Mother of All Rehashes (200212 to 200301)

 

“You will forget that Yrken word is bond, and cross the Tru’usulan, and the seed of the destruction of the Yrken will be planted. Should you find your way back to the Light, you will avert your doom, else, the Yrken will fail and fall to dust. This I foretell.”  – Ambrose

 

The Road

 

It is a daunting task indeed that a chronicler faces when seeking to depict the infamous journey of our brave band to ruined Vagnicae. In that silent wasteland haunted by the specters of so many Yrken dead, it can be said that our intrepid adventurers took the first step in the sequence of events that led to how we know them today. Historians and other non-productive types will debate their fame…or infamy…as they see fit. Of this there is no doubt. But as their chronicler, I will simply portray the trials and tribulations of our heroes and leave you to judge. Nothing shall dissuade me from this duty, save poor quality of ink and quill, or perhaps lack of good parchment. Even a humble chronicler has standards to uphold.

 

Few have ever heard the brave band speak of what they saw in that first Temple of Yelaya they unearthed. Forgotten by all, and crawling with Eldren-spawn it remained a place of reverence and wonder even in its slumbering ruin. Indeed, the hardened heart of Kergen himself was touched by the place and he spoke much of his studies on Ambrose’s Isle, and what he had learned of Yelaya there. Let it not be assumed that academia was ever this slayer’s focus, for he burned with rage at the thought of the ogre mage’s defilement of the holy temple, and the filth his people spawned. Those who had ventured forth were of the same mind, and the destruction of the ogres was ever in the thoughts of Seanee, Tenax, “Farmer” Draos, Archimedes, and Onus. Only Hildy seemed cowed by the majesty of the place, and she could be seen gazing in astonishment at overgrown gardens, wide canals, and towering statuary. But even Hildy yearned to free their companion Nivek from the mage’s depredations.  That stout ranger had fallen in the 2nd battle with the ogres, where their numbers and sheer strength had won the day, unlike the battle preceding it where our heroes blades had taken a deadly toll.

 

And so it was that when emerging from that ancient temple, the mage in full flight, that the brave band turned their thoughts to finishing the fiends. As the chronicler I must report that it has never been recorded what they saw in that holy place, or what they had learned. Those closest to them have reported secondhand that some find there hinted at the location of the Great Temple of Yelaya. But that is another tale.

 

It can be said that our heroes’ lethal nature had grown considerably with the addition of Kergen and Hildy, but it was still their keen wit as always that led to their great victories. Told by a retreating ogre warrior of tension between the Ogre Elders and the bulk of the warriors, the brave band expertly exploited the absence of the mage and assaulted the lair of the Eldren-spawn. It was no contest. The mystic power of Draos and Archimedes, devout Seanee’s skill with weapon and word, murderous Tenax with his blades seeking the backs of the unwary…all behind the steel wall of Kergen and Hildy. The Elders were no match for such an assault. However, with the Elders and the mage removed, the remaining ogre warriors still made a formidable force and outnumbered the brave band nearly four to one.

 

Terse negotiations ensued, resulting in the release of Nivek, and…other human captives. It was only when Nivek recovered consciousness briefly that the horrid tale of what had occurred was revealed. The ogre cook “Sylvie” had been butchering them, and using the healing waters of Yelaya’s spring to regenerate the limbs! Though the brave band burned with rage at what had been done, the mission to the Citadel took precedence. Kergen coolly put the mindless prisoners out of their misery, and the band left Yelaya’s temple. It would be long before they returned to exact their vengeance on the fiends.

 

Indeed, there would be hell to pay when they returned. The ogres had attempted to sack their camp, and the odd minstrel Barrett had been slain in the attack. Driven off by Nivek’s dour henchman Bart, they nevertheless had cost the brave band in horses. More importantly, Barrett had been a citizen of Vagnicae on the day the Eldren came, and held invaluable information. Undaunted, our heroes continued on the road to the ruined capital of defunct Tristram Province.

 

The journey was uneventful for the most part. Indeed, the weather brightened and were the terminus of their path not a place of horror and death it could even be said that our brave band found enjoyment. This far from Caereldren, the land showed little evidence of the horrible wounds the Eldren demons had inflicted on it. Signs of their depredations were infrequent… and then they topped a rise. Vagnicae, or what remained of it lay in the distance.

 

A young city, only two decades in age, the place had once been a wonder. The wealth of the most powerful House in Yrkenland had flowed freely and artisans had built a city that many called a shrine to the best of what the Yrken could offer. Towering walls, broad avenues flanked by green gardens, temples, libraries, homes for rich and poor, elegantly arched aqueducts, cavernous coliseums…the Eldren had brought it to dust. The brave band recoiled as they recognized the dead soil that had surrounded the Tower of Malvagel, and wondered at the hatred of the demons that they would bring so much devastation to a place. As they grew closer, even icy Kergen was near tears at the sight of fleeing Yrken warriors and refugees, turned to stone in their hundreds. What appeared from a distance to be intact structures was revealed to be naked walls, leaning drunkenly as gravity waited patiently, so patiently, to pull them into the rubble pits. A wasteland that could not be imagined…and in the harbor, the great Citadel smoked, still burning six years after the Eldren assault.

 

A band without the virtues of our heroes would surely have turned aside at the sight of such devastation. But as we know from so many of their exploits, save a couple of extremely embarrassing incidents involving…ahem…they would not be dissuaded. Passing through the massive arches of the crumbling Whitebridge Gate, they entered Vagnicae. Their lives would never be the same from this day, and their thread in the tapestry of tales grew tangled as a cat’s ball of yarn. I personally adore cats…I especially enjoy when two to three kittens, perhaps small and malnourished, dreaming of power and grace beyond their poor abilities and infant wits set forth and assault a ball of yarn with all the ferocity of Ambrit at the Last Battle. Such courage! Such bravery! Such naivete! Such…ahem. The shadows of our brave band loomed larger than life from this day, as long and ominous as the shadows in the ruin of magnificent Vagnicae.

 

The City

 

It is rare when a chronicler of any talent finds himself at a loss for words. Words are, of course, our business. But even the most skillful reaches the day when their words fail them. How can one describe ruined Vagnicae with any justice?

 

I can only say, as you envision our brave band walking through those haunted avenues, in the shadow of towering arches and monuments that threaten to collapse with a sudden change of the wind…think of Nodpesken. Yes, that ancient capitol seat of Old Yrkenland herself. This chronicler has visited there, and from the little coherent information provided by our intrepid adventurers, can state that it is, in all aspects that matter, exactly like that place. Only add the depradations of enraged Eldren…which on second thought, makes it much more terrifying. Indeed, did our heroes not possess that peculiar courage which marked them, one could not have blamed them for turning back at once. For the great Palazza of House Bainne lay in rubble, the Citadel burned still, and the collapsing ruins offered ample opportunity for an ignoble death in a pile of dusty rubble. This was not our heroes’ fate, as later chapters depict, but let us all remark on their courage. Huzzah!

 

I digress. Our brave band did not wander long in that dusty desolation before they met a sentinel, one Solomon. Dressed in garish garb, playing an altogether impolite tune upon his flute, this man who seemed so harmless would prove not to disappoint the suspicions of our intrepid adventurers, though this disappointment would come in a manner unlike others…for good Solomon offered them no malice of any kind.

 

Indeed, our brave band had remarked on the great warship they had espied in the harbor of Vagnicae, and suspected all along that others had arrived long before. Had the Treasury long since been looted? This chronicler can only imagine what the heroes would have said to poor Count Ector were that that case, but it was not so. Solomon proclaimed himself Steelsong, 1st Officer of the great ship, the Admiralty Battle Cruiser Windraider, and offered them safe passage to meet his commander, Fleet Captain Kargan, known at sea as the Grimface.

 

Puzzling their way mightily through the notion of dealing with Ken who knew nothing (it would seem) of Ambrose, our intrepid adventurers nevertheless courageously accepted his offer of safe passage. Let it never be said that the hidden archers the Steelsong hinted at had anything to do with this decision. We know better of this brave band, and a hopeless situation was never anything to deter them.

 

And so it was that they were brought into a wonder. This “Admiralty of the Sea Lords”, though to them at the time no different that a fancy name for “Pirates and Pillagers of Ruined Vagnicae”, had established a base in that natural harbor from which to harvest the rich timber to the north. It seemed that the maritime marauders had exhausted all their natural timber stores and used Yrkenland’s prostration before the Eldren’s might to seek advantage. Indeed, the 2nd Officer was known as Rackhir, called Eldrenbane by the crew, and bore a bandoleer attesting to his disdain for the demons skill in battle…more than a dozen Eldren ears adorned it, and his gaze seemed no less dangerous.

 

It would take rolls of parchment to depict all that occurred between the crew of Kargan and our brave band. Given the difficulty of acquiring parchment with the correct weight and quality, it is this chronicler’s duty to summarize, as he has never has before. It was apparent from the first meeting with the Grimface that he was most unhappy with our heroes’ presence.

 

For this well-named commander made clear with subtle signs through his otherwise perfectly dreadful demeanor that he was an extremely hard, unforgiving, and coldly lethal man. Commissioned to harvest the wealth of timber the Wounded Land could offer his people in secrecy, he had been responsible for the death or exile of all those Yrken who had before stumbled upon his base. The Grimface was much vexed at the promise of safe passage given by his 1st, and remarked upon it, saying to Solomon that he would be keelhauled the next time he tied his hands so. Who can say why Solomon offered this safe harbor to our brave band? Many have remarked that he saw something in them that swayed him, or perhaps he simply wished to avoid the sight of more naïve adventurers hanging from the spars. Nevertheless, among this faction of the Sea Lords our heroes had encountered it seemed that like Yrken, honor and truth was of paramount importance, and it served them well. Indeed, that one act of mercy led to extraordinary circumstances, but that is another tale.

 

The Admiralty wished to preserve their operation…our brave band wished to retrieve the Treasury without handing it to them. Quite a quandary faced the intrepid adventurers. Historians and other non-productive types will debate, as is their wont, whether or not the heroes clumsily blundered or precisely maneuvered their way through this conundrum, but as their chronicler, I report facts. And the fact was, that with a few small concessions regarding timbering rights, rights of navigation, obviation of legal authority, stationing of foreign troops on Yrken lands, occupation and administration of said lands by foreign troops, forbearance of taxation of commerce, suspension of all local statutes, including habeas corpus, repeal of all laws related to sodomy among men far from home for a period of greater than six months, the revision of the definition of an enemy combatant, a wink and a nod to Weapons of Magical Destruction proliferation, and a polite agreement to disregard health and building codes…our heroes tenaciously negotiated Captain Kargan into a corner, and were rewarded with access to the Citadel.

 

Uncovered in the legal wrangling was a fact that was noted some hours later. With the unfortunate death of so many nobles in the 1st and 2nd Eldren Wars, not to mention the 1st and 2nd Charn Wars, the effects of long-term inbreeding and general decay in morals…ahem… it seemed only Duke Erekose and Tenax Prolosit held any hereditary claim to Tristram Province. And of course, that fiend of House Bainne, otherwise known as the Renegade had all lands and titles stripped by the Lord Protector, may he live long and prosper. Now, we know in this later day that other claims held weight of various measures, but I ask the reader to imagine…you are Prolosit, the only survivor of a House so minor as to barely be worth recording in the rolls…and you find you have the prime claim to Tristram. Disregard the fact that you have no treasury, no armsmen, no sponsors, no hope…indeed…not even a worthy coat and breeches to present your claim in…and imagine. Now you know how that noble man felt.

 

But let it never be said that our brave band let cold reality chill the heat of their imagination. With basic negotiations completed and Prolosit’s seal on the treaty, Captain Kargan happily provided all salvage rights to the Citadel, and a craft to bear our brave band on its way.

 

Little did our heroes know what they would salvage in the place of horror…

 

The Citadel

 

That noble Fleet Captain of the Admiralty, Kargan Grimface, did not disappoint the intrepid adventurers. Aid was promised, and delivered in the form of a moderately worn six-oar launch crewed by seven surly sailors. With no small amount of belching and other emissions abundant, the fresh sea air that blew across them as they meandered out into the glassy harbor waters seemed a blessing from Ambrose Himself. Indeed, all the strength that could be mustered, spiritual or otherwise, would surely be needed. Fearsome enough in the distance, the mighty Citadel loomed closer at each creaking stroke of the oars in their fetlocks. Smoke oozed thickly from locations clear and indeterminable…the great central keep seemed a chimney, while from fissures in the towering cliffs other streams drifted lazily before being dissipated by the harbor breezes. A counterpoint to the brooding ruin, flocks of seagulls wheeled about in abundance, lending their mournful cries to the ambience of the ocean waves smashing themselves against the seawall. As the craft pulled into the ruin’s shadow, a dusty smell of heat was evident…and a smell of putrid death.

 

Now in the darkness in the lee of the mighty Rock, our brave band directed their cheerful companions to bring them in proximity to the mighty sea gates they had espied from the shore. Two massive gateways, perhaps natural, perhaps carved from the Rock itself by Duke Errant’s artisans, led into a darkened cavern of massive size. The gates stretched to a height that would allow even the mightiest ship to enter fully masted…well, perhaps not the Windraider, but any ship the Yrken were capable of constructing.

 

In any event the smell of death grew thicker as the distance closed, and many of the sailors cloaked their mouth and nostrils with what rags they had. This made it difficult to row and curse at the same time, but they were of course expert sailors. Finally, they approached close enough to determine the state of the gates, and were both impressed and dismayed. The gates were welded steel portculli with bars inches thick. No means to open them was apparent, and our heroes faced their first barrier. The cliffs were far too tall to climb even for one as nimble as Tenax, and no path was apparent. Our heroes knew of course that no fortress with a nice garden path to the gate was worth the stone to make it…but let it not be said that it stopped them from hoping. In the end, it was the mystic powers of the “Farmer” that solved the puzzle. Carrying every scrap of rope our brave band possessed, he transformed himself to the shape of a large bird and transited the cliff so, quickly securing a rope. A sweaty scramble later and the intrepid adventurers walked in the courtyard of the Citadel of Vagnicae, the first Yrken to do so in six years.

 

The horror they found in the courtyard was at least a familiar one. In all their journeys in the Wounded Land they had seen what brave Yrken soldiers had been brought to by the Eldren, yet a rage still burned in Kergen’s eyes as he surveyed a courtyard full of statues…archers aiming skyward at a target long since gone…a coward cringing against a wall, hands held out in terror…a clutch of infantry charging an empty space, shields raised high. Once so valiant, now they were only stone dripping with seagull droppings.

 

A quick survey of the yard showed three possible paths…two small keeps at the northern  and southern ends of the Citadel flanked the high central keep. Smoke oozed from each, though less from the small keeps. Ever seeking to get to the heart of the matter, though rarely finding it…ahem…our brave band prepared their battle gear, and entered the central keep through its razed gates.

 

The interior of the keep was a wonder of architecture and construction with no interior columns apparent. Sweeping wide stairways led up and up into the airy interior, criss-crossed by catwalks that interlaced cleverly. An attempt to count the number of firing positions for archers and other missile troops ended in futility. But even more impressive was the great shaft at the center of the room, near thirty paces across, with strange platforms which promised transit to the lower levels. Two were missing, and one seemingly broken, but one awaited…and it seemed functional. Choking smoke flowed up from the shaft, dry, hot, and sour. Whatever fire the Eldren set so long ago, it seemed to burn deep in the Citadel.

 

Our brave band did not contain any architects however, and it is fortunate that they did not. That misplaced academic would surely have fallen. The first clue of adversaries came when Seanee grunted and was lifted bodily up into the air at great speed. Only a filament a finger’s width wide, barely visible, showed the direction he was being lifted. Let it never be said that our heroes lacked initiative. As one, with the exception of Archimedes who still lolled about on shore…and Onus, who had also decided to stay behind…not forgetting Nivek, whose main contribution was still drool…ahem. Kergen, Hildy, “Farmer” Draos, and Tenax sprang to attack. Tenax especially seemed light on his feet, clutching at a filament as it wound round him and lifted him into the air!

 

The battle that ensued was chaotic and damaging for our heroes…Seanee especially suffered serious wounds to his dignity, aside from his body. When one is a heroic adventurer, being dangled about like a trout on a fly line must be mortifying…this chronicler can only imagine. Etymologists and other non-productive types name the creatures “Cave Fishers”…which clearly shows the usefulness of that field, for the keep was no cave, and despite their wide gasping mouths and occasional resemblance to the old aphorism “a fish out of water”, our heroes were not fish…ahem. Flesh-eating insects as large as a man, the creatures uncanny abilities to crawl the walls and entangle the heroes was not enough to give them victory. One by one they fell, including one to a vicious dagger blow from the Farmer. Or so he says. None witnessed it. A chronicler can only record what he is told, after all.

 

The creatures were in any event defeated, finding our brave band more difficult prey than the abundant seagulls, and the decision was made to attempt the platforms. Tenax was the first to try them, though whether this was due to bravery or a simple desire to be the first to tour “his” Citadel, none can say. In any event the descent proved simple enough, despite the choking smoke. Even this drab place showed signs of wonder. The old Duke had even set artisans to carving the walls of the shaft with designs martial and artistic. The sigil of House Bainne never brought a Prolosit anything but rage, however. Not even a smidgen of appreciation could be seen on Tenax’s grim face as he descended, until, with a clank, the platform refused to descend further.

 

Navigating the distance from the now useless platform to another easily enough, Tenax was able to determine something of how the platforms worked. It seemed the one he now rode transited the entire length of the shaft, while another went to a level below the surface, and so on. The smoke made certainty difficult, but with only one working platform the choice was simple enough. Our brave band, conveniently reinforced by an awakened Archimedes, decisively rode the single working platform to the bottom of the shaft.

 

It seemed that the great conflagration had reached this place as well, but it must have been from above for the great battle gate was intact, though battered. Showing signs of a tremendous assault it stood, two portals, thirty feet in height and forty feet wide. Draos used some old farmer’s trick or something to free the bent and corroded bar from the clasps and with a groan the right portal of the gate was opened a foot. It was a mistake, for the smell of death noted from outside poured through, and brave though they were, some of our heroes could not hold their respective lunches. Wincing at the reek, the brave band proceeded carefully, dodging ancient traps, wondering what the great sea cavern would hold.

 

Again the brave band marveled at the ambition of old Duke Errant. A massive natural sea cavern had been enlarged, and great docks and a quay built. Booms and derricks rigged to lift heavy cargo rose over moldering crates and other debris. A strong rampart surrounding the place held evidence of another great battle with the Eldren…another defeat. The faces of death set in stone again showed the evidence of that fateful day when the Eldren stormed the mighty Citadel…determination and fear, hate and horror. The demons’ victims had no other tale to tell though, so our heroes moved further inwards. The waters of the harbor soon revealed the secret of the horrid stench. A sickly mist covered the waters and the lower quays and lifeless, rotting fish bobbed about everywhere. The masts of ships sunk long ago stood above the fouled waters like great tombstones. Ominously, in a seemingly intact war galley a single oar rowed…and one slender swan-necked prow was among the ruins. As Ambrose Himself described, as the Eldren demon slain by the brave band had made…the ship was clear proof that the fiends had penetrated the great sea gates. But how? For these portals were tightly closed.

 

The mysteries of the cavern were many, and did this chronicler have sufficient parchment, he could spend months depicting the wonders found there. But alas, such a quantity is not available.

 

What we can say with certainty (and brevity) is this…the first danger of the sea cavern was quickly made evident as the sickly mists began to crawl towards our heroes…who recoiled in horror as they realized that the touch of the mist was deadly. Draos used some farmer’s trick to build a wall of wind to hold it back…to no avail. Kergen swung his great battle blade, carving huge swaths through it…to no avail. Lethal Archimedes managed to accurately direct a burst of flame at one tendril, seemingly slaying it, but the mists took their toll. When they finally withdrew, now a horrid pink, Kergen and others were badly sapped by the battle. With the withdrawal of the mists however, the cavern could be explored. Using a variety of Draos’s farming wisdom, Archimedes’ magics, and Seanee’s mystic powers the place was explored. The rower proved to be a figure of sorrow and horror…calling itself Dori it seemed dead and alive at once. It croaked for vengeance against House Bainne, and the cause was apparent…bound to its oar with magical chains even it could not break, it appeared to be branded in the manner of the Numbered as depicted in His Truths…and its number was 115. That Bainne would enslave Yrken against the dictate of Ambrose Himself would soon prove to be their least offence.

 

For in an exploration of the ship nearest the Eldren craft, a discovery was made which would deeply affect our brave band. This yacht-like craft had been turned entirely to stone…but a trapped pocket of air kept it partly on the surface. With the assistance of their new companion Valdor, a daft…ahem…raft expedition brought Seanee and Archimedes to the craft. Seanee slid deep beneath the waters and found in the main cabin the remains of several elite troopers, their arms and armor unsullied (subliminal: Cha-ching!) by the long years under the waves. They seemed to be a guard for a stone chest. Ever curious, Seanee chipped away at the stone until a burst of air bubbles signalled he had breached it. Ever cautious, Seanee fled to the surface with great haste when a tiny hand reached out from inside the chest to claw at the stone!

 

The raft constructed by Valdor was sturdy enough, but none of our heroes thought it could attain the speed with which the three mariners drove it back to the quays. Their need for speed was readily apparent for a tiny Eldren rose from the waters and pursued them. But the fiendish, horrifying…three foot tall Eldren child…seemed to offer no immediate threat.

 

Indeed, she offered much information to our heroes, which I’ve documented in my submission to the Historical Society, “Origins of the Genocide – Observations on the 1st Eldren War”. It is quite a fascinating read if I do say so myself. It would have been quite incomplete without the information the brave band imparted.

 

Of course, when all information needed had been obtained our heroes mercilessly slew the tiny Avatar. Let it never be said that they would suffer an Eldren to live.

 

With the courageous defeat of the helpless little demon and its nefarious schemes, our heroes were finally able to turn their full attention to the heart of the Citadel. The flow of air through the now open battle gate in the sea cavern cleaned it of the fishy reek, and swept the acrid smoke from the great shaft. The platform that would allow transit to the level immediately below the surface was functional, and they arrived safely.

 

Immediately noted were strange runes floating in the air…they seemed to surround the walkway, hovering over portals, hanging before the ventilation shafts. What Eldren madness this was did not concern our brave band. Oh no…with nary a gesture towards caution, Seanee used his mystic might to dispel the rune.

 

This of course released the fiend “Arjay”, as depicted in my volume “The Battle For The Citadel: Defeat of the Eldrenspawn and the Aftermath, Part I”. It would have been quite incomplete without the information our heroes imparted in their later years. I shall not waste parchment depicting it now. As you the reader know so well, this “Arjay” would haunt the Citadel for quite some time, and cause no small amount of trouble.

 

But in the aftermath of that epic encounter, the intrepid adventurers moved to the deepest level of the Citadel…the very vaults of House Errant themselves. It was clear by now that the fiend…or perhaps fiends…that had burned the Citadel so long ago resided here. The heat was oppressive, even in the outer walkway. But let it not be said that the brave band lacked the courage to assault the place, in the face of unknown evil. Indeed, after deliberations on strategy that this chronicler can only assume lasted hours, if not days, it was the bold Archimedes that cloaked himself in a protective sphere and walk resolutely up the passage to the Vault of House Errant. This of course is depicted in my volume “The Battle For The Citadel: Defeat of the Eldrenspawn and the Aftermath, Part II”. It would have been quite incomplete without the information our heroes imparted in their later years. I shall not waste parchment depicting it now. As you the reader know so well, this battle would mark the Citadel for quite some time, and cause no small amount of trouble. But enough maundering on the sundry details of this or that battle.

 

When the would-be Duke Prolosit and the buccaneer Valdor drove their blades into the fiend, little did our heroes know that its death would only begin the sequence of events that led to the death of a dear friend, and the forging of a friendship that would never be broken.

 

 

The Aftermath

 

And so it was that after marching bravely through fire and blade, negotiating coolly through laws of salvage, and walking blindly the paths of the history of their people, did the brave band secure the Citadel.

 

Ahem…my lack of parchment besieges me. I must do justice to this, if only in honor of the valiant dead. Let the historians and other non-productive types chastise me as they will for the poor quality of this offering. It must be recorded.

 

Battered from the deadly battles in the deep levels, the brave band sought return to the surface. They sought healing, and above all, safety and peace after the horrors they had survived.

 

It was not to be so. For upon viewing the cessation of the fires that had burned since their arrival, certain of the Admiralty sailors followed their grim leader, Rackhir Eldrenbane, in a gamble to take the treasure of the place by right of secondary salvage (under what was then known as Admiralty law). For with our heroes slain, their claim to the place was of course, moot.

 

Indeed, these slayers did assail and defeat the stout Hildy, our heroes’ brave companion. But let it never be said that the bulbous beauty went down without a fight. Skewered with arrows, beset on all sides, she cried the alarm as loud as was possible. Bleeding from multiple wounds, she dealt death with her spear, spilling the pirates’ blood as freely as her own. But in the end, Rackhir’s cloth-yard shafts proved to be too much…penetrating deep inside her, she expired with a groan that shook the rafters of the upper Citadel. Slumping against a column, she joined Barrett in the trail of dead that had marked this misadventure.

 

Deep below, the heroes were immersed in their own affairs. While Hildy died in her valiant last stand, they calculated how much gold and platinum the Treasury contained. Let it never be said that they lacked accounting acumen. As Hildy skewered murderous pirates with her spear, reeling under the thunderous impact of broadheads propelled by Rackhir’s Eldren bow, the total value of the Treasury was carefully enumerated by weight…by volume…conversion rates between Loor and Yrken coin was considered. Indeed…as her mighty heart burst, pierced by a point-blank blast from that ignoble archer and Hildy breathed her last, the platinum content of the amalgam and how it would augment the total monetary value of the hoard, and the values of the brave band, became terrifyingly clear.

 

It was an astounding treasure. But the means to retrieve it escaped the brave band, and so, weary from their marathon of mathematics, they sought return to the surface. There, Rackhir’s murderers awaited them.

 

In all ways the most devious of the intrepid adventurers, Draos used an old tidbit of farmer’s knowledge to transform his gangly carcass into that of a voluptuous woman. His stratagem seemed to guarantee gang-rape…this chronicler will leave it to trial lawyers and other non-productive types to determine extenuating factors…and failed when the murderer Rackhir sensed treachery from his man. Perhaps it was his distended trousers. In any event, three arrows thudded into the chest of the sailor who hid Draos, leaving her…err, him…naked to Rackhir’s advance.

 

But stealthy Tenax and Valdor had bravely hid themselves away, and rushed to her defense. Though Rackhir battled valiantly, no one man could face the brave band in open battle. Forced to retreat, he fled and hid. And watched as Admiralty sailors flooded the Citadel in response to the cry for help our heroes had sent to the shore. Intolerable in victory, ignoble in defeat…the intrepid adventures revealed themselves at the sounds of Sea Lord crewmen swarming about.

 

Quickly found by a relieved Solomon Steelsong, the tale of the Citadel was told. While the Grimface pursued his treacherous officer Rackhir, the sailors amused themselves with baiting the spiders of the towers, spitting great loogies down the shaft, and riding up and down upon the platforms giggling like schoolgirls…swarthy, well-armed schoolgirls, that is.

 

The appearance of a pink mist in the sea level and the whispers of a fiend asking for a smoke in the upper level soon convinced the doughty sailors that the place was still accursed. As the sun sets on another day in the Wounded Land, Admiralty sailors scratch themselves and wonder when the 1st Officer will allow them to vacate the bloody (expletive deleted) place. Fleet Captain Kargan Grimface reaches the party of woodcutters, and is enraged to find them unguarded by Rackhir’s men. A defeated man rows away in the shadow of the Citadel, angling behind the sea wall where none but the birds can see him…and a brave band of heroes wonders just what in Ambrose’s name they are to do with hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of solid gold.

 

The Cruise

 

The debt of the betrayal of safe passage by his officer was heavy on Fleet Captain Kargan Grimface. The weight of the Treasury was heavier. But with another skillful negotiation, our heroes arranged for transit back to the rendezvous in style. With the application of Sea Lord muscle, ample ropes, and a bit of grease from Kargan, the great fountain was pitched into the shaft, where it shattered into seven pieces of marble and rich treasure.

 

Watching the booms and hoists load the massive chunks of the Treasury aboard Windraider was a marvel in itself on a day of marvels. For one of the great sea gates still functioned, and as Dori/115 rowed on furiously, the brave band supervised the skillful crating and loading of their massive cargo. With a groan of oars and many curses, the galley Timbertearer towed the great Admiralty battle cruiser into the open sea. While it wallowed impressively in the ocean waves, our naval neophytes furrowed their brows over the odd harnesses being handed them. The wind blew from north to south, and massive Windraider tacked fitfully back and forth across the breeze. With any luck, they estimated arrival in Vindolanda sometime before the snow fell.

 

But let it never be said that our heroes lacked adventure. For bearing the strange device he called the Grimstaff, white diamond glowing and spinning within its metal cage, Captain Kargan sang. And to the brave band’s amazement, something answered. The limp sails swelled as if being pummeled by unseen fists, slowly filling. The great cruiser’s speed increased, slowly, inexorably…with a final shudder it ROSE from the water and fairly flew across the waves! Looking over the rail, clutching at their safety ropes, our stalwart adventurers saw the massive craft flitting along the water like some martial water-spider, riding on foils of thick steel. The journey from Vagnicae to the Troos Delta took a mere four hours…normally two days travel with favorable winds.

 

And so…home was in sight. An end to traversing the accursed land of Tristram, if only for a while. An end to watching friends die…an end to wondering if they would see another sunrise. If only for a while.

 

But above all. An end to retreat. An end to caution. An end to defeat. A great blow had been struck for their patron, old Count Ector. A father in deed if not name to Seanee and Tenax, a father in spirit to the dour wizards Archimedes and Draos, who would never have prospered without his patronage. A source of purpose for grim Kergen, serving his penance in the quest of a man whom the Archon himself thought worthy of teaching a fallen knight the meaning of the Yrken Cause. And for Valdor, the prospect that the incredible chance he had taken abandoning his life as a Sea Lord would bring him the respect and opportunity he yearned for.

 

Heady thoughts, but well warranted. Twice they had crossed the Troos. Twice they had left friends behind, dead. Twice they had left friends behind, wounded as the land was. Adventure had been theirs, but also hardship, and pain. Before them was, at last…the reward of their service. The answers to their questions. The power to make right what was wrong. In their grasp.

 

It is this chronicler’s opinion that these thoughts were all that kept them from carving Captain Taggart’s head from his neck at the rendezvous when he remarked:

 

“Deadline? Oh, that. Heh. Actually, I was ordered to remain on station until relieved. Weren’t no limit! I was just hopin’ to motivate ya, ya know? Heh! Ya took me serious! I’ll be damned…”

 

And now, for lack of parchment, I must conclude this chapter of the Wounded Land. As your chronicler, I hope that you have found it more edifying than stupefying. That is all a humble chronicler can hope for.

 

Postscript

I shall soon meet with the Count. What an honor! I am certain he has appreciated my efforts! The dearth of parchment shall soon be ended!