Flama 11 332
Deep within the bowels of the Dawnforge Mountains, Galatin Granitehands was leading his company of dwarves through ancient passages, dug millenia ago by the dwarves’ forbears. The paladin’s mind was troubled: communication from many cities of the Kardath Confederacy had gone silent in recent weeks, and there were rumors of enemies from the depths of the mountain rising up to assault the dwarves. Worse, there was dark talk about the dwarves of Lorn, especially the Ambershard clan. Never one to wait around, Galatin had invoked his status as a paladin of Moradin to leave his city and set out towards the other dwarven citadels within the mountains. He had asked two fellow soldiers, the Morvin and Draelin Stoutstone, and a couple of his nephews to accompany him through the mountain passage, who had all heartily agreed to the task.
Galatin was especially concerned for the city of Hallath, one of the first cities that had seemingly dropped all contact. He and his small band were making their way to Hallath, hoping for some news of what was happening in other parts of the mountains. Their path had lead them through small tunnels and abandoned paths for weeks, until they came to a rock span across an endless abyss. Everburning torches, ancient magic gifted to the dwarves by the Eladrin, lit the cave.
Galatin was apprehensive, he could almost smell danger in the air, but the great cave was empty, the great abyss precluding any surprise attacks.
Making their way across the span, the dwarves were surprised to hear the sound of heavy boots rising from the far passage. The paladin immediately ordered his fellows to ready for battle, halting just at the far end of the span to avoid any unpleasant falls.
The dwarves were shocked to see their ancient cousins, the Duergar, trooping out of the passage. “Fiends!” the paladin cried as he leapt towards the leader, his warhammer in hand. “Servants of the Elemental Princes! Back! Begone to the fires and your masters below!”
The fighting began in earnest as several more Duergar filed out behind their leader. Sneering at the paladin, their leader met Galatin headon, shouting that their masters had returned, and they would see the mountains burn from the inside out.
The axes of the younger Granitehands, and the hammers of the older dwarves, soon proved too great for the beleaguered Duergar, and many of them lay smashed and shattered on the stone ledge. Even in the dim light of the cave, Galatin shone brightly, his hammer alive with the power of Moradin.
“Pathetic dwarves!” bellowed the leader. “Your Great Father cannot save you here! Behold the return of the princes!” Marching out from the passage, a great fire elemental appeared, shrouded in melted steel armor and wielding a sword of pure flame. With a hiss, it unleashed a wave of fire, forcing the dwarves to leap to the ground.
Unnerved, but unwilling to flee, the dwarves fought gamely on. Galatin, summoning the gifts of Moradin, fought with the the fiery warrior as his cohorts held back the tide of Duergar charging up the narrow passage. The Stoutstone brothers proved vicious combatants, their long years of fighting together lending their attacks a particularly vehemence in defense of each other.
Despite their superior skills, the number of Duergar began to tell. The dwarves found themselves pushed to the edges of the ledge, with no way to escape back across the stone span to the passage from whence they came.
Calling up his reserves, Galatin raised his warhammer, and with a silent prayer to Moradin, brought it down with all the force he could muster. Moradin seemed to answer his prayers, as Galatin found his hammer had extinguished his elemental foe, and the resulting shockwave had cleared a path for he and his friends to retreat. Resolved to save his friends lives, no matter the cost, Galatin leapt into the middle of his remaining foes.
The remaining Duergar seemed to cower before the paladin, and Galatin felt as though they would be able to emerge from the battle unscathed, but he quickly realized he was not what caused his infernal brethren to quail.
Emerging from the lower passage, a towering elemental prince was striding towards the paladin. The creature stood twelve feet tall, it’s skin dark red, it’s black armor crafted from the pits of Elemental Chaos itself. “Pitiful mortals!” it called. “I am here to take back the kingdom of fire! These stone halls will once again be awash with the power of flame. Yours will be the first flesh to feed the fires!”
With a sweep of his blade, the fire lord sent a jet of flame across the ledge, sending both dwarves and duergar flying. One of Galatin’s nephews caught the blast full force, and the paladin could only scream in dismay as the young dwarf hurtled down into the inky depths below.
“Flee!” Galatin cried. “Back, the Confederacy must know of this! I shall hold them here as long as I am able!”
“You seek to challenge me?” the firelord bellowed, his voice echoing like thunder in the ancient cave, “Very well!” Bringing his flaming sword down, the elemental lord found his mark: Galatin’s shield was shorn in half, and he could feel the ancient flame burning deep into his arm. Knowing he was facing death, Galatin was glad to see the remaining dwarves had managed to rush back to the stone span and escape.
Just as he was resigning himself to fate, Galatin felt a tug on his battered armor. He was thrown bodily towards his compatriots. Galatin had only a glimpse of Draelin Stoutstone before he was hauled up by the other Stoutstone brother, Morvin. “We couldna let ya die, sir. Garvin knows what he’s doing. Come on!”
Fleeing down the pass, Galatin noticed Morvin wipe a tear away, and he said a silent prayer to Moradin, asking him to watch over the brave dwarf, and to protect the dwarven nations from the ancient, reawakened threat of the elementals.
Sombra 21 331
Queen Alraisa Valorfast, the Iron Monarch, ruler of the Kingdom of Nerath, master of King’s Reach, sat upon her ancient throne, awaiting the arrival of her Lord Marshalls.
The young queen mused upon the last few months as she waited. Her nephew, Janus, was dead, supposedly at the hands of rogue warriors from the elven or dwarven nation, there were rumors of the Drow mounting an assault on the eastern border, and there was more hushed talk of a great evil rising across the sea on the isle of Lorn. Silently she said a prayer to Kord, asking the great god of war to lead her nation to glory.
Alraisa glanced around her throne room. Adorning the walls were the weapons of each of the previous Iron Monarchs: the great mace and shield of Alror the Great, the spear of Pellinus, the great battleaxes of the Al-Karr monarchs, the runed sword of Dannic the Mad. Unsheathing her own blade, the Queen pondered the fate of the Kingdom. Long had it been since its mettle was tested. “No doubt these recent troubles are merely Kord’s displeasure.” she thought.
The Queen had her lords off guard, and she knew it. Neither her aunt nor her father had called for a meeting of lords during their reign. Alraisa smiled as they entered her throneroom, wondering what each of them thought as they proceeded down the long hall. First, of course, her cousin, Kal Talonwatch, Lord Rhine. Alraisa hid a smile as she pictured the giant Kal sweeping past the other lords, with nothing to say to them. “The man’s mind is obsessed with battle. He will never rest until he has proven himself unto the gods themselves.” Without a word, the Lord Rhine kneeled before his Queen, waiting to be acknowledged. Alraisa nodded at him to rise, and awaited the others.
A few minutes later, Lord Ilan, Lord Cloudwatch and Lord Fenrir approached the throne. Alraisa took no notice of Lord Ilan, his reputation for loyalty, and his actions proving it, put to rest any problems Alraisa might have had with the old man. Like his forbears, Ilan hefted a large axe as his weapon, although she wondered if he could use it anymore.
Lord Fenrir was, perhaps, her biggest dissapointment. His province had little military, and Carthan had done little to quell the comings and goings of the traitorous Lord Warden Faren Markelhay. “I will deal with that in my own way,” Alraisa told herself.
Lord Cloudwatch appeared quite nervous. The young man had never been to King’s Reach, his duties demanded all of his time, but he could not ignore a summons to a Lords Council. Only having recently succeeded his father, Darion was obviously unsure how to act. He stayed close to Lord Fenrir.
In Alraisa’s mind, Fenrir’s support of Cloudwatch was the Lord Marhsall’s, and the province’s, only saving grace. The lack of military power was a disgrace to Nerath’s proud heritage, but no one could deny that Fenrir’s support made their eastern border strong against their ancient enemy, the Drow.
These three were followed by Elric Resz, Lord Kyras, and her cousin Sirius Valorfast, Lord Lannister. The two men were eyeing each other warily as they made their way down the chamber. There was no love lost between the scion of Alror the Great and the Valorfast family. With the death of Sirius’s son, Kyras been publicly, albeit not overtly, gloating at the loss.
Although he acted in poor taste, Kyras was loyal to the Kingdom. Alror’s blood had not distilled over time: Kyras was as fearsome a warrior as any in Nerath, and while he had not the brute strength of Lord Rhine, the experience of Ilan, or the ruthless cunning of Sirius, Kyras was an exceptional practioner of battlemagic.
With her Lord Marshalls assembled before her, Alraisa rose from the ancient throne of the Iron Monarchs.
“My Lords, you have been summoned here because Nerath’s fate now lies squarely with us. Too long has this proud nation languished. For too long the Drow have mouldered in their desert strongholds, for too long we have allowed the elves and dwarves to come freely in our northern lands. This is a nation of warriors, and to us it is given to go to war! Our god, the great and terrible Kord, does not smile upon inaction. No longer shall we stand by idle, we must grasp our fate by its very throat, and crush those who would stand in our way. Only by the sword shall this kingdom live!”
The Lord Marshalls stirred at Alraisa’s speech. “And now, my lords,” the Queen continued, “I will hear from you where our future lies. Our enemies our numerous and and borders are long. Let us hear what the greatest warriors in the land have to say.”
Alraisa was surprised to see Sirius speak up first. “My Queen, we must strike to the north, the elves have long treated our borders with disdain, they believe our land is theirs to traverse as they please. They have already corrupted the Markelhay Lord Warden. Their forest is wide open for attack, they would be easy prey.”
“Since when do the warriors of Nerath seek weak opponents!?” Lord Rhine retorted. “The elves are not worth mentioning. We could simply burn their pathetic trees to the ground and they would die of heartache. Kord has no interest in us challenging them. The dwarves of Lorn, now there is a worthy foe. We are at a disadvantage against them, and unfamiliar with their land. Surely to conquer them would demonstrate our true strength!”
A sibilant voice whispered from behind Alraisa’s throne. “Your words ring true, of course, Lord Rhine, but you fail to see the larger picture.” Materializing from shadows, Terok stepped foward to greet the Lord Marshalls.
Alraisa noted the bristling of several of her Lord Marshalls. Terok and his Iron Sigil were not followers of Kord, nor were they even Nerathians. Many of them weren’t evne human. The true value of the Iron Sigil was known only to the Iron Monarch: they would never admit it, but even the Lord Marshalls of Nerath feared the shadow warriors.
Seeing the black-armored warrior, Rhine immediately unsheathed his blade: “Take care what you say, Terok. You have no standing here. Step away from the Iron Throne, I won’t tolerate your presence so close to her!”
Alraisa rose slightly from her chair “Peace, cousin. He is here at my request, just as you.”
Ignoring his Queen, Rhine continued “I’ll not have a black-clad snake so close to our Queen. Kord looks disfavorably on such men.”
Hoping to deflect attention away from the Iron Sigil’s commander, old Lord Ilan stepped foward. “It is true that the elves have been let to go as they please, and that the dwarves of Lorn would certainly prove a challenge for us, but I must question your judgments, my Lords. Lord Lannister, we here are all aware of your loss, and while no one can question your bravery or your skills as a warrior, the fact remains that you just lost your son. And you, Lord Rhine, it is true that the dwarves of Lorn would prove a challenge to us, but we must think of the kingdom. Such a faraway land would prove of little use to us, while our closer neighbors would bring us more profit and greater safety. I must suggest we eliminate the Drow, and finish what Alror began long ago.”
Unsurprisingly, Cloudwatch was in complete agreement. “My Queen, long has my family guarded our borders. The Drow have become less and less agressive. I fear they something stirs deep within the deserts, and Terok’s information…”
“Nerath does not act on the words of cowards!” Lord Rhine bellowed. “If this is truly what we have come to, then war is indeed necessary, if only to cull this proud nation of those that have grown fat and lazy.” He turned to eye Lord Renfir “You especially, your tolerance of the elves is pathetic.”
“And what have you done, Rhine, that you stand here boasting?” Sirius interjected, “For all of your yelling, you have accomplished nothing but drilling your soldiers on the great plains.”
The mighty Lord Rhine’s sword suddently arced overhead at Sirius Valorfast. “No man calls me a coward!” Swords were drawn, Lord Ilan rushed to interpose between the massive warrior and his smaller opponent, but it was clear that none were close or quick enough to stop the fatal blow.
All except one. Seeing what was happening, Alraisa launched herself from her throne, drawing her fabled blade in one fluid motion. Moving faster than the eye could follow, Alraisa stood squarely between her cousins. Despite her small stature, her blade effortlessly blocked the much larger Lord Rhine’s, releasing a wave of force that sent both Rhine and Lannister flying across the room.
“Now, perhaps, you remember why I am Queen! My most experienced warriors are acting like young boys challenging each other with wooden swords on a parade ground. Never disrespect this hall again, or I shall not be so lenient.”
The Lord Marshalls were stunned (some physically) at their Queen’s inhuman feat. Seizing the moment, she turned those not sprawled on the ground. “I have made my decision. You will return to your lands, my lords, and assemble your armies. Return here within two months time. Nerath goes to war!”