The Chronicals of Stilicho – Blood Red Snow
We Own The Sky
Today we were patrolling the skies over the Twilight Peaks, as is the custom of all trolls in the moots of the Twilight Mountains. Each clan probably has two to three vessels in the air on patrol at all times… and several more at home in the moot, with a few always gone for raiding. Constantly we are on the looking for trouble. The mountains are wealthy with precious minerals and natural resources that are scarce in the rest of Barsaive. The greed of our victims drives them here to try to steal what is ours without facing us in combat. It is folly, for we almost always find them and few can match our strength in battle. We are also looking for targets to raid. The mountains are in the center of highly traveled merchant routes, and many wealth laden merchant ships try to cut too close to our peaks in order to save time, and ultimately money. It is a bad move… for the trolls of the Twilight Peaks are ever watchful.
Today started out rather boring. We were two ships,both troll Drakkars. One was named, Koratanal… which translated loosely into Throalic means, The Righteous. We were in the sleek and fast Wind Viper… which is Rorik’s ship. He is my adopted father and the chief of the Steelskull clan. Just after sunrise, we broke out over the top of the clouds to see another ship. The ship cautiously approached, and we recognized her as belonging to a clan of the Swiftwind moot, our friends and allies. We all grinned as our two ships passed by each other so close that our oars nearly touched. It was a challenge of sailing, and one that only trolls would try. Somewhere, I’m sure Tystonius smiled.
Hours pass, and the Swiftwind ship is long gone. We have split away from The Righteous to see if we can find some prey. We keep breaking out below the thick cloud cover, each time ready to pounce on any target we might see. I lost count of how many times we had made such a manuver, but just after noon, we break through the clouds and this time our archers spot something below. All of us warriors and raiders peer down over the port side rail, and we see a large slow barge far below us, hovering next to the mountainside. We ready weapons and grip our shields tighter. This will be a fight… the vessel is clearly not a troll ship. Honus is suddenly beside me on the rail… his shield at the ready.
“This is curious. What is a barge doing this close to the mountains? “ He says.
“There must be more ships nearby.” I reply.
Rorik already had thought of this apparently, for as I look to the crow’s nest, I see the archers scanning the skies away from the direction of the barge.
Rorik speaks to the archers using air speak. “Anything?”
“Nothing .” Is their reply. “He looks to be alone!” I pull on my helmet.
It doesn’t make sense for the barge to be there, but it doesn’t matter. Without a word our vessel turns sharply. We are all accomplished airmen, so not a man loses his balance at the violent shifting of our ship. We know exactly what is going to happen, so we do not need orders. We are positioning ourselves directly above the barge… then we will dive on her, dropping our warriors on her deck. We’ve done this before a thousand times, and usually on vessels far faster and made for combat. The hapless barge and its crew don’t have a prayer… and with this cloud cover, they likely won’t even see us coming before we are upon them. Not that it would matter, Wind Viper is the fastest Drakkar in the sky and a barge is a slow bulky tub. It will be like a hungry wolf attacking a fat sheep.
Blood And Snow
Our ship begins to turn. We all grab onto the rails, or rigging or whatever handhold is nearby. The dive begins, and instantly our ship is hurtling straight down toward the enemy ship at incredible speed. Only a sky raider could guide a ship like this… it is a maneuver no other adept dare try.
The cold wind is howling through my helmet and I feel frost building on my beard from the damp air. I hear a couple of men muttering… unusual for our well disciplined crew to break silence on a dive. Honus then mutters to me, again using air speak so I can hear him over the shrieking wind. “Therans!” He grumbles with menace in his voice. We all hate Theran bastards. This battle will be a bloody one indeed. I grip my sword a bit tighter.
Our approach is going smoothly and unnoticed, when suddenly we notice that there is some kind of skirmish going on the ground and that few sailors are aboard the foemen’s barge. I look at Honus, and he looks at me. We’re both grinning. We just caught the Therans, and whoever they are fighting, with their pants down. We do not need orders, we know what to do.
Our ship breaks left, and at that instant… most of our warriors and raiders jump. We are hurtling toward the ground, the Therans and their opponents, who are vastly outnumbered, still have not seen us. Rorik is leading the attack. Using airspeak, he begins a countdown that we can hear as though he is speaking to us in a prairie on a calm day, rather than hurtling to the ground from the clouds, with the shrieking cold wind blasting past our ears. “3… 2… 1…” Immediately we all spread out our arms to slow our decent. The magic of our wind catching talents tingle as we gain our balance, and steady our decent. We’re still falling fast, but slowly enough now that we will not be injured when we crash down. We outnumber them, and we know exactly what to do. We are going to encircle them as we land, and then close the noose. I know that a second group is likely now leaping from the ship to board their vessel. None can be allowed to escape.
Just as we’re about to land, several of the foemen see us… and they are so astonished, that the entire battle on the ground pauses for a moment. I position myself on a gap in the perimeter, and as we hit… we simultaneously let out a blood curdling roar. The real fight has just begun.
I would like to tell you in detail all that happened during this fight, but I honestly didn’t see much of it. I know that I saw several name-givers of various races, clustered in a defensive advantageous position between a cold mountain stream, and a cliff wall. They were apparently happy to see us, for without our arrival they were likely doomed. They were so enthralled by our arrival, that as we charged a cluster of Therans near their position, they charged as well. They must have thought we were there to help them… and in a way, I guess the Passions decided that we were.
Right away, I noticed that one of my troll brothers had landed too close to the Therans, and they pounced. He had several of them attacking him at once, and he was doing all he could to fend them off. So I and a several of others, charged into the fray. Before I could even get a blade in, the Therans were either down, or hopelessly outmatched.
So I charged forward once again, this time heading for the largest pocket of the battle, where the fight still raged. I dove into the fray next to my adopted troll father, Rorik. He did not need help. These Theran slavers were just air sailors and were no match for Crystal Raiders. However, I took that spot because I wanted to solidify our line. I was slashing away at a Theran, who was fighting bravely but to no avail. I wounded him twice in a matter of moments. He fell to the ground, dropping his sword, badly wounded and begging for mercy. His friends were still fighting. I moved forward and began fighting another one. Suddenly, I was startled to find found myself fighting alongside one of the name-givers that we saw surrounded at the steram. It was a T’Skrang, who was giving better than he got against a Theran to my left. He had positioned himself along our line as though he were one of us! Before I could react, I was distracted by a crossbow shot that thudded into that Theran’s shield. I glanced over and saw a young human, quickly reloading, also fighting as though he were a part of our group. The Theran hacked at me again, and I blocked his clumsy attack with my shield. All at once, the Therans around us, most dead and all bloodied, dropped their weapons and fell to their knees. Without a word, our warriors and raiders turned on the remaining name-givers who had fought beside us. I did not like that we were fighting them, I doubt anyone did, but they had to be subdued. I yelled at them in Throalic to surrender, I do not remember my exact words, but they had fought bravely already and did not need to prove themselves further. They were withdrawing back to their haven by the stream, so I realized that the T’Skrang and his human friend were not an immediate threat. So, I whirled around and saw that my brother Vargas was surrounded by half a dozen Therans up on a ridge. With a shout, I Great Leaped and jumped up there to help him.
The battle below me now devolved into route but I had no time to think about it further. Instead I focused on fighting the Therans on the ridge. I wounded the one in front of me, and almost immediately afterwards, Vargas felled yet another. The remaining three began to run, apparently heading back to their ship, not realizing that we probably had already taken it over. I could not blame them for fleeing, it was the only smart move they had left. We could not let them escape, and possibly surprise our men on the ship. I charged after them, and as they approached a rise, they saw that their ship was now covered with Sky Raiders. A tall one, with pale skin and blonde hair (clearly not a native Theran) threw down his weapon, looked me in the eye, and nodded to me as he accepted defeat. The other two, both appearing to be native Therans with darker skin and black hair, hesitated, and then followed suit. I picked up their weapons and beckoned them to move back down into the valley.
Looking down, the battle below appeared to be over. The other name-givers were on their knees and being bound by the trolls. I noticed that my adopted father, the brave and noble Rorik, was cowering behind a boulder, covering his face in terror. This was clearly the work of some sorcery… I clenched my teeth in anger and hurried down the hill. I saw that Honus had his blade at the throat of a thin human who was wearing dark robes and was covered with tattoos. An obvious spell-caster. The man was on his knees and had his arms spread wide as if in apology. I looked him over, the Therans often employed dark sorcerers to do their bidding. Was he a Theran? Rorik, suddenly burst out from behind the boulder, in a rage. He charged forward, intent on killing the wizard who had bewitched him. The wizard’s eyes went wide in alarm. I moved into Rorik’s path, we could not let him kill a man who had surrendered, even a Theran sorcerer. So enraged was Rorik, that I thought he would just bowl me over and spill the spell-caster’s guts all over the snow, but Honus got between us and helped me restrain him until he regained his senses.
After a few moments, he calmed down, but I could tell he was still angry at the wizard. Rightfully so… no man of honor wants to be seen fleeing from a fair fight… even if it is caused by the trickery of magic. I think we all sympathized with him. Later I would learn that this man was a Nethermancer, and that he had winked at Rorik after surrendering. I did not approve of that.
I turned around to survey the motley group. There were two stout dwarves. One clearly a warrior of some type, the other, was dressed more like a merchant or scholar. There was a human female, who had been mimicking my voice, a neat trick that gave away the fact that she must be a Troubadour like my woman, Quorra. The human man who fired the crossbow was protecting a little girl, who interestingly looked less afraid than any of the other prisoners. The T’Skrang, was badly wounded, and apparently had put up quite a fight. Several of my brethren were commenting on his actions. An honorable and brave soul… he would likely survive the trials of the truth stone.
Honor And Truth… Or Death
We tied up the remaining captives and put all those who could not walk to the sword. In all, we had captives including 8 Theran foeman, a dozen slave oarsmen from foreign lands, and the motley crew of name-givers that had been fighting against the Theans. I bound some of the wounds of those who were in bad shape, including the T’Skrang and a couple of the Therans.
Both the Therans and the name-givers had been well armed and equipped, so the haul from this battle was good. Plus we had captured the Theran barge, which is a worthless vessel in the Twilight Peaks, but was one we could easily sell for a handsome profit to other name givers. All in all, we had done well.
When we arrived at the village, we placed all of the prisoners into the town jail. They would soon be judged on the Truth Stone, which was a powerful magical device that is used by our sorcerers to determine if the person on it is telling the truth, and it is said to also give them insights to their soul. Oddly enough, I was put in charge of selecting the prisoners, two at a time, to face the truth stone. I had faced such a test myself when I was captured, much like them. So I felt a special empathy for their plight, and I hoped most of them would be accepted… but I knew most would not. Especially the Therans, who would most likely all be killed. Their kind have caused so much pain among the troll people, their odds of acceptance were almost none.
First up, I chose the T’Skrang, with the hopes he would be accepted. I also chose a native Theran, who I identified by having dark skin and black hair. He was also of high rank among the group we had captured, so I knew he would likely not make it. I was right. The Theran lied right out of the gate, and was killed while the T’Skrang was accepted as a newot, much to my relief. Oddly enough, Tago knew the T’Skrang’s grandfather. Apparently, he was related to Han Kray Zomay, an adventuring friend of Tago’s that I had heard many tales about during my time with the trolls. His name was Ardor Zomay.Over the course of the next couple of hours, much to my astonishment, the whole group of name-givers was accepted, and one of the Therans as well, as members of the clan. As each was accepted into the clan, the crowd cheered. They even accepted the troublesome Nethermancer, who was adopted by Grimlock, the most powerful Elementalist in the clan. It was the most newots accepted by the clan at any one time in the history of the Steelskull Clan. It was a day for celebration as we had gained many new clan brothers and sisters. Their names were; Ardor, Dremnin, Fafnir, Hakka, Suulin, Urgral, and Vridich. I did not know it at the time, but I would get to know these men well.