard Lands.
Hot, dry, and oppressive air rolled over us. Sand finer than dust, filled my nose, ears, and eyes. All around, I could feel the stench of Flame.
We were allowed to stand there on the small balcony hanging from the side of a mountain for a few minutes. Just long enough that we were certain beyond any doubt that Alpha Team had been transported to Norcan Dar. Inside the Citadel, we could be anywhere. Our location confirmed, we were escorted back into the temperate, stale interior of the Citadel and back down the dizzying network of corridors. A few dozen twists and turns later found our team in a per-arranged living area.
Preliminary negotiations guaranteed that we were to have private quarters, ample meeting and training space. Other than as needed to service and feed the team, we were to be left alone. Though, I had not doubt they would observe us at all times.
True to their word, we were given two large rooms, one for dining and one for training. Each of us had small, private rooms, though as everything was arcfire powered and activated, none of the team could operate anything, lights, showers, nothing.
As I made the rounds to invite everyone to dinner, I found most in a state of confusion. Ranger Gravelheart was found soaked, standing in complete darkness, with no way to open the door. She had used nearly a week’s rations by randomly pressing buttons. As for the rest, they adjusted as well as they could. The Explorer, however, was not housed with our team. He returned to his own quarters, though I imagine he spent the first night being thoroughly debriefed.
That night, we ate what passed for food among the Builders. Everything was flavorless and processed. Again, I offered my spices to flavor the food. I made sure to bring enough to last at least a few months. Though, I have no idea how long negotiations might have lasted.
Over dinner, I finally explained our mission. We had been invited by The Explorer’s Citadel to negotiate a lasting Treaty between the Legio Heroe’s and the Citadel. We would serve as emissaries. I would negotiate on behalf of the Legion. As the point of contact, The Explorer would act as mediator. The rest of the team would alternatively provide security while also recording everything they saw and heard. Sergeant Sssahlissstaah would command the security detail. I would always have two Rangers, one an NCO to lead my detail, while the highest ranked NCO remained in command of the Team in our living area.
White River 27th, 3127
On the first day of negotiations, Corporal Blackstone led my detail along with Ranger Gravelheart. Our lights auto brightened and we were awakened by a horrible sound, presumably the alarm. We enjoyed a breakfast of protein paste over a carbohydrate brick. Then, at a predetermined time the door lights flashed with another obnoxious tone.
I and my detail headed out the rooms and another door. There, we waited for a good 20 minutes. Another chime and the door opened to a small room. Identical door on the opposite side. In the middle, an angular table. One chair at each end. Above to each side, I saw nearly opaque panels above on either side, observation rooms.
Four hours of negotiations, then an hour for lunch. Then, six more hours of negotiations. Finally released for dinner. More flavorless paste, boards, and cubes. Even my spices did little.
I could see the boredom was taking its toll on the team. Each kept busy in their own way. Most trained. RFC Mansfried took notes. After dinner, I went to bed on my bed slab. I never took the Builders for negotiators, but the Maker gave nothing and demanded all.
White River 28th, 3127
Lights. Alarms. Breakfast. Alarm. Head to meeting. This time Sergeant Sssahlissstaah and Grimm assumed my detail while the others drilled in the living quarters.
Four hours of meeting, then break for lunch. Same meat cube paste. Then, a return to the meeting.
However, that is when things went horribly wrong.
While engaged in negotiations, I noticed one of the Builder guards standing behind the Maker draw something out of his robes. I was too late to stop him as he hurled a detonator at the table, but I did manage to throw myself over the Maker, shielding him from most of the blast. Still, an energy pulse from the device nearly killed him anyway. The assassin and the other guard were killed instantly. Grimm went down and the Explorer was blinded.
Worse, moments after the attack, the entire Citadel shut down. Lights, doors, and defenses. We were under attack.
Locked in the room, I was useless. So, after stabilizing those I could, I left the Sergeant in charge and teleported through the door into the hall. Outside, I could already hear arcfire echoing from the living chambers.
As I sprinted around the corner, I saw a pair heavily armored boom troopers firing into my team. Gravelheart was already down. From the living quarters, I saw Sir Mansfried charging toward me holding my sword.
Just as I entered the room, one of the troopers detonated. Mansfried hurled my sword to me and I dropped the second. After stabilizing Gravelheart, my team stacked up and we returned to the meeting room where I ripped through the door and recovered the rest of my team, and the Maker’s body.
The Explorer led us to a more secure area, his former team’s ready room. Their his scout leader, now acting head of the Citadel’s defenses, arrayed his forces. Builder arclancers, boom troopers, and arcmancers prepped weapons before charging off to defense positions.
When we approached, the Scout Leader recognized The Explorer and accepted our help. We had two issues.
First, the enemy forces, Builders, were using a Magic Cancelling device to drain and knock out the Citadel’s arcfire. As long as it it remained, their engineers could not get the power restored. Second, the front gates had been breached and a large force was penetrating deep into the citadel’s defenders.
The Leader believed the dampening device was set up on an unused platform within sight of the gates. He had a location, but he could not spare a team large enough to take down the device. It was in a remote location, and heavily defended. It was an impossible mission. So, I sent my Alphas. The Scout leader gave The Explorer a large detonator to destroy the device. The geared up and moved out.
I joined the Builders at the front gates. By the time I arrived, dozens of enemy troops had all but secured the grand gallery. The Citadel’s defenders barely held a few galleries. Bodies littered the floor. Half a dozen golems poured fire into the positions. The Citadel had fallen.
We needed to buy time for Alpha Team to take out the dampener. With the internal defense active, we had a chance to take back the gate, and at least delay the inevitable. So, I summoned my power and engaged the golems head on. I am unsure exactly what the Explorer told his people, but seeing me in my form seemed to rally them. Oddly though, the enemy Builders were unsurprised, Almost as if they expected it, or were inured to the sight of one of the Bloodline.
The battle was fierce. Even my presences only barely managed to hold the line, though I managed to take out the initial wave of golems. More blasted through the gates. It seemed the enemy had a near endless supply of troops and resources.
It took almost an hour, but the lights suddenly came on. With them, automated defenses, shields, lights, and doors. It was a slaughter. Though, it cost us dearly, we retook the gate, though it was smashed beyond repair.
Citadel defense took over fortifying the position while I returned to command for an update on the team. An hour later, they returned, shot up. Sergeant Sssahlissstaah was not with them. She had died drawing fire so that Corporal Blackstone and the Builder could get close enough to destroy the enemy device.
Alpha Team was forced to assault over a mined causeway. Almost half the team was dropped by arclancers before they reached the bridge. Softpaws downed a potion and managed to get under the bridge, only to discover it rigged to blow. Two golems, two arcfire defense projectors, and nine arclancers created overlapping fields of fire. Anyone stepping on or near the bridge was dead, and even if they managed to survive the arcfire, they would be killed as soon as the bridge was detonated. It was a suicide assault. But the Alpha founds a way.
Sergeant Sssahlissstaah volunteered to cross the bridge, taking all the enemy fire and sacrifice herself so that Blackstone could sing a stone causeway below the mined Builder bridge. The Explorer with the pack crossed with him while Softpaws and Que’kassars dragged the fallen team members away from the blast. Sergeant Sssahlissstaah lived just long enough for her team to cross the chasm before she was killed when the bridge was blown. Alone and behind lines, Blackstone protected The Explorer for the torrent of arcfire while the Builder rigged the device. The two Rangers sank into the earth moments before the arcfire detonator cleaved off the top of the ridgline.
Then, they swung back across and made their way back to the citadel. All to save strangers, Builders even. And after Builders of this same Citadel tried to kill them less than an hour before.
I could not be more proud, or awed by their determination, self sacrifice, and heroism. Sergeant Sssahlissstaah will be remembered. She will have her Last Call. But for now, we must find a way to save the thousands of innocent souls trapped in this mountain tomb. And figure out who is trying to kill us.
Your most obedient servant,
Lord Mayor Wolfhaven, Colonel
Builder Citadel, Norcan Dar