Colonel Wolfhaven, Alexander
Commander of the Legio Heroes
Thirteenth Day, Thunder Hawk, Year 3123 Under the Light
As I fight through the agony and pain, it occurs to me that we, and I, are in need of aid. It seems that all of my training, my years spent defending Olara from her enemies has ill prepared me to deal with our current threats. Red Store, or whatever this confederation of miscreants calls themselves, seems to be everywhere and no where at once. If I had but a target to strike, I could rid our lands of this scourge. But alas, for all my planning and care, it was by the barest margin and the true heroism of my Rangers that the Prelacy Captain was recaptured for what I pray is the final time.
As per my report of the sixth, no sooner had our wounded been tended to and loaded onto the wagons, I sent Ranger 1st Class Aradove Longtail with Alfred Ranger along the road to Erimar in hopes of cutting off any avenue of escape in that direction. I ordered to of our men to remain with the wagons and see them safely to Erimar. With Gendarre and the remaining two of his men, along with Ranger Rildrirr, and Corporal Hawkslcaw, I entered the woods under growing dark to track the villain to his hole.
For my part, I can speak accurately as to the events which transpired. What happened to Longtail and Alfred, I must rely on their report to me at the conclusion of the events.
Our party entered the woods following the Prelacy Captain, Hawksclaw scouting ahead, acting as our eyes and ears. We traveled in relative silence, Gendarre, his men and Hawksclaw on foot, I and Rildrirr road behind for the long hours of the night. Never once did we see of our quarry save for the barest tell-tail signs left in the soft earth beneath the bower of trees and the cloven hoof prints of the last remaining Thratchen which appeared to our minds to be leading the Captain to some destination. Like an arrow to the heart of a buck, Corporal Hawksclaw led us unerringly to our mark.
We arrived just outside what appeared to be a small encampment less than a quarter hour before the rising dawn. Here, Hawksclaw paused to survey the scene, when he spied a dark, cloaked figure flitting through the trees. It happened so swiftly that all we had time to do was to dismount and gird ourselves for battle. For in the next moment, the encampment exploded into action.
Five armed me with the look of Kal in their features formed a line of battle and began to approach, swords at the ready. Behind them, that strange, hooded and cloaked man notched arrow to bow and took aim. But most disheartening was the sight of a flame acolyte, bursting into flames and rising into the air above the field of war.
In response, I formed my men into line. Rildrirr to my right, Gendarre to his right and Gendarre’s man on the extreme right flank. As our scout, Hawksclaw found himself out front between the colliding forces, while our final crossbowman remained in the rear, taking aim as the onrushing men.
Unbeknownst to us, at very nearly this same moment, Longtail found herself arriving in Erimar, in the pre-dawn hour. She ordered Alfred to find the local Rangers and deliver my report, as well as, inform them of our situation while she headed to the wharves to prevent the captain’s escape. For the next 30 minutes, she went from wharf-front to wharf-front seeking out any who might know of the Captain’s plans, or of anyone planning to leave by water.
At moments before first light, just as the heavy fog rolling in from the river bank. As she slowed to assess the situation, she heard the scuff of boots behind her and glanced back to see two more armed figures closing off any escape. Alone and surrounded, Longtail slowly drew her blades and waited for the attack to come. She did not wait long.
Back in the woods, our situation heated quickly. Hawksclaw nearly took an arrow to the left eye, the arrowhead slicing open the side of his head from his eye-socket to his ear. I surged forward, running to his aide, Rildrirr with me. A heartbeat later, Gendarre and his man joined us. But in that moment, the Acolyte attacked. Summoning fire into a swirling maelstrom in his raised hands, he hurled it as us like a bomb. It exploded in our faces, bathing us in searing fire and nearly knocking us off our feet.
Hawksclaw fired into the Acolyte, striking him high in the left chest, but the man just cackled manically, the fire wreathing his body burning away the shaft, starting with the fletching.
On the streets of Erimar, Longtail’s battle was going about as well. She managed to fend off the first three attackers, deflecting two his her twin swords, and the last, a quick save from her bracers, but the fourth man buried his boarding ax deep in her side. Were it not for her armor, she would surely be dead. Her counter strike was brilliant, taking one of her assailants in the stomach and dropping him to the sandy street in a pool of his own blood.
In our confrontation, the twin lines of melee warriors finally clashed in a cacophonous ring of sword on shield. I slashed, but was deflected aside by a well timed shield. To my right, Rildrirr and Gendarre’s footman quickly cut down two of the Kal-a-Nar foot soldiers. And that is when the Thratchen appeared in a puff of sulfurous gas, slicing into Hawksclaw who was at that moment being pressed by two Kal warriors with nothing but his bow. Still, he fired another shot at the Acolyte, doing less damage that previous.
Calling upon the name of Archanon, I prayed for his strength and guidance and was blessed as power surged through my men, raising them to new heights of martial skill. I only hoped that it would be sufficient.
Longtail had no such aid in her desperate struggle. Again they struck and again she deflected all but the last, who struck the same spot, chopping at her like a tree. This time, her armor split and the ax head bit into flesh. All seemed lost, but at that moment, Ranger Longtail received a different kind of intervention. Preceded only by the thunder of hooves in the mist, Alfred astride his mount, cantered past, his spear flashing in the morning light severing a man’s head from his body. Two down, two remained.
Around me, the woods began to burn as heat rolled of the acolyte in scorching waves. Green leaves blackened and withered on the branch as he floated closer. Again an orb of roiling fire appeared in his hands and again he lobbed it at us. It struck very nearly at my feet. I felt the intense head fuse skin to metal as I began to cook in my armor. Beside me, my Rangers flinched a step back. Hawksclaw continued to fire, even as the Kal soldiers hacked and stabbed at him. The enemy archer changed tack and loosed an arrow at Rilrirr nearly taking out his eye, but only clipped the top of his right ear. I doubt the big warrior even noticed.
He and the footman surged behind me, falling on the Kal surrounding Corporal Hawksclaw and cutting them to ribbons. For my part, I finally dropped the man facing me, and for a moment considered the tide to be turning. I was wrong.
Rildrirr’s shout alerted me to a figure disappearing through the woods at a high rate of speed. It was the Prelacy Captain on a fast horse and putting distance between us with each moment that passed. And then all was clear. Again, the mercenaries and childer were nothing but a distraction, paid for by the Prelacy and orchestrated by Red Store. We could win the battle, to be sure, but in doing so, we would likely fail our mission.
To the Abyss with Red Store, the Prelacy and all!
With a curse, I stepped back, shouting to Corporal Hawksclaw to get Rildrirr, and the crossbowman and fall back to the horses. I would hold the line with the footman and Gendarre. I had a plan. Not a good plan, but a plan.
Without hesitation, Hawksclaw pulled our men back. To my surprise, the North-man followed without objection. I half feared he would resist retreating in the face of Flame, but he followed orders and in moments, they were halfway to the horses. Everything seemed to be going according to plan, and the Acolyte opened fire again.
I never saw it coming, just felt the sudden rise in temperature as the missile engulfed us. Gendarre took it bad, his man, worse. And in that instant, my holding action crumbled. We only need to hold the line for a few moments to give the others time to saddle and prepare to move, but I was out of time.
Taking a deep breath, and reaching down deep into that reservoir of strength that I first when meeting the Silver Unicorn, I envisioned my men, burning around me, envisioned the horror that the Prelacy would wreak upon the Southern Kingdoms if the Captain escaped. And then I envisioned another future, one where I stood with my men beside our horses, ahead of the flames. I reached down, grabbing Gendarre and the footman by the shoulders and I took a step backwards…
Even with Alfred’s help, Longtail was tired from a night of running and outnumbered. Again and again they slashed and each time she parried a little slower. Alfred, for his part, made pass after pass, but them men were wise to him now and would duck under his blow each time he rode through. It was just a matter of time before one of them landed a lucky blow.
And they did. Longtail screamed and Alfred spun, lowering his spear, he charged, but this time right for the melee. The second man ducked again, but Alread drove his spear down, punching through the man clean into the ground, pinning him their like some insect on a board.
Rolling with the momentum as Hawksclaw had instructed, Alfred kicked free of the stirrups and landed beside Longtail just as the ax-man raised his weapon for the killing blow. Jerking his spear from the dirt and ripping it free from the man’s body, Alfred spun and rammed it two handed into the man’s back. It burst a full five inches from his chest, nearly stabbing Longtail in the face. And with that, the battle of Erimar was over, but the fight against the Prelacy Captain has barely begun.
Breathing heavily, both Rangers took stock of the situation, Alfred guarding while Longtail searched the bodies finding familiar signs of Red Store. So, they were already ahead of our party and clearing the way for the Captain. If we did not hurry, he would have escaped.
They were just turning to leave when voice rang out in the silence. A local boat captain had heard the ruckus and come to investigate. Seeing the Ranger’s in battle he wisely chose not to interfere, but, with a bit of prompting, revealed that no-one had been through the town seeking passage that morning. But, should someone wish to CROSS the river, they would head to the south ferry.
Thanking him, and tossing some gold for his troubles, both Longtail and Alfred made all speed south of town.
If I never experience a Tempest Portal, Flame Cauldron or sorcererous teleport again I shall count my days fortunate ones. And yet, as before during the battle north of Korg, the Silver Unicorn heard my plea and granted me and those I vowed to protect her reprieve.
…I stepped back and found myself standing beside my horse with Gendarre and his man unconscious at my feet. Rushing toward me, I saw the looks of shock and surprise on Hawksclaw’s face to see his Colonel appear as if from thin air. I would have taken a moment to explain, but was momentarily overwhelmed by the sudden and debilitation lethargy that slammed into me.
Perhaps it is simply because teleportation is such a violation of nature’s laws, or perhaps it is a reflection of the energy it would take to make the same trip by normal means. Whatever the case, during both of the only two times I have ever attempted something akin to this, I found myself suddenly sapped of all strength barely able to stand.
As I knelt on the ground, coughing and trying to regain my balance, Hawksclaw, Rildrirr and the crossbowman scrambled up the ridge and joined me. Despite his obvious confusion, my corporal wasted no time on meaningless inquiry. Instead, he leaped into the saddle, preparing to ride.
I ordered that he and Rildrirr take the wounded soldier and uninjured crossbowman and track the Captain. I would take Gendarre and try and distract the Acolyte long enough for them to get a head start. To his credit, Hawksclaw simply nodded and ordered the others to ride out.
As I watched them disappear into the trees, I considered many things. I knew that in my condition, alone and facing the Thratchen, the enemy Rover and the Flame Acolyte I was almost certainly doomed. But I was aware of things that they were not. Even if they managed to kill me, that would give my men the time they needed to apprehend the Prelacy agent. A turn of the tables as it were. And I knew that I was not alone for I had with me Archanon, Ascended of Light and the blessings of the Silver Unicorn.
Sliding my father’s blade into the sheath hanging from my horses saddle, I drew my elven blade and shield. Gendarre still breathed, so I jammed a bottle of healing potion between his lip and upended the contents down his gullet. He sputtered and coughed but regained some life. With my help, he managed to climb into the saddle.
With my man secure, I turned and put distance between myself and Thunder. Above me, the sky turned red and black as the Acolyte drifted into range. I have yet to see one of these grandstanding fire slingers move with any speed in the air. Through the trees, I saw the shadows of the Rover and the Thratchen moving toward me.
I had banked on the idea that alone, I would make a tempting target for a mass attack. For once that day, I was right. They came at once, the Thratchen popping into existence behind me, the Rover firing and the Acolyte immolating me with fire. Calling on Archanon once more, I asked for his light to surround me in holy power.
Archanon’s light met Ceynara’s fire in an explosion of energy. I threw up my shield, deflecting the Rover’s arrow aside and I slashed at the dazed Thratchen, catching him in the chest and cleaving his head from his shoulders. And then, I ran.
With the Acolyte raining flames down on me, and the forest burning around me, I put spur to flank and pushed Thunder hard. Fast enough that neither the Flame spawn or the demented woodsman could catch me. And with the Thratchen gone, there was little they could do to stop my Rangers.
By the time I reached the Howling river, Hawksclaw’s team was already there, standing frustrated on the near side of the river as the ferry boat was just washing up on the far shore. At first I was confused, for it seemed that the boat and broken free of its guide rope. But, when I reached the sandy shore I saw Longtail rising, drenched from the river, a fierce expression on her face.
Apparently, when Hawksclaw arrived, the Captain was already half-way across the river on the ferry. Longtail arrived moments later and immediately began climbing across the rope after in the frigid water. Realizing the threat, the Captain had cut the line at the boat, dropping Longtail into the river and un-mooring his craft. Fortunately for the Captain, but unfortunately for my men, he managed to tie off the boat and hold on until it beached on the far shore.
The ferry master was foolish enough to confront the Captain and lost his head for his troubles. By the time I arrived reached the shore, the Captain was gone and Longtail was naked, though I did not notice until much later so pained I was from my wounds.
Our luck did change when the same helpful riverboat Captain from Erimar appeared and agreed to ferry us across the river on his boat. I imagine that our naked Brinchie might have had something to do with his willingness but at that moment I really did not care about the reasons. Once across, I left my wounded on the boat and asked him to drop them at Silverport for treatment. Then, with what remained of my command, we continued on, but I knew we were in no shape for another protracted battle.
So, I sent Corporal Hawkslcaw, Rildrirr, Alfred and the crossbowman north to Southgate for remounts and reinforcements, while I continued on with Longtail who gamely kept up. I honestly do not remember a great deal from those three days, only that I kept in the saddle only virtue of the pain preventing sleep.
On the grasslands somewhere between Stagg and Crystara, the two groups met in sight of the Captain. It was a rough ride, but along with the three new recruits Hawksclaw acquired in Southgate, we managed to close on the fatigued Captain. And it was again the Northman Rildrirr who finally rode the Captain down and nearly cut him in half.
And with that, the chase and recapture was done, save for Hawksclaw re-treating his wounds enough to get him safely to Southgate.
Our return to Southgate was at a much more leisurely pace. All in all, the efforts to recapture the Captain took six long, arduous days. Encountering the Flame camp on the 7th, we crossed the Howling river and Hawksclaw reached Southgate by 1PM on the 9th. After another day’s ride north, and then two and half days back to Southgate, we arrived, late, and exhausted on the 13th of Eternal Sun.
A friendly local sheriff agreed to take temporary custody of the prisoner, though I made sure to assign two of the new Rangers, the Alakar and the Brinchie to keep a close watch over the night. My men objected. They feel responsible for his escape and anger at the pain it caused, but no one, save perhaps Rildrirr is in any condition to watch the man. I’m not sure if Rildrirr might accidentally “misinterpret” act on the part of the Captain and finish what he started.
After a long bath, some medicinal herbs and long night’s rest in an actual bed, I intend to start in the morning after I am able to secure a river boat for the rest of the trip to Kythros. My plan is to stop first at Erimar to pick up the two men left guarding the wagon and then continue on to Silverport and collect my wounded if they are able to travel. I also intend to continue to untilize the services of the Aevakar, Alakar and Brinchie Rangers from Southgate, though I will try and actually learn their names in the morning. There must also be the conversation with Hawksclaw about his recent magical incidents, but that can wait also.
Though I am happy to have secured the prisoner, I feel responsible for failing to predict Red Store’s attack. Or at least to properly prepare. I fear I may be ill equipped for this form of warfare. At the very least, we MUST re-evaluate our current strategy in dealing with this cult and find a way to more effectively combat them.
This is just ONE of the issues I intend to discuss with command once I reach the city. Nevertheless, my men are safe, or at least healing and our prisoner is under guard. I pray to Archanon that our trip will be smooth sailing from here on in.
Your most obedient servant,
A. Wolfhaven, Colonel