Lord Mayor, Colonel Baron Wolfhaven, Alexander
Commander of the Legio Heroes
Wolfhaven Manor, Echer’Naught, Olara
As relayed from Echer’Naught Alpha team under command of Lieutenant Gunther Volstagg (via Farspeaker Daynore)
Thirteenth Day of Dancing Clouds, Year 3126 Under the Light
The Rangers say, “There is no heroism without sacrifice.” Olarans, “Mit Ehre sterben,” or “Die with honor” in the Galean tongue. Such things are more easily said than done.
I have always prided myself that I would never ask another to do in my name what I would myself refuse. However, as I write this report, I am no so sure I would have had such courage. Truly, these few are the best of us.
Festival Moons 33rd, 3126
The Rangers returned to the Emissary’s Estate in the wee hours of the morning. Though their “dinner” had been successful, Lieutenant Volstagg was forced, one again, to take a man’s life. I know from bitter personal experience the weight each death bears upon a soul. Even justified, it is a hard thing to take a life. Harder to live with oneself after.
But, my Rangers performed without failing, as they always do.
After this…spectacle, the Rangers were given time to rest, heal, and prepare for the next duty. I wonder, at times, if they could even comprehend that, however difficult the past weeks had been, nothing could prepare them for what was to come.
Dancing Clouds 2nd, 3126
After two days, Prince Velthana of Almahrad invited Lieutenant Volstagg and the Emissary to a private brunch. Leaving the rest of the team at the Estate, Vosltagg and the Emissary departed riding the Emissary’s palanquin that morning and arrived without incident at the palace. They were met by the Vizier who escorted the Ranger and the Diplomat to a familiar balcony, one the Prince had used to meet with the group before.
There, they found the Prince alone, awaiting their arrival. Food and drink were provided and the Prince played the gracious host. Once small talk and formalities were completed, the Prince then broached the subject that had inspired the meeting.
Lieutenant Volstagg’s “performance” with the investigation, and the subsequent execution, had impressed the Prince and now he wish to see a martial display provided by the Rangers. To prevent any unfortunate incidences with his nobles, or other guests, the Prince requested that the Rangers, instead, pair up and duel each other.
He asked that Lieutenant Volstagg select partners for varied fighting styles and for entertainment value. With the Emissary’s blessing, Volstagg agreed, though confirmed that the bouts would be with training weapons only. The Prince promised that the city’s artisans would recreate all the Ranger’s weapons faithfully with blunted versions.
That agreed upon, Prince Velthana dismissed his guest to go and make preparations. After departing the Prince’s company, the Emissary seemed unusually tense. During their meet, the Prince had expressly stated that he wished for the Rangers to put on this martial display for “visiting Dignitaries.” The Emissary noted a number of “new” factions operating in the city, seeking the Prince’s ear.
She produced a large gold coin and gave it to Volstagg. For months, almost a year, similar coins had been appearing in ports and trading hubs across Shaintar. Every expert confirmed that the coins dated back to the Empire of the Golden Sun which reigned across what we now call the Eternal Desert some 7000 years ago. And yet, the coins appear near pristine, weathered by time or sand.
Volstagg kept the coin, and once back at the Estate, the Emissary departed to reach out to contacts while Lieutenant Volstagg assembled the team and made arrangements for the combat. The team was paired as follows:
RFC Danica vs RFC Nexus Zathlan Volstagg
Corporal Durlan Daynore vs Ranger Serys
RFC Grendel vs Trainee Ranna
Lieutenant Gunther Volstagg vs Sergeant Audric Amaroth
Before breaking, Volstagg also ordered the Rangers to keep their eyes open, to observe those watching the event. He relayed some of the Emissary’s concerns, and stressed that gathering information was FAR more important than the actual combat. Though, they also must impress the Prince and put on a “good show.” He showed them the coin and Grendel smelled upon it sand and death.
That done, the Rangers went about preparing for the coming event. The Emissary spoke with contacts.
Dancing Clouds 3rd, 3126
The following morning, the Rangers awoke to find a long table laid out with blunted replicas of most all of their weapons, warhammers and a few others aside. Leaving their “normal” weapons in their rooms, the Alpha team outfitted themselves with the well-crafted training gear and joined the Emissary at the gate to the Estate. There, a phalanx of guards stood ready to escort them out of the 4th tier, and through the 3rd tier of the city to a special venue that had been hastily erected just outside of the Grande Bazaar.
Already, nobles, and dignitaries were sitting under large, colorful awnings. The Alpha team made quite a stir marching heavily armed as they were through the city streets surrounded by an honor guard of the Prince’s own men. By the time they reached their destination, they had accumulated quite a following.
In an odd juxtaposition, the area was constructed of rough wooden planking around a sandy field. However, along the side reserved for the Rangers was a silk pavilion with attached awnings. There were cushioned benches, servants with palms and feathered fans. Even a banquet of light foods, wines, and “citrus water,” were arrayed before them.
As reported, they simple found their places, tightened straps and awaited their turn on the field.
Finally, the Prince and Princess arrived, taking their places of honor opposite the Rangers. Here again the Vizier announced the event and introduced each combatant by formal Title and Rank as they entered the field.
First, as noted, were Danica and Nexus. Danica chose to fight with a pair of sabers, a 3rd tucked in her belt. Nexus switched between warhammer, bow, and knifes. Their bout lasted far longer than any expected. So savage were the blows that with the first, Danica snapped her saber off at the hilt and had to rearm with her reserve. Despite fierce fighting by both women, ultimate Danica proved victor, though it was a narrow victory.
And then, Danica “won” a second fight when she hurled Nexus’ warhammer at Lieutenant Volstagg, I cannot say why, and felled a healer rushing to check on Nexus. Danica’s fiery temperament is well known. I hope she is able to keep it in check as they continue their mission.
Second up, Corporal Daynore vs Serys. Again, this fight lasted far longer than expected. Serys fired only one shot. Daynore used tactics to get inside the archer’s range and force a melee battle. However, even with use of his Adept powers, Serys was simple too fast and eventually managed to drop the Farspeaker, though not without suffering injury. Having never seen their close fighting skills, I am impressed with both men.
Third up, war of the titans. The ogre and ogress, Grendel and Ranna, squared off and beat each other senseless. I understand that they garbed themselves in tradition dress and warpaint. Just the concussion of their bodies hitting the sand caused structural damage to the area. But, in the end, Grendel proved winner. Though, I understand that a burgeoning respect, and possible infatuation, was born from this bout.
That, and Ranna was too large for any but Grendel to clear from the field.
Fourth, and final, was the long awaited battle between Lieutenant Volstagg and Sergeant Amaroth. I know the good Sergeant, at least, has sought this contest. This fight, from reports, was the most contested and brutal yet, if such a thing can be believed after the enormous display of the other Rangers. Both men fought until they were bleeding and staggered. It came down to perseverance and a bit of luck. However, Sir Volstagg claimed victory in his undefeated streak of 4 duels. I am unsure how pleased he is of such accolades, but the record speak for itself.
With that, the event was completed and the Prince seemed well pleased. The Rangers were again escorted, or carried, back to the Estate where they were showered with gifts, even a small purse for each from the Prince himself. Healers roused the fallen and they were treated to a feast by the Emissary in the Estate.
When they had time to speak, each discussed what they had observed. Serys and Danica both noted an odd faction watching their performance with cold intensity. Though dressed as the desert folk, there was something “off” about them. Moreover, Grendel smelled upon them sand, death…and cats? Clearly, these were the dignitaries the Prince wished to impress…or intimidate. Their duty done, each separated to their own devices, secure that they had done well…
And then, they heard nothing from the Prince, or anyone from the palace for days.
Dancing Clouds 8th, 3126
After a week of waiting, the Emissary grew concerned. I know of no specifics, but the reports sent back to Echer’Naught warned of dire events in the desert. Travel by any but Dwarven roads through the mountains have been totally cut off. Refugees pour into the few Clanhomes still accessible and A’Davar and Paradise are overrun. Paradise suffering the worst of it as thousands seek refuge or escape from the all encompassing Sand Storms obscuring the desert.
Most all of the carefully cultivated contacts fell silent. Only the new Xaos cultists appeared active in the desert sands. Whatever was happening was coming to a head and needed to be confronted before it was too late.
With my reserved blessing, the Emissary summoned Lieutenant Volstagg early on the morning of the 8th and revealed to him some suspicions. Having no other options, the Emissary asked Sir Volstagg to use his report with the Prince to arrange a meeting so that the Emissary might finally convince him to support a mission into the desert. And so he did, to his great sorrow.
Had we known the end result of this simple request, I would have forbade it. But, my Rangers have always done their duty, to the bitter end. More’s the pity.
The Emissary suggested Volstagg take Lady Volstagg with him, her beauty and charm being somewhat legendary. When the departed in the Emissary’s own palanquin, he was dressed in full Olaran White Silver plate, she like a desert goddess, adorned in gold and jewels from the Emissary’s own wardrobe.
They arrived to find the palace filled with other petitioners. There were city nobles, traders, craftsmen, and dignitaries from lands to the east and west. All had gathered to beg some favor or boon from the Prince. Even present was the faction of strangers wearing desert garb, but smelling of Sand, Death, and, again strangely, cats.
Pressing through the throng, and a few well wishers, Volstagg and Nexus found the Vizier and convinced him to permit them a moment with the Prince on a matter of extreme urgency. Grudgingly, the Vizier complied, but I understand that he bears little love for the Rangers.
Despite the obvious busy schedule, the Prince permits the Rangers a quick private audience. They are escorted by an aide through a side corridor where the Vizier awaits to lead them back to the throne room. There they arrive in time to witness a group of merchants just exiting an audience with the Prince.
Once the room is clear, they approach and bow before his Royal Highness. Only then, everything goes wrong. Immediately, the Captain of the Guard shouts and Lieutenant Volstagg and Nexus are surrounded by armed guards, blades at their throats. I can only imagine their confusion as Nexus is hauled roughly to her feet, Volstagg resisting the urge to fight.
At a run, the Vizier rushes up the length of the room, as Prince Velthana rises to his feet demanding to know why his guests are being ill treated. Only then does the Captain indicate the glint of metal tucked into the back of Nexus’ revealing dress. Reaching inside, the Vizier withdraws Nexus’ personal knife.
When confronted by the Prince, she admits the blade is hers, but last seen in her room where it was left before the contests days ago. The Prince then demands who dressed the Lady. Volstagg very nearly implicates the Emissary as it was the Emissary’s staff which dressed his wife, but instead he simply says, “staff.” Not a lie, but a deflection meant to save lives.
From what I have learned from the reports, the Prince clearly believed the Volstagg’s when they claimed innocence and ignorance of the crime of bringing a weapon into the presence of the Prince. Still, the law was clear and by violating this most strict principle, Nexus was in fear for her life. The Prince could order her execution and be in the right.
To save his wife, Lieutenant Volstagg suggested a mind scan, but the Prince countered that, A) such things could be evaded or faked, B) they had their own adept who might have arranged this assassination, C) He could not allow potential assassins to use such a ruse in the future.
The Vizier also pointed out that any favoritism shown the Rangers would only cause more resentment and potentially enrage the noble houses. Even Volstagg had to agree that a trial might not prove their innocent, and potentially damn other members of the Emissary’s entourage.
The Prince, Princess, and Vizier spoke privately, before, with a heavy heart, the Prince asked Volstagg how such a crime would be handled in his own country of Olara. Volstagg wisely accepted any justice the Prince order. And so, rather than execute Nexus as a potential assassin, the Prince ordered her receive 9 lashes.
As an honor to Sir Volstagg, the Prince offered him the whip as his own Captain of the Guard would surely do his utmost to take Nexus’ life. Though he warned Volstagg that any attempts to hold back the lash would result in her death, and likely his own.
I simply cannot imagine the pain and anguish both Volstagg and Nexus felt in that moment. Trapped by duty, a husband was forced to whip his wife, nearly to death. And she, to kneel taking the pain…for honor and duty.
As I said, I cannot say I would have had the courage or strength. That Archanon and my Lady the Silver Unicorn that such a task fell to better men and women. Though, I would have given up the entire enterprise were it never to have occurred. Once again, we owe a debt to these Rangers, a debt we can never repay.
The sentence passed, they were led to a nearby courtyard where Nexus was made to kneel in her gossamer gown of gold, and given a piece of leather to bite down upon. The Prince, Princess, Vizier and Guard Captain all stood in attendance, none looked away.
To her immortal credit, Nexus refused restraints, taking the punishment as an Olaran. More than.
And then, with the Princes command, and the Vizier’s low and solemn voice counting the lashes, Sir Volstagg raised the barbed whip…and lashed his wife over…and over…and over…
Nine times the lash fell, and nine times Nexu’s back as ripped to shreds, blood staining her clothes, and his. But she never faltered, never cried out more than clenched teeth and grunts as the wicked barbs tore and ripped her flesh…
To his honor, each blow was delivered with impassive brutality. Volstagg neither withheld, nor stuck with any passion. He did his duty. And I swear this, should either man or wife’s honor, integrity, or Olaran heart ever be questioned, I shall personally take a whip to any who doubts what blood flows through the hearts of these.
I have never met a more Olaran house.
When the last stroke fell on the brutalized Nexus, Volstagg returned the whip to the Vizier as the Prince’s own physicians rushed to staunch the bleeding and stitched the wide, open wounds across Nexus’ back. When he knew his wife would survive the assault, Vosltagg lifted her into his arms and strode out of the palace and carried her tightly against his chest all the way back to the Estate.
As they entered, Danica and Serys were on the roof doing some…calculations. Lieutenant Volstagg ordered the team assembled as he carried Nexus into the main courtyard and laid her on a reclining couch. The team arrive quickly, only to find Nexus weak with bloodloss and her clothes cut to ribbons and soaked in blood.
Serys demanded of Volstagg simply, “who?” but could not understand the answer when Volstagg replied, “Me.” The Emissary arrived and rushed to Nexus, checking her wounds. The Emissary demanded what happened and Lieutenant Volstagg grimly recounted the horror of the last few hours.
The Emissary ordered that he check their room to see if the dagger found on her person earlier was her own, or a replica. Lieutenant Volstagg, Sergeant Amaroth, and RFC Grendel went through the room but found no knife. The one in the throne room WAS her own, personal blade.
Hearing this, the other Rangers left to inventory their own gear, but nothing else was missing or out of place. Once together again, Nexus was feeling much improved, her wounds healed. Lieutenant Volstagg then ordered that until they were clear of the city, they would all share one room. Serys, who had apparently been preparing for this, provided the best room, guard rotations, and optimal watches for the Rangers.
With that, the Rangers all converged in one large room in the Estate and fortified it against attack.
At nearly the same, in Echer’Naught, Captain Rah-Sahn Hawksclaw emerged fully from his lengthy convalescence. I was called to his bedside on the evening of 8th to find him conscious and responsive, holding his son and wife. I cannot accurately express my joy at his miraculous recovery, due almost entirely to Farspeaker Moonsilver’s ministrations, and that of Eve.
Dancing Clouds 10th, 3126
After two days of rest, Captain Hawksclaw was finally well enough to move. His first order of business, wedding Eris Moonsilver. The ceremony was private, officiated by High Druidess Treesinger, and witness by my Lady and myself.
Once official, I took a moment to speak with Hawksclaw. Despite his obvious need to rest, I wanted to begin moving forward with his reinstatement if desired. We spoke, and he agreed to resume his post as Commander of the Ranger Outpost of Echer’Naught.
As of Dancing Clouds 10th, 3126, Captain Rah-Sahn Hawksclaw was officially reinstated as Captain of the Echer’Naught Ranger Outpost to resume his full duties upon certification for fitness of duty by Ranger healers. It is good to have my first Ranger back. And, to have Rah-Sahn liaison with my chief, Aradove. The world feels just a little more right in these dark days.
Dancing Clouds 12th, 3126
Later on the night of the 12th, the team was mostly asleep, save for those on “watch,” when A’kavir, the Emissary’s trusted guard, approached and informed the Rangers that they had a visitor in the main courtyard of the Estate. Roused, and well armed, the Rangers entered the courtyard to find the Emissary speaking with a cloaked figure.
As the approached, the figure stepped into the moonlight and lowered the hood to reveal the face of the Prince. He seemed genuinely concerned for Nexus and relieved that she had survived her ordeal without lasting injury. He apologized to both Volstaggs, but that was not the purpose of his visit.
The Vizier had examined the knife and found it coated in poison. Nexus protested that she would not have access to such, and the Prince confirmed. This particular poison was produced from a specific flower found along the banks of the Lifegiver River running through the heart of the Eternal Desert.
Then, he asked Sir Volstagg to venture into the desert with his authority and backing, find the would be assassins, and bring them to “Olaran” justice. The Emissary had what he or she desired. My concerns about the Emissary’s involvement in all of this, the Rangers had what they needed to pass through the Desert Princes.
And, under the guise of a mission for Almahrad, they would be able to discover the cause of the Sand Storms and prevent whatever catastrophe was about to befall the lands of Shaintar.
The Prince thanked them all, and offered the blade to Nexus who, understandable, refused. Afterwards he left. The Emissary then confirmed the Prince’s request, but also ordered the Rangers to seek out the source of the emerging threat in the desert. The Emissary also provided the name of a local guide, a dwarve named Stonefoot, who would be able to lead them over the mountains safely. Volstagg need but tell the dwarf, “The Emissary sends regards,” so Stonefoot would know they acted with the Emissary’s own authority.
Though Sergeant Amaroth suggested to sleep the night, Lieutenant Volstagg seemed more than ready to be rid of the place, and the Rangers had no objections. Gathering their gear, plus the coins provided by the Prince and Emissary, the Rangers left the Estate and were escorted under cover of night to the second Tier and the Grande Bazaar where they were fairly easily able to locate Stonefoot in a large tavern near the west gate, as the Emissary had instructed.
By the time they arrived, however, he was well into his cups, but seemed amiable enough to their request. He promised to be ready to leave by morning and suggested they drink. Lieutenant Volstagg chose to rent a room to sleep that night. The ogres rested under a pavilion out back.
In the morning, well before dawn, the team was awakened by a sober and chipper Stonefoot who rousted them out and downstairs where, surprisingly, a line of small, mountain ponies awaited, plus Muriel and King, along with supplies for everyone. The ogres would have to walk.
Everyone mounted, except for Corporal Daynore who was brutally kicked by his pony, Goat. But, after a bit of cursing, and a healing potion, everyone mounted and rode out.
This was the last communication received from a sore and tired Farspeaker Daynore. Archanon speed Rangers. Be safe, and may the Silver Unicorn guide and protect.
Your most obedient servant,
Lord Mayor Wolfhaven, Colonel
Ranger Regional Headquarters, Echer’Naught, Olara