Lord Mayor, Colonel Baron Wolfhaven, Alexander
Commander of the Legio Heroes
Temporary Regional Command at Echer’Naught, Olara
Filed: White Stagg 1st, 3127
Bittersweet. There is no other word. We held the line against the Builders coming to destroy our home. We defeated the monsters in the darkness. Even our fallen comrades came to join us in our final hour. And yet, our victory was not without cost. Much of High Towne suffered severe damage, and the mines beneath present a constant threat of further collapse. Worse, the mines are still teeming with creatures beyond horror. But worst of all, due to my blind willingness to aide an ally, Eris Moonsilver was taken captive by a demon bent on revenge against a guest of House Wolfhaven.
Thunder Hawk 16th, 3127
Weeks before we even knew of the attack on Echer’Naught, I received a personal request from Major Hawksclaw to join him on an outing. For two years, Hawksclaw suffered at the hands of Velkalar while his Alpha Team battled on, under the command of Sergeant Evoran Que’kasaars. I too was gone, beyond this life, after being struck down by darkness, but for less than a year.
Hawksclaw rotted in a hole while his friends died. By the time we found and rescued him, nearly everyone he knew was dead or gone. And no matter how many reports he read, there was always a question, a hole in his heart where Evoran had been. I have the same wound, many times over.
So, at my friend’s request, I cleared a few days off my schedule, much to my staff’s dismay, and I rode out at dawn, passing through North Gate as it opened. Idly I wondered if any of the guards, City or Ranger, saw me through my rather thin disguise. Though, I find that outside of my armor, and without my retinue, I am seldom recognized. People see the power and position, rarely the man.
Stopping on the rise just north of the city, I paused in the morning mist to watched the flow of traffic into the city while waiting for Hawksclaw. I did not have long to wait. He rode out, similarly disguised, a short time later and joined me.
Still within sight of the walls, we kept quite, riding in mostly silence. In an emergency, I could have reached Evoran’s Sacred Grove within the day. But, we were in no hurry. And so, we made our way slowly along the North Barony Road. At night, we pulled off the road and made camp. Just we two.
Memories flooded back. Missions, patrols, drinks at the HQ. For a bit, it was like old time.
Thunder Hawk 17th, 3127
We rose before dawn, cleared our camp, and left barely a trace. Rain pattered down. It was damp and gray. Perfect.
Now clear of the public road, Hawksclaw and I were free to talk, though it was mostly just banter. At some point, he decided to challenge me to a race. It was a friendly competition, and I quite enjoyed the exercise. Thunder won, but it was hardly a fair contest. Hawksclaw rode an elvish pony, and I a Harken Masterbreed Warhorse.
I cannot recall the last time I have simply rode for the joy of riding. That thought makes me sad.
By dusk, we arrived at the east ridge overlooking the grove’s valley. I’ve been there before, but I was not at the battle. I had to rely on the Rangers still living a the time to tell me what happened.
The Ranger’s original Olaran allies died there, below the ridge. RFC Benjamin Toma died alone, laid out below the far rock ridge. Hundreds of men and women spilled their life’s blood across the field before the battle was ended by Evoran’s ultimate sacrifice. So much loss for an empty field of flowers. It’s always that way.
In the center of the field, half way between the ridge and the rocks, Evoran’s Sacred Grove. We camped the night there, overlooking the grove. The mood was solemn. Little was said. Hawksclaw seemed deep in thought. I certainly was.
Thunder Hawk 18th, 3127
In the morning, we ventured into the valley on foot. By the time we reached the trees, an Eldakar druid stood waiting. He ignored me, instead bowing to Hawksclaw, welcoming a fellow follower of Landra. Only the, after Hawksclaw vouched for me, did the elf acknowledge my presence, if barely.
It was rather refreshing, actually.
Entering the grove was…unique. Not like Echer’Naught’s Sacred Grove. But, beautiful. In a bit less than a year, the druids had grown hundreds of massive 200+ foot tall Everwood trees from the burned sapling of Evoran’s tree.
And then, we were there. In the center of the grove, the largest tree. An everwood 300+ feet tall, wrapped in massive rose vine. The thorns alone are 3 feet long and sharp enough to carve Olaran plate.
I waited as Hawksclaw approached the tree. From my distance, I could not hear what he said to Evoran, but the trees rustled, almost as if whispering, and then an acorn the size of a man’s head nearly caved in Hawksclaw’s head as it fell. I did hear a bit of Hawksclaw’s snap at Evoran’s tree, but I’ll refrain from recording here. I could tell the Druids were getting edgy. I take it they don’t get much company, so I stepped up to say my piece.
Sergeant Que’kasaars gave his life to save his team, and hundreds of women and men. There is no greater sacrifice. I have long felt he deserved recognition for his act of bravery. Though his own pin was immolated in his death, I had the Ranger smiths forge a Range Cloak clasp that would stand the test of time. Placing it against the rough bark, I offered silent thanks to a fallen friend, and hero. I felt power flow through hand, warming my palm. When I withdrew my hand, the metal was seared into the bark, a permanent reminder of Evoran’s service. One a member of Alpha Team, always a member.
Our mission accomplished, Hawksclaw and I headed back to our camp, packed, and rode away. The vacation had been pleasant, but duty called. We made good time headed back. By the time we stopped on the 18th, we were almost in sight of the walls.
Thunder Hawk 19th, 3127
At mid-day, Major Hawksclaw and I arrived at Echer’Naught. We made it almost to Center Pointe before we were spotted by an panicked adjutant who “flustered” over. Until that moment, I was not aware that word was a verb. Our cover blown, we shook hands and parted ways. He south to the City HQ, and I north to the Regional.
Raining Leaves 12th, 3127
A man came to me from the west. We have mutual acquaintances. Ma’avi Fr’eki requested to enter my House’s service. There was a small catch. While serving behind lines in the Empire, Fr’eki crossed swords with a demon. Numerous times, I believe. During the last encounter, instead of killing, or being killed, by the demon, he arranged to meet the demon in a year. And, it appeared that the appointed day would be Raining Leaves 18th, 3127. Though I disagreed with making a deal with the demon, I have sworn to protect Light and Life. And so, I invited Fr’eki into my House as a guard. Watch was posted about the city for the demon. Preparations were made to confine and defeat the demon when it appeared.
In the meantime, Ma’avi agreed to remain within the protected grounds of the Wolfhaven Manor. We could not allow his confrontation with the demon to cost collateral casualties. I never imagined how poorly my good intentions would go.
Raining Leaves 18th, 3127
We suspect the Revenge demon arrived in the city, on the 18th, or somewhat before. We HOPED to lure it into the open where he could be isolated. I did not trust it, regardless of its “assurances” to Ma’avi. But, it was clever, too clever. My watchers never spied it, and we could not initiate a more thorough search without tipping our hands, and potentially endangering others. In hindsight, we should have expected something. In this, I failed. And Eris, Samira and their families paid the price.
Harvest Moons 16th, 3127
On the 16th, I invited the Alpha Team, family, and friends to a Harvest meal at the Manor House. My wife was in her element, checking and rechecking preparations. I’ve said it before, but she commands our domestic staff better than any field commander in the heat of battle. She is a marvel. Mostly, I tried to stay our of her way, and work through the daily mounds of paperwork.
That eve we were joined by every active duty member of Alpha Team, and their spouses, most former members who were nearby, and their spouses, and friends of the team over the years. Commander Schenkle attended with Sara on his arm. Sergeant Ravenwood-Regillus attended with Sir Regillus. Lieutenant Alfred Wolfhaven joined us with is fiance, Evelyn Afliem. It was the first time really seeing her as her work is now mostly at the Legion Keep. Others attended, too many to name. But, the house was filled with laughter and light.
Before the meal, I had a surprise announcement. Neither Alfred nor his bride are interested in fame or the glare of public life. So, they chose to affirm their union in private, without great fanfare, at a private dinner with those they love and respect. To no one’s surprise, apparantly, I announced their wedding. The simple ceremony was conducted their in the feast hall, officiated by an elven druid I have never met, but known to Eve. With a few words, their hands were bound in the elvish way.
When the silken rope, wound their wrists, I felt a pulse of power that made my head dizzy. Their aura’s flared, glowed, and then merged. I am no expert at such things, but I believe they Life Bonded in that moment. Alfred never spoke to me of this, but he is his own man. He understands the risks. So often, we are caught between our personal love and our duty. Should Hawksclaw have bound to Eris? His absence nearly destroyed her. And yet, who am I to deny my Rangers a life? Do I have that authority?
After the wedding, we feasted and toasted the new couple. Evelyn was radiant. Alfred seemed happier than I have seen him in…years. I wished them all the happiness they could find, knowing all too well how fleeting such moments may be. And then, the crowds went home and I remained to drink quietly with my son. I was struck by a pang of regret that my own father did not live long enough to experience my own wedding, to see my joy. Until this moment, I had not realized how much he had been robbed.
My feelings were mixed that night as I lay to sleep. Though, rest eluded me for some time. We ask too much of our Rangers. They sacrifice everything, and deserve so much more. They deserve happiness. I only wish it were in my power to grant it.
Harvest Moons 25th, 3127
I discovered only afterwards that RFC Steelwing arrived in Almahrad almost at dusk on the 25th. He managed to toss a letter into Volstagg’s Ranger compound. I have not read the contents, nor will I likely ever do so, but essentially, RFC Steelwing knew that the Winghunter Novri was close. Steelwing was too wounded to survive a fight, and Novri would never engage if he sensed a trap. So, Steelwing asked for Captain Volstagg to come alone, though have backup nearby in case of the worst.
To his credit, Captain Volstagg came to the aid of a fellow Ranger, but he had the wisdom to notify the Rangers, the Prince, and the Emissary. When he arrived, I am told, Steelwing was near death. One wing severed at the joint. But, he was alive. Volstagg went to help him, when Novri, seeing the Captain alone, attempted to assassinate him quickly, before finishing Steelwing. I cannot fathom his reasons as Sir Volstagg is one of the better known duelist produced by the Rangers.
Nevertheless, the two men battled furiously, each grievously wounding the other. A chance blow by Novri nearly skewered the Captain, but Steelwing dove between in a final act, trading his own life to give Volstagg an opening. The Crimson Knight did not fail, running Novri through with his sword. This SHOULD have ended things. But, it was very much the beginning.
Before Captain Volstagg can apprehend or finish Novri, he was stopped by agents of the Blood Witch. Led a by a Morden Vampire, the group consisted of several werewolves, Nightguard, and former Ranger, Aronzo. Or, more appropriately, the werewolf abomination that Aronzo became. They demanded Novri for interrogation and execution. I am aware that during the events surrounding Sergeant Grendel and RFC Ranna’s capture by the Blood Ogress, Gram Gram, and their escape, Novri, who had also been imprisoned by the Blood Witch’s brood, launched a devastating fire attack on the Blood Witch camp. For that, they had dispatched their new ally, the werewolf Aronzo to hunt down and capture Novri.
At this same time, another group materialized. This, the Emissary, Corporal Leora Nazir, and RFC Newt. Though I am unsurprised by the Emissary’s arrival, I am concerned about her actions. She offered Novri to the Morden Vampire in exchange for Aronzo’s corrupted High Magic arcfire cloak. The loss of that item after Aronzo’s corruption and fall concerned me greatly, though I do not know if I would have given up Novri in exchange. Nevertheless, the Morden Vampire conceded, despite vastly superior numbers and turned over the cloak in exchange for Novri. They promised an excruciating death for the Winghunter, though I wonder if it will come to that?
The Emissary then healed Captain Volstagg’s wounds, and, apparently, returned Steelwing from the dead. However, in doing so, altered him forever. Captain Volstagg reported that Steelwing’s wings are now whitesilver. I imagine there are other, less obvious alterations as well. Though he wears a Ranger Cloak, Steelwing is now the Emissary’s agent. I find that happening all too frequently for comfort. We are allied, but I wonder at the Emissary’s motives. The again, the same has been said of me…but those closest.
Rather than taking Aronzo’s cloak for herself, the Emissary and Captain Volstagg turned it over to the Prince to add to his growing collection of ancient arcfire oddities. Willingly turning over such a powerful item seems an odd play for the Emissary, but I have come to expect such maneuvers.
Harvest Moons 33rd, 3127
With the near death of Corporal Blackstone and RFC Mansfried, I immediately ordered the Rangers to cordon of the sink hole and brought up reinforcements. At that moment, I had no way of knowing if we were facing an invasion from beneath. However, I could not leave the city unprotected, so I mobilized the City Watch under Captain Vasser, and the City Militia under Commander Schenkle. They were under orders to coordinate lock down of the city gates, and active patrols through every street. All current and former members were called up, creating of force of nearly 2000 men to cover the Stockyards, Middle Town, Low Town, the Warhouse District, the four city gates, and Main Street.
I ordered Major Hawksclaw to coordinate with Sir Halten and evacuate High Towne. We established a triage and temporary city at the Fair Grounds north of the city. Any Nobility that could not evacuate to their estates out of the city, would be provided accommodation and protection there.
My Rangers, and all those still in the city after the activation of the Fort Halten Sanitation Works, I called up to assist in evacuations and securing the perimeter of High Towne. Major Hawksclaw’s office managed the entire city and evacuation, save for High Towne. Colonel Anderson coordinated with Kythros and any of the Blood who refused to flee the city.
Leaving me to contend with whatever was emerging from beneath the Beacon Hill. Using every contact and favor, I summoned mages, druids, priests, adepts, paladins, alchemists, and builders from every faction within the city. Even Ash arrived with his senior academics to apply their unique understanding of blended magics.
At the heart, Siegemaster Whit, with his wife and family, worked with the Explorer from Alpha Team to analyze ever piece of information that the growing network of casters could provide. We blanketed the hill with magic, probing though every conceivable means. Confused reports began to trickle in. Large quantities of Crysarium were detected beneath the city, but the readings were obscured. And, the danger seemed to spread throughout the hill, though none of the casters could confirm precisely how or where. Ash’s analysis was the most detailed, but something was disrupting even his Mind’s Eye.
While Hawksclaw evacuated the civilians, and Colonel Anderson the Rangers, Sergeant Major Stormhammer’s team began to pull out vital resources. If we were to lose the Regional Headquarters, we would not lose everything. Unsurprisingly, Malcom refused to leave the Library until all the records were secured. In the end, we were forced to provide him with his own security detail under orders to teleport him away should it come to that.
Close to midnight a void opened beneath the Echer’Naught prison. Major Hawksclaw was close by, along with members of the Alpha Team, Sergeant Sssahlissstaah and RFC Grimm. They arrived to find the south west corner collapsed and the ground floor all but gone, sucked into the earth. Along with it, the prisoners, mostly Stormguard captured during the attack on the day’s festivities. While the Rangers secured the perimeter, Major Hawksclaw ventured as far down as he dared, but it was clear that many prisoners had survived and were now escaping into the growing chaos beneath the city.
Our researchers and casters were still plumbing the depths beneath the city attempting to divine magically what we faced, while Siegemaster Whit, his family, and the Explorer analyzed the information to theorize a strategy for attack. We were only just gaining an understanding of the sheer size of the voids beneath the city when I was approached by Sir Calaban Rabenklau. As I grappled with saving our city, the merchant lord had the temerity to demand I send in Rangers to seize and secure the emerging tunnels under the city. Apparently word of large quantities of Crysarium had reached his ears.
We still did not know if these caverns or tunnels or voids were even large enough and stable enough to enter, let alone interconnected in any way. However, my objections were overruled by Sir Eric Halten who, in my absence, gained official command of Alpha Team as a political compromise. Though the Royal Sheriff had the good grace to appear chagrined, he nevertheless ordered Alpha Team below High Towne, bad damned the risks. I could have objected, but with both Sir Rabenklau, and Sir Halten’s weight behind the order, ultimately I would have lost and…time was of the essence. At least, they game me some time to assemble other teams in support.
So, with bad grace I sent a message through Eris Moonsilver to summon Alpha Team to my temporary HQ just across Main Street from the first sink hole. The day’s celebration had drawn huge crowds, filling High Towne to a capacity never before seen in the city. As bad as that was, it ALSO drew large numbers of Rangers. We had near 1500 greencloaks in or around the city. A staggering number. I called up every last one. I sent orders along every command line splitting the Rangers into groups of ten and assigning them a senior NCO or officer to command. Each team was dispatched to a known access to the voids below, or assigned a magical team to establish teleporation.
I also summoned up Beta and Gamma. Epsilon were already working with the City Engineer, Master Kester Highwall. Abyss, even Masters Tarok Kilnfire and Garok Mason had put aside their decades long feud and were helping clear rubble. While waiting for Alpha Team to assemble, I called my command staff together for a situation report. Sergeant Minor Longtail provided insight and a working knowledge of some of the former sewers. I know she was close with the former City Seneschal Therel Fateweaver, who in a former life was the King of Low Town and the de facto head of the city’s Thieves Guild.
Her working knowledge of those tunnels, however many remained, proved tactically invaluable. She was also one of my most experienced Rangers and NCOs. So, when Alpha assembled, I thanked Sergeant Sssahlissstaah for her handling of the team, but for this mission, Sergeant Minor Longtail’s seniority and familiarity with the environment dictated that Longtail assume command of Alpha Team. It bears noting that Longtail LONG resisted command of any form. I had to promise not to promote her to Sergeant Major, a rank for which she certainly qualifies, before she agreed to assume her post within my personal staff.
Nevertheless, Sergeant Minor Longtail assumed her new role with almost no complaint. Which, more than anything should indicate the dire circumstances. Alpha Team was ordered to take three days rations, but two weeks of water, plus a double load of all ammunition. Showing unusual generosity, RFC Gilbur Gil Grimm handed out a plethora of protection potions to the team. He did not even comment on reimbursement at the time, though not doubt the Rangers will receive a bill. All appeared to comprehend the sheer gravity of the situation and acted professionally accordingly. In addition, Longtail ordered the team to arm themselves with White Silver arrows and stabbing weapons, and other specific, though unusual equipment. Clearly, the Sergeant intended to be prepared for any eventuality.
Once the team we kitted, I led them personally to a newer sink hole near the corner of the Lamplighter’s Guildhall. Some of the oldest, but most recently renovated, sewers ran beneath and initial probes by the growing army of casters suggested the void underneath to be likely stable. And so, with a caution that we might lost contact, and that we would likely be unable to pull them out should they encounter too stiff resistance, I allowed Alpha Team to step into the ritual teleportation circle. With a last look, I gave the command and sent my team into the darkness below.
All over the city, Ranger teams stood by, waiting for Alpha Teams initial reports. I waited near their point of entry, prepared to use my own power to dig them out should it come to that. What followed, I only learned later.
Alpha Team materialized in total darkness. Only RFC Ranna could see, and only just. So, Longtail ordered torches lit, and sent Ranna forward to scout ahead. The ogress turned one corner and came under immediate arcfire. Multiple arclances opened up, filling the tunnels with fire. Moments later, two Mad Bombs bounced into the corridor, catching half the team in an explosion. While they manged to dive out of the way of most of the blast, RFC Ranna was blow clear through the floor into a lower level of the maze of tunnels. Worse, the way to the arclancers was blocked by the cave in caused by the explosions.
Sergeant Minor Longtail elected to go the other way in hopes of finding access to the lower tunnels. This time, she took point, having Corporal Blackstone backing her up. Within a few dozen yards, she entered a cavern where a bloody battle was already in progress. Stormguard, escaped prisoners, were being slaughtered by something nearly invisible. Longtail later described it as a copper man with some form of invisibility field. One hand was an arclance, the other spinning blades it was using to chop up the Stormguard.
Though cloaked in her own shroud, the arcfire man-thing seemed to sense her presence and blasted her into a wall with arcfire. And then, it appeared to vanish. The Stormguard, faced with Alpha Team, offered no resistance. They were scared.
Once Longtail assured them that the Rangers were not hunting escaped prisoners, the Stormguard were all to happy to talk. They explained that after the initial tremors and Ranger alarms, a sinkhole opened beneath their prison. Many died, but almost thirty found themselves in tunnels below the city. They tried to find a way out, but quickly encountered Builders who were setting up shields. When the Builders saw the Stormguard, they opened fire, killing many, and then collapsed the tunnel between them, cutting off access to their forces.
Having no alternative, the remaining Stormguard took other tunnels running into all manner of horror. They spoke of undead which exploded into green clouds which killed and corrupted, no doubt the Wild. They were stalked by ghoulish creatures that kept to mist and fog banks in the mines. What these might be, I had no idea. Not to mention the Builders and the copper man-thing. It seemed that all of our worst enemies were gathered in one place, all trapped in the tunnels.
Was this by design, or some horrible accident? Having been transported through a collapsing Tempest vortex, I can well imagine who a large enough rift in the Veil my suck through. Perhaps the Maker behind this horrible tragedy simply tore through half a dozen Realms trying to punch through Shaintar and the city’s defenses? Or, perhaps there is another explanation to the veritable moster invasion beneath our feet? I cannot provide answers.
While Alpha Team interrogated the Storm Guard, RFC Ranna was involved in a fight for her own life. Separated, she found herself in a cave so dark and chill, that even her ogre thermal vision provided little sight. But, she was not alone. Whether by sheer happenstance, or some strange providence, Ranna found herself trapped by another monster lurking in the dark, a Morden Vampire.
We have known since Grendel’s capture by Gram Gram that Ranna, once on her path to being a Silver Paladin, was corrupted by the power of the Blood Witch. This taint has granted her power, but also made her susceptible to influence of the Blood Witch’s minions. And of these, none are more powerful than the Morden Vampires. Strangely, from Ranna’s reports it seems the Vampire was relieved to find her there, sensing the Blood within her. The Morden took it as fact that Ranna served the same master, and so ordered Ranna to accompany her through the tunnels. The Vampire even admitted that she had recently fed on Rangers caught in the initial collapse.
I gather than Ranna considered complying, playing along to bide time. But, the risk was too great. Any concession to the Blood Witches power would leave her more vulnerable in the future. And so, alone, with no hope of rescue, Ranna turned on the Vampire and attacked. Her shot went wide, and the Vampire struck her mortally. Ranna went down, alive, but bleeding. And then, the Vampire punched into her chest and ripped out Ranna’s heart.
Here I should say that Ranna died in those tunnels. And, in a way she did. But, by tearing out Ranna’s Life’s Blood, the witch also inadvertently removed much of the taint. Then free, with her last breath, Ranna committed herself wholly to Celesia, the Silver Unicorn. And in that moment, she was remade into a living embodiment of the Silver Unicorn. Pure White Silver purged the remaining taint from her body and spirit. Born anew, Ranna smashed the Vampire into the wall, before crushing her with Grendel’s white silver club.
Moreover, Ranna’s transformation released a tremendous pulse of power, running along the tunnels like a divining wave, lighting them up against the background. Above, the teams of casters suddenly gained a vision of the entire tunnel network through into high relief. From that afterimage, the Builders created a map of the entire tunnel system
RFC Ranna’s blow ALSO collapsed part of her tunnels, opening a path between the first and second levels, granting the rest of Alpha Team a shortcut below. In the tunnels, Sergeant Minor Longtail planned Alpha’s descent deeper into the mines, and dispatched Corporal Blackstone to return to their entry point. His orders, report on their progress directly because all communications had been severed.
At the same time that Alpha sought a way to reach RFC Ranna, and Ranna battled for her life, a potentially greater crisis arose above ground. Not long after Alpha vanished into the tunnels, the entire Ranger battle network died at the same moment as another large tremor ran through the city. Worse, Major Hawksclaw loses mental contact with Eris Moonsilver.
From the day they wed, Eris and Rah-sahn share a mind. They can sense each other’s thoughts, and when they focus, can read each others minds. Over the years, it has become like breathing. Fortunately for Eris, her discipline allows her to compartmentalize sensitive information away from Hawksclaw’s awareness. Even so, having the Ranger Commander of Echer’Naught tapped directly into our most powerful Farspeaker has proven a boon.
But when Hawksclaw appeared in my camp, I could tell by the stricken expression on his face that Eris was in trouble, or worse…
Most of my top Rangers were already on mission, many below the city, others too far way to arrive quickly enough to save Eris, if she could be saved. I had Hawksclaw…and Sergeant Samira Ravenwood-Regillus. Despite being one of the most lethal Rangers to ever serve on Alpha Team, and no senior NCO of Echer’Naught’s Gray Lanterns, Samira was ALSO pregnant. A fact which made sending her into danger abhorrent. Still, with her range, I hoped that any danger would be at extreme range, where she could provide support for Hawksclaw without unnecessarily endangering herself.
So, I sent them together to recover Eris.
It should be noted that after the attacks of the Flame Ranger and undead Von Dietrich that Regional Command made the decision to offer more protection to our highest value personnel. To that end, a network of corridors was constructed under High Towne, and elsewhere, connecting the most vital locations. These tunnels were heavily warded, cloaked in the most powerful concealment spells, and guarded by a team selected from the best of Gamma Team, with a few Gray Lanterns, and Beta Team as well. The full network, and schedule of personnel rotation were known to a few. Eris being one.
While Major Hawksclaw was aware that his wife’s security has been increased, he did NOT know of the tunnels. Being a ranking NCO in the Gray Lanterns, Samira knew OF the tunnels, but no more specifics. They were constructed in the safest location in the city, under the strictest secrecy…and even that was insufficient!
So, I ordered Samira to lead Hawkslcaw to the Gray Lantern “ready room” beneath the Regional HQ, there, she was to enter through the Blue Door. Various doors were scattered around the city, all invisible to those who did not know their location, trapped, and locked with the most sophisticated system our best minds could devise. But, with the voids breaking seals and wards across the city, many of our entrances had been compromised. Gamma Team members had been dispatched the moment of the initial attack to secure these doors to prevent further incursions.
Again, I learned of this only AFTER they returned, but Major Rah-sahn Hawksclaw and Sergeant Samira Ravenwood-Regillus entered the nearly abandoned Regional Headquarters, headed into the cellar system and she unlocked the secured door to the Gray Lantern’s ready room. There, she found the Blue Door, one of several connecting this room. With the wards down, the door was visible and unshielded. I had provided her a key which granted access. But, when they opened the door, a cloud of smoke and dust roiled out. As I feared, Eris’ tunnel had suffered a catastrophic collapse.
A short way down the narrow hall, they found where a sinkhole had opened and nearly swallowed the entire tunnel. However, Hawksclaw could see, and sense Flame below. So, he drew his rapier and squeezed through the rockfall into an open cave below. There, he was greeted with a sight which stopped him cold. Eris’ entire security detail was dead. Half had been crushed or smothered during the initial collapse. But about half had been dissected into pieces. Worse, at the far rough wall, Eris Moonsilver floated unconscious, ensnared in a web of Flame ropes.
Standing in the room with them, was a man in non-descript clothes, apparently waiting for someone to arrive. Upon seeing Hawksclaw, he seemed to vaguley recognize him, and then demanded to see Ma’avi Fr’eki. The Revenge Demon! It had not occurred that the demon, unable to reach Ma’avi, would target another member of our household as ransom. It was an error in judgement, and may prove to be our undoing.
Hawksclaw, of course, knew nothing. He was utterly confused when the demon attacked. But, the Major gave as good as he received. Moments later, hearing battle, Samira slid into the room and started firing on the demon. I believe, had the battle continued, that they would have slain the demon. I imagine the demon realized this as well, because he acted so cowardly as to stab the pregnant Samira in the stomach, before using vile thaumaturgy to ensnare Hawksclaw and Samira.
I believe the demon did not kill them because he wanted to ensure that we followed, though why he did not kill one and leave the other to speak, I know not. Still, he gave Hawksclaw 48 hours to produce Ma’avi or Eris would die…horribly. He said to meet him at a camp to the west. Supposedly Ma’avi would know. And then, with a snap, he vanished along with Eris.
No sooner had he vanished, then the Flame bindings dissipated. Taking a moment to check on Samira, Hawksclaw got them both out of the hole and came for me. I could feel his rage radiating. It has been many years since I felt this…not since the battle with Sir Lugard. He demanded to know who took his wife, so I told him as much as I could then. But, the situation on the city had worsened. Our casters had used Ranna’s pulse to map the entire system of tunnels and found a central point where they believed the enemy was building something massive. Already, the energy buildup was bleeding out and indicated power on a scale almost unimagined. Further, there were four other points at the cardinal directions where smaller sites had been constructed. Seeing the map, it reminded me of the Tempest attack so many years ago… Though his was smaller, the setup was almost the same.
Hawksclaw told me we have 48 hours to save Eris. I asked him to wait. To help me save the city, and then we would both bring her home. I promised him. He agreed, but I fear he may never forgive me. Archanone and Celesia I pray I can keep that promise.
Hawksclaw stormed off to do his duty, and I sent Samira to the healers. Apparently, she and the baby are well, but the child is weak. It will take regular healing to keep it hale. As a druid, she has this capacity, though I fear this pregnancy may be more difficult than before.
Even as I contemplated this new horror, I sensed Blackstone trying to break through the seals of the tunnels. Before he could be lost or injured, I pulled him free. He offered his report. Sergeant Minor Longtail and the Explorer confirmed that the tunnels were not a Builder citadel, in the traditional sense, but rather they represented a massive Crysarium mine beneath High Towne. Worse, Longtail confirmed that this mine was the SAME mine she had seen so many years ago when Tempest attempted to breach the veil above this VERY spot. The Explorer noted that the tunnels were carved using advanced techniques, and supported, not by conventional means, but rather by use of specialized Barrier runes and wards etched into the walls, floor, and ceiling of the mine tunnels. These same magic etchings prevented teleporting into the tunnels, and obscured our ability to see within. However, the Explorer suggested the “defensive” capabilities of the runes was a byproduct of their true function as arcane supports, rather than an intended function. The mines were not a fortress. Only the front entrance appeared to be “guarded.”
That did not explain why when the mine phased into our world portions started immediately collapsing. The Explorer here offered explanation. Many section of the mine appeared to have damaged clearly caused by arcfire weapons. He suggested that there was an attack on the mines BEFORE Raven’s Cloak fell over Shaintar. Which might explain why the front gate was so heavily guarded. If this mine were in operation toward the of The War which led to the fall of the Starfather, then it is possible it suffered attacks. But, whose side was the mine on? And who was now attacking? Was this attack merely the continuation of an earlier conflict? Were these Builders trapped outside of time? Or, had someone known the mine would return, and seized this opportunity to attack????
My head spun with implications. But, I had a city to save.
After completing his report in quick, concise words, Blackstone told me he had a message for Stormhammer. The dwarf was all the way outside the city, coordinating the temporary camp at the Fair Grounds. So, I ordered Blackstone to pass the message through me. Longtail told Stormhammer, “It’s true. They are free.” I’m sure I will someday learn what my adjutants have been discussing, but at the moment I had far more pressing concerns.
I handed Blackstone a crude map just given me by our cartographers based on the caster’s reading of Ranna’s energy pulse. It outlined the three levels of tunnels. I pointed out the central ritual site and ordered Alpha Team to get close enough to provide a report. Then, I sent him back and returned to my temporary HQ where the leaders of dozens of Ranger Teams, Sir Halten, Commander Schenkle, Captain Vasser, the head of the Silver Paladin order, Bishop Vallandrian, Sophia Longarm, and dozens more familiar and unfamiliar faces stood waiting. Even Blythe, the new King of Low Town lurked in the shadows. Five years of memories flooded through me.
Alpha Team was marching to their deaths against impossible odds. Samira was hurt. Hawksclaw raging. Dozens of battles, thousands of foes, and each man and women here etched in the history of this city. The hour had come.
With four tertiary ritual sites, and the central ritual beneath the center of the hill, I divided my forces.
Commander Schenkle and the City Militia were ordered to strike the East Ritual, entering through a sinkhole near Sir Halten’s estate.
Sir Halten and and the Knights of a dozen houses, including my own House Guard, with Silver Paladins would strike the West Ritual, entering through the prison sinkhole.
Captain Vasser, Sophia Longarm, and druids from the Sacred Grove would strike the Northern Ritual, entering through the same sinkhole Alpha Team had used.
Major Hawksclaw and half our Ranger forces not securing the city, would hit the Southern Ritual, entering a sinkhole just west of the gate.
I would assemble the remaining Rangers, along with Lieutenant Alfred Wolfahven, his new bride, Eve, and my Ranger escort to strike at the heart of the ritual. We would teleport through, homing in on Ranna’s new signature. Samira appeared, and though I worried, she demanded to go. So, I consented knowing that I very well may lose both my most trusted men Hawkclaw and Anaxelum by putting their wives in danger.
Even members of the Thieves Guild arrived. They offered to scout and cover our flanks. Under normal circumstances, I would have refused, but something about Blythe’s intensity led me to believe they could be relied upon, at least in this.Though, I suspect their offer was less about generosity and more personal gain.
And so the teams went in, with my own standing just outside the Harken Estate, waiting for the signal to attack.
Hundreds of feet below, Alpha Team entered the second level of the tunnels to the sounds of rushing water, and mist roiling through the shadows. Immediately they were attack from either side. To the rear, Xaos Scorpions struck and stung. To their fore, ghoulish creatures moved through the mist, biting and snatching, trying to drag the Rangers away. With Alpha were five of the Stormguard they had saved before. Two died almost the instant they entered the second level.
Creatures of mist and darkness unlike any that I have encountered. With so many new evils appearing in our Realm on a nigh daily basis it is nearly impossible just to keep pace with the daily threat meetings. But something about the description of these creatures reminded me of scout reports near Shaya’Nor. Apparantly, allied forces have encountered new forms of Darkness that appear to access our Realm via Ebonways. They think these creatures are spilling in through Shivak Novos. If that is correct, does that mean that Vainar’s shadow land has been overrun? The very thought is too horrifying to contemplate.
Still, Longtail set up a line and Alpha Teams warriors cut through the creatures. Blackstone was almost dragged away, but the very stone responded to his singing, giving him purchase and allowing other members of the team to reach him. Almost as quickly as it begun it was over. RFC Grimm making the final kill. He also used his Alchemy to etch away some of the protective runes allowing the Builder to blow a hole into the third level of tunnels.
With the breach, Alpha Team reached the deepest part of the tunnels, and the heart of the ritual. There, thy found a massive arcfire shield, like a bubble, more powerful than any they have encountered. Within the bubble, Builders worked, while Arclancers, Boom Troopers, and Arcfire juggernaughts set up defensive positions waiting for assault. And, at the center, a secondary shield, smaller. This one contained an arcfire device six feet across and pulsating with rippling amber energy. Manipulating the controls, a single Builder, though so encased in armor, it was impossible to make out any features.
However, the Builders were not alone. Wild infused corpses prowled the tunnels outside the energy field. They immediately reacted to the arrival of Alpha Team, shuffling into their rear ranks. In a surprising turn, the three remaining Storm Guard offered to hold the flank while Alpha Team destroyed the Builder ritual. They asked only for swords. Without hesitation, Alpha armed the criminals, before leaving them to their fates.
Their flank secured for the moment, Alpha Team approached the gate, but the Explorer quickly identified the arcing energy field would require High Magic to penetrate. Sergeant Minor Longtail was just contemplating sending a runner back to establish communication, when Ash and his cohorts signaled that Ranna had reached the Ritual. Even and a dozen other Sorcerers and Druids triggered a massive teleportation ritual, centered on the ogress.
I appeared in the tunnels near Alpha Team. They looked tired, but hale. Better than I expected honestly. Without pause, Longtail delivered her report. I sent Rangers around to support the Stormguard, while maneuvering my own forces in the narrow confines. We had no room to maneuver, the natural rock formations narrowed our approach to a choke point. Opposing us would be entrenched Builders with pre-set heavy weapons. There was no means to flank, and our movements were as visible to our enemies as theirs were to us.
There comes a moment in most battles when fancy tactics must be abandoned for the final charge. The moment when you have nothing but your courage and the man beside you. So, I stacked my Rangers in a wedge, with myself forming the tip of the spear, and my Alpha at my back. We drew our blades and with a mighty shout, I drove my Father’s Sword through the shield summoning my power and pushing it THROUGH. I felt heat wash over my arms and face as the silver-blue blade sparked against the amber shield. Azure blue lightning hissed and sparked against burned orange as the Builder’s engines pushed back. It felt like trying to push through a solid steel wall with the heat of molten metal, but I gritted my teeth and leaned hard into the sword.
For a heartbeat I feared I lacked the strength to overpower the shield, but then a tiny ripple appeared where the tip of my sword bit into the energy field. Tiny at first, it began to widen. From behind the barrier, I could hear the high pitched whine of the Builder generators notch of several octaves. They started to scream in unison. So I pushed, and shoved, pitting my will against that of the infernal engines. Heartbeats stretched into eons and then with a final shriek a section of the barrier collapsed, shattering into crackling sparks.
Behind me my Rangers roared and I shouted, “For Echer’Naught…”
…before something slammed into my chest, knocking the wind from my breath.
There was a bright flash, and a massive pulse of arcfire and I found myself standing seemingly alone in an open field of frosty grass. They TELEPORTED ME! They…swept me aside like so much garbage!!!
I confess that in that moment a well of rage exploded through my being. My anger felt like a burning sun to scorch the earth and bake into clay. I was FURIOUS! So Furious that I wasted precious time screaming inarticulately at the sky, slashing at the ground, and venting my frustration in a petulant and embarrassing manner. It was only when I felt eyes upon me that I wrestled my faculties. On a hill, some distance away, a sheepherd stood staring at me, mouth agape. His flock looked on equally stunned, their expression identically comical.
The sheer absurdity of my situation overcame my frustration, refocusing me on the task at hand…saving Echer’Naught. My own master once again, I took a moment to get my bearings. The teleportation landed me somewhere north of the city, not far enough to take me out of the fight for long, but far enough to delay me. Perhaps, just enough to kill my Rangers and destroy my city.
Praying to Archanon, and summoning the power of the Silver Unicorn, I tapped into the blood flowing through my veins. During times of crisis in the past, I have tapped into the core of power burning in the center of my being, but only in extremis. Never have I consciously, intentionally, unleashed my full power. Fear always held me back. Fear of losing control of the unfathomable coursing through ever fibre of my being. Fear of harming those around me.
But my fear of losing my family, my city, my Rangers overwhelmed any other considerations. And so, I let go. I allowed the power to consume me, change me.
It was like being reborn in the heart of a star. Everything came into clear focus. Everything. And I could feel them. The Builders. Like a fire burning in my mind. I could see the pattern of their ritual, hear reality warp and scream.
Blasting into the sky on wings of starlight and power, I rocketed toward Echer’Naught. Trees bent and shattered at by passing. A small pond evaporated into steam. Windows in the city shattered as I passed. How long I was gone, I know not, but the battle still raged when I slammed through the courtyard of my manor home. Down through the chamber, and into the Vault.
Rents spiderwebbed the arcane reinforced metal. I could feel the fractious roil of conflicting energies as the artifacts sparked and repulsed on another. So much like their mortal bearers. Even at the best of times, Alpha Team have been split by internecine bickering and conflicts. We fight amongst ourselves, pursue individual goals that, occasionally, conflict with the unit. Even in love, there is strife. But, we are still the best this Realm has to offer. At our very worst, criminals, tainted, even given over to dark powers, I would put all my faith in my Alphas when all is on the line. To their own destruction, the Greenway Road Rangers have never failed, never faltered at the line.
I could feel them, dying. Each wound, each burn, every injury inflicted was like a dagger through my soul. But I could feel their determination.
Kenzie and Ingrid, their hearts aching at the absence of the third of their triangle of love. Still, when Ingrid’s power drew fire and her body was riddled with arcfire, Kenzie took up the stands of her magic, holding the line and that fire turned on her. Ranna, tall and bright, fired and fired, Mog taking a toll on the Builders. Her armor stripped away like ablating metal in a forge, but she never slowed her inexorable steps. I could FEEL the Builder’s fear as she closed on their lines. Beneath their feet, the living rock rose to answer Blackstone. The Mountain roared, crushing all who dared to stand before him. But it was not just Arimar, but generations of dwarves before him, each linked in an unbroken chain going back farther than even he knows. I glimpsed his TRUE strength and was awed. Unnoticed, but undaunted, Grimm hurled bottle after bottle, pouring our his greatest resource, his precious potions. But, there was no fear, no hesitation. Builder after Builder fell as his concoctions turned their world to pain. And Sir Mansfried, the newly minted Ranger commanded them all. I well recall my first battle with the Rangers. Tempest Towers looming over us, Shayline stretched in strands of power and time. I was unprepared for the responsibility of the fate of the Realm, but I did my duty. As did Mansfried. And in that moment, I saw him, not as he is, but as he could be, leading armies against the tide of invaders…
And deep in the shadows, unnoticed by any, but my senses, Longtail. Shadows cloaked her like a second skin. Her power, quiet and deadly felt like a knife prick to my throat. And with her, The Explorer…his mind spinning like the Builder machines. What was he thinking…
…ah, clever, clever.
I felt Longtail call upon Celesia, for the first, and she answered. I felt them vanish from my sight, and then reappear. A poisoned dagger at the heart of the enemy. Longtail appeared above them, slashing with a violence I have not seen from her since her first days with the Rangers. Then she was among them, cutting, driving them back. Shielding the Explorer who attacked the enemy barrier generator.
The Vault door crumpled at my touch.
I rose into the sky above the city, filling the night sky with light. Below me, Echer’Naught stretched. Lights filled the streets as the Citzens stood in the gently falling rain, eyes turned to the hill. Every street, every avenue was filled with the light of lamps and torches. They waited, for victory or the end.
There was no fear, just eagerness. In each hand, they gripped a weapon. If the enemy had come to take their city, they would fight. Though my Rangers were deep in the dark, they were not along. Thousands of prayers, carried by whispered voices, rose to the sky, and delved to the deepest earth. The Ascended awakened to their call.
Gathering my power around me, the faint rattle of wood and metal around me, I dove. Slamming through through the streets, through the first and second levels. Then the third. I hit the Maker’s barrier with all my power and felt the matrix strain.
Below me, tinted orange by the refraction, I could see the Maker, his hand outstretched to the Explorer. Though I could not hear the words, I knew the offer all to well. Power.
Fate stopped. The worlds seemed to cease spinning as the Explorer chose, and in choosing, sealed the fates of thousands.
The Maker’s disappointment radiated as brightly as the generator at the heart of the ritual. He stepped back, and then I felt the barrier give way. I was through.
White Stagg 1st, 3127
The barrier winked out, as I crashed the ground. Panicked, the Maker teleported away, but his forces recovered quickly. In slow motion, I watched them turn their lances on us again.
But there was more, a power I have not felt since my time in death. A rent hovered behind me. I know not whether I opened the rift when I bored through the barrier, or whether shattering the Maker’s power triggered a shattering of the Veil. I know only that when I looked through, I could hear the waves from the Boundless Sea, hear the whisper of the Eternal Forest, feel the breeze from the Endless Sky…
…a doorway to the lands of the Ascended.
Standing in the doorway, a crowd of faces as familiar as my own. Friends, family, and Rangers long passed. For briefest moment, I feared that I was burning way, that the power ripping through me was devouring my form, killing me. Then, one of the Honored Dead stepped through the doorway, as real any.
Grendel, in his full raiment strode across the room, and knelt to take his great club from Ranna’s stunned hand. And then Serys, his face a familiar scowl, beside him a beautiful elven girl. His sister? There Kura’Kai, big as life, leaping through ready for battle. Ben Toma, the slight Adept also approached Ranna, asking for his mask. Danica stood, as she had in life, her cloak of green, the Golden Gryphons emblazoned her her tabard. So too Von D stepped through, though from where I could not see. He reached down, picking up his family sword and his entire spirit flickered. He said nothing, merely gazed coldly at the Builders. Thorgram Ramshorn stepped through and retook his shield, looking pained to see it damaged. And there was Evoran, resplendent in his robes, staff held in one hand, book the other. There were others, Rangers who died on other teams, and even Streetrunner snuck out when no one was looking. The last, Griznahk Olgor and Captain Manning. Both looked hale and happy, if ghostly.
Tears blurred my eyes. Alpha Team, living and gone, formed shoulder to shoulder and gazed at me waiting…
Their faith, their dedication flowed through me, and I raised my blade. “For Echer’Naught!” I cried and hurled myself into battle. Around me, the Rangers attacked. Arrows flew, spells exploded into Builder Ranks. Warriors carved a path through enemy ranks. We were an unstoppable tide of green. The Builders broke before us, some trying to flee, most throwing down their arms and surrendering. It was over as quickly as it bad begun.
But, the Maker’s machine continued to spin, gathering speed and power. The battle was won, but the city was lost. I could see it writ on every face, living and dead. To save Echer’Naught, some would have to sacrifice to contain the blast.
We had seconds. I nodded to the Honored Dead and ordered the living to fall back. With the moments they had, lovers embraced, old friends hugged, and comrades said the words they were denied in life. Finally, Olgor clicked his way slowly across the floor, looked at the Rangers, young and old, and smiled. “You have done well,” he said, before turning and taking my hand.
As the flesh and blood Rangers pulled back, the Spirits joined hands around the Maker’s engine, forming a ring with their own essence. I joined with their, passing my power to them, and they to me in turn. Together, we surrounded the device in a web of energy and love. I closed my eyes and reveled in the power. Even beyond death, we are one whole. And, together, we are stronger than the entire Contiuum. Their surety flowed into me, filling me with pride so much I feared I would explode.
And then the device triggered, sending a pulse of energy out, but meeting our strength and reverberating back in on itself. So much power overloaded the machine, blowing every crystal and rendering it inert. It slammed into the ground with a dull thunk.
I walked out of the smoke and crysalized particulates to where my Rangers stood waiting. We had won. More, we stood together as one, a family. Each member had sacrificed so much, and when the hour came, they put aside everything to stand united.
Five years. Five years since I rode into the town of Echer’Naught to assume command of the Rangers here. Five years of war, sacrifice, and loss. Five years of love, fellowship, and family.
Looking at the men and women standing before me, I knew, know. So long as we fight together, there is no foe that we cannot defeat. We are the green line, bastion against oblivion. I could not be more proud.
But, such things must wait. Many are wounded and require attention, and I have a pressing mission. So, I tasked our mages to begin teleporting teams to the surface where they could debrief, rest, and heal. Sergeant Ravenwood-Regillus was sent directly to the Echer’Naught Hospital (formerly the Red Lamp). A special recovery team, Tinkers all, arrived to secure and catalogue the Maker tech. Fresh teams were rotated out, and the clean up operation of the mines began in earnest.
I stayed just long enough to ensure smooth operation, before returning to the surface where Hawksclaw waited. We pulls supplies, issued orders, and by early on the 1st, rode west toward Landra’ Feay to save his wife, Eris Moonsilver.
It came to my attention that due to the confusion of the events, I neglected perhaps the most important piece of information gleaned during the attack. At first, it was the Explorer who identified that the tunnels were a Mine, not a Builder Citadel as first suspected. And, he rightly assumed that the front was heavily guarded to ward of attack, but the rest of the mine was less so.
But it was Ash and Whit who realized the full extent of the Maker’s plan. We assumed they were attempting to destroy the mine and High Towne, but, in fact, the entire attack was a heist, albeit a profoundly complex one. The central device was a High Magic teleportation engine, not unlike the engine kept by Echer’Naught Regional Command. However, this device was magnitudes larger and more powerful.
The four smaller devices were refraction points, designed to create a matrix of sorts. They were placed on varied levels, creating a three dimensional geometric shape. Using the Crysarium of the mine to partially fuel the ritual, the Maker was attempting to teleport a large portion of the mine, and its Crysarium, away from the city. In essence, a smash and grab.
We do not know what would have happened, or if it would have worked. Our BEST minds suspect that all the space, soil, and Crysarium within the bounds of the energy web WOULD have been instantly carved out and transported to a prepared site far distance. The sudden void would have collapsed Beacon Hill and all of High Towne with it. However, the energy would have likely set off the remaining veins of Crysarium, igniting them like a fuse. They would have alternatively burned out, or detonated depending on conditions.
The result would have, at minimum, completely destroyed High Towne, and most likely much of the surrounding city. The terrain change would have caused tremors that would have likely flattened much of the rest of the city, followed by mass flooding. Loss of the life would have been catastrophic.
As it was, the ritual was disrupted, and the energies dispersed. Moreover, the main engine was captured mostly intact. Our Builders are already at work reverse engineering the Maker’s work in hopes of salvaging, or unlocking the construction of, the teleportation device. Capture of this technology is a HUGE advantage to our force. Integrated into the Great Arcgate might provide us with more accurate and reliable transportation.
Your most obedient servant,
Lord Mayor Wolfhaven, Colonel
Echer’Naught Ranger Temproary Regional Command, Olara