The Chronicles of Stilicho – Into Twilight
As my father fell, the battle began anew and the slaughter of my people continued, now, without Alaric, all hope was lost. But I fell into a rage. A rage that I have never known sense. There was a troll between Chorack and I. A massive brute, with a giant bloody axe in hand. I charged him, screaming incoherently at the top of my lungs. I must have seemed like to joke to him. My helmet was off now, I do not know why, and I was only 16 years old… a boy by their standards. Although I was large for a human my age, I was small by troll standards. This troll was grinning, and he was still grinning as he chopped his blade down at me, and he was still grinning as I dodged that blow and thrust my sword into his throat. I watched his soul fly from his body. I ripped my sword out of the big troll, I was all anger and hate. My eyes locked again onto Chorack, who was looking at me now with a look that I did not understand. I charged at him, my sword swinging wildly. He brushed aside my clumsy attack as though I were nothing more than a fly irritating him. He was playing with me as a cat might play with a doomed mouse. I attacked again, this time, I feigned another wild attack as before, and then, as he nonchalantly tried to swat it aside, I reversed the attack and thrust toward this throat. I missed again, and instead caught him in the shoulder. The tip of the blade punched through a crease in his armor. I wanted more, but I would not get it. In a flash, he grabbed my sword arm in a vice-like grip and violently picked me up into the air. He ripped my sword out of my hand and threw it aside. Desperate, still dangling in the air, I tried to slam the edge of my shield into his the side of his helm. It was a clumsy blow, mainly because that troll sword was still buried in the wood of my shield, with the hand and forearm of the troll who wielded it still attached. The shield was extra heavy, and the blow was too slow. With a surprised look on his face, Chorak deftly dodged the blow. He then pointed at me, said something loudly to the other trolls, and laughed. I was still struggling, and I tried to kick him, and again I missed. Then he punched me so hard I was knocked out immediately. My last fluttering thought was that I might never wake up… and I think part of me did not want to.
Woe To The Conquered
When I woke up, I felt a strong breeze blowing against my face, then the pain kicked in. The left side of my face hurt tremendously from the powerful blow that had knocked me unconscious. The wind was howling and cold… I was cold. I began to feel other pains. My forearm on my shield arm hurt a lot, probably bruised to the bone from the troll that was beating my shield to bits. My hands were tied behind my back. I was very strong at that age, but I could not break free at first. I did not have the energy to try further. I was afraid to open my eyes, but I did. I was laying on the deck of an airship. The first thing I noticed was that beside me were two of our men, both wearing the blue and silver tabards of my father’s household troops. I recognized one of them as Draiden… who was just a few years older than I. He was a very talented warrior. His hands were tied, so I assumed he was still among the living. His unconscious body blocked my view of the other man’s face. I was facing a wall of the ship and could not see much. I cautiously looked behind me. Surrounding me were Bloodlore trolls, lots of them… my heart sank. I did not know why I was alive, but I knew that Bloodlores did not take non-troll prisoners. We were as good as dead.
I then heard a troll grunt very close to me. I swung my head around, and I saw a troll standing there. He was wearing leather armor and was a bit shorter and stockier than the rest of the trolls. He said to me in Throalic, “Stay where you are human… if you want to live.” I did not know what was in store for us, but I stayed put as he walked toward a grouping of trolls near the stern. One turned toward the short troll and began speaking to him, and I immediately recognized who it was. It was the giant troll in the crimson armor that had killed my father. He turned and walked toward me along with a pair of other trolls. I did not want to be killed lying down, so I turned myself around. My head was throbbing. I looked frantically for something, anything that could be used to break free. I managed to stand, but there was nothing I could do, so I just stood there and glared at him. He stopped in front of me, looked me up and down. His face was solemn and serious. He then spoke to me in unaccented Throalic.
“My name is Chorak Bonecracker. I am the clan chieftain of the Bonecracker clan, and a war leader of the Bloodlore Moot. Who was the man that I killed, and who was he to you?”
I was not sure if I wanted to tell this bastard who I was just yet, but then I thought that it did not matter, I was dead anyway. I stood tall, the troll towering over me, and in as proud of a voice as I could muster said, “I am Stilicho, son of Alaric, the Ealdorman of Konigsberg. The man you killed was my father.” I was gritting my teeth, and in spite of it, tears rolled down my cheeks.
Chorak frowned… and looked angry. He then looked at me and said, “I know this will not bring you peace, but this was not supposed to be.” After a pause he added, “The ancient weapons, coins and armor that you had… are there more of these things elsewhere? Was there anything else, like a staff or scepter. It is important that you tell me.”
I angrily answered him with a flat no. He looked me in the eye, frowned again, and nodded. “Your father fought very bravely, and died with honor. I will feast with him one day in the halls of Thystonius, and I shall toast him for his valor over a pot of ale. I have given battle to name-giver races all across the realm. The men of Konigsberg do their race justice. It is too bad that most humans are cowardly and weak instead of like those of your lands.”
After a pause he continued. “You are alive now because you fought bravely, and I can see that Thystonius favors you. For whatever reason boy, I believe the passions have something in store for you. I will understand if you do not forgive me for your father’s death, or those of the other men who fought with him. I can only assure you that our attack was not by chance, and that we were misled as to who we were attacking, and why. The battle itself was a great one, but their deaths are regrettable. Had we known more ahead of time, there would have been no battle”
I just glared and tried to fight back the tears. I was glad to hear that I might live. But then I felt ashamed for my selfishness. I looked at him and stated, “The other men you have captured with me, they should live as well, for they fought as valiantly as I.”
Chorak nodded. “They will share your fate.” He then looked at the shorter troll that had spoken to me when I awoke. “Terrab, tend to him and his men.” He looked back at me. “Stilicho, son of Alaric, it is important that you and your men stay where you are, and cause no trouble.”
I just glared at him. Then he turned and walked away. Terrab helped me sit back onto the deck, which was a good thing, because, although I’d been on airships before, I was woozy, and with my hands tied, I was unable to react properly to the unpredictable swaying of an airship. I spoke with Terrab for a few minutes and learned that he was a newot, which is a sort of servant in troll society. He was a troll from a clan of trolls from the hills South of the Twighlight Peaks. He was a Scout Adept, who made a living as a guide for caravans travelling through the area. The Bloodlores captured him during a raid on one of the caravans, and he had been serving the moot as part of the Bonecracker clan ever since. He seemed fine with that arrangement, which surprised me. He claimed that he was almost a full member of the Bloodlore moot, which he felt would be a great honor.
I did not agree with him. It is better to be free.
The men from our household troops that were with me were Draiden and Kerick. Oddly enough they were the two men than went with my father and I into the troll tomb. Draiden was a warrior and Kerick a swordmaster. They were both badly bruised but otherwise were okay. As we sat there sullenly watching the trolls sail their vessel, we spoke of what we had all seen so far. Draiden was knocked out by a troll who slammed him in the head with a shield. Kerick was hit in the head from behind, and had no idea which troll hit him or with what. They were both among the small pocket I had been with at the end. The other two men with us in that pocket were slain as our defense disintegrated. I also learned that both Draiden and Kerick were knocked out before me, which meant that I was apparently the last of the household guard that left the keep that day to be alive and conscious during the battle.
Kerick believed that he saw Clapa escape from the fray with a couple of men from the guard, but he didn’t think anyone from the household troops survived except for us. This made sense, the household troops made up the center of the shield wall that spanned across the wide road, and the guardsmen were charged only with protecting the flanks in the thick trees. If anyone could have escaped when the trolls descended on us, it could only have been a member of the guard. We did not blame them for escaping either, for the battle was hopeless once several hundred trolls rained down upon us. There were three more troll ships flying along with this one. Each ship housed a crew of somewhere between 50 and 70 sailors. That meant that our group of about 70 soldiers were fighting against between 200-300 crystal raiders. Between the guard and the household troops, Koingsberg could summon nearly a thousand trained soldiers if need be. We could also summon the fyrd, which were the commoners who worked the lands. The guard would work with the fyrd during the winter months so that they were proficient in battle, but they were not good soliders and were almost never used for anything but localized defense. With them our ranks could swell to 3,000 or more. But it did not matter now, for today we had been trying not to draw attention and so we had too few numbers to face such a force.
The Twighlight Peaks
Eventually, the other ships veered off to the West while our ship continued on its course to the Eastern most peaks. I knew those peaks well, for they were the home of the Stoneclaw moot, who were enemies with the Bloodlores. I could not understand what we were doing here in a Bloodlore ship. The two clans were bitter rivals. The Stoneclaws have long been allies of Konigsberg, and although the Bloodlores have not attacked any lands within the borders of Konigsberg for decades, they made a point of being enemies. I was hoping that we would be rescued by the Stoneclaws and returned to Konigsberg where I would now become Thane. The thought of that made me nervous, but I also felt that my father had trained me well, and that Konigsberg would be safer with me than it would be anyone else. My brother Whitrick, was very studious and kind, but did not have the necessary skills to be a leader. Elfric, although clever, was worthless. He was ignorant of the ways of the world and had never been interested in being a leader of any kind. He just deferred to my father on everything, and tried to live as richly as possible while pretending to be important. Frankly, I never really liked him even before his betrayal. Alaric only tolerated him because he had been married to his sister, which made him family. She had died trying to give birth to their only child. After that, Elfric was too busy keeping with whores and drinking himself into a stupor to marry again.
The three of us looked toward the peaks with a mixture of curiosity and foreboding. Kerick noticed that the ship we were on was hoisting up a flag of truce, universally recognized by air ships all across Barsaive. We were looking toward the mountains when we saw three dots coming toward us. More airships. As they closed, I could tell they were troll Drakkars, except for one ship that was much larger and of a design similar to a longship, only much bigger. They were flying the light gray banners of the Stoneclaw moot, instead of the feared black and crimson Bloodlore banner. Each ship had a magnificent beast head upon their prows. The lead ship with a massive carved griffon head. Eventually the three ships closed, and one pulled up alongside of the ship we were on. It was the massive ship, twice the length of the others. Instead of wood, the body of the ship was made up of a light gray living crystal, which made it very difficult to see against the sky. I had never seen anything like it before. The sailors pulled the ships together with grapples and tied them together. A large plank was drawn across between the ships. Then, a group of heavily armed Bloodlore raiders dragged us to our feet and they walked us across onto the massive Stoneclaw ship. Immediately I noticed other name giver races among the trolls on this ship. Including a stout ork, a dwarf, and a tall, red-headed woman who was wearing fine leather armor, carried a long sword, and was quite beautiful. She looked at me with a look of pity, and I must have been a pitiful site to behold. The Bloodlores had taken my fine armor, and my tabard. I was only wearing leather pants, my boots and a bloodstained shirt. I was dirty, bloody, wounded, my hair was matted with dried blood, and half of my face was swollen and bruised from the blow that had knocked me out. I would later learn that her name was Quorra, and we would get to know each other quite well. My father used to say, “Red on the head makes fire in the bed.”
As usual, he was right.
Draiden, Kerick and I were turned over to the Stoneclaws on the airship that morning. Specifically we were given to the Steelskull clan, which is one of the many clans that make up the Stoneclaw moot. Chorak had brought over my shield, sword and had a bag with him that contained our tabards and the large blue and silver banner of the wolf that was carried by our household troops in the battle we had fought. That battle would become known as “The Battle of Ore Mountain”. The banner showed the symbol of my ancestors which had flown over Konigsberg, and was carried by our armies since before the Scourge. It was a triangular banner, which is different than the square or rectangular banners common now throughout Barsaive. The triangular banners were from a time prior to the Theran invasion that happened before the Scourge. Back then, most of the realm switched to the rectangle banners to appear more civil, which meant more Theran. My pround ancestors refused, and kept their navy blue banner bolt with a silver wolfs head upon it. I liked that banner, it set us apart from the rest of Barsaive… and to hell with the Therans. Regardless, I did not know why Chorak brought these things over, but I was glad that he did… for they would come into great use later.
Chorak, although supposedly an enemy of the Stoneclaws, walked among the trolls of that ship and spoke with a large group of them at length. I later learned that he told the tale of the battle, and how bravely all of us had fought. He showed them my shield, with the blade still wedged in its wood, and the severed troll hand, now stiff, still grasping the blade. The trolls of Stoneclaws love a good story, this tale would go a long way to giving me some respect and acclimating to their culture. The part where I had attacked him and refused to stop fighting made me a bit of a celebrity among the Stoneclaws. Looking back, I assume that Chorak did those things on purpose knowing that it would have the impact it did for my companions and I. Although I hated him at the time, I now realize that Chorak was a very wise troll, and that the Bonecracker clan was just caught up in the unfortunate inflexible traditions of their moot.
Before Chorak got off of the boat, a tall and very old troll was lead out from below decks. He must have been blind, for he was grasping the arm of another massive troll nearly as big as he. Both were about the size of Chorak, who was at least a head and a half larger than any other troll I’d ever seen. The old one wore a heavy cloak, and looked ancient. The one that was leading him was wearing fine green colored crystal plate armor, and had a massive two-handed axe slung to his back. Chorak went out of his way to walk over and grasp the old troll by the wrist in a gesture of respect. He did the same for the one that was leading him. They spoke a long time, during their talk Chorak handed him a large satchel and one of the ancient swords from the tomb. After about 10 minutes, he turned on his hells, jumped across to his own ship, and sailed West.
I was intrigued by the old troll and his companion. They looked similar, so I guessed that they must be related. The old one looked absolutely ancient, so I assumed correctly that the younger one had to be his grandson. The old troll was the only one on the ship besides us without some form of armor. He wore a fine heavy cloak that went down to his ankles. His belt was adorned with what appeared to be a number of silver-dipped Windling skulls. Around his neck was a silver chain, and attached to it was an ornate jeweled dagger with a crimson hilt. It looked tiny on his massive frame. I would later learn that this dagger was one of the famed blood daggers of Cara Fahd. On his side was a huge crystal troll sword. I took him for an ancient warrior, for he was both broad and scarred. I was wrong. As a youth, Eldwulf, the dwarf smith, had told Sarus and I many tales of this troll and the heroics of his companions.
He was the legendary Sky Raider named Tago Steelskull.
The other troll that was with him was his grandson Honus. Honus Steelskull was a warrior by trade, but he also was a capable air sailor too. His father was Rorik Steelskull, who was the son of Tago and clan leader of the Steelskull clan. He was powerful Sky Raider.
As we disembarked from the ship, we were immediately impressed by the size of the troll town. Many of the homes were carved into the mountainside, and many others were made of stone, something I had not expected. Draiden, Kerick and I were still bound. We were lead into the middle of the town where there was a large stone circle on the ground with intricate runes carved into it. There, we were met by Rorik, son of Tago, and a pair of sorcerers of some type. Rorik was massive in size and he too was a spitting image (only younger) of the elderly Tago. We were lined up next to the stone circle and a large crowd gathered. Most of them were trolls, but there were some other name-givers among them as well. My eye caught Quorra and her long red hair once again. She was leading Tago now… she had a look of concern on her face as the three of us haggard and exhausted boys now stood before what had to be the bulk of the inhabitants of that town.
Rorik spoke to us in a booming voice. “You name-givers are here before us today, defeated in combat. Your lives forfeit. Yet you have been chosen by the passions for a chance at a new life, a second chance to live. If you pass the trial of truth, and are approved today by the clan, you will be given the honor of serving the moot as a newot. If you fail the test of truth, or if you are deemed unworthy, you will die.”
At that point, Tago walked up to one of the troll sorcerers and said a few words. The troll nodded. I looked at my friends next to me, I could tell they were as nervous as I was. This was not good. It seemed that we had to choose between slavery or death. I honestly did not know what I would do.
Without warning, Draiden was pushed up onto the stone circle. Standing between the runes, one of the trolls began asking him questions in highly accented Throalic.
“Do you want at chance at a new life?” Draiden replied, “Yes.”
“Will you give your oath to the clan to serve as long as you are required, until you are relieved from your oath by death, or are accepted as a full member of the moot?” Draiden said, “I will.”
Do you intend to keep your oath? Draiden replied, “Yes.”
“What is your art?” Draiden responded that he was a painter. With that, a brush and a few paints were brought to him along with a thin piece of leather canvas. He sat down in front of all of the clan, and carefully painted a picture of a the wolf of Konigsberg on it. It was impressive. After that, Rorik made him give the clan his oath that he would serve them faithfully and with honor. The crowd cheered as Draiden’s bonds were cut. After the applause died, Rorik introduced him to his new family… all trolls. The head of the household was named Farnis Longknife, he was a tanner with two wives, 3 troll daughters and a son.
The troll then asked similar questions of Kerick. Kerick responded in the same fashion as Draiden, and once he had performed his artisan skill, he too was introduced to his new troll family.
I do not know why, but I decided then that I could not do it. I would not be a servant. I would not give them my oath, and I would die fighting them, joining my father and brother in the halls of Thystonius. I was unceremoniously pushed up onto the platform by one of the guards. I did not know of the magic that the runes held, but I could feel their pull on me and I knew that I would not be able to lie without the troll wizards knowing. I looked around, but again, there was no way out. No weapon… if only I could die with a sword in my hand! I could feel myself getting tense. The wizard must have felt it, for he glance up at me, then looked that the troll asking the questions, who dropped his hand down to his sword. Then, Quorra, the red headed beauty, quietly approached the truth circle and asked me in her lovely voice, “Warrior. Please take this chance that we, the honorable people of the Stoneclaw moot are offering you this day. A life renewed. Will you accept this gift?”
I did not expect her to be my questioner, and I do not believe it was her flowery words that persuaded me. I think it was the look in her eye that did it. Before I was even aware of what I was saying, I had said yes. She asked me the rest of the questions in the same fashion… and I answered them all similar to the others. I gave my oath to the clan, but I was mostly giving it to her. I was spellbound by her like I had never been by any woman before. My bonds were cut, and I was a lowly newot. When the time came to introduce me to my new family, I could not have been more shocked. The head of the household that I was given to, was the half-blind old troll, Tago Steelskull.
My new troll family consisted of many good trolls, the head of the household being the legendary Tago. Tago was indeed nearly blind at this time and he lived with his son Rorik, the eldest of 8 children. Rorik had a wife and 6 children. The oldest son was Vargas, who was a powerful Sky Raider adept, like his father and grandfather. Vargas was always serious and did not warm up to me at first. He was very smart and committed to the clan. Over time, I think he realized that I, although human, was much like him. He taught me many things about air sailing, the concepts of troll honor and clan politics. He will one day be a great leader for the Stoneclaws.
The middle son was named Elgorn, and he was oddly a Cavalrymen adept, one of just a few in the clan. He would be gone for many days at a time, climbing the peaks with the other Cavalrymen to try and capture male Dire Wolf cubs. I had only heard tales of such creatures when I was a child. They were massive, as big as a Thundra beast but far more agile. They looked like they could swallow a horse. Each of the Cavalryman in the clan road one. They also had a handful of cubs they were raising and training. They were constantly in search of the wolf packs so they could acquire more. They were careful only to take males that were not alphas, so as to not impact the breeding of the packs. Such cubs were prized mounts that could only be found in parts of the Eastern Twilight Peaks. Selling just one of these to other name-giver races outside of the peaks would result in a huge payment. They only would sell a few these per year.
The youngest son was Honus, who was a Warrior adept. As soon as we met, Honus was giving me a hard time about my initiation and how quickly my posture changed when Quorra started talking to me. At first I thought he was angry, and then I realized he was making fun of me. Honus was cocky, arrogant and overly sure of himself. It’s safe to say that I liked him almost immediately. He was a more advanced warrior adept than I, and in what little spare time I had, he would work with me on improving my talents. He reminded me so much of Sarus, adventuresome and full of the love of life.
It took time, but soon I loved all of them all like they were my own blood. Although none of the men in the family could see why I liked Quorra. This was mainly because they thought humans were quite ugly, and red hair did not exist on trolls. With the exception of Quorra, I did not deal often with the girls and when I did, they were not overly friendly to me. Quorra on the other hand, well, let’s just say that within a few days of my being accepted as a full member of the clan, she was really helping me feel extremely comfortable.
Quorra was 16, and the daughter of a thane in Travar. At such a young age she had a remarkable story and had achieved a great deal. She was set to be married to the son of a Thane in Trosk, but the man was old and she did not want to marry him. So she left the city and travelled. She made her way as a very good Troubadour, earning enough money to travel and live comfortably. Eventually though, she was captured by the Stoneclaws while travelling near the mountains with a group of merchants, and made into a newot. It did not take long for the clan to realize how good she was at her profession. She was accepted as a full member of the clan after only 2 years, mostly because she was such a good Troubadour that the clansmen decided that one of the best Troubadours in the city could not be a lowly newot. She was good enough that the handful of other bards and troubadour in town would go to her for training and advice.
The homes of the trolls of the Twilight Peaks are not the hovels that the bards throughout Barsaive portray the trolls to live in. Rather, their homes are quite comfortable, well built, and well kept. The homes are mostly built from the grey stone of the mountain that is cut from quarries by newot workers. Other moots that I have seen, have similarly built structures but they are not quite as well crafted as those of the Stoneclaws. I believe the reason for this is the influence of the dwarves of the Rocktapper clan, who have been members of the Stoneclaw moot since the Scourge. The Rocktappers were a clans of dwarves that were helping the Stoneclaws with the mining of minerals and true earth. When the Scourge began, the Rocktappers, as well as a number of other name-givers, were allowed to stay with the Stoneclaws in their kaer. Once they emerged after the decades of the long night, they were full members of the moot, having take on the troll culture and passed on some of their own culture to the trolls.
The Steelskull family home was carved into the stone of the side of a steep vertical slope that was on the outskirts of town. It was surprisingly very cozy. The only entrance was at ground level and tunnels lead back to the rooms. There was a balcony on the third and highest level, which overlooked the town. On nice nights, the majority of the family would sit out on the balcony and converse. At that time I learned much from the old Tago, who would tell us stories about the adventures of his past and seek to educate us on all that he had learned, much of with had to do with the politics of the troll moots, and the rest of Barsaive.
It was on one of these nights that Tago asked me about the ancient sword which Chroack gave him the day I was turned over on Tago’s ship. I liked Tago, and I did not want to disappoint him, but I also gave my father my oath not to tell of the location of the tomb, and an oath is a serious thing. I also agreed with my father that we did not want the trolls of the Twighlight Peaks poking around Konigsberg. I decided it would not harm to tell Tago about the tomb, but I would not tell him where we found it, thereby keeping my oath. When he asked about where we found it, I simply told him that I gave an oath not to speak of it. He accepted that, for honor is as important to trolls as life itself. When I had finished describing the tomb, Tago told me what he knew about the sword. Apparently, the sword was from a troll clan of the Blackfang moot that ceased to exist during the Scourge. That clan was almost completely destroyed by the Therans during the battle of Sky Point. The remnants of their clan was scattered after the battle, and have ceased to exist in the highlands. The few survivors joined other moots, the rest either crashed in the lowlands, their ships destroyed, or were enslaved by the Therans after the battle and never seen again. The Bloodlore elders believed that their chieftain and some of his men survived when their ship crashed somewhere North of Skytoucher Peak, which is the highest point of the Twilight Peaks. That specific clan of the Blackfang moot was only one of a couple of clans in history known to ever bury their dead. Which makes the existence of the sarcophagi in an area, near the lands of Konigsberg, very interesting. For generations, the trolls of the peaks have been looking for an ancient staff or scepter carried by that chieftain, as it was rumored to hold the long-lost secret of the construction of Stone Skyraider ships known among the trolls as Vikings. That was all he had to say about the story at that time… but the tale made me wonder if there had been more to that tomb than we thought.
—Stilicho Alaricson – Lord of Konigsberg