It was a long, cold day in the mountains. Honus, and I had been out on mounted patrol since before dawn along with about a dozen other adepts, mostly trolls. We were on our way back to the Reach, when one of our men spotted a very faint plume of smoke in the distance. The plume was coming from the direction of a small Steelskull clan village of mostly non-troll name-givers, who lived on the outskirts of Steelskull territory. We milled around for a moment or two, every man clenching his teeth in anger and in anticipation of the war that was sure to come. We wondered, who had made this attack? An enemy moot? Ork from Cara Fahd? It mattered little, the aggressor will suffer for this attack. After a few moments, it was decided we would return to the Reach with haste, lest the attackers make their way there. We wheeled about, and rode hard for home, the biting cold wind whipping through our helmets. The anger in our blood kept us warm.
As we arrived in The Reach, our group dispersed, each making his way toward home to make their loved ones safe. I rode toward the Steelskull home and dismounted, leaving my Crest Wolf, Smoke, in the attendance of a newot at the stable. I then ran toward the home. When I arrived, I saw Ardor there, as well as the dwarf Urgral and the Elf, Vridich. I walked into the room. I noticed Ardor was unarmored, he looked like he just returned from the lake. Just as I was about to tell him to fetch some armor, I heard some commotion from the village. Looking out the open gate of the home, I saw the unbelievable. A Theran flagged Vedette was approaching, low to the treetops. Dremnin came running into the home, breathless from a long sprint. I stood there for a moment, assessing the enemy and deciding what to do. We had no combat ships in the village, we were on our own. The Vedette, turned and tipped to the port side, and then fired its fire cannons into several dwellings. The flames washed over the stone dwellings, but they were engulfed in flames nonetheless. The structures are made of stone, and most have little to burn on the outside. But Firecannons do not fire a projectile, instead the fire a glob of fire that will burn for a short while after coating a target. In this case, they were burning stone homes filled with people, turning those homes into furnaces.
I stepped outside, thinking I would move to help some of the people, or at a minimum get the children out of Widow Runa’s home, just to the left of the entrance to the Steelskull home, as they would be safer in the Steelskull home as it was a fortress. But before I could make my way out the door, I watched a squadron of Theran troops leap from their vessel and wind catch down toward us. Their intention was clear, they were coming for us. They were armored in mail, their gear was fine and their weapons polished. It was clear that these men were not ordinary air sailors, they were crack soldiers and whatever their mission was, it was going to involve us. Too bad for them that best name-givers in the realm stood between them and their objective.
Instead of the wild charge that is common among Therans slavers, these men formed up into a shield wall and moved toward us methodically. Their blades ready and their shields raised. Suddenly, they checked, as though something above them were a threat. I later learned, that the girl, Suulin, had used her talents to disrupt their advance. And then they came, the first two shoved their way into the door. Urgral was shouting at them, and Ardor taunted them. I gave a great battle shout, and watched the man in front of me hesitate in fear. Blades rose, blades fell, Dremnin was firing arrows, Vridich was hitting them with the pain of his sorcery, the blades or Ardor, Urgral and I crashed into them, and Therans died. But there were many of them, and they looked as though they might push our defense aside, when suddenly, we saw my moot-brother, Honus, ride behind them on his massive Rockhorn Thundra. He leapt from his mount and crashed into their line. Honus was more than a match for their men in the rear, and between the two assaults on their line, the Therans begin to crumble. Soon there were a number of Therans on the ground dead or wounded, and three in the front, each badly injured, threw up their hands in surrender. I called for my squire, the boy Wheeler, to drag one of them, the worst wounded, further into the home. There he was tied up. Fafnir dragged two unconscious men into the home, and bound them as well. The fight continued to rage, and now that the wounded Theran bodies were out of our way, the three of us advanced. It was then that the Theran commander moved to the front, and just as quickly, fell beneath our blades. He was still alive, but he was knocked out cold. At the fall of their leader, the remaining Therans, who could still flee, did so. We pursued them, and they reformed with another group of their men. As we fought, some of the men in their rear rank broke open the door of the Widow Runa’s home, where there were surely many children hidden. Sure enough, the screaming commenced, and we fought with a renewed fury. The enemy began to fall in droves, and it was then that Honus crashed through their men blocking the door. Moments later, Honus backed out of the home, his teeth clenched in rage, though he held his blade in check for the Theran bastards who had entered had bloodied their blades on the helpless, and now they carried two children out onto the field, including the child Hannah. They held blades to their captives throats in a threat that we all understood. I was still clashing with the Theran directly infront of me, and I decided then that once I had killed this one, that I would not allow these Theran bastards to escape with the children. Luckily, I didn’t have to make that choice, the Wind Viper had arrived and its crew was crashing down on the Theran marines and leaping down upon their remaining troops and bringing with them death. Korack, the young troll Crystal Raider landed firmly upon the shoulders of the Theran holding Hannah, the force of the landing drove him to the ground, crushing bone. Hannah, calmly leapt from his hands and ran to her father as though it were a game. The other Theran, holding a young Troll girl, was run through by the badly wounded Ardor, who had run around behind his position and skewered him in the back with a spear. The enemy ship, seeing the feared Wind Viper return to the reach, wisely fled, leaving it’s men on the ground to fend for themselves. The battle then ended, as suddenly as it began, with the remaining Therans fighting to the last, with the remaining few begging for quarter, and receiving none.
As the battle ended, the devastation in The Reach became apparent. Several buildings were in flame, and in spite of their mostly stone construction, they continued to burn, the flammable structures inside the stone were aflame due to the heat. We fought the fires, and discovered many bodies, most of them elderly villagers or youths who had put up a fight. Most were dead from combat wounds. The most terrible thing, was the realization that many more of our people were simply missing, and those were mostly the children and some of the women. The scout, Dremnin, was able to see many tracks that led him to determine that they were captured and hauled aboard the enemy airship. Once the fires were put out, and there was nothing more I felt I could do, I found Suulin and Dremnin to function as translators, and I made my way back to the Steelskull home.
There were many things that were rolling though my mind as walked. Mostly though, I wanted to know what the Therans were doing here. This was a raid. A raid with a purpose that the Therans believed was worth risking an all out war between the Therans at Sky Point, and all of the troll moots of Barsaive. A flagrant attack like this on a troll moot, was a great insult to troll racial honor. No Theran would risk this kind of attack unless it was of extreme importance. In addition, the group that initially attacked the Steelskull home had come with a purpose greater than simple pillaging or the gathering of slaves. They had come to that home specifically, and to be honest, I feared they might have been here looking for me. Though admittedly, even at the time I did not think I was that important. It turns out, I was right.
As we walked through the entryway to the Steelskull home, I saw blood pools drying on the floor stones and Theran weapons laying on the ground. Wheeler and Fafnir were in the great hall, and they had four of the prisoners from the initial battle at the gate, the only survivors, tied up on the floor. I noticed they had bound their wounds, which was smart. For I had many unanswered questions for these men. Three were unconscious, including the Theran commander. The only one who was still awake was the one I had traded multiple blows with. He was badly wounded however, but he would live, at least for now. He looked up at me, and I could tell he recognized me as the one who had crippled him, he gave me a grim look… he knew he was as good as dead.
Suulin and Dremnin translated for me. I asked him what the Therans were here for. He initially pretended not to know, but after I gave him a few vicious kicks, he nodded toward Vridich, who had made his way into the room. Dremnin gave me a confused look, and translated the Theran’s words. “He says they came for Vridich.“ I looked to the elf who met my gaze. He did not seem at all suprized, but rather curious as to how I would react. I then asked Theran how many ships had come. I believe he answered honestly, when he said two. He knew little else. Of the four Therans that were there, he was the only one I felt pity for. He seemed to be a hard, direct, but sensible man. It is unfortunate that he a Theran, otherwise I might have liked him.
It was clear that the other Therans would need some time to recover before they would be able to be questioned. So I charged Fafnir and Wheeler with guarding the prisoners until Vargas returned to the home. At that, I left and went to find my woman, Quorra. I found her shortly thereafter, at the Watering Hole tavern. She had been wounded, but was okay. I held her close for a long time, and then we made our way back to our home with heavy hearts.
The next day, a healer visited the Theran prisoners. They were to face the Truth Stone that day, but not until after I questioned them. One of the marines looked like he was going to piss himself when I walked in, with Dremnin, Ardor, Suulin and Vridich trailing. I looked to the other marine, and his eyes met mine in defiance, then he spat on the floor stones. I ignored him, for he was a fool to act that way. The marine I questioned the day before looked at me, and seemed sorrowful. I then looked at the Theran commander, and he looked at me. He was the one I wanted to speak with.
At first, he was beligerant, refusing even to admit what I already knew, that there were two ships, and that they were looking for Vridich. There was a lot of back and forth, and at one point the commander even had the audacity to ask me a question, he wanted to know what happened to his men. “All were slain except you four, and both ships were destroyed.” I lied. Though the ship that battled Wind Viper was devastated in the combat, it had limped off intact and the other ship had escaped cleanly with many of our people. At that point, he looked hard at me.
“What are you going to do with me?” He looked at me with pride on his face. I noticed he didn’t seem to care much as to what happened to his three men with him.
I nodded. “You have been conquered in combat, so your life is forfeit. You will be put to the Truth Stone, and most likely you will die, but there is a chance that you’ll be allowed to live as a member of the clan.” Dremnin translated.
He gave me a forced laugh at that. “Why would I, a proud, noble Theran lord want to serve a tribe of barbarians?!” I could see Dremnin’s face twist in anger as he translated those words to me.
I looked at the Theran passively and ignored the insult. “You will most certainly die then. Now you need to tell me what I want to know.”
The Theran looked at the four of us, and then looked back at me and asked why he should tell us anything at all. I smiled at that. “Because, I control the manner of your death. You will fail the Truth Stone today, and that means you must die. If you tell me what I need to know, and I believe you, I will let you die in combat, with a sword in your hand… or you can die on your knees like a coward. It’s your choice.” I knew no warrior, no matter how immoral they were, would want to die in such a fashion.
The Theran nodded, but still hesitated. He then lied and told me that they were there only to capture slaves. I simply laughed at that nonsense, for there were far easier ways to get slaves and plunder than flying into the hornet’s nest of the troll moots of the Twilight Peaks!
Then Vridich asked me to turn him over to him. I looked to Vridich and then back to the Theran. Vridich though slight of build, was a fearsome looking fellow. He was covered head to toe with tattoos that were magical runes, and he looked dangerous indeed. Dremnin told the Theran what Vridich asked… and I could see a flicker of fear cross his face. Vridich suddenly cut his hand, and then yelled for us to hold the Theran’s mouth open. I took no part, but watched as the others did so. Then Vridich trickled some blood into the Theran’s mouth and forced him to swallow it. He then looked at Dremnin and said that if the Theran didn’t talk, instead of death he would be made into his undead slave! This was rank nonsense of course, but Dremnin translated those words, and that did it. The Theran commander told us all he knew in a pleading fashion, and I believed him.
He informed us that a Nethermancer, the same one we saw during the battle of Derin Kuyu ridge, had sent his two ships here with the express purpose of capturing Vridich. Both ships were Theran Vedettes, made for combat. One attacked the small village on the outskirts of Steelskull territory to draw off the airships at the Reach. The other, hidden waited till they were gone and attacked the village with the goal of capturing Vridich. When I asked how he knew where Vridich was, he responded that the Nethermancer knew and was without doubt.
At this, I motioned for Vridich to leave the room with me so we could talk. I asked him how the Nethermancer we faced was tied to him, and he informed me that he was essentially, a living grimore, and that he was continuously connected to him through magical threads that could not be seen, even astrally. I nodded at this… absorbing this information and unsure as to what to do next.
It was later that day that I told Tago what I had learned. He simply nodded and thanked me, and that was it.
The next day, all members of the village were summoned to the square. There, the newots who fought to save the Reach, were made into full members of the clan. I saw beaming looks of pride all around, not just on the faces of the newots who were new clansmen, but also on the faces of the villagers who were there. Tago spoke at their acceptance. He told them that they were to take the Book of Tomorrow to the Great Library of Throal, and thus complete their quest. They were now full clansmen, but that promotion came with a price. They must complete a quest. They were to find the long lost Staff of Aromod Whitewind, a famed troll relic from prior to the Scourge. At this, my ears perked up, for I had some inside information on this staff. And then Tago said that they would outfit us with an airship and that it would be commanded by someone in the clan. Vargas nodded at that, but Tago shook his head. “No son, he said. This task falls to your moot-brother, Stilicho.” His milky-white eyes bored into mine.
I nodded, much like Vargas had. “It shall be done.” I said.
It was the only reply I could think of, for I was still shocked. Shortly thereafter, the coronation was complete, and the celebration began. But not for me, for I had much work to do.