Lord Mayor, Colonel Baron Wolfhaven, Alexander
Commander of the Legio Heroes
Exile, Norcan Dar (Hard Lands)
8th Day of Planting Moons, Year 3128 Under the Light
Reports continued to reach my command post near the rear of the great stone cathedral. The wounded were carried in, many burned beyond recognition. Distant sounds of battle mingled with the cries of the wounded, dead, and dying. All familiar sights and sounds. Were it not so.
Our skirmishers lasted for less than I had hoped. The enemy flooded the tunnels with arcfire collared ratzin, arcfire drone devices, and man-sized golems. We were simply overwhelmed. Our warriors fought hard and bravely, buying ever inch of ground with their lives. But the enemy pressed on, closing in on our trap.
Some of the last to arrive were members of Alpha Team. Many were wounded, all tired from the arduous fighting along the tunnels. Just outside I could hear the clank of metal feet on stone, and ominous crackling buzz of arcfire generators. The true battle was upon us.
I took up position behind a large central column. My Rangers and scouts arranged themselves behind what cover presented. A large group clumped behind a fallen stone column. Before we had the chance to set in our positions, the enemy burst through.
Their first salvo was not unexpected, but troubling. A pair of cauldrons burst into flame just inside the room. Instantly, infernals poured through in waves. These were simple brutes. Expendable troops designed to overwhelm and soak up the fire while the enemy brought larger, more powerful forces into play.
They tore through our advanced scouts, quickly surrounding Gravelheart. Immediately, our arclancers opened up pouring fire into the mass of seething bodies. The stench of arcfire ozone, burning flesh, and offal filled the room. You could almost not hear the panicked screams of the men being torn apart over the roar of arcfire.
Then, the cauldrons flashed and a pair of Horde Champions lumbered through. Giant, demonic winged demons wielding swords twice as long as a man, the Champions honed in on me, charging with a roar.
Behind me, Sergeant Minor Blackstone summoned the earth’s protection, wreathing himself in armor. Around us, Rangers fired, aimed, and fired again. When the Horde Champions were right on top of me, I reached out and summoned power to me: Archanon, Celesia, even Tempest.
The aches and pains of age melted away as time slowed as it always does. Battle is a rush. There is no fear, no pain, no hesitation. Only purpose, lethal purpose. Yet, there is always a price to be paid, and each battle exacts a bit more than the last. All until one day, you have nothing left to give.
I hit the first Horde Champion mid-stride. It was already weakened by my Rangers’ accurate fire. Light and lighting rippled through me, burning the hated beast down to his being and blasting it into magic motes. The second demon was only a half step behind and suffered a similar fate. It was a fortuitous first blow. Should they gain the upper hand, I know all too well it will be my soul dispatched to the other side.
More infernals poured from the Cauldrons. And this time, they were supporrted by enemy arclancers who sprinted into the room before taking cover. Each found a spot to hunder down. Most knelt behind one of several fallen stone supports, while a few split off, and dropped to the ground behind small arcfire shields.
The tactics are familiar. They are also effective. By now, Gravelheart was in true danger. Her supporting Builder Arclancers were dying fast. I sprinted to her and set upon the demons clawing toward her. From my right, I sensed Blackstone approaching as well.
From my left, more Builders surge into the growing battle, but these are not the familiar arclancers. Rather, these are commandoes. Specially trained and equipped, these fierce warriors are as adept at close quarters as they are range.
Before I can hope to reach her, Gravelheart goes down and one of the demons begins to drag her back toward the nearest Cauldron. If she is not saved before reaching the crackling window of pure flame, she will be lost beyond even my grasp.
More Builders poured in and infernals leaped through the cauldrons. We were being overrun. RFC Softpaws hurls a smoke bomb near Gravelheart, trying to provide cover, and opening a lane for Blackstone to reach her.
I summon magic through my ring, changing tactics. I feel the rush of power exploding outward. My sword takes on a life of its own, swinging in wide, devastating arcs. Half a dozen smaller demons are bisected and cast back into the abyss. Blackstone slipped beneath the stones as one of our remaining arclances dropped the demon dragging Gravelheart.
Blackstone pulled her beneath the stones to safety and I turned to see two Horde Champions charging my forces at the rear of the canyon. One closed in on the Explore, the other was about to burn Lady Killian to a cinder. Having no time, I raised the timer, activated the trap, then sprinted for the nearest Horde Champion.
Everyone responded quickly, falling back. I cut down a third demon when something punched through my body, cutting a hole cleanly from my back and out my chest. I had just enough time in my battle state to register it being a bolt from a Reaper rifle before darkness enveloped me.
At the time, I was unconcerned. Such things happen. At least, to me. And disturbingly frequently. However, in my semi-dead state, I have no concept of the passage of time. So when I woke in the tunnel, surrounded by my Rangers, all with horrified looks, I knew something had gone horribly wrong.
It was only later that I learned the troubling truth. When the Reaper rifle took me down, my Rangers followed orders and retreated in good order. One of the last, The Explorer was covering the retreat when he noted my body had not yet recovered. Worse, I was missing my entire head.
…this is a first for me…
Even I assumed that decapitation was a final blow. Apparently, it is not. At least not here in Norcan Darr. Moreover, The Explorer managed a single shot at a cloaked figure disappearing into one of the tunnels near the roof of the stone cathedral, but FAR behind enemy lines.
He shouted to the others, but as he could do nothing about the situation, he continued to provide covering fire. Sergeant Mansfried nearby realized the situation and ran to drag my headless corpse, and my sword out of the kill box before it was annihilated in the blast.
I know he grabbed my sword to save it. I know he saw my father. And I know his arm will never heal. Strange, though, it was my understanding that anyone else would be struck dead by the power of the weapon. That he walked away with mere injuries, permanent though they may be, speaks volumes. There is more to that man than even I can guess.
At this, Sergeant Minor Blackstone hurls Gravelheart’s body to Corporal Grimm before chasing after the assassin by swimming through the stone.
The rest of Alpha Team revived their cohorts, before falling back into the tunnels, laying down a withering fire until the room detonated. How many enemies were caught in the blast? Who can say. Only, I know that The Explorer destroyed at least one War Golem and reports indicate that at least three more were engaged in battle. Dozens of arclancers, a full squad of commandoes. Who can say whom else?
Even with my loss, it was a win for our side. Still, Blackstone pushed hard and reached the top of the stone mesa just as the assassin was sprinting, in air, toward some device hidden in the rocks.
The figure appeared to be clad in desert garb, similar to the Youlan Aradi, but more akin to Xaos. It was armed with a sword made of the same hard-light as the dagger bequeathed to Arwen by her uncle Val. They were also equipped with an upgraded arcfire handcaster, armor of a make not native to any known realm, some variant of arcfire similar to the horrific experiments conducted on the dead by the Deniers of Death…
Clearly, this assassin has traveled extensively through other Realms. And, they were briefed on our weaknesses. Before snatching my head, their sniper badly injured the Explorer making his less of a threat. Now, the lead assassin skipped through the air like stepping stones using some encorcled boots. So long as they did not touch the ground…Blackstone could do little.
They almost got away, but one of the wyverns screeched through the air, dropping from the sandstorm overhead and bathing everything in fire. Both the assassin and Blackstone were hit, but they took the worse for it. Their boots stopped working, somewhat evening the playing field.
With their escape ruined, the assassin went on the offensive. From what Sergeant Minor Blackstone reported, the assassin, likely female, moved faster than even the nimblest elves. Magic, or something akin. Her speed was too fast for the Mountain to follow, but the mountain cares little for the wind.
Planting his feet in the stone, Blackstone weathered the flurry of blows from the foreign assassin’s hard-light weapon. Even as he was driven down, the wyvern broke through the swirl of red dust and blasted the combatants again. Again, fire washed over them both, and again, Blackstone weathered the conflagration. The lighter armored assassin did not.
She was blown back, singed and aflame. Realizing victory was unlikely, the assassin sprinted for the edge of the cliff. Even without the jumping boots, she was fast, but not faster than Blackstone through stone.
In the distance, Blackstone spotted another of the strange metal stone hard-light horse devices approaching from the distance, ridden by presumably the enemy sniper. If the assassin reached the sniper, my head would have been lost forever.
To his credit, Blackstone never faltered, never wavered in his duty. In the last moments, even as the assassin leaped into the arms of the sniper, Blackstone reached out and ripped the strange metallic case off the assassin’s back. With the wyvern circling again and the storm raging, the killer duo were forced into retreat leaving Sergeant Minor Blackstone in command of the field.
It took several hours for the team to rejoin at the rally point established for the survivors of the battle. Our rearguard was severely decimated, but the simple fact that any survived speaks volumes to our armies increasing ability to follow orders and remain calm even under the most hellish environments.
When Sergeant Minor Blackstone arrived with my head in a case, Sergeant Mansfried had laid my headless corpse in state. Even contemplating the scene leaves me with a disturbed feeling of unease. I knew much of my power, more my bloodline, but this is far beyond even my own understanding.
The case was not of this Realm, but was cleaved easily by Lady Que’kassars knife. With my head in hand, literally, they attempted to reattach my head to my corpse. All initial attempts failed until Arwen Que’kassars stepped up.
During the previous battle, she had been unmanned by the supernatural fear of charging Horde Champions. In her darkest hour, she called to the silver unicorn who answered her pleas, granting her courage in the face of fear.
Now, she called upon Celesia once more. They describe a glowing silver light flowing down her body into mine and my wounds healing…then nothing for a long moment.
Even as they despaired, I breathed again and opened my eyes.
Of this, I remember nothing. Everything is black from the moment I fell to the sniper till waking on that cold floor. I don’t feel different, even now. But, there is this fear, that I am not myself. Can I simply recover from a fatal wound? Is there no price?
If so, I know not what it is. All I have is to soldier on and pray my mistake here does not cost us everything in the future. Celesia give me strength.
Your most obedient servant,
Lord Mayor Wolfhaven, Colonel