Commander Wolfhaven, Alexander, Legio Heroes
Heroes’ Keep, Defiant Lands
Ninth Day of Red Wolf, Year 3127 Under the Light
War is two men trapped in a house, both trying to burn the other man out. In the end, all you have left are death and ash. To what end?
Planting Moons 1st, 3127
Late in the eve on the first of Planting Moons I found myself in the most unusual of places. Being the largest and most convenient location to establish governance, the Southern Blades had established their headquarters and provisional government in the former center of power for the Church of Archanon. Convenience aside, I imagine there was a dash of smug superiority or self righteous justice to the plan. Still, despite the damage sustained during the Crimson Crusade Conclusion, the palaces and adminstravice complexes were more than ample to accommodate the Regent, Lady Viviane of North Face and her Provisional council.
In fact, the eve upon which I received word of Alpha Team’s recovery I found myself sitting at a writing desk, in the former office of the Cardinal of Judgement (His Excellency, Harken Lorre). Strange times. Five years ago. Three? If you had even suggested such an oddity I would have thought you mad. If experience has taught me anything, it is that we can never truly know what our future might bring. And that night, providence brought me the much relieving news that Alpha Team had been found, though much the worse for wear. Where? Bobbing in a boat suffering from exposure, dehydration and wounds sustained from their previous battles…somewhere in the Jewels. Over 500 miles from where we believe the smuggler’s ship was sunk…
However, they were not alone. As near as I can comprehend, after the Kal Winghunters sank the Malakaran smuggler/slaver ship, Alpha Team drifted into or through the Veil, or some artifice of design. I can only surmise the work of greater beings for rather than drown, they were washed upon some distant shore. Not of this Realm. In that place beyond the Veil, they witnessed the razing of a coastal keep. A lone survivor rode for the shore, and encountered the team on the beach, just having survived near drowning. He was being pursued by those forces that had just destroyed his fortress and slaughtered the defenders. Curioser, this strange man, in another Realm, carried with him a crudely reproduced facsimile of my own House Crest…
Upon hearing this news, I was as shocked, confused, and dumbfounded as my Alpha Team must have been at that moment. However, they had no time to consider for at that very moment, the enemy which had only just destroyed his allies poured onto the beach after them. They ran, rode, and scampered to a nearby boat, and just managed to launch it to sea before the horde overran their position. Once relatively safe, the man addressed the Rangers, speaking, amazingly, in their own tongue. It seemed as if by magic.
He introduced himself as Marcus Regillus… The name struck me dumb upon hearing. Could it be? Could one of Anaxelum’s kin have found the Rangers on some distant Realm’s shore? It seemed to coincidental to be true. And yet, I have come to trust in the providence of fate.
The Rangers drifted for a time, how long, even they knew not. Only to be found, drifting on the open oceans hundreds of miles west of whence they vanished by Steelwing’s flotilla. As soon as he regained his senses, this strange warrior, Marcus Regillus, begged to speak with the Great Wolf. It was believed he meant me. Fortune would have it that Captain Roberts employed a Farspeaker who was kind enough to relay this message through Lady Moonsilver in Echer’Naught, to me.
Marcus Regillus’ warning was clear. The enemy was coming. The Wild. From Caladonia. His god, or goddess, Trinity compelled him to seek me out. He/she/it also prophesied that he would meet my emissaries on that lonely coast. For weeks he had waited in the nearby keep, taking shelter from the encroaching Warlock/Wilds forces. On the aforementioned day, the Wild struck, destroying the keep and slaughtering the defenders. In desperation, Marcus Regillus fled to the coast, and the boat that had remained beached there waiting for the emissaries from our Realm. What divine intervention must be at work for the Alpha Team, fleeing from their own defeat, to wash up on that very shore.
I know not when this happened, for I know little of their world. And, as events unfolded, I had little time to satiate my curiosity. Marcus Regillus had risked all, left his own forces, and crossed that wide, mysterious barrier between Realms to warn me that the Warlocks had discovered Shaintar. And, these Wild creatures were empowered by some even darker force, the very power of the elements. Tempest.
My great fear, that constant ache in my chest since my experiences on the first Jubilation day swelled till I was nigh overcome. A month and sixteen days shy of four years, by Archanon has it been just four years?, I stood in the Tempest patchwork pocket Realm and faced down the terror of Tempest. We prevailed, at great cost, but I understood then that there were places more fantastical that I could ever dream. Over these years my suspicions have been confirmed, as have my trepidation. These places, these Realms are largely dangerous and hungry for conquest. Though there are no doubt allies even on hostile shores, men as Marcus, Shaintar will find little welcome the grand continuum that encompasses these Realms.
Tempest is coming. Again. And they have gained knowledge, power, and new forces with which to devour my home.
By the time Marcus Regillus’ warning reached me that evening, already work was nearing completion on the Heroes’ Keep in the Defiant Lands, but it was weakly stationed and poorly provisioned. Even as I labored to secure and sheppard the delicate negotiations around the Coronation event on the 33rd of this month, Planting Moons, to prevent the Kingdom of Camon devolving into another pointless war, I began dispatching desperate orders that all Legionnaires within the region be diverted to the Keep. I also penned orders provisioned money for supplies to be delivered. Admittedly the cost was staggering, but if Marcus’ dire warning was to be believed, coin was but a small price to pay to forestall the destruction of Shaintar!
Still, I was forced to remain. My departure from Camon would have signaled a weakness on the part of our alliance and likely resulted in most, if not all, parties withdrawing from the agreements. So, I stayed and played the diplomat while the fate of our entire way of life hung in the balance upon a desolate plain forgotten even by history.
Summary of the Coronation events, Planting Moons 33rd, 3127, to be explained in separate report.
As soon as Marcus finished relaying his message, and passed into unconsciousness, as it was explained, I ordered Captain Roberts to make all speed to the port of Anasia where the Alpha Team would be met with Rangers from Echer’Naught bringing their gear, supplies, and much needed healing. It was imperative that they, and the foreign emissary arrive safely. I then ordered Lady Moonsilver to contact Lady Highwind in Haggersedge. The time had come to meet. I had hoped with all my heart that this day would be long into the future, and under much better circumstances, but I needed her experience if my agents were to have any chance of success.
She then sent a message to all nearby Ranger Outposts with an open offer of pay for a simple escort mission. Rangers and trusted allies only. Seven answered the question. Only two familiar to me.
Sir Dane Landen, Ranger and White Silver Wolf. He was given command.
Balam. A young brinchie warrior.
Grimgar, a male aevakar archer and warrior.
Jenna, an eldakar archer.
Ithil, a Korindian martial artist
Montigue, another aevakar. A bard.
Rhovelius Dimerian, archer, scout, and White Silver Wolf
My last act that eve, before falling into a fitful sleep, was to draft special orders for the team. The exact location of the Heroes’ Keep has been kept a closely guarded secret for this and…other reasons. So, strict security had to be maintained. I could only impart the details to someone I trusted implicit, someone with the authority to authorize such a mission…Hawksclaw. I intimated the orders to Lady Moonsilver, though I never touched quill to parchment. And she, relayed them to the Captain.
Planting Moons 2nd, 3127
Having received urgent order, the Outposts recruited quickly. By early morning the six were all headed to Haggersedge independently. They met on the road and entered the town together. It has been described as a bustling, growing trading town. Being in the very heart of Galea, on the edge of an Elven forest I have no doubt it is lovely and orderly. Town guard met the team at the edge of town and escorted them to the Highwind Manor. There, they met Lady Christina Highwind for the first time. She was making final arrangements with her Guard Commander, Lady Branwen Vale. Upon seeing the Rangers, Lady Highwind collected her things and joined them outside where she was kind enough to provide mounts. Though she loathed leaving her town, and only grudgingly accept my invitation, Lady Highwind understood the urgency.
Lady Highwind and Sir Landen’s team departed by afternoon, moving fast on horseback. From Haggersedge, Galea to Echer’Naught, Olara is a trip of some 730 miles, though the roads are good and the weather held true. Only light late spring rains. They made excellent time arriving in Echer’Naught on the eve of Planting Moons 20th, 3127.
Planting Moons 6th, 3127
Rangers in Anasia report Alpha Team’s Arrival.
Planting Moons 10th, 3127
Sergeant Alfred Wolfhaven arrives with Rangers to escort Alpha Team and Marcus Regillus home.
Planting Moons 20th, 3127
Entering the east/dwarven gate, Sir Landen led the team to the city Headquarters just off the Main Street. Despite the changes over the years, I still feel a deep nostalgia every time I smell the old pine wood, dusty stray, fustian wool cloaks, boiled leather, oil, steel, and horseflesh. And on a cold night, the warmth of Highwall’s fire pits. When the arrived, they had the honor to meet one of Alpha Team’s founding members, Captain Rah-Sahn Hawksclaw.
He welcomed the team, greeted Sir Landen and Lady Highwind. And then, without preamble explained that they were heading into difficult times. Once all seemed ready, he had his adjutant provide them sealed letters, penned by his own hands, seen by him and no other. They took their orders and spent the evening in the Cloak and Pin. That inn, and the Sword and Bow, have sprung up to billet visiting Rangers to the city. It is odd, even now, that such a need exists. When we began, there were three: Me, Hawksclaw, and Highwall. Soon Longtail joined us. Over time more arrive, Rildrirr, Evoran, Thorgram, Samira, and many more. I could not have hoped to see the corps so successful, or content. I wonder if any of the young faced I see in the green cloaks even give thought to who came before as they sit in the bars, inns, and restaurants that seem to multiply daily? I suppose not. And, is that not why we fight? So that those who come after may live better, live free.
By this point, final preparations for the Coronation were in high gear, so I was unable to recieve but the briefest reports about the progress of Alpha Team’s trek to Echer’Naught, or Sir Landen team’s mission to the Heroes’ Keep. So many moving pieces. I begin to lose track.
Planting Moons 21st, 3127
Before dawn, Sir Landen’s team departs via the North Barony Road gate headed toward Heroe’s Keep.
By that same evening, Sergeant Wolfhaven, Marcus Regillus, and Alpha Team arrive in Echer’Naught. Like ships passing in the night, they miss each other by a dozen hours.
Marcus is immediately escorted to meet Colonel Anderson, while Alpha Team is placed on convalescence.
Planting Moons 33rd, 3127
At Noon, Mereena Avalar of Galea ascends the vacant throne of His Majesty, King Warick Travane. See Report.
Red Wolf 1st, 3127
With the Coronation and festivities complete, I turned over my command to able adjutants. Camondel had enough brash to hull a Kal Carrack. Camon has her Crown and I must see that the Kingdom survives long enough to appreciate it. Evelyn Afliem joined me in secret and she assisted me in travelling to the true Legion Keep. From there, she also helped me establish contact with Eris to receive updates. Sir Landen’s Team was a few days away, but scouts reported enemy troops operating in the area. Many communities were being abandoned as people feared another Kal invasion.
It turned out not to be the Kal, but something far worse. Also, rain. A deluge flooded the region, destroying crops, washing out roads, and cutting off troops and supplies from reaching the Keep. Fortunately, a large stockpile had arrived long before the rains, so operations to stock the larders was already well under way.
Red Wolf 4th, 3127
After another trip of 700 miles, Sir Landen’s Team arrived, wet, tired, and bedraggled. Commander Garrus, post commander of the Keep’s defenders, met them in the courtyard. While the escorts were provided for, Commander Garrus retired to his office to meet with Lady Highwind. While the exact nature of that meeting cannot be expressed here, I may reveal that she was briefed on the situation, and when hearing of the attacks she grew greatly concerned. Lady Highwind feared our enemy was far closer than we imagined.
As the garrison busied themselves making preparations, and the escort amused themselves, another drama unfolded not far away to the North.
Late in the eve, scouts reported a ragged column approaching the keep. Refugees from the nearby raids. How they even found the Heroes’ Keep was of concern, but Commander Garrus ordered they be allowed to approach, and well he did. Upon the 13th hour, the column finally made their way to the top of the narrow switchbacks scaling the sheer cliff to the Keep’s gates. Who was leading the mob but Rysak Ironblood, former Ranger, fugitive, and Unchained. Hearing the news I was struck by a flood of emotions, relief to know he had survived the attack on the Unchained attack, and sadness. He was still a fugitive from Ranger justice. On another day, within the bounds of Ranger authority i would have had him arrested…but we are far from the Southern Kingdoms.
And who followed the column? Always one step behind Rysak, Thomas Zulcrum. Of course. I have witnessed few bonds as strong as that of the dwarf and the olaran.
Sir Landen’s team rushed to provide aide and comfort to the men, women, and children shivering in their skin, while Commander Garrus escorted the former Rangers into the keep where they were given blankets and set by the fire. There, he listened to their report.
Weeks earlier, they knew not exactly when, they had been in the Defiant Lands west of the Keep monitoring Kal encroachment for the Unchained. One night, they were awakened by the sounds of battle and flames when a thick, heavy, cloying, and stinking fog rolled over their position, blanketing all. Lost in the white, they lost track of their team, but managed to stumble into an attack on refugees fleeing through the area. Fires all around, they were attacked by creatures not of this Realm. Massive ogre like beings in heavy armor, smaller orc like warriors, naked and deformed wild men, and something similar to, but vastly divorced from, ratzin.
Withing minutes of their encounter, both seasoned warriors were wounded and outmatched. They retreated, catching glimpses of hordes more approaching through the mists. As they staggered away, Rysak collided with a dying woman. She was missing an arm, an eye, her leg was badly damaged, and her skin was cracked and blackened by fire, but she managed to shove a tattered and bloody messenger pouch into Rysak’s hands. With her dying breath, she said,
“…the Great Wolf…they have come…must stop…”
And then, a wild man hurled an axe into her back. Rysak and Thomas fell on their training and experience. They evaded and escaped, rounding up what survivors they came across and led them here.
This all occurred while I worked at the True Keep moving pieces across the board hoping we were not too late.
Rysak and Thomas were given about six hours to sleep before they, and Sir Landen’s team were asked to meet with Commander Garrus and Lady Highwind. There, the stakes were explained. Garrus needed men to embark and a dangerous, desperate mission. To their credit, none hesitated.
They were summarily inducted into the Legion without the usual fanfare or symbology familiar to the Rangers, Wolves, or so many other organizations. They were asked to raise their right hands, and swear to obey lawful orders of the Legion and to never speak of any Legion missions with any other organizations, Rangers included. Each sworn to secrecy, and willingly accepting membership in the Legion, Commander Garrus permitted them a half turn of the glass to secure any gear they might not wish to lose, and send letters home. Last Will and Testament services were provided. Most of the team kept their gear with them, though they all left their backpacks, bedrolls, and kits behind.
Once ready Commander Garrus and Lady Highwind led the newly combined team out into the hall and down into the barracks, kitchens, and infirmary. Below that on the lowest level of the Keep, they entered into the storage rooms. From there, Commander Garrus led them to a small, closet-like door in the deepest corner of the cellar. There, he withdrew a small white silver key and unlocked the nondescript door. The door led to a set of polished black, perfectly cut stairs which descended deeper into the mountain. The walls of this section were of the same polished stone, but lacked any dust, and the seams, though visible, were smooth to the touch. Just around the first turn, they saw the first arcfire sconce. I can only imagine Thomas we intrigued.
Beneath the Heroe’s Keep is an even more ancient Builder Citadel. I know not when the Citadel appeared, but it was not present when my unit chased out the Kal scouts during the closing months of the War of Flame. However, when dwarven Rangers were sent to scout the ruins as a possible site for the Heroes’ Keep, they discovered the entrance. Once again, providence smileed.
But even this structure was small. We may never know the mind of the Builders, but we suppose this was a storehouse, or maybe a small garrison. Whatever the case, the Citadel below Heroes’ Keep consisted of little more than a long hall with half a dozen rooms on either side. What made the Citadel ideal, however, was the arcgate room at the far end of the hall. When the dwarves first plumbed the depths, they found a damaged, but salvageable arcgate in a large room. With great effort, expertise, and expense, Builders, dwarven engineers, and arcfire experts resurrected the ancient machinery and then proceeded to greatly enhance the capabilities with information provided by allies.
The Great Arcgate of the Heroes’ Keep is a monstrosity to behold. Built upon a circular raised dais, the main mechanism of the gate are a series of three increasingly larger copper rings etched with arcfire script. The rings spin beneath a large copper gate wrapped in wire and covered with strange arcfire protrusions. All is controlled by a panel of runes, levers, dials, and other mechanisms too arcane to comprehend.
Sadly, each use costs the equivalent in resources of a small keep complete with garrison, supplies, and taxes. That is assuming that sufficient crysarium can even be found to purchase. I cannot take credit, however. Last year, when the Long Recon Team returned from the Tempest Isle, they explained that Tempest used a massive Vortex to land troops on the island from some far-flung Realm. Once just outside the Veil over Shaintar, they use more localized methods to move troops into Shaintar. Though it was prohibitively energy consuming, required to have fixed points both on the Isle and in Shaintar, and still resulted in the loss of many troops…it worked.
The Covenants protect Shaintar, but NOT apparently anywhere beyond. Entering or exiting Shaintar presents a near insurmountable issue. The same protections, the Covenants, which hold Flame and Darkness at bay, also resist any attempts to breach the Veil. Just as the Covenants, which sufficient power, one CAN violate those ancient laws, but only briefly and at the aforementioned staggering costs. Tempest requires a Vortex with a Cyclone the size of a mountain. Hence, the Great Arcgate.
Even having the power, travel is useless absent the ability to aim. Again, based upon the Tempest model, they create Cyclone Vortexes both on the isle and in Shaintar, using them as two ends of a raging tunnel linking one to another. Anchor points are vital to crossing the turbulent Veil enshrouding our lands. It was described to me by an allied Builder as attempting to navigated a narrow port channel in a typhoon without a start or lighthouse to guide your ship. You are far more likely to smash on the rocks, or be flung out to sea.
And yet, even with sufficient power, AND anchor points, the journey is still perilous and unreliable in the best of circumstances. It has taken years and a staggering loss of life to even establish the connections which might allow such travel. All for this moment, this one chance to stop, or at the very least challenge a second Thundering Skies.
But, the trip was one way. To return, anyone passing beyond Shaintar would have to find their own way back, mostly likely highjacking or riding a Tempest Vortex back through. The Long Recon Team proved the possibility, but we lost a number in the attempt. And, it is hardly a reliable method of travel.
Still, Rysak Ironblood, Thomas Zulcrum, Balam, Sir Landen, Grimgar, Jenna, Ithil, Montigue, Rhovelius Dimerian, and Lady Highwind stepped onto the dais and stood beneath the arch. Garrus signaled the Builder arcmancers who activated the system, stating a reaction that energized the rings. Rising from recesses in the floor, the rings rose and began to spin, faster and faster. With each revolution, they gained speed, brightness, and volume. The sounds begins as a low hum, but quickly rises to a high pitched metallic scream that shatters glass and leaves some men’s ears bleeding. The light goes from the dull burnt orange of arcfire lights to an intensity only rivaled by staring into the sun.
Faster and faster the rings spun, the sound, light, and power reverberating off the walls. Garrus and the Builders had donned protective ear muffs and smokey amber goggles for fear of being struck blind and deaf. And then, in a flash of arcfire, those within the glowing, screaming, pulsing dome of arcfire simply vanished from existence. Having both witnessed the operation, and been transported myself I can assuredly claim that witnessing is far better than experiencing.
To put into words. It feels as if your soul is ripped from your body with mind shattering agony while you physical body is burned up from the inside out till there is nothing left of you but echoes of pain. And then, it is over, and you stand shivering with heat in some foreign place. It has occurred to me more than once that the Builders might have used arcgates as both transportation and torture device.
Still, the sheer scale of power generated by the Legion’s enhanced Great arcfire gate managed to bend the inhibitors created by the Covenants and the Veil, if just. The new Legionnaires found themselves suddenly atop a stone tower overlooking a wide, grassy plain. The principles are still lost upon me, but this place is a manifestation of magic. Something akin to, but far more powerful than the illusions and phantasms generated by Archmages of Shaintar. What’s more, and critical to this operations, the True Legion Keep is not within the Veil, though I cannot say for sure where, or how. I surmise that is similar in nature to the spirit planes of the Ascended, or even the Dragon Plane, wherever that may be. And because I was critical to the creation of this…pocket…it manifested the form of a mighty Olaran keep set upon an open and vast grassland. At least, that is how it began. As more of the Soul-bonded gems have been added to the treasury, recovered during conflicts, donated by travelers from beyond, and in at least one case, found within our Realm, the grounds have expanded, adding new structures and features. Who knows what kind of vast city might one day exist here.
Evelyn Afliem waited for them just off the dais. By virtue of whatever higher power resulted in her birth, Eve can more easily transition between this place and Shaintar. Moreover, she does not lose connection or awareness to the same degree as even I. Dakota’s daughter has been invaluable in this exercise. Again, providence smiles. I am more convinced than ever that our lives are bent toward some greater good by a benevolent force. Archanon? Celesia? Trinity? All, or more? Who can say?
Eve brought the Legionnaires to me, most still blinking way the lights dancing in their eyes. Of the few who have made the trip, many suffer sickness, deafness, or blindness upon arrival. Thank the Ascended it is only temporary. I was in my office within the fortress, mid-level up the main, square tower. Behind me, a large window looks out over the plains so much like my boyhood home. They were an eclectic lot, to be sure.
Rysak Ironblood still bore the scars of his time as one of the Dwerg madcaps. Though, there were more scars, burns, and the unmistakable chaffing where the Kal slave collar had rubbed him raw. And, to his side, Thomas Zulcrum. Taciturn, surly, but every bit an Olaran. One of the few, true Rangers from Echer’Naught. And, proud Sir Dane Landen. He has served since the time of the first Tempest invasion. Rhovelius Dimerian, or Rho as he is known in the White Silver Wolves. A solid scout, and man not known to reveal secrets. Of the others, I knew little. Balam the Brinchie, two aevakar, Grimgar and Montigue, a Korindian Ithil, and the eldakar Jenna. I wonder did I look so young when I first joined the Hammerfall Riders?
Lady Highwind was much as I expected. Though we had never met personally, we kept similar friends. She was hardly pleased to be summoned, but I could tell from her expression that she understood the dire need. I greeted her as a friend and then took the bloodstained satchel. The missive was short, and written in hasty, but elegant scrawl. Marcus Regillus’ warning was confirmed. Worse, the enemy was here, in our Realm. This new threat came from something called the “Wild” led by “Warlocks”? I must admit much was too alien to comprehend, but it was clear this new foe had allied with some faction of Tempest. And together they had the power to reach Shaintar. Clearly it was no coincidence that a relative of Anaxelum had become involved. Every horror Sir Regillus had revealed during our late night talks over the years had been realized. The enemy which consumed his home, was here. And powered by Tempest.
The letter offered a single ray of hope. The author found the location from which the Tempest infused Wild was launching from in Caladonia, the homeland of both Lady Highwind and Sir Regillus. If allies on the far side could strike at their anchor as we struck at ours, then perhaps we could sever the connection and stem the flow of corruption into Shaintar. Locating and destroying the Vortex here would fall to the Wolfhaven Company of Free Riders and the Legion forces. For weeks we had been tracking the growing storm and know all to well that our foul weather stems from a massive Tempest ritual somewhere in the Defiant Lands. With Unchained reports, and our own, finding it should not be too difficult. Destroying it however…
That left the task of crossing over to Caladonia and taking this information to allies on the far side. For that, we required Lady Highwind. I explained what I could to the team, though much was lost upon them, as was me. Resealing the report I just read, I asked Lady Highwind who might help us on the far side. She took quill and parchment and penned a quick letter to an old friend, Sir Marion Thrace. If the team could find Sir Thrace then she might be willing, and have the manpower, to strike the Vortex on the Caladon side. Her missive was added to my own and I placed them in a messenger pouch emblazoned with the seal of the Legion.
From there, I placed Rysak Ironblood in command. I know he is a fugitive from Ranger justice, but he also has my trust and faith. Second in command fell to Sir Landen due to his experience. After which, Thomas Zulcrum because if it came to that, he would complete the mission. I commanded that they take the message through the Veil, locate Sir Thrace and secure the reinforcements to locate and destroy the Vortex. Nothing was to prevent their mission from completion. Rysak understood. Good man.
After which, I opened the vault and drew from the Legion stores the most powerful, precious, rare, and mysterious artifacts in all of Shaintar. Each was a simple ring of various metals and woods emblazoned with a gem of varying size and color. They have names beyond our Realm, but for use they are Soul-bonded Artifacts. And with them, one may travel from place to place assuming one knows how…and assuming one is outside of Shaintar, and perhaps our Realm entirely. Each Legionnaire was lent one band. Here I implored that they not let these bands fall into enemy hands. It would be better to bite off and swallow a finger than to allow any to take such precious gifts.
Once equipped, I took them to our storehouse and each was given a small travel kit and rations. From there, we crossed the inner garden to the Temple. I had erected this place to honor Celesia, Archanon, and the Ascended. But, another shrine had appeared without my will. I did not recognize it at the time, but it is to Trinity, the god or goddess of the Caladonian people. How it came to be, I know not. Still, upon seeing it, I could sense the wonder and nostalgia from Lady Highwind. Once there, she gathered the Legionnaires in a circle and had them focus on the gems and the symbol of Trinity. I felt a rise of power and then…they were gone leaving me standing alone in the empty chapel with Lady Highwind. For a moment she gazed longingly at her own sword, before shaking her head and motioning back inside.
We returned to the keep and began deep discussions about the Legion and the nature of things. Orders were dispatched for the Legion and allies to scour the Defiant Lands for the Tempest foci. It ended up being surprisingly easy as they were less than a day’s ride from the Heroes’ Keep in a rough and empty stretch of land. Meanwhile, the Legionnaire team in Caladonia was thrust into a nightmare.
Some Date, Some Year in Caladonia?
From after action reports, I conclude their mission when something akin to this:
They arrived in a vast, snowy field in the midst of a blizzard. All arrived safely save for Montigue who was thrown of course and landed in a snow band some distance away. Within moments of their arrive a squad of riders came upon them, encircling them and demanding for identification. At first, they could not understand each other, but quickly the foreign words translated into the native tongue of each of the Legion. They were ordered to surrender, which they did without hesitation. Thomas later described the warriors as Olarans equipped as Northern Barbarians.
The Legion was then escorted to a nearby war camp. From the descriptions, the camp was haphazard, rings around a central pavilion. The further from the “command” center one traveled the less organized and equipped the rings became. And, there were four distinct rings or sections. Though the warriors seemed capable enough, they were hardly organized for large scale war. Interesting to know.
Once they reached the center of camp, they were forced to stand shivering in the snow for a while before entering the command pavillion. There, they met a large, red haired warrior. She was clearly in command by her bearing, armor, and being the center of all attention. She introduced herself as Sir Marion Thrace and demanded to know why they had approached her camp.
With the bard, Montigue, missing, Rysak stepped up and explained they had been sent to deliver a message to her. She took it, almost by force, and after reading, seemed amenable to their cause. But, she explained that the Wild army was bearing down and their position on the left flank of the Bohdan Rift was about to overrun. She sent a small unit into the Hathenclus Range to protect the passes to their rear, but she had not been able to establish contact. If the Legion would be willing to escort her messenger to that force, then they would prove themselves friends, and she might be able to assist. Rysak agreed and was introduced to young, 12-14, year old boy named Wilhelm. He claimed to be a refugee from a place called Epperborne and agreed to show them a path through the Range.
It should also be noted that the appearance of the team changed. Rysak bore a rocky appearance, the elves of the group took on a more harsh/savage appearance, and the brinchie looked all the world like a werewolf. Only the humans and Aevakar remained unchanged. Though, it was clear that the Caladonians considered the Aevakar to be some form of emissary from Trinity. A boon that.
Out of camp, the team traveled Setward (west?) and then Steppeward (north?) into a rising ridge of mountains. The hike was made worse by a constant blizzard. Though he was clearly ill equipped, the young man impressed the Legion by running his feet bloody without complaint. Two days in, they were navigating a twisting pass when the scouts, Balam and Rho heard fighting up ahead. Grimgar and Montigue were grounded due to the high winds.
However, when they fell back to report this, Wilhelm charged into battle. Balam chased in attempt to catch him, but it cost both their lives. Wilhelm was cut down by the same ratzin like creatures Rysak and Thomas had encountered before and Balam was not far behind. His face was savaged beyond repair. Battle joined, Sir Landed led the charge while Montigue covered the back trail. In the tight confines, the enemy had advantage. From above ratten (ratzin like denizens) pounced and the Wild tained wild men hurled spears from rocks overhead.
The skirmish was fierce. Sir Landen, Rysak, Rho, and Grimgar took the brunt of the fighting, with Ithil in support. It was over as quickly as it began, but the cost was high. Worse, Wilhelm’s message was flung over the cliff in his agonized death throws. Fortunately, a quick thinking Jenna scrambled over the icy rocks and managed to save it from falling by plucking it from a branch with her outstretched bow. Meanwhile, Montigue recovered Balam’s ring and Rrka.
At the summit was a small camp of Thace soldiers, most wounded or dead. At the center, commanding the survivors was a young man of his later teens or early twenties. At first suspicious, he accepted them immediately after reading Sir Thrace’s message. He ordered his handful of survivors to burn the dead, collect the wounded and withdraw. It required another two day trek down the mountains, this with wounded and dying. By the time they reached the Thrace camp, it was already in flames. But, not due to attack. The warriors burned anything they could not carry out. Already, the vast majority of the camp was broken leaving only a handful of soldiers and laborers to collect the final pieces for retreat. Sir Thrace’s command pavilion remained, a long sentry in a field of dirty slush.
As soon as the grizzled woman saw the boy, she beamed with joy and embraced…her son. They spoke briefly, before she turned to thank the Legion. After which she bade them drink, eat, and warm themselves quickly. Once refreshed, Sir Thrace explained that the armies were falling back. The Warlocks’ Wild forces had taken the Bohdan Rift. But, she had ordered her son, Captain Lorn Thrace to take two dozen of his best knights and escort them behind enemy lines to strike at the Warlock’s ritual site. Once handing him his orders, she exited the tent, mounted her horse and rode out, without a backwards glance. Around them, the tent fell and was packed, leaving them standing again in a blizzard.
Captain Thrace’s horses were brought up and he ordered them to mount. They rode Seaward, along with two dozen of the best Thrace had left to offer. For two days they dodged Wild patrols till the Captain brought them freezing and sore to a series of caves. Here, the Legion was allowed to huddle together to get some rest. Most fell into a fitful sleep.
The Captain roused them hours later, fed them, shoved warm fermented milk into their stiff hands and confirmed that their intelligence was correct. The Warlock’s Dreamlord Shrine was nearby and more powerful than they had yet seen. Once their fast was broken and they began to show signs of life, he took them and his men on horseback along a series of ridge lines to overlook a large, open plain. Leaving the horses behind with a few handlers, they crawled forward to see a stone tower set alone in the snow. From the top of the tower greenish fire flared. Around its base thousands of men and creatures milled. But above the tower, a Tempest Cyclone turned.
Captain Lorn Thrace indicated the tower as one of the Dreamlord Shrines, but could not identify the turning Cyclone. Rysak could. She explained the power of Tempest and as they watched, a large section of the Wild forces were struck by azure blue lighting and seemed to vanish without a trace. It was a Teleportation ritual. As we feared.
Alone, two and a half dozen against thousands, they had no hope of victory. And yet, the young Captain ordered the Legion to wait until his men rode around and struck from the Steppeward side. They were to then charge the tower and try to destroy the ritual. It was suicide.Glorious, but suicide. Yet, what choice did they have?
So the Legion waited and watched as the snow fell, the sky turned angrily, and the azure lighting flashed. Half a turn of the glass later, the Caladonian knights charged across the field in a perfect wedge, piercing deep into the Wild ranks. Seeing the signal, the Legion crested the ridge and charged. Time seemed to slow as they cut through the temporarily stunned foes. Overhead, Montigue flew straight for the top of the tower and the lone figure calling down the fury of the storm. Just as he approached, the figure clapped his hands, and lighting struck down in angry arcs. Stinking white mist billowed from the tower, cloaking the field in a thick blanket. Within the reeking cloud, the Legion and Caladonians fought like demons…
Something shifted and the sounds changed.
Red Wolf 5th, 3127
From nearby they heard a horn sound. Rysak and Thomas recognized the horn as belonging to the Wolfhaven Free Riders and to be sure, my men charged through camp. Confused, but grateful, the Legion tried to cut their way to the tower. Here I must explain a bit of history.
After receiving Alpha Team and Marcus Regillus’ warning on the 1st of Planting Moons, I penned a letter to Sir Anaxelum Regillus explaining the situation. Though I could have used the Farspeaker network, this was a personal letter and I penned it in Tempest, for added security. He received the letter some five days later, on or near the 6th of Planting Moons. I had expected him to request leave to return to Echer’Naught to meet his relative, cousin I now know, when he arrived, but upon hearing of the potential Wild invasion in the Defiant Lands, he requested immediate activation of the formerly disbanded 9th Explorator Legion. I agreed and he marched out that very day.
While Rysak’s Legion unit was battling the Wild Tempest anchor on a snowy plain in Caladonia, the reformed 9th was marching on an identical tower a day’s ride north and west of the Heroes’ Keep. So, when Rysak’s team found themselves suddenly back in Shaintar, they were under the cover of the 9th arclances. As the Wolfhaven Company of Free Riders engaged the Wild Tempest forces in the plain, the 9th assaulted the tower from a nearby ridge. Stormfire met stone and ripped the tower, the ritual, and the Cyclone to shreds. Mission accomplished, the Free Riders sounded withdrawl.
Rysak ordered his team to follow suit. Riders and Legion retreated under the cover of 9th Legion Stormfire. What a time to be alive?
Just beyond the battle, Ryasak’s team reach the Free Rider’s horseline and once identified, they were given mounts of fallen Free Riders and allowed to retreat back to the Heroes’ Keep with the rest of the Riders. Sir Regillus covered the withdrawal, spending the lives of his men to buy time for the others to escape.
Red Wolf 6th, 3127
Once the ritual was disrupted, the Cyclone dissipated and the weather turn hot, and less wet. In the early hours, the Free Riders and Rysak’s team returned to the keep, making their way slowly up the switchback to the relative safety of the Keep’s walls. Here, they were given food, drink, medical attention, and most importantly rest. Commander Garrus took reports from Rysak and the Free Riders. It is from these reports that I have pieced together the events of the last few days.
At around mid-day, the 9th under Anaxelum marched in with less than half their number remaining. They too broke ranks and fell out to rest. At this point, the Heroes’ Keep boasted a garrison of some 100 Legionnaires, 20 Wolfhaven Free Company Riders, Rysak’s team, a dozen 9th Storm Legion under Sir Regillus and over thirty refugees. Against this force, an army of over a thousand Wild Tempest marched. They arrived by nightfall, with massive arcfire siege towers, and cover of a smaller, but devastating Tempest Cyclone.
The assault on the Heroes’ Keep had begun.
What men I could move had already been transported from the True Keep to defend the gates in Shaintar, but we only had enough Crysarium to make a few trips before the Great arcgate was powerless. Though the Legionnaires in the True Keep were safe, they were also unable to aide their brothers dying in the Defiant Lands.
The Wild Tempest forces began the assault by smashing the keep’s walls with arcfire and stormfire siege engines. Burning stones the size of houses shattered against the gates. After an hour of onslaught, the magically reinforced stones gave way. Then, the true attack began. Hundreds of Wild tainted Ratten, men, barbarians, and even fallen Legionnaires and Free Riders poured over the walls and through the breach. The defenders were swept away by a living tide of corruption and storm.
Dozens of heroes were forged and cruelly cut down as the defenders fell back from the walls, covering the retreat to the central keep. In the sky above, flights of winged lizardmen appeared and rained arrows and magic death upon the quickly dwindling defenders. They were dying…because I called them here.
In some way I understood the enemy strategy. Strike the Legion Keep where all our forces were gathered and destroy the gate. In one decisive attack, the Legion would be destroyed and the greatest hope for the people of Shaintar would be snuffed out. But, if some remained safe, if I remained safe, then even cut off, we presented a dire threat to Tempest’s designs, even if diminished by our defeat here. Take the field and risk my death and the true annihilation of the Legion, or stand by and sacrifice the innocent life huddled behind the Legion…
There was no choice. A fool I may be, but I will not stand by and allow my people to be slaughtered wholesale. Not if there is ought I can do!
Against advice, I sought Eve out. Through the power granted by my own Soul-bonded artifact and her great connection to the spiritual planes, I was able to traverse back through the Veil and into the keep, though the cost was great. Worse for her. How many centuries had I just asked her to burn away? Already, fine lines of age etched the concerns of her eyes. To save lives of the Legion, I had stolen hers…
Without sacrifice, there can be no heroism…
The Veil tore at me, threatening to strip my sanity, by very Essence, but weakened and pained I found myself standing alone in the gate room. Thunder was stabled in a private, secure stable in the second level of the keep. I must admit to feeling a deep sense of relief seeing my old horse, my constant companion, waiting for me. He could smell the smoke, hear the roar of battle and the same light shone in his eye as mine. War had come and once again we would ride to meet it!
Saddling him quickly, a survival skill I had mastered years before on the open fields of the War of Flame. My Archanon, has it been just seven years?
Mounted, I drew my father’s sword and ascended the steps to the battle above. As we neared, I felt thunder’s hooves pounding on the stone steps, the roar of blood in my ears, the cacophony of battle as we burst from the stairs into the grand hall. Frail, terrified men, woman, and children huddled against the walls, staring at the double doors in horror. They waited for the inevitable death to come. But seeing me, their expressions changed, first to shock, then to…not joy…but it was as if a great weight was lifted.
The fear melted, but as the weight of their terror lifted, I felt the burden grow heavy upon my shoulders. What do they see when they look at me? Salvation? Victory? What would they think if they knew I was but a man, weakened by a lifetime of war, weighed down by the deaths of so many friends, family, and brothers…
They rose to their feet as I spurred Thunder through the great halls toward the closed doors. No cheer was raised, no cry. They simply stood and watched, hands outstretched to brush Thunder’s coat as we passed. At the far door, the defenders, the last line charged with dying to protect the innocents huddled within drew back, eyes wide. Thunder raised high on his back legs and struck the ironbound ironwood door with the force of an avalanche. It splintered outward, scattering the Wild tainted men trying to hack through from the far side.
I felt Thunder gather beneath me, the old familiar breath before he exploded into action. I summoned power, Archanon’s light, Celesia’s hope, Tempest power, and the cold heat of the burning star within me. We charged, as one. Man and Horse, as my first instructor said so many years ago, the perfectly evolved killing machine. Thunder exploded out of the hall and trampled a mob of men too slow or stupid to get out of the way. I cleaved and cut, kicked and hacked through the throng of hideously deformed men and women around me.
I could see the Legion falling back, Commander Garrus sounding retreat, Sir Regillus’ 9th holding the center of the line. Such bravery, such heroism…but in the end, even I was not enough. My momentum stalled as bodies swarmed. Thunder screamed as ratten bit his legs and wild tainted men stabbed his flanks. The weight began to tip me, I could feel Thunder scrabbling for purchase on the stones slick with blood and offal…
And then, I felt it. A power above me, dark and terrible, concentrated to a point. My father’s sword screamed, as did the voice inside my head. A god-killer. That is was Anaxelum called it. A weapon of such destructive power that even gods, dragons, or great spirits fell to its lethal purpose. There was a pulse, as if the very air burned and I could feel malicious focus bearing down on me.
I was a fool. I allowed myself to be baited and the trap was sprung. My life matters little. I have far too long cheated a death that should have taken me a hundreds times over. But, by my failure I doomed this keep and my Realm…
And then I heard a scream and the sky above me turned green and azure blue as a body was torn asunder, vaporized till nothing but heat and light remained. I spun and caught the last glimpse of Rysak’s body being consumed in a conflagration of energy…
And then, silence followed by a loud chunk as the spear aimed at my heart sank spent into the stones by my stirrup. A cold, white rage fell over me like a shroud.
Another brother. Another friend had died for my hubris.
Of what happened next, I can only relate in the vaguest sense. I moved as if through a dream. I remember ripping the spear from the ground, my arm going numb as residual energy tore at my flesh. My son is the master of the spear, but I learned enough during my days in the saddle. For every life taken, I hurled that deadly implement into the heart of the winged devil above me. It struck true and whatever power remained in the spear shattered its protective spells and ripped his life from his body.
As he fell like an injured bird, the turning clouds above slowed and the will of the Wild army broke. Anaxelum shouted and our lines pushed. Together, we drove them across the courtyard, through the ruined gates and off the cliff. No mercy was offered. Hundreds were flung screaming to be dashed into bloody paste at the base of the cliff hundreds of meters below. More tried to flee down the switchback path, but I rode them down.
Red Wolf 7th, 3127
I raged for what seemed like hours, but eventually the tide of anger ebbed and I found myself gasping for breath in the plains below the keep. Around me, Tempest siege towers burned. The ground was littered with a carpet of corpses, and the victory cheers of the defenders high above echoed across the plain.
As for me, I slumped in the saddle, spent of energy or emotion. How long I sat there, I know not. Eventually, Anaxelum found me, and helped me from the saddle. Both Thunder and I were too weak from exhaustion to make the long climb up the switchback. And, the stones were too slick from blood, gore, and offal. We allowed ourselves to be led to a makeshift field hospital where we drank, and I fell into a deep torpor. Of my dreams, I will keep that counsel to myself.
Late in the morning, I woke on a cot in a screened off corner of the large hospital tent. Guards stood around me, but none close. When I stirred, they shouted for a healer. She was young, a girl, no more than 12. I remember her face from the hall. She was cleaner now, and the fear was gone. In her eyes I saw…awe? Damn.
Gently she changed the dressing on the wounds. Her hands trembled with nervousness. I thought to try and calm her, but what would I say? In the end, I let her finish her work and leave in silence.
Then, Anaxelum came. I begin to understand him better. His people, Caladonians, are a tough, warlike people who watched their homes ravaged by an unstoppable force. He joined Tempest, the most powerful and expansive empire known, rising to the ranks of Praetor. All without succumbing to the madness of their Servitors. He battle my best to a standstill and guided his men out of Norcan Darr intact. There, he earned respect among his enemies, the Rangers, and eventually found love in Echer’Naught. After all that, he found the strength to throw of the shackles of Tempest and still KNOWING his cause was lost, he fights to this day to buy the land he has grown to love one more day.
His expression was dour, but normal. I only ever see him smile in the company of his beloved Samira. Without preamble, he handed the butcher’s bill, the report of our losses. The heavy toll dragged my heart into my boots. But, I read the names, each one. When I reached Rysak Ironblood, my eyes burned, but I forged on. Out of a hundred and fifty, we lost fifty. Thirty percent losses. More were injured. I signed the report and handed it back. Commander Garrus ducked into my private wing, his head was bandaged, but he was alive.
We counciled briefly, before I sought out Thunder. He stood grazing just outside my tent. He would not have left either way. I brushed and cleaned his hooves. The familiar ritual bringing some relief.
It was long past night before I reached the summit again. The fires had long since burned down, and the dead stacked in neat rows, shrouded awaiting their final cremation and internment. The survivors snapped to attention and a shout raised as Thunder rode into the keep. Damn.
They look at me with such pride. I did nothing. THEY saved themselves. THEY saved the Realm. Still, symbols are important. So, I raised my sword and I could feel their pride swell. Afterwards, I rode into the keep, and stabled Thunder for the night. But for me, my work as just beginning.
Red Wolf 8th, 3127
We collected the rings from Rysak’s team, though Montigue seemed reluctant to turn his in. Still we have only the few. Without these seemingly insignificant bobbles, we may never stand a chance.
Red Wolf 9th, 3127
Clearing rubble, burning the dead, and clearing the path took two days. I worked where I could, but I have found my presence more of distraction than an aide. Odd, the young girl, Meena has appointed herself my personal healer. She has yet to say a word, won’t even look me in the eyes, but she attends my wounds with skill and gentleness. I find her presence strangely comforting.
At mid day on the 9th, I called the assembled warriors to Parade. A hundred men, Legionnaires, Free Riders, Rangers, and 9th Storm Legion stood in neat rows in the courtyard of the Heroes’ Keep, the shattered gates an open maw behind them.
I congratulated the Legion on their first victory. Extolled the exploits of their heroes, and mourned their dead. But for one, I offered special mention.
“Rysak Ironblood, warrior, Ranger, Dwerg, prisoner, fugitive, slave, gladiator, Unchained, Legionnaire and Hero. His life was filled with trials and hardship, but regardless, he always followed his own code, doing what he felt just. Even if it cost him. And, it cost him dearly. But, I never once heard him complain, grouse, or blame others for his actions. He always accepted responsibility, even for others. He acted always with his conscience and never made excuses. He knew I was honored bound to arrest him for his crimes, but despite the cost to him, he guided many of you here, and then gave his life to see you safe. Were we within the bound of Ranger authority, I would have done just that. He knew this. Accepted it.
But we are FAR from the Southern Kingdoms. Here, Rysak Ironblood was not a fugitive. He was not a Ranger. He was a Legionnaire, a brother. A hero.
For as long as the Legion last, longer. Rysak Ironblood’s legend will last. He represents the best of us. Duty. Honor. Sacrifice.
Tonight, when we raise our cups to our fallen, raise a cup to Rysak. The best of us."
The men drank and remember long into the night. The Last Call for a Legion. I joined every fire, every camp, every salute. But in the end, I found myself where I always do, in quiet contemplation.
I have been gone too long. My wife, my home, my heart calls to me. Tomorrow, I leave for Echer’Naught.
Whatever gods may be, keep my Realm safe.
Your most obedient servant,
Heroes’ Keep, Defiant Lands