Saturday, December 10, 2016

Kronar the Destroyer, Red Talon of Malar

The air was choked with smoke and ash as the flames from the bonfire rose high into the night sky. Dozens of shadowy figures wearing animal skulls on their heads danced and cavorted around a hulking form chained to an iron post in the center of a deep pit. Thick, iron manacles were clamped securely around the creature’s wrists and ankles and bolted with heavy chains to the iron post behind it. The creature’s skin was grey-green and it stretched over a nine foot frame of corded muscle. Two huge, bony tusks almost nine inches in length gutted from beneath the creature’s upper lip that pulled the creature’s mouth into a rictus snarl. The creature had long black hair that hung loosely about its shoulders and his claws where black talons. It had small, hard bony horns and protrusions starting from the ridge of his nose and traveling up and along his eyebrows and terminating at the temples in large, bony horns. The creature’s body boasted additional horns and ridges along his arms, hands, elbows, shoulders, knees and down his spine. The creature stood there silently, its muscles straining against its bonds and from beneath its horned and ridged brow its baleful, blood red eyes glowed red in the firelight as they stared at the dancers with undisguised hatred.

The glade was surrounded by the ancient trees of the High Forest as the Hunter’s Moon sat high in the autumn sky and bathed the entire landscape in a pale, luminescent glow. Several stone menhirs bore elven inscriptions and runes that were covered over with symbols drawn with thick, black blood. These menhirs along with other crude carvings of predatory beasts formed a circle around the pit and bonfire. A stone altar rested atop a small rise that overlooked the stone ring, the surface covered in dried blood.

The cultists beat hide bound drums in a frantic staccato rhythm that echoed across the glade, the dancers and celebrants weaving and moving along to the odd halting cadence. A male figure wearing a headpiece adorned with the antlers of a great stag entered the clearing wearing the hide of a displacer beast across his shoulders. His face was painted black and his hands were covered in clawed gauntlets that gleamed in the firelight as he approached the pit. In his wake trailed two more similarly dressed individuals, a man and a woman who wore similar headdresses and red stoles. As the trio approached the drums fell silent and the cultists quietly began to form ranks around the pit.

The man stopped short of the pit and gazed down at the hulking figure within. He smiled a feral grin and spoke in a booming voice, deep and resonant.

“Brothers and Sisters, we are gathered here tonight in celebration of our Lord’s holiest of holidays. The Hunter’s Moon rises high in the night sky, signifying for the High Hunt to begin!” The man’s voice boomed across the glade. “Each year we honor the Ravager by finding a suitable vessel to be our sacrament to his most holy of rites!” The speaker continued, “Behold! Our brothers and sisters have brought us a very rare treat indeed this year. A horned troll! This vicious and cunning specimen will provide our congregation with much enjoyment!” The two acolytes that accompanied the man bowed and nodded appreciatively at the speaker. 

The speaker turned from his congregation and once again faced the troll in the pit. “Beast, do you understand the tongue of man?” he asked.

The troll stood to his full height and stared silently back at the man.

The man continued “Beast, know that you are the chosen quarry for the High Hunt, our Lord Malar’s holiest of holidays. You shall be released and you shall be hunted for a day and a night until the moon meets its zenith tomorrow. If you survive and evade the High Hunt, you shall be given a boon.”

The troll finally broke his silence and in a voice like rumbling thunder asked “What is your name human?”

The man puffed out his chest and declared proudly “I am Huntmaster Gaeros Valkith, Beastmaster of the High Forest and Lord of this High Hunt. I am the Lord of the…”

“That’s nice” the troll interrupted with his rumbling voice, “I just needed to know who I am going to kill first once released.”

There was a shocked silence from the gathered group until the Huntmaster began to chuckle. The chuckle then became a raucous laugh as Gaeros howled “You think you can kill me?” He flung his arms wide and spun to face the gathered group, “He thinks he can kill me folks! What do you think about that?”

The amassed group began to howl with laughter as Gaeros turned back to the troll and took a step forward, “You want to face me eh? You think you can slay Gaeros Valkith?”

The troll said nothing and just stared at Gaeros. 

Gaeros turned to one of his acolytes, “clear the circle then release the Beast.”

The cultists withdrew from the glade and formed a ring around the perimeter as two of the acolytes moved to the pins on either side of the iron post and began to unbind the troll. As soon as the first pin had been pulled from the trolls binding, he surged forward in a lighting quick rush toward Gaeros. Black talons ripped through the flesh of the Huntmaster’s torso and hurled him backwards several feet as the troll launched his first attack. Gaeros landed with a heavy thud and laid still. The troll looked triumphant as he met the gazes of the cultists at the forest edge, challenging them to act. 

The look of triumph faded from the trolls face as the Huntmaster slowly rose to his feet and faced him. The jagged wounds the troll’s talons had caused were quickly closing and Gaeros stretched his shoulders and neck before asking the troll “Is that all you’ve got?” Gaeros then finishing stretching his neck then settled his feet before launching into his own attack. The troll reacted quickly and smashed his left fist into the Huntmaster’s face while his right hand eviscerated the Huntmaster’s midsection. The Huntmaster once again fell to the ground and the troll gave him a vicious kick to the ribs which sent the Huntmaster’s sprawling some several feet away. Wary, the troll circled his fallen opponent ready to attack again at any moment. The troll watched as his opponents wounds began to rapidly close and a smug look appeared on Gaeros’s face as he hefted himself to his feet and the Huntmaster said “I tire of this charade. I think it is time for you to know what you are truly up against. Behold the gift of the Beastlord!” 

Before the troll could attack a piercing howl erupted around the perimeter of the glade as one after another the cultists threw off their robes and their bodies began to twist and grow into nightmarish shapes of beast and man. Gaeros’s once again began to laugh, his body swelling and growing larger than the troll. The Huntmaster’s face elongated as his features began to take on an ursine cast. After a moment the Huntmaster had taken the form of a massive werebear and was looming over the troll. The werebear lunged and scored the troll’s chest sending blackish blood spraying across the glade. 

“So tell me great warrior” the were-bear growled. “What is your name? I would like to know whom I am killing this night!” The werebear then swiped two more deep gashes into the troll’s chest before its massive paw of a foot kicked the troll with a crunching snap across the glade, slamming him into a stone menhir. The world spun for a moment as the troll attempted to get his bearings; the wounds in his torso were slowly mending as he rocked to his feet unsteadily. The troll staggered and fell against one of the carved stone statues of a snarling werewolf. When the troll leaned on it to gain his balance, the statue moved slightly. Again, the deep mocking laughter echoed behind as the troll turned to face his ursine opponent. 

“Our little friend here looks winded already!” called Gaeros to his assembled flock. “Here I thought a horned troll would be a challenging opponent for our congregation but it appears as if I was wrong.” Gaeros’s comments elicited a chorus of laughter from the assembled congregation. White hot fury boiled up within the troll lending his limbs strength as he grabbed the stone wolf statue and in one complete motion hurled the block of carved stone dozens of feet across the glade. The statue slammed into the broad chest of Gaeros and crushed him to the earth. Not waiting for his opponent to once again rise, the troll tore off running through the glade towards the moon. 

It took a moment for the action to register with the werewolf cultists then as one the pack loped from the woods and began to converge on the fleeing troll. Fueled by his growing rage the troll lashed out with his claws and gutted one werewolf while smashing another with this fist as it got to close. Blood, fur and teeth flew as the troll fought his way through the converging pack of werebeasts. After a few moments the troll realized he was being corralled and the werebeasts were pushing him towards the massive bonfire roaring behind him. 

A feral, guttural roar echoed from the far corner of the glade as the broken stone statue was hurled off the raging form of Gaeros. The werebear’s eyes shone with murderous intent as he fixed them upon the troll fighting his pack. The troll looked at the werebear then at the bonfire. Deciding he did not wish to battle the bear again, the troll ran and hurled himself directly into the bonfire. There was a shocked silence from the pack as the lumbering form of the troll disappeared into the flames. Seconds later a howl of agony filled the glade as the burning form of the troll tumbled from the roaring conflagration and ran directly into the woods beyond. 

“After him!” roared Gaeros and as one the pack began to pursue their quarry. 

The troll crashed through the High Forest, his smoldering body trailing smoke in his wake. The intense pain of the flames burning his skin was the only thing keeping his anger in check lest he turn and engage his attackers. Limbs tore at his face and skin as the troll barreled through the dark forest. The troll ran for what felt like hours until the moon began its descent and he burst out of the forest undergrowth and beyond the tree line. He could hear the baying of wolves in the distance which prodded him to continue to run across the open field. Within moments a manor house came into view, smoke drifted from the chimney and a tall gate surrounded the estate. 

The two human guards at the gate saw the smoldering troll rushing at them and began to lower their halberds in defense. The troll let out a blood curdling roar and he could see the look of determination falter on the guards faces. The two guards dropped their weapons and ran panicking to the house where they entered the manor and disappeared inside. The troll reached the gate but was winded and began to falter, his breaths coming in ragged gasps. The troll forced open the gate and squeezed his tortured frame through it before loping towards the manor house porch.

Moments later several shapes burst forth out of the forest undergrowth, their howls piercing the night. The werebeasts saw the troll and charged across the field, their red eyes glowing in the darkness. The troll forced the door to the manor house open and squeezed his frame inside before slamming the door closed behind him. He looked around to see the two guards, swords drawn standing behind a table turned over on its side guarding several human females and children behind it. The troll roared at the humans and they fled in terror out the back door of the manor house. A fire burned in the hearth to the side of the room and there was silverware and plates scattered all over the floor from the hasty construction of a barrier using the table. The troll grabbed a large wooden bench and braced it against the manor door. Seconds later the door buckled as a werewolf hurled itself at the doors frame. The troll looked out the window to see a dozen werebeasts circling the house intent on catching their prey. The door buckled again and the troll held the bench in place bracing it, moments later a furry form burst through one of the windows and crashed into the room. The troll spun swinging the bench like a weapon and with a resounding crack slammed the werewolf’s head against the wall leaving a crimson smear. Another werewolf jumped through the window and landed on some of the silverware on the floor. The werewolf let out a cry of pain as the silver knives and forks on the ground seemed to burn his skin much like flame had the trolls. Scooping up a silver knife, the troll grabbed the werewolf by the neck and rammed the knife into its chest and tore open the creature’s torso in one vicious swipe. The blood left on the knife blade began to bubble and burn as more wolves began to circle the window opening. 

Roaring in rage the troll hurled the eviscerated carcass through the window and watched it land heavily in the yard. The werebeasts all gathered around their fallen pack mate as the troll ran over to the fire and grabbed one of the black cooking pots from the wall. The troll placed the cooking pot into the fire and began to quickly grab all of the silverware lying on the floor. Once the troll had two handfuls worth, he tossed them into the pot and watched the silver begin to melt down. As he did this another werebeast crashed through the front door and roared a challenge at the troll. Before the troll could react, the creature hurled itself forward with its jaws snapping inches from the troll’s throat. The troll’s hand closed around the creature’s neck when another of the werebeasts ran into the room and tried to hamstring him before the troll kicked the creature solidly in the ribs. The werebeast went crashing against the wall as the troll snapped the neck of the beast he was grappling with. After tossing the creature’s body out of the manor house, the troll hefted the werewolf body that he had smashed with the bench and wedged it in the window to prevent additional entrants. 

The troll went to the bubbling pot of silver and then took a deep breath and stuck his fingers into the molten, bubbling silver. A howl of pain tore from the troll’s lips as searing agony shot through the troll’s hands. The troll withdrew his hands and looked about, silver dripping down his clawed fingers. He shoved his hands into a water barrel in the kitchen and the hiss of steam erupted from the water’s surface. The pain and agony refused to subside but when the troll withdrew his fingers from the water, all of his claws were incased in a layer of silver. Through the haze of pain clouding his vision, the troll looked out the window and grinned. 

The troll flexed his hands, the action causing fresh waves of pain to shoot through his hands and arms. From deep within the troll began a growl, his anger at the night’s events cascading through his thoughts. Being drugged while hunting and captured, the humiliation of being chained up like a wild animal, the taunting from the werebear; all these thoughts burned through his mind. The werebear made him feel something he had never encountered before, an emotion that made him feel weak. The troll had run away, he had been … afraid. The notion of fear was alien to him; being exposed to it and made to feel weak was an anathema to who he was. The troll felt a spark of anger, of rage, ignite within him. This spark was quickly fanned into a flame as the troll fed emotion after emotion into it. The pain, the hate, the … fear, all of the emotions went into feeding this flame. The anger made the troll’s exhaustion and pain evaporate, fury fueling him in his call to action. With a roar so primal and feral that every werebeast outside cowered, the troll burst through the manor’s wall and unleashed a storm of violence against the unsuspecting pack.

The troll’s silver encased claws tore through beast after beast. Rending and tearing, the troll’s fury was fueled on by his complete surrender to rage. Howls of fear and screams of pain were a melody to the troll’s carnival of violence as his silver encased claws tore a werebeast in half showering him in a crimson spray of gore. The werebeast pack sensing the tables had turned began an all-out attack on the troll. The hunt had changed from a leisurely kill to a fight for survival, their survival. Claws raked the troll’s hide, blackish blood spilling all over the ground but the troll did not feel it. Berserker rage had consumed him entirely as he engaged in his wanton slaughter. 

One werebeast leapt into the air only to have its head torn from its shoulders. Another werewolf and a wereboar charged the troll’s flank only to be ripped to shreds seconds later. Bodies were piled around the troll as the pack began to thin out quickly. It wasn’t until a rage-filled howl erupted from beyond the tree line did the pack break off their attack on the troll. 

The werebear emerged from the tree line, a metal necklace bearing the symbol of Malar hung from around his neck. The werebear approached the scene of carnage; the smell of death was heavy in the air. The troll stood silently in the middle of the courtyard, the moon light illuminating his form. The troll’s hair was unbound and hung about him in a wild black mane soaked with blood. Rivulets of blood drizzled off the trolls claws and chin as he stood there, chest heaving with each painful breath. The troll was completely encased in crimson blood and gore; his claws shone silver in the moonlight. The werebear looked around and saw the score of fallen cultists. Members of his pack forever silenced during the High Hunt by this hellish troll. 

The troll lifted one gore covered hand and pointed his silver claw at the werebear. 

“You die next” the troll said before he charged Gaeros.

The troll sprang into action, his silver claw tearing great rents in the werebear’s hide. The werebear howled in pain and countered by tearing a chunk of flesh from the troll’s side. Thick black blood sprayed everywhere as the troll staggered from the attack, the werebear then hooked a paw under the troll’s leg and hurled the troll into the air several feet away. The troll crashed to the ground, his wounds slowly mending as the werebear howled in pain and outrage. 

“You dare blaspheme the High Hunt with silver?” the werebear raged.

The troll slowly got to his feet. The troll held up his hand to the werebear allowing the moonlight to reflect off his silvered claws. A feral grin split the troll’s face as the look of outrage was obvious on the werebear’s ursine features. The insult was too much for Gaeros and the werebear let out another roar and charged the troll.

Rather than attempting dodge the oncoming attack, the troll instead counter charged and slammed headlong into Gaeros. Silver shod claws tore into the werebear’s neck and chest as Gaeros howled in pain. The troll’s smoking claws glistened wetly before it again began a flurry of attacks into the werebear. The troll dodged a swipe from the werebear and then slashed both claws down hard on the creature’s forearm sending Gaeros’s paw flying into the night air. An all too human howl of agony tore from the werebear’s throat as the troll roared in satisfaction. The troll slammed a clawed hand into the werebear’s chest and ripped one of Gaeros’s lungs and hurled it aside. The werebear fell to its knee, his breath labored and a wet sucking sound was coming from his chest. 

The troll climbed on top of the werebear’s back and said “You wanted to know my name before.” The troll plunged both hands into the werebear’s neck and began to twist the creature’s head. The troll leaned in close to Gaeros’s ear, “I am known as Kronar and I bring you death!” After a moment there was a sickening pop and a wet tear as the troll tore the werebear’s head from its shoulders and held it aloft to the gathered cultist.

“I AM KRONAR!” the troll roared.

The gathered werebeasts all tensed to avenge their fallen Huntmaster when an inhuman roar filled the air. Everyone looked around and saw a massive ethereal sabretooth tiger appear and pad over to stand before the troll. There was an aura of power that surrounded the beast; many of the werebeasts took a step back as the massive sabretooth padded by them. The symbol of Malar was glowing upon the creature’s flank and it’s eyes glowed with a bright crimson light. Kronar locked his gaze with the ethereal creature and the sabretooth regarded the troll for several minutes before turning into a grey mist and encircling the troll. After a moment the mist absorbed itself into the troll and Kronar’s eyes glowed with a fierce crimson light. The wounds on Kronar’s flesh instantly knitted and all traces of fatigue faded from his body. Kronar’s vision was clearer than it had ever been before, his senses seemed heightened. New strength flowed through his limbs as his muscles flexed involuntarily and a low menacing growl began to resonate deep in his chest.

One by one the cultists in their werebeast form looked at one another then at the tower beast of rage standing atop their former leader. The cultists each fell to their knees and bowed prostrate before Kronar, each of them reciting the mantra of the Hunt. Kronar just stood there, watching the remaining cultists kneel before him in worship. One of the two lieutenants of Gaeros stepped forward, the woman wearing the antlered headdress. She slowly reached down and took the bloody medallion that had belonged to Gaeros and offered it to Kronar. The troll reached out his clawed and took the symbol from the woman. Kronar studied the medallion for some time before the woman spoke to him.

As Kronar studied the medallion a chant could be heard coming from the assembled cultists, the low sonorous chant filled the night air. 

“You have bested the Huntmaster of our pack. By right and might you are now the leader of the Hunt. An emissary of the Ravagar has marked your ascension with its presence. You truly are the chosen of Malar.” The woman spoke.

“Malar…” Kronar replied thoughtfully his voice reverberating deeply within his chest. 

Kronar cast the head of his adversary to the ground and lifted the necklace and placed it around his neck. “Yes…it appears I am your leader now doesn’t it…” Malar looked once again at the symbol of Malar and grinned.

So began the chronicles of Kronar the Destroyer, Red Talon of Malar.

Sylvos Tahl'Veras the Huntsman of Ashen Lorenthal

The five hooded riders tore across the frigid, blasted landscape of the cold lands of Narfell. The sun rose high in the frigid winter sky bathing the frozen, treeless landscape in blinding, bright light. The riders’ breath froze in the frigid, biting winter air as the wind from the Great Glacier to the North ripped across the landscape sapping all warmth from whoever it touched. 

The riders made no attempt to cover their tracks as their hellish, nightmare steeds left burning, blackened hoof prints across the frozen landscape. Their panicked flight was apparent as the lead rider continually screamed into the wind “Faster! Faster!” as he looked behind him with eyes brimming with fear.

“He will not catch us!” one of the hooded riders cried moments before a black-shafted elven arrow with bright red fletching slammed into his back and the razor-sharp four bladed arrowhead burst through his chest splattering his saddle in blood. The look of confusion faded as the rider’s lifeless eyes rolled up into his skull and he fell from his saddle onto the frozen earth bellow.

The wind tore the hood off the leading rider revealing a thin face with a black beard and two horns sprouting from his forehead. The rider clutched a leather satchel emblazoned with blasphemous runes tightly as he dared to look back once more at the group’s lone pursuer. As the leader turned his horned head, another rider fell from the saddle as yet another black-shafted elven arrow slammed into his skull and exiting his face in a crimson spray. The leader’s eyes grew huge as the form of an elf clad in garb of a ranger riding a massive stag loomed several hundred feet behind the group.

“Gabrion!” the leader screamed his voice thick with fear. “Fall back and deal with the elf, we must reach the camp!” 

One of the remaining riders nodded then began to chant in an ancient, unholy tongue. Burning symbols that writhed in the air hung momentarily before fading as the rider stripped off his hooded cloak and flung it into the wind. The black cloak flew sinuously through the air, stretching and warping as it took on a life of its own. The cloak took on a quicksilver consistency as it tore itself into three undulating sections all streaking directly towards the group’s pursuer. As the tendrils drew closer, each of them manifested a massive, toothed maw that snapped open and closed. 

The elf saw three sinuous, snake-like tendrils darting towards him and his mount. He leaned close and whispered a quick prayer that resulted in the horns of his great stag mount to glow with a soft silvery light. The elf then quickly shouldered his bow and drew his ancient, elven longswords and crouched in his saddle. The snake creatures darted forward and the elf launched himself from his saddle into the air. As the elven blades slashed forward, their razor sharp edges became coated in an enchanted rime frost and began to glow a soft cyan blue. The enchanted blades flashed in a blur of motion and three snake like shapes lay in pieces on the frozen ground, smoky mist emanating from their remains. The hooded caster screamed in pain and grabbed his ruined hand that was missing three fingers moments before the points of the stags antlers slammed into him and his nightmare mount. The divinely blessed antlers tore through the infernal flesh of the nightmare and shredded the limp form of its human rider. The nightmare dissipated back to it’s home plane as the rider’s body fell to the earth. The elf ran forward and examined the corpse. The man wore the mantle and trappings of a nefarious Nar Demonbinder and the amber necklace around his neck pulsed with an unholy radiance. The elf slammed the frost blades down and shattered the necklace. As the amber exploded, a piercing scream cut through the air and then was quickly cut short. The runes on the smoldering ruin of the necklace pulsed once before fading into nothing. 

The elf sheathed his frost blades and mounted the stag pursue the rest of the Demonbinders. He had slain eleven of the thirteen riders after they had snuck into the hold of the Nentyarch and stolen something from the depths of the temple. The ranger knew not what was taken but only that the Demonbinders had ransacked the temple and left a host of powerful artefacts behind in pursuit of their prize. The elf kicked the flanks of the stag and they took off once again following the trail of burned hooves in the frozen earth. 

The two remaining Nar Demonbinders watched the death of their companion impassively through their amber medallions as the nightmares continued to tear across the frozen landscape at break neck speeds. The leader closed his eyes for a moment then reached into his robes and pulled out a golden disc the size of his palm inset with a blood-red ruby. He thrust it at his companion and shouted “Take it and unleash the rite of summoning using this seal. It will deal with the elf once and for all.” 

The other rider glanced down at the inscription on the seal and shouted back “Are you sure my lord? It may come after us once the elf has perished.”

“Yes, we have no choice. Our lives are forfeit if I don’t get this to the Chosen.”

The rider nodded and wheeled his nightmare around and began chanting in a deep, growling voice. A massive summoning circle burned itself into the ground around the chanting rider, the sigils burning and twisting with an eerie red light. As the rider chanted the infernal rite, his companion rode off quickly not bothering to look back. The summoner held the golden disc high into the air and his voice took on a hard edge as both his hands gripped either side of the disc. 

An arrow flashed by the summoner’s face as the final words of the incantation were muttered and an eerie silence filled the area. A moment later the sound of ripping cloth echoed across the landscape as a massive tear was rent in the air before the summoner. Within the tear a hellish landscape could be seen as a huge shape burst through the rift, flames exploding around it as it slammed into the earth. As the huge form slammed into the earth, shards of frozen tundra exploded into the air as the creature sprang into action leaving behind a smoldering crater in its wake. 

“Destroy him!” the summoner cried and the creature raised its massive, horned head and let loose a bone shattering roar as its massive head looked around in search of its prey. The creature’s hulking frame loomed over three stories tall as a massive pair of horns like that of a bull sprang from its head. Blood red eyes that glowed with a fiery malevolence focused on the form of the ranger as its mouth formed into a nightmarish smile revealing razor sharp teeth that dripped burning saliva. The creature resembled a massive demonic Minotaur. Massive, clawed hands tore great chunks from the earth as the creature lowered its head and bounded forward, its hooved feet gnashing and rending the ground. 

The elf had slowed up his mount when the summoner had begun to chant in order to get a clear shot but he had been unable to disrupt the ritual as his arrow was off the mark. The elf had stared in disbelief as the huge rent between worlds had opened before him and the huge, hulking form of some extradimensional terror had burst forth. As the darkness fell from the creature’s huge form the elf wracked his mind to remember what exact hellish terror he faced. Time stood still as the creature slammed into the earth from the rift, reality distorting as two planes of existence had their borders torn open to permit the summoning. The world slammed back into motion as the summoner screamed his command and the massive hell-bull exploded into motion.

As the huge demonic bull creature lowered its head the recognition flickered in the ranger’s mind. “Goristro” he whispered as tales of these massive Minotaur like demons ravaging Myth Drannor and Cormanthor during the Crown Wars filled his mind. The demon was shortening the gap between itself and the ranger at an alarming rate so the ranger kicked his mount into motion. In one fluid motion the ranger reached back and drew forth an arrow inscribed with celestial runes that glowed brightly as he knocked it in his War Bow of Hellish Fury. The ranger loosed the enchanted arrow and the bow’s magic encased the arrow in magical hellfire as it left the cradle. The runes on the arrow glowed brightly and the red hellfire turned into a bright blue coldfire as it streaked towards the demon. The coldfire arrow slammed into the demon’s eye and exploded, encasing the demon’s eye and half its skull in rimefrost. The demon roared in pain and crashed into the frozen tundra sending tremors in all directions. The elf spun his mount around and drew his twin enchanted frost blades from their sheaths. As the elf closed the distance between him and the demon, the enchanted elven frost blades began to glow brightly until they were almost blinding in intensity. 

One of the frost blades slashed forwards scoring a deep slash in the Goristro’s arm as the ranger and his stag ran past. The wound spurted black blood until the rimefrost formed along the edges of the wound. Roaring in pain, the Goristro slammed its clawed fists into the earth sending a huge tremor in all directions. The stag faltered and threw the elf from its saddle. The elf landed hard on his shoulder but managed to roll and get to his feet almost instantly. Pain erupted from his shoulder yet he gripped the longsword tighter. 

The demon looked at the ranger and barked a phrase in the language of the lower planes. A wall of flame sprang into existence and encircled the ranger and the demon. A deep, bellowing laugh erupted from the fanged maw of the demon as it rose to its feet and towered over the ranger. The ranger straightened and held both his longswords before him, their cyan glow encompassing the entire length of both blades. As the demon raised its clawed hand to smash the ranger, the ranger lunged forward slashing both blades across the creature’s left. In a flurry of moment the ranger danced between the Goristro’s legs slashing and wounding the massive demon wrecking engine. The demon slammed a hand down only to have the ranger dodge at the last moment and cross his blades overhead sending a blast of icy rime frost into the demon’s face. Howling in pain the Goristro went berserk and lashed out blindly trying to catch the accursed elf. The elf dodged to the right and left, avoiding being pulped several times as the creature’s massive fists demolished the earth around him and sent bursts of flame as its hooves crashed down. The enchanted blades kept the demonic flames from harming the elf and with every cut the blades power began to grow in intensity. 

The elf slipped over the broken earth as the demon finally landed a strike. The demon’s claw tore a rent in the elf’s armor and crimson blood sprayed across the shattered landscape. The elf was hurled several feet into the air and crashed hard near the edge of the wall of flames. The elf looked down and saw the gash in his side and one of his frost blades on the other side of the demon. Getting unsteadily to his feet, the elf gripped his remaining longsword tightly and met the gaze of the Goristro before him. A red, pupil less orb met his gaze and the elf smiled. The demon took the bait and lunged forward seeking to crush the annoying elf beneath its towering bulk. The elf slid at the last moment and went beneath the demon’s legs and lunged for his other frost blade. As the fingers of his left hand closed around the hilt the blade flashed into life and the ranger hefted both eldritch blades high into the air and slammed them down into the earth before him. A brilliant light flashed as both blades send a cone of ice slamming into the hunched form of the Goristro demon. Within seconds the towering form of the demon was encased in magical ice as the ranger sprinted into action. Running up the back of the frozen demon the ranger shouted “Back to the darkness from which came ye demon!” and slashed his blades through the demon’s neck. Enchanted elven steel met demonic flesh and parted the demon’s head from its shoulders. The elf jumped from the demons body as the wall of flames dissipated and the creature’s form crashed to the earth then slowly began to melt into shadow, banished to the abyss for 100 years. 

As the demonic form melted away, a scream of terror ripped through the air. A huge clawed hand reached through the portal towards the summoner. The demonbinder wail of terror was cut short as the clawed hand pulped him into a gory red mass and dragged him through the closing rift between worlds. As the portal closed the golden disc exploded leaving a smoldering hole in the ground in its wake. 
As the thrill of battle dissipated the ranger’s side sent waves of pain through his body as he stumbled to the ground. He reached into a pouch and withdrew a golden elixir and a needle and thread. He drank the potion and most of the bleeding ceased as the magical elixir healed his body but it still left a long gash in his side. The ranger gritted his teeth as he sewed the wound shut and then bandaged himself before climbing on top of his mount once again and renewing the hunt. The ranger’s gaze looked to the north and the trail of burning hoofprints stretched well beyond the horizon. Frowning, the ranger looked far to the east, his gaze finally falling upon a small tor with a ring of stones a top it. He smiled as he kicked the stag towards the tor.

The horned Demonbinder looked on in disbelief as the image of the ranger carving up a legendary Goristro faded from his amber talisman. 

“How is this possible? It is a single elf!” the Demonbinder thought as his nightmare steed churned the earth beneath him. 

Miles melted beneath the nightmare’s hooves and the Demonbinder began to think he had finally lost the accursed ranger. The Demonbinder took a deep breath when an arrow slammed into his shoulder knocking him off his mount and crashing to the ground. Pain blazed from the wound in his shoulder as the broken shaft of the arrow had lodged itself in the bone. The Demonbinder swooned before steading himself and looking around. A single, solitary form stood up from behind a small hill a bow held in his arms. 

“How did you get in front of me?!” screamed the Demonbinder clutching at the shattered arrow shaft in his shoulder.

The elf smiled and remarked “You travel across this land but you do not know it, the Great Dale has waystones and menhirs all over the ancient land. Transportation is simple if one knows the path.” The elf then shouldered his longbow and drew both of his blades and walked purposely towards the Demonbinder. “Now I believe you took something that does not belong to you Demonbinder. I aim to take it back now.”

The Demonbinder surged to his feet and hurled bolts of black energy at the elf. The elf casually deflected them with his blades as he continued his approach. The Demonbinder screamed an incantation and a pillar of flame slammed down on the ranger. The Demonbinder howled in triumph until the elven form casually walked from the pillar of flame, small wisps of smoke trailing from his clothes. Before the Demonbinder could cast another spell the elf had surged forward, his quicksilver agility closing the distance in seconds and he slammed both sword pommels into the face of the Demonbinder knocking him to the ground. The Demonbinder tried to scramble away until the ranger’s frigid blades rested against his throat. 

“As I said before Demonbinder, you have something that doesn’t belong to you. Hand it over before we have to resort to unpleasant means of coercion” the elf said. 

The Demonbinder reached over and slowly pushed the runed satchel towards the ranger. The elf looked down at the satchel and the look of annoyance crossed his face. “Do you actually think I’m going to open that satchel myself? I recognize a sorcerous trap when I see one. Would you care to go through the rest of your miserable life with only one hand?” 

A look of panic crossed the Demonbinder’s face as his ruse was discovered; he slowly reached into his pocket and withdrew a purple crystal that he placed on top of the locking mechanism on the satchel. He then opened the satchel and dumped out the contents of it upon the ground. A onyx chased spellbook with bindings made from what appeared to be flesh tumbled to the ground along with various rings and coins and finally a package wrapped in an aged shroud that seemed to hum with power. As the ranger’s gaze was drawn to the shrouded item, the Demonbinder kicked at his feet knocking the elf to the ground. The wizard then scrambled away and hurled one of his rings to the ground as he shouted a single eldritch command. Dozens of skeletal hands burst from the ground grasping at the elf as skeletal warriors clawed their way out of the frozen tundra. The elf scrambled to his feet, the fall had opened the wound in his side and every breath was painful. Within moments the elf was surrounded by dozens of skeletal warriors converging on him and the shrouded item on the ground before him. The elf looked down to see his side drenched in blood and he barely parried the lunge from one of the skeletal warriors. The elf fought back, his twin blades cutting a swath of destruction through the ranks of skeletal warriors. His blades became a blur as they cut their way through leather, metal and bone. The elf looked up to see the Demonbinder floating several feet above the ground and in the middle of casting another spell. Before he could disrupt the wizard however a skeletal mace crashed into his side knocking him to the earth. His world exploded in agony as he felt several ribs break under the crunching impact and his sword skittered from his grasp along the ground. The Demonbinder completed summoning his spell and two rents opened in the air as two huge, hulking forms stepped through the rifts grinning. One of the demons was a huge dogheaded creature sporting two massive arms ending in crab like pinchers and two smaller human ones wielding axe. The other demon was a huge insect like creature wielding a wicked glaive encased in ice. Both creatures stalked over towards the elf flanking him on either side. The Demonbinder’s howls of laughter echoed across the landscape as he prepared to watch the elf meet his doom.

Seeing the demons flanking his position, the elf reached out to grab his blade when his hand instead grasped the shrouded artefact on the ground. The elf’s fingers closed around a piece of a white shattered rod and suddenly the artefact blazed into life. Brilliant white light emanated in waves from the rod and the elf slowly floated to his feet, the gash in his side closing and surges of power coursed through his frame. The song of the wind blew through the air filling his ears with their hymn, and the elf raised his hand and sent forth a burst of power. The skeletal warriors were blown apart and the knocking the demons to the ground. The elf then turned to the demons and said “BEGONE!” and the two demons were turned to ash in seconds as the elf then turned to the Demonbinder floating in the air. “Now you shall know what power you sought to steal foolish wizard” the elf said his voice booming like thunder. A moment later arcs of lightning shot forth from the ends of the broken rod and engulfed the Demonbinder. As the wizard’s body was turned to ash a voice from his amber amulet screamed “No!!!!” The clearing grew silent and the elf lowered his arm as the light slowly died away and he fell to the earth unconscious. 

The elf awoke hours later, the shattered piece of rod laying inches from his grasp. He rubbed his eyes and looked around him, in a circle splaying outwards were shattered skeletal remains of the warriors that had attacked him. He felt his side to find no wound there but there a tingling sensation on his shoulder. He stripped off his armor and saw emblazoned upon his flesh a sigil that matched one of the runes upon the rod he had grasped. He donned his armor and retrieved his blades before reaching down and grasping the rod within its shroud. He held the rod in his hands; he could still hear the song of the wind in his ears. He brushed the tip of his finger across the rune on the rod and a series of images flashed into his mind. The image of great antlered giant standing beneath a shattered moon within a great forest appeared before him only to melt into a battle scene where the ranger saw himself battling alongside his cousin, a half-orc mounted upon a hellhound and a hulking horned troll wielding a humming black blade. The four were battling demons, elementals, devils and other humans in a great war. The scene of battle shifted to that of a great black metal-plated ship sporting sails emblazoned with the symbol of Valkur then as the vision drew close the scene melted away to that of darkness and death. A dark elf wearing armor that was fused to his frame wielding a broken blade stood above thousands upon thousands of demons, devils and other denizens of darkness. As the vision drew closer the dark elf turned and it felt like the dark elf was looking right at the ranger through the vision. Death and madness screamed through the ranger’s mind as the vision abruptly ended and he snapped back into the present. The ranger’s finger hovered over the rod once more then he shook his head and placed the shrouded artefact into his satchel and called for his stag to return to Dun Tharos.

The ranger returned to the Nentyarch and tried to return the stolen artefact to the temple’s vault. The Nentyarch shook his head and told him that now that has activated the rod then the others shall begin to call one another. The Nentyarch informed him to journey to Bartertown off the Sea of Fallen Stars and present this letter and the piece of the rod to the leader of the Valkurian Blades. The ranger nodded and took the letter from the Nentyarch and said “as you wish my lord”. The Nentyarch then nodded to one of his guardians and they opened a silvery moonwell to the Sea of Fallen Stars. The ranger bowed once again and entered the moonwell and appeared before the gates of Bartertown. The ranger strode through the town, the humidity making his clothes stick to his skin in an uncomfortable fashion. His blue eyes caught sight of the black-plated ship from his vision and he strode towards it on the docks. Before the ramp to board the ship stood a great green skinned centaur sporting a rack of antlers and a massive spear. 

“State thy name and business” the horned guardian boomed.

The elf paused a moment and then smiled, “I’m looking for the leader of the Valkurian Blades, the name is Sylvos Tahl’Veras the Huntsman of Ashen Lorenthal.”

Thus began the adventures of the Storm Wardens of Ashen Lorenthal and the Valkurian Blades.