We flew down the fabled East Spine of the Twilight Peaks where the view is breath-taking. We travelled down the Serpent River, a beautiful but dangerous jungle famed for its dangers and wonders. We stopped for an evening near the T’Skrang village of K’tenshin. It had been two and a half days since we left The Reach. Lake Pyros was fast approaching, and I was about to give up hope that the hated Therans were going to attack us like I had anticipated.
I must admit, I was beginning to feel what could only be described as despair. I had planned so carefully, and thought this through so much, and worked so hard on this counter ambush, that I had convinced myself that they would absolutely be here. Then, with the lake just around the next bend, I felt an immense sorrow, for I would be unable to save the people who had been captured by the Therans… so many of them just children. Thoughts were creeping into my head about the day the Therans attacked the Reach. Could I have done something to save them? I remember gritting my teeth in anger and frustration, as I knew the mouth of the river would soon widen and Lake Pyros would appear. After that, all hope for them, and a victory against the Therans, would be lost.
Then a signal from the crow’s nest warned of something in the jungle. Hope surged through me. I did not look, for if it was the Therans I didn’t want to give away that we were aware of our presence. Instead I asked my friend and ship navigator, the scout Dremnin, to look. For I knew he had better eyes than mine.
“I don’t see anything.” He said. His hands were tightly gripping the rudder as he steered our vessel through the winding break in the jungle canopy made by the river.
“Speed up!” I shouted. I wanted us to pull further away from Air Wolf, our brother vessel, so that it would not be seen by our unseen enemy before they pounced on us, their defenseless prey.
Suddenly, a Theran Vedette launched itself out of the jungle directly in our path. It fired a warning shot across our bow with its Fire Cannons. I had Dremnin turn the boat slightly Northwards, the action of a ship that did not wish for combat. I had to make them think we were wanting to talk, they had to be confident, and see us for what I wanted them to see.
The Theran vessel pulled along beside us. On her decks I could see about forty marines assembling. A boarding party. A commander, wearing a black cape and shining plate mail armor, his arms and neck glittering with gold, stepped to the rails. He carried a shield and had his hand on the hilt of his sword. He looked confident, and arrogant. Perfect.
It was then I noticed something else. Toward the front of their boat was a huddle of trolls, less than a dozen. My heart leapt at the sight! They where shackled together, but I recognized some and I knew that every men on our ship saw them. I had no need to motivate anyone now… a great dragon could not have kept us from attacking that ship with our people on board!
I began to assemble the men on the main deck. We had to do what the Therans expected us to do, and that would be to look like a pathetic merchant man who was trying to make his boat seem as menacing as possible. And perhaps it worked. For once our crew was assembled in a defensive formation on the main deck, with Dremnin and a smaller group on the aft castle, the Theran boat pulled close along beside us… but they were not quite close enough yet.
Tago came up behind me as I was making sure our crew was positioned, shields at the ready, as we had drilled many times before. He began chanting some sort of prayer to Thystonius. And then I felt it, a surge of power and confidence… the touch of Thystonius was upon me. It was then, I knew without a doubt, we were going to win.
“What is the meaning of this?!?” I shouted indignantly at the Theran commander. We had slowed down, as had they, so we could hear each other.
In a haughty voice the Theran cried back in accented Throalic. “We just want the elf. Hand him over and you’ll be spared. You have no other chance at victory here!” He waved his arms at the marines assembled on his deck, and to their crewmen who were watching us with the curiosity that one gives to doomed men. Suddenly, I felt our boat nudge ever so closer to theirs, a move which I expected Dremnin to make, but one which I could see surprised the Theran commander, for he flinched. Before he could react, Grimlock acted. A small glimmer of flame left his hand, flew over to their deck, and then exploded in a massive blast that sent Theran marines flying!“Thysonius!!!” I cried as I drew my sword. This was the signal, and the chaos began anew. All at once, my men aboard the Dashing Stag drew their blades and raised them with shouts of defiance. Korack, Arrius and Hakka threw their grapples at the Theran vessel. All three connected, and they pulled our vessels even closer, locking their massive Vedette into a deadly embrace with our smaller craft. At the same time, there was a loud whirring sound from a rope passing through a pulley, as the sail cloth on our deck was instantly whisked off of our “cargo” by a weight dropped from the crow’s nest. Then the battle roar from our cargo of fifty troll Crystal Raiders drowned out everything else. They leapt from our deck, and in a flash, they were aboard the Theran vessel. I noticed that the first of our men aboard the Theran ship, however, was my friend Ardor, one of the Unchained and the 2nd officer of the Dashing Stag. He swung his great war hammer and began his dance of death with the Theran enemy. The Crystal Raiders were right behind him, and whatever defense the Therans had been trying to muster, began to disintegrate.
As is normal for a Crystal Raider boarding manuver, many of the trolls secured the main deck, while another group, led by my moot-brother Vargas, charged below decks to clear the remainder of the enemy from below, before they could know what was coming. Once there was space on the Theran deck, I led our crewmen across. Most of us leapt onto their ship like the trolls, but a few who lacked those skills climbed over the rails where the boats were connected. Though the tide was already turning against the Therans, the additional wave of troops from the Dashing Stag would turn the battle into a full route.
As soon as I hit the deck of the enemy ship, I attacked the largest pocket of Theran fighters, who were being led by the commander of their marines, the man who had just moments before ordered us to hand over my friend Vridich. Ardor was already there, doggedly fighting against the Theran commander and some of his guards. They seemed to be getting the better of Ardor, for I saw him take a heavy blow and fall to the deck, wounded.
I charged in with a battle shout, and swung my blade in a wicked overhand strike. The Theran marine in front of me brought up his weapon to parry, but my attack was too quick. My blade cleaved through armor and flesh, as it split his shoulder and buried deep into his torso. He collapsed to the deck as I ripped my blade out, and stabbed clear through his belly. I felt the blade strike the wood of the deck beneath him, and I followed it up with a swift kick to his face, silencing his dying scream. I ripped my blade out in a fury as his body shuddered beneath me, and I charged forward to the Theran commander, who was laughing as he turned to face me. I did not laugh. He swung at me with a strike that I easily blocked with my shield, and I followed through with a brutal thrust into his chest, a mortal blow, that struck home with a suddenness that took him completely by surprise. His face contorted in pain and shock as I twisted the blade and yanked it out. He cried out, as he began to fall, but before he hit the deck I followed up with another strike that cut off his sword arm below the elbow.
I wheeled to face another opponent, but I found none willing to fight. The Therans on the deck, having seen their commander cut down so viciously, and knowing they no longer had any chance against our numbers, surrendered.
It was at this point we realized the decks below were far too quiet, for I had been on boarding actions before, and never did the fight below decks end before the fight above. I yelled at my men to take the prisoners and the wounded across to our ship, along with our rescued people, and the slaves of the Therans who we had just freed. I then went to the hatch where my brother Vargas and about half of my Crystal Raider brethren had descended.
As I peered into the hatch, I was greated by a chilling sound. Dead silence. No battle shouts, no cries from the wounded, not even a cricket chirped. Nothing. The lanterns were all out, and I had been looking into the sun on deck, so I could not see a thing. Just a black, silent corridor. Urgral and Ardor were the only people nearby, as the enemy deck was nearly cleared.
“Urgral, help me check on our people below!” I shouted. His good dwarven eyes should be able to see in the dark just fine. My voice was urgent, as I felt an unnatural feeling of dread pass over me.
I glanced back at Urgral to see if he felt the same thing, but all I saw was a crazed look on his face. Without a word, he drew his sword , plunged down the stairs and disappeared into the darkness. I had been looking back toward the sun again, and once again, I couldn’t see a thing.
Suddenly I heard the voices of several men on our ship yelling at us, their voices panicked. “Get off of the Theran ship!” They screamed. I could see one of them was Grimlock, and if something could scare him, it was not to be trifled with. Yet I could not leave. My brother Vargas was down there! My troll brothers were down there! Urgral too! I could not go, for it would be foolhardy to plunge into the darkness without being able to see. I knew we had to get off of this ship in a hurry. And I knew that neither Urgral, nor Ardor, could survive a fall to the lake below, if it came to that. So I called for a rope from our ship. Suulin tossed a good T’Skrang rope to me, and I yelled back at her to tie it off. Then Ardor, still badly wounded, gave me a look as though he trusted me to do what was necessary. Then he grabbed the rope out of my hand and rushed down the stairs and into the darkness.
I dropped down into the darkness with him, as far as I dared. I stayed close to the hatch for I was still unable to see a thing. The feeling of dread was intensifying. I could hear shuffling sounds from ahead of me, sounds of running, and what could only be the sound of a blade repeatedly burying itself in flesh. Though, the sound did resemble a battle. I was later to learn, that everyone, my brothers the trolls, the Therans, and the slaves, were all dead. And that their bodies were being reanimated by a horror the dwelt below.
I continued to peer into the darkness, my head just below the hatch. Suddenly I heard Ardor yell back, his voice panicked. “Pull us out!!!!”
I took a half step back, so my head could peer out of the hatch. I began to heave on the rope with all of my might, and I screamed at our ship to pull away. Immediately they did, and they drug Ardor, Vargas and Urgral out with them. I leapt across to our ship, and had them pull up and away from the doomed Theran vessel. Our crew hauled in Vargas, Ardor and Urgral. Vargas was badly wounded, and had Urgral and Ardor not gone down there, he would not have survived. I owe them much for saving my moot-brother.
During this battle we got back twenty-five of our missing moot members, sadly that is only half of those who were taken, but we are grateful for their return. We also freed a large number of other name-givers who had been enslaved by the Therans. In total, we captured forty Theran prisoners, all of whom were returned to the moot to face the Truth Stone. I had been hopeful that we would be able to take one of them to Throal with us, but after the loss of so many of our people in the battle, my brethren would have none of it.
Later, I would watch Grimlock blast the Theran ship, named “Thera’s Pride”, into pieces. At one point, we caught a glimpse of the Horror. It is the first time I have seen such a thing. It was massive, with tentacles that resembled long maggots. It shrieked as Grimlock struck it with bolts of lightening, and then it crawled back into the remnants of the ship. I know the Unchained have fought against more than one such thing before. It is unlike anything I have ever fought. How terrible it must be to fight a thing with such wicked power. I only hope that when my time comes, that Thystonius will be with me and allow me to prove my mettle.