Colonel Wolfhaven, Alexander
Northern Barony Road, Heading South toward Echer’Naught
Nineteenth Day, Planting Moons, Year 3123 Under the Light
There are days in a man’s life whose memory never fades. And there are days during which those memories overtake us. I once made a vow, one that I had every intention of following. But what can a soldier do when duty and personal desire collide?
I can still hear their screams.
However, that was a lifetime ago, and I must report what is happening now. I write this under ever worsening skies, by lamplight as rain runs down my arms and stains the parchment.
First Hunt, 3rd. Three days. That was all I could give my Rangers to put their demons to rest.
Longtail had stood by Grimbore from the moment he entered the infirmary until the day when duty demanded I summon her to her duty. Whether from grief or love, I cannot say, but she has sat by the ogre every day and will do so until he wakes. With her, she held the child that she risked her life to save and he had nearly died to protect. I am glad that Vallandrian took custody of the infant, but I suspect the child has gained a lifelong guardian in the ranger. Some day, I must learn more about her past. And Grimbore’s. From her friend the bard, it appears that Grimbore holds a secret more curious than one would imagine in the nigh mute warrior. Is he truly from the gathers of the Dragon Gate? It is so difficult to conceive, but would explain so much
HIghwall has done double duty for over seven months, here and for JoHaan Smith, a load that would break a lesser will. Yet, Highwall has never once complained, never once shirked his duty. And he has grown skilled under the old smith’s tutelage, though I fear he takes failure too hard.
Alfred Ranger, the young man has acclimated well, growing strong and true under Hawksclaw’s careful guidance.
And young Hawkslcaw…I see so much of myself in him. He wrestles his demons with a force of Spirit unparalleled. If he can see his way unbroken to the other side, I see him one day taking his place among the great leaders of the Rangers. We spoke, and I revealed some to him in hopes that he would not walk the troubled path that I have.
For in his anger he killed a man. Though not innocent, the crusader was no longer a threat. I understand, but cannot condone his actions. Therefore, I must recount his crime, but nor can I condemn him. His remorse was genuine, not dulled by the fact that his death blow was removed by Vallandrian, high priest of the Church of Light. Even so, the intention remained and that Hawksclaw must deal with, but I will not allow a single lapse to ruin a ranger’s career. I see a change in him, a hope of healing. I pray to Light that it is so.
So, I gave them three days to put all this to rest.
Yet three days are not enough, not after the events of the Storm.
And still they came. Longtail, Highwall, Alfred, Hawksclaw, all of them. I could offer them no more, so I set them each on their tasks; so much destruction, so much dead. With the confusion of the attack and so many of the Town’s security forces busy just trying to manage, crime was spiking across the board. Incidences of assault, theft and even murder. My intention was to send my Rangers in teams to assist the Town Watch in their duties, providing a much needed fast response group. My intention like my oath, mattered little.
No sooner had I begun to outline my plan when the bell rang at the front door. Hawksclaw went to investigate and discovered a messenger for the Lord Mayor at our doorstep wishing to speak with me personally. His words were brief and chilling. Lord Mayor Von Haber required my attention for a personal matter…and it was urgent. Wasting no time, I rallied the men, sending Longtail ahead to prepare the way.
We road with utmost swiftness to the Mayoral Estate, only to be directed to the grand entrance, and for the first time since joining the Rangers here, we were escorted through the front gates, and through the Noble’s door. Something about our treatment concerned me as we were escorted quickly to the Lord Mayor’s office. Once within, Von Haber excused his entire staff and addressed my team alone.
He swore us to secrecy outside the rangers and began his re-telling. His words were worse than I had imagined. As he spoke, he led us through a secret door, down a flight of stairs constructed by master dwarven skill, to a door bound in white silver. Beyond, we found a vault room, lined with cell-like doors, and at the far end, a massive double door barred by three enormous ironwood timbers. Before the door stood three elite guards.
At his word, the guards inserted keys and cranked the timbers aside. Yet, when they pushed the massive doors open, all they revealed was an empty vault room. He explained with barely constrained rage that during the attack of the 34th of Falling Ice, a group of well informed brigands had entered his personal vault and escaped with a king’s ransom in crysarium crystals. A bounty he had been collecting to insure the currency of the town. Without the backing of the crysarium, he feared he would not make the shortfalls created when the Red Store stole the tax gold and would likely be removed from his position as Lord Mayor. In truth, without his patronage, he explained that the Ranger invitation in Echer’Naught could be pulled. He set us on a single course. Find the villains, recover the crysarium. He gave us carte blanche to achieve these ends and then left us to our investigations.
A keen eye for construction, Highwall noted strange spidery scorch marks on the walls leading to the vault. He also noted the stains of dried blood in three places. Longtail noted a fine, almost glowing powder in ever crack in the vault floor. Hawksclaw examined the shoes of the guards, while Longtail checked the locks leading to the vault. She discovered they had been picked by a master and Hawksclaw counted the bootprints. Scanning the ground with an expert eye, he found eight booted men had entered the vault to carry off the 4 heavily laden chests. With them came a thief, of small stature and an unknown mage. From our experiences, we suspected more storm magic was at work here. The blood and the scorch marks, added to the faint scent of ozone, proved that lighting had been used to cook the three previous guards in their armor. A gruesome fate I know all too well. From the signs, the guards had tried to do their duty, but the alien magic struck them down with ease.
Having nothing more to glean from the scene, we retired to the Lord Mayor’s office where I spoke briefly with Von Haber. He presented me with a sizable sum of gold and an ultimatum. I swore on my honor to see this done and dispatched my Rangers as best fit their abilities. Longtail I sent to Low Town, to speak with her contacts there. At times her associations are questionable, but results are what is needed now. Hawksclaw I sent to the Watch. His rapport with Sergeant Vasser has proved invaluable. The rest returned to the HQ to prepare and to wait for word.
There I dispatched messages to nearby posts and to anyone that might know the whereabouts of Ranger Celebor. As the only individual with sufficient knowledge to plan and execute the heist, it was imperative that we rule out compulsion on the part of the Lord Mayor. Surprisingly, he consented to a mind reading, more proof of not only his innocence, but his eagerness to recover the stolen goods. But Celebor is not one to be tied down to any semblance of pattern or schedule. Light only knows where the elf has gone. So we must wait for him as well.
From her report, Ranger Longtail met with her contact Therel Fateweaver, the professed “King of Low Town”. Though he confirmed, without accepting any responsibility, that petty crimes were on the rise, though he knew nothing of any large groups operating in or around Echer’Naught. Afterwards, she also made a visit to the Red Lamp, a decision that I understand, but that makes me decidedly nervous. Regrettably, Madame Lillithien had as little to say about the theft as Fateweaver. As strange as it seemed, the undersociety of Echer’Naught knew nothing about the biggest heist in town history. That or they are lying, Which is worse, I know not.
As for Hawksclaw, his investigation was equally successful. After dropping by the Barracks to order a cask of Olaran Ale for the men of the Watch, Hawkslcaw spoke briefly with Sergeant Vasser who also had heard nothing. Other than the overworked, overwhelmed state of the men of the Watch there was little else to report.
With that, my Rangers returned to the HQ. And from there things continued to get more interesting.
Later in the day, we received unexpected guests. A rather large band of wandering rangers arrived under command of an Aevakar named Zaro. He seemed competent, but I have known many commanders and he seemed new to the post and trying hard to live up to a reputation; a fallen mentor perhaps? Despite the severe storms, he managed to reach our outpost and sought refuge and resupply for a few days. In return, they offered their assistance in the aftermath of the Storm. I kindly accepted and they settled in, aiding in healing and cleanup.
They were a motley band, much larger than my own. In addition to their leader, there was Alfie, a human Alchemist, Galean I belive, Anton Caskmaster, a Dwarven Alchemist who was accompanied by a Behemoth Ogre near the size of Grimbore. The Ogre slept in Grimbore’s bed, who was still convalescing at the infirmary. Master Caskmaster showed a keen interest in our captured Arclances. Also Rakepick, a panther colored Brinchie who shared Longtail’s roguish interests. He and the Goblin scout Reener seemed particularly protective of their final member. Of the Rangers there were to more, a dwarven fighter Gandogar Irehart and and a Dregordian Adept Eska. She is one of the few I have ever seen, and the first any of my rangers have. At any other time, a golem, a Dregordian and an Aevakar in the same party would have caused a stir…were it not for their final charge.
Samael is a Builder.
Why he is not at Kythros under protection and watchful eye, I cannot say. His knowledge and expertise could change the course of the war as we now know the Builders are supplying Camon with weapons. But, even as a Colonel, I am not ultimately in command, so I record this in my report with the hope that wiser heads than mine might come to some agreement on the matter of captured Builders. We require all Rangers to pass a mind reading test to become rangers, but do not secure Builders where they can be protected and studied? Nevertheless, Samael was given respect and quarter, though I can say that neither I nor Hawksclaw was particularity pleased.
And yet, an opportunity. So, with reluctance, I gave Sergeant Major Stormhammer permission to study the Builder technology if only to allow us the ability to defeat them. He, Samael and Caskmaster spent much of their time in seclusion in our HQ armory. I know that Highwall wanted to be a part, but he had duties to attend, and I do not like the idea of Rangers coming to rely on Builder weapons.
Their party remained with us for a few days, whereupon they departed on First Hunt 6th leaving Rakepick and Reener with Samael who remained with Stormhammer until the 13th to complete his instruction. This was concluded by a surprise awakening the morning of that very day. Taking instruction from the Builder tinkerer, the Sergeant managed to activate a Arclance only to nearly blow away the front wall of our headquarters. By some grace, he missed and only managed to vaporize two prized kegs of Olaran ale. Regardless, all Builder weapons will be kept under strict lock and key until I can provide for their transport to Kythros, or find a better means of securing them here.
With our fellow rangers gone, life returned to some semblance of normality. And still no word from our contacts. We continued our patrols, continued asking questions, seeking but it was as if our enemies had simply vanished with their prize.
However, during this time, the 25th of First Hunt, our door man and ever watchful protector, Grimbore, returned from his time at the Infirmary of Light. Not an evening had passed that Longtail had not slept by his side. Her constant care and the blessings of light saw him through. He was welcomed with fanfare, a new bed having been constructed by a combined collection of all the post rangers. He seemed please, though at times it is hard to tell. Still, I breathed a bit easier when he lumbered to his stool and took up his post beside the door. Only in his absence did I come to realize his importance. I will not likely forget again.
Whole again as a unit, we continued our duties, cleanup and investigation. We continued to fail at the last. Then, weeks later, on the 16th of Golden Eagle, another visitor arrived, two actually. Out of the never ceasing storm, Celebor appeared in our dooway, followed by a hulking human warrior in the light green cloak of a Ranger Trainee.
Celebor was fresh from battle at the southern most edge of the expanded Olaran Baronies, in what is properly the Wildlands. On the 2nd of Golden Eagle, he and a band of Rangers and allies defended the Von Strauss Barony from takeover by a Red Store plot. I have enclosed that report. As pleased as I was to see Celebor I confess I was curious about his companion.
Rildrirr, as he gave his name, was clearly a North Born warrior from the Barbarian tribes. Yet of most interest, was the remains of his slave collar still encircling his neck like a badge of honor. Hulking, broad, but intelligent, I gauged that he would be doughty in combat, if truculent in conversation. With so many matters to address, I scarce to where to begin, but I conversed briefly with Celebor and then conducted an interview with Rildrirr.
Given the choice of visiting or joining our band, Rildrirr chose the latter becoming the 6th Ranger under my direct command, though, there was the matter of his mind reading. Though clearly not pleased with the idea, Rildrirr submitted while we waited outside. When he was done, all Celebor had to say was that he found no evidence of corruption or compulsion and that he would be a good fit.
After those necessities were completed, I presented Rildrirr with his official papers, or Olgor did so on my behalf. As the timing seemed fortuitous and I hoped that Rildrirr might see the benefit of hard work, I also took this time to make official the promotions that I had requested. Beginning with Ranger Hawksclaw, I asked each member of the team to step forward to receive orders. Ranger Hawksclaw is now Corporal Hawksclaw and received silver gilded cloak clasp. Highwall and Longtail both received promotion to Ranger 1st Class and received bronze cloak clasps.
After congratulations, I put my rangers back on task. It had now been months and all our efforts had been in vain. Our enemy now had the advantage and the Lord Mayor’s patience was at its end. So, with respect, I requested that Celebor go to the Lord Mayor and conduct his mind reading. Meanwhile, I beseeched Longtail and Highwall to continue their investigations for any possible sign of the thieves. Reluctantly, Celebor agreed and with Hawksclaw as his guide, went to meet the Lord Mayor. My other rangers scattered to their tasks while Stormahammer assisted Rilrirr in getting settled in.
It was not long before Celebor returned. He said little when he closed my office door, but his face was grim. I feared the worst. Celebor had conducted his mind reading of the Lord Mayor and discovered two very important facts. First, he was guiltless in the heist. In fact, his rage was not feigned. Driven by the threat to the town or to his own reputation, the man was livid and growing increasingly so. The second fact, one that I suspected was that, while he allowed Celebor access to his intentions regarding the cyrsarium, the rest of his mind was closed and shrouded. Not by darkness, or maliciousness, but by a careful discipline. Obviously, he had been trained to resist corruption and metal influence.
One of Celebor’s reasons for not reading politicians is that even the best of them are generally hiding something. But in the Lord Mayor’s case, his mind was effectively a labyrinth. The ranger adept had no idea what machinations his mind was hatching. Considering how easily he managed the nobles, while maintaining power, I was not surprised, but Celebor seemed particularly vexed by his inability to delve deeper.
All of that happened on the 16th of Golden Eagle. It would be weeks yet before any news came. On the 8th of Planting Moon, my Rangers were again out seeking answers. Even Celebor had agreed to help. So long had passed that I feared our failure was certain. But on that night, we received a visitor. Perhaps a portent, but good or ill, I cannot say.
It began with Highwall throwing open the door and announcing a guest. I rose, curious at this when a vision appeared in the darkened alley outside the door.
For a moment, she appeared to glow, lamplight reflecting off her alabaster skin, and then, almost as if riding a cushion of air, the woman glided into the room. Her bright eyes were open in wonder, yet coy and inviting. Green…no violet. In truth, I cannot say. He lips were red, deep, blood red and pressed tightly, but not in a grimace, but a soft smile. He face was shrouded in a deep cowl, that hinted at luxurious raven hair and hooded her eyes just enough to make them more mysterious. She was not tall, but had a presence, as if she filled the room. And wherever she went wafted the scent of flowers.
I confess, I was dumbstruck for a moment. Beauty has never been an aspiration of mine, but never before have I seen someone so skilled at its execution. She approached and introductions were made. Madame Lillithien, of the Red Lamp. Much became clear.
I invited her to speak while my staff watched on in some amusement. Perhaps my discomfort showed. I confess I am not used to speaking with such women. Poor Alfred may never again recover. At any rate, she had visited to speak on behalf of young Sarah. Apparently Longtail had spoken with her some months prior about the possibility of Sarah living at the outpost. Until she was of age, the Madame wished to keep her close, but she requested that Sarah be taken on as a full time staff member, rather than just our morning help. This would cost more, as we would have need to increase her wage and compensate her for meals. I deferred to Longtail, who was eager to accept.
That business completed, I rose to bid her farewell. At this point, she looked at me with a curious expression and said, “Your father was a good man. He would be proud. It would be better were the Wolfhaven family still here. Perhaps that might change in the future.” I was stunned. Did this woman know my father? Would my father know this woman? I did not know what to say. Lady Lillithien seemed to require no answer. She swept out of my office, floated across the floor, spoke briefly with Hawksclaw and vanished into the shadows from whence she came taking her hulking, blonde manservents with her.
I admit the Madame’s visit threw me off my game. So focused was I on her odd visit, that I nearly forgotten about the return of my rangers. Both Highwall and Longtail had news. Apparently, strangers had recently purchased three large casks of Echer Draught and shipped them north using roads that had been closed for months since the rains began. Longtail confirmed that her contacts reported sightings of a large group of foreigners far north of the town.
As if summoned, the door burst open, again, and Celebor stepped in from the raging storms outside. Dripping wet, he shouted above the storms. “I know where they are. Where you swore never again to go.”
My heart sank.
Duty to the Rangers, or duty to myself. Is there ever a choice?
Without another thought, I sounded the call to arms. Alfred and Hawksclaw ran for the Horses, Longtail for her gear, Highwall snatched up his arms and Rildrirr was suited for war. As I donned my armor, my thoughts turned to the task at hand. Unknown enemies of immense power had attacked our home and stolen an invaluable cargo of immense power. Worse, the monster responsible had established his base of operations in the ruins of the Wolfhaven manor…my home.
It was dark that night, the 8th of Planting Moon as we tore out of Echer’Naught, riding hard to the north, Celebor had gone ahead. Though, we did not meet again until much later. Through the driving rain, knee deep mud I pushed my team hard. Cold camps only, we barely slept, ate in the saddle. Even so, it took 5 days, five days of punishment to reach the site.
By the time we arrived, my men were exhausted, though Rildrirr and Highwall took it best.
Even with just flashes of lighting to light my way, I knew the ground as if I had never left. The gentle slope down the banks of the stream, the copse of trees I used to play in with my brothers. By memory, I led my rangers down the hill to an outer post that had once been but one of the Wolfhaven stables. There were no buildings left, long since burned in the war, but the metal hitching posts remained, vine covered and rusting.
We tied up the mounts and moving forward on foot. I sent Longtail ahead. A quick roll in the mud and she was gone. With the others I made my way home. We had barely reached the old stone footbridge when Longtail returned to report. In the outer courtyard, a group of 6 bandits had established a watchcamp, but were already into their cups. I sent Hawksclaw around with Alfred to gain an archer positing, while Longtail flanked left, going through what had once been a beautiful stone gallery. The rest followed me over the stream and up the west embankment.
With everyone in position, we hit them like a thunderclap. Hawksclaw downed a man with a single arrow. Rildrirr and Highwall two more. I captured a third. Two broke, one for the house and one for a second courtyard. I hurled my blade, watching its blue light flicker through the rain as it slammed through the man’s back, pinning him to the ground. For an instant, I could smell smoke again, hear the screams of women and children. The last bandit made it only a short distance before a blur caught him mid stride and bisected his right leg.
Rildrirr showed a gift for interrogation. He forced from the captured bandit that within the manor house there were a dozen more bandits, but that his “master” had already left with a large body of men. We rendered him unconscious and made our plans.
Again I sent Hawksclaw high, along the wall up to the roof. From there he could leap through any of the holes that time, fire and Flame had opened up in the once slate roof. Longtail I sent around the house, along the far wall to an anterior door servants once used to deliver food to the many feasts my father had hosted. I took Highwall and Rildrirr up the main steps and through the remains of the front door.
When we came through, we found the bandits in two groups of drunken revels, huddled around fires trying to stay out of the constant, driving rain. No wonder they were so unaware. Nothing had moved across these lands in years. From the far left, Longtail appeared like a wraith, stealing upon a group of six bandits. From the rafters, Hawksclaw’s hooded form crept along followed by the boy ranger.
I held up my hand, and signaled the attack. Hawksclaw fired, raining arrows on the bandits, catching one near Longtail and drawing their attention. Longtail sprang, a blur of swords, slashing and cutting, felling one and wounding two. I and Highwall rushed forward, laying about us with abandon, while the barbarian flanked the enemies and hurled down a wall with his mighty strength, pinning two beneath.
From there combat grew furious. Though surprised, the men fought ferociously. One of the two leaders managed to stick Rildrirr with a sword, but the massive warrior barely flinched. Alone, Longtail took down nearly 6 men alone. But, we were to much and our attack too sudden. Most perished, but we managed to capture two more bandits.
Under Rildrirr’s care, they confessed that they were hired muscle to a crazed Storm Magus who had been plotting some insane plan that made no sense to them. But, they showed us to his lab set on the raised platform my father had once used to hold court. My heart clenched in rage as I looked upon what had become of my former home.
We quickly checked the area, but found no others. We had missed the villain and he was doubtless already on his way to some destruction. It was Hawksclaw’s quick eye which spotted the symbols on the map.
One indicated the melee field where the cyclone had first touched down so many months ago. And a new one marked the beacon tower of Echer’Naught. So too did other markers appear indicating that the storm magus was not working alone, but in concert with others south, west and east of Echer’Naught. The southern most marker also corresponded with a report recently received from Zaro’s Ranger unit. They too had encountered a Storm Druid battling a Necromancer near that location. Clearly, the Storm cult had many allies in the area and it would take a concerted effort from not only the Echer’Naught rangers, but our friend in Farwatch and beyond to handle this threat.
Still, Zaro and his men had done their part. It was time to do ours.
We had barely stopped Red Store, nearly lost to the Prelacy, almost died at Darkness’ corruption and now this?!
They would pay for defiling my home.
I ordered what could be carried to be taken, Alfred and Celebor, who had returned after clearing out pickets and scouts, to bind and secure the prisoners and for Longtail to return to Echer’Naught at speed to warn them of the pending attack. If I know this house, and I do, I suspect I know where the crysarium must be hidden. I am leaving Celebor and Alfred in charge of…my home until I can return.
With the rest of my command, I am returning to Echer’Naught. I know not what we will find when and if we arrive…
Your obedient servant,
A. Wolfhaven, Colonel
Northern Barony Road, Heading South toward Echer’Naught