Windhammer, Copyright Wayne Densley 2008 All Rights Reserved
Baradin Hedj looked out from the battlements of the High Watchtower and sensed instinctively that something was wrong. Behind him the blue and grey banners of the Union whipped and curled in the embrace of a chilling gale, but the icy wind that blustered off the northern tundra before him was not his concern. In the complete darkness of a moonless night he pulled his heavy cloak about himself and peered out into the gloom. He could not be sure but somewhere upon the desolate plains something was moving, and it did not wish to be discovered.
Upon the cold stone of his vantage high above the fortress-city of Maenum Baradin called his Dwarvendim warriors to their posts and all peered intently out into the depthless shadows of the night. Until he ordered them to stand down his command would search the darkness but he knew there was little chance of success. If indeed there was something out there it would have to remain unknown until the first light of the dawn. As had been the case with so many other mornings they would simply have to wait.
It was a matter of some regret for Baradin that he had difficulty remembering how many times he had met the dawn in the same way. Exposed to the bitter cold of the endless winds he and his fellow Dwarvendim would search the Sanhar Wastes below from their high battlements and stand vigilant against the return of the Horde. It was a hard truth of their existence that generations of Dwarvendim had stood upon the same rampart, watching the shadows of night slowly recede from the plains. In this world they were the frontline in a war that knew no end, and the necessity of their duty did not allow a moment's inattention. Too many times their careful searches had resulted in a warning call from the large battlehorn that had been permanently fixed to the side of the Watchtower. Its urgent alarm would raise the city below to arms and always the advancing enemy would be repelled. Survival depended on it.
On this windy morning however, Baradin had to admit that even the air felt different. The expected penetrating cold of the northerly gales, blown for countless miles across the vast tundra of the wastelands carried with it a damp mustiness. It was a cold you might expect from a crypt, not from the wastelands. It was probably just his imagination.
As he turned stiffly to the East the twin suns of morning lifted slightly above the horizon. In their light the massive silhouettes of the Rift Mountains became sharp, the myriad colours of the suns slow rising changing the sky above from ink black to a deep but lightening blue. The plains below were still obscured by darkness however the first threads of sunlight were beginning to lighten the shadows. With a few moments to spare the First Officer leant against the damp coldness of the battlements and peered down into the gloom of the city below. It would be a few minutes yet before the plains would be exposed enough for a proper search.
In looking down at the ramshackle order of the dwellings crammed along the narrow streets of the city it was hard for Baradin Hedj to consider his people, the Dwarvendim, as anything other than badly paid border guards. Their poverty and reliance on the Kalboreans was evident to any who passed this close to the frontier, the depravation of their lives a constant reminder of their servitude. It left a knot in his stomach every time he contemplated such squalor for he knew that it had not always been this way.
Many years before the Dwarvendim had been a proud and powerful people, their ancestral home lying far to the South in what had been known as the Great Stone Kingdoms. In those better times the Dwarvendim had held a place of respect within the Four Nations, their strength and leadership valued by all Men. War had changed that however, a century of violence and treachery reaving them of their nationhood and dispersing them as slaves into the lands of their new masters. The Dwarvendim had become a dispossessed people and their conquerors had not been kind. Known for their abilities as artisans of stone, and for their mastery of magic and lore, the Kalboreans had exploited the Dwarvendim and by degrees their mastery of such knowledge had dissipated.
So on this particular morning, as the First Officer and his Watch cast keen eyes over the wastelands, the Dwarvendim did not look upon themselves as a sovereign people. In their servitude they had been forced to forget the pride of their ancestry, content instead to fulfill their duty as border guards, languishing in perpetual service to their conquerors, the Kalborean Union.
For generations the unchanging vision of the wastes had been a reminder of the repression they had endured. But in the isolation of this frontier fortress the Dwarvendim had quietly begun to rebuild their strength, regathering the remnants of their scattered people, and with great care beginning to re-learn the meaning of pride, and the power of their ancient Lore. One day it was said, they would again be strong.
A sharp blast of cold wind brought Baradin away from his idle musing and back to the responsibility of his command. On both sides of the fortress-city the dark masses of the Rift Mountains still cast heavy shadow over the citadel's grey stonework. The plains ahead however, were struggling into the light and something had changed. He could not be sure what it was but a few minutes more would expose the whole tundra below to the light of day. Calling the remainder of the watch to their stations a dozen pairs of eyes peered out. Apart from the wind no other movement was apparent.
Like disappearing phantoms the shadows retreated from the Sanhar and a deep hush settled on the guards. Exposed now to the bright light of the dawn the vast featureless wastes were gone, the ice-dunes and stunted vegetation now covered by the seething encampment of a Horde Army. Black as a pool of tar, the multitudes of its Host spread from the far horizon across the plain and up against the foundations of the fortress itself. Tents as numerous as trees in a forest spread in organised lines to the rear. Beasts of burden and creatures of war moved between enormous engines of destruction. Cohort upon cohort of Horde fighting units fanned out quickly across the few empty spaces left within the seething chaos of the organising army. The First Officer stood aghast, momentarily unable to turn his eyes from the horror of the nightmare unfolding before him. This was going to be no simple border skirmish. The Horde had come again to make war on the fertile lands of Arborell to the south and the fortress city of Maenum would be their first victim.
Half running, half lunging for the battlehorn, the First Officer tried unsuccessfully to wet his dry lips before blowing a long urgent greeting to the quickly rising suns of morning. Low and ominous the note trumpeted down into the waking streets of the city, then rang out in a series of echoes that careered through the many canyons and valleys of the nearby mountains. From somewhere within the vast army before them a trumpet call sounded out in answer. It was a call that heralded the beginning of the end of the Dwarvendim fortress. As the lone trumpeting ended a great shout arose from the multitudes below and as one the Horde army began its attack.
Imprisoned deep within the dungeons of the fortress Halokim Vesh waited in the shadows, the rusting iron bars of his prison providing him with little reason to care for the battle that raged above. Somewhere upon the stone overhead he could feel huge impacts pounding against the walls of Maenum, sending deep vibrations into the earth, rattling the bars of his cell, and disturbing his fellow prisoners from their restless slumbers. The noise had been a part of his existence for the past three days and it hammered through the stone like a drumbeat. There was nothing that he could do about it however, such affairs he had to leave in the hands of those who had some control over their own destinies. His thoughts were preoccupied elsewhere, by a far more pressing concern that had him marked for death at the hands of a Kalborean executioner. As he sat hunched upon the hard stone floor of his cell, he pondered the vagaries of Fate that had brought him to such an end. In such dark moments he still found it hard to believe that he had been so easily betrayed, and so easily captured.
It had been less than a week since his incarceration and he had gone over in his mind a thousand times the circumstances of his arrest. The Faeyen Merchant had been a rich prize, one that in hindsight had been far too tempting a target to be traveling the road alone. In the gloom of a clouded night he had followed the Faeyen onto a secluded trail just south of Baellum. He had bought good information that the Merchant held a full money pouch, one well worth the risk of robbery. In his desperation he had stalked the man, intent on relieving him of his purse and then disappearing into the dense forest that could be found to the west. It had been a simple plan, but when he had made his move he found himself confronted not by a cowering Merchant prepared to give up his coin, but an armed patrol that had been hiding in the undergrowth on the far side of the trail. It had been a trap, and the glint of razor-sharp steel from a dozen unsheathed swords had ensured he had nowhere to run.
Given this circumstance a smart man might have throw down his weapon and surrendered. Thievery was a serious crime, but it was one whose punishment could be survived, years of hard labour its ultimate reward. A smart man might have accepted this turn of Fate but he was not about to give up his freedom lightly. Before he could be overwhelmed he had brought down three of the patrol, and for his trouble had won himself a death sentence for resisting. Little could he know that his melee with the guards would also bring him to the attention of others.
There had been no trial, just a swift appearance before a Magistrate and the pronunciation of his sentence. In a way his current predicament had only been a matter of time in the making. The life of a Dwarvendim bandit was invariably short, and he had been plying his trade for a good deal longer than most. The Magistrate had felt that he should be made an example of, and had set specific conditions for his execution. As a Dwarvendim he was to be transported to the provincial capital of Das Frontiere and then beheaded in public. An example to all of the consequences of rebelling against the authority of the Kalborean Union. To this point in time the Magistrate's stipulations for his execution had been the only thing that had kept him alive. No-one could be spared to transport him south, and with the battle above growing in both desperation and intensity he could do nothing but wait, and breathe in the stinking air of his prison cell.
Unable to settle Halokim raised himself to stretch cold bones and aching muscle. His cell was only a few metres square, one of dozens that lined a long corridor. It was a dismal place, without fresh air or sunlight, and provided with few torches to illuminate the torment of its residents. The gloom had been his only companion, and in the shadows he had quickly lost all sense of time as he waited for his transport south. He could not tell what hour of the day it might be, but he felt tired and had not seen food for more than two days. The desperation of his lot had left him without hope and he looked to his bed for some avenue of escape, even if it could provide no more than the nightmares found in sleep. His captors had given him a pile of old straw as a resting place, and in an attempt to find sleep he laid down and tried to make himself comfortable.
It was an impossible task. From the many cells that lined the dim passage of this unwelcome prison he could hear snoring, coughing and the cursing of the other inmates. The sounds of battle filtered down through the stone, and the jarring impacts continued unabated as he turned restlessly upon his bed of straw. It was as he lay silently in the dark that he began to hear a new sound, one that carried itself languidly upon the dank air. Somewhere from the depths of the corridor outside came the low murmur of voices, but he could not distinguish them clearly. They were distant and edged with familiar tones of conspiracy and distrust. After a time these whispers in the dark also faded, and with nothing to do but listen to the despair of his fellow prisoners Halokim Vesh slowly but surely fell into sleep.
Deep sleep proved elusive. Before Halokim could submit to the heavy hand of rest he was rudely shaken awake by the rougher hands of the Jailer, Mattok.
"This is the one Milord." In the dank confines of the cell the Jailer's torch sputtered just a finger's length from Halokim's forehead. His face hung above his prisoner, his features shadowed by the light of his brand, the reek of salted fish and old potatoes on his breath. "A right piece of scum is Vesh. Are you sure this stone-eater is the prisoner you seek?"
Turning away the Jailer fell back and a tall, richly attired man walked forward, bending at the waist to stare curiously into Halokim's face. The Dwarvendim could not help but notice he was dressed as a Prefect of the Kalborean LoreMages' Guild.
"My good Jailer," the man replied, his manner almost amused. "This piece of scum will be perfect."
From his position behind the Prefect Mattock moves forward, taking a short truncheon from his belt as he advances. Halokim has no doubt as to what is to come but he would get no opportunity to ready himself for the blow. In one swift arc the Jailer's truncheon strikes the unprotected face of his hapless prisoner. For Halokim Vesh all the lights go out.
Through a swirling mist of half-dreams you struggle vainly for consciousness, your thoughts overwhelmed by pain as a throbbing ache spreads like an infection from your temple and out across your jaw. It is hard to wake even though someone is shaking you violently.
"Come on you lump of filth. Rise and shine. Its time for some talk." Out of a deep well of pain you can feel yourself floating slowly towards consciousness. The pain in your head is terrible.
"Give the thief some water."
From somewhere within the darkness and fog you hear the scraping sound of a heavy bucket and then a grunt. After a second's pause a flood of ice cold water showers over your face and shoulders. Gagging and spluttering you try to clear your mouth of the foul liquid. It tastes like sewage.
More awake you try to open your eyes. A bright light fills the room and there is the sounds and feel of a cold wind moving across your wet clothing. Even through the pain you get the impression that you have been taken to a high place, either a tower or a dwelling in the mountains. From the open stone windows of the room a chill wind howls and on the rise of each bluster you are sure you can make out the tumult of a battle raging in the distance. It is frequently punctuated by the sounds of explosions and the screams of dying warriors.
All about you stand Kalborean soldiers and a number of men dressed in the official robes of the LoreMages' Guild. As you attempt to turn your head to look further about the room you realise that your arms and legs have been strapped to a heavy wooden table at its centre. Behind the men that surround the table you also see a well muscled man with a leather mask over his face. He hangs back in the shadows, ill defined even in the bright light. In his hands he is holding an efficient looking executioner's scimitar.
From somewhere in the room comes the sound of a familiar voice. It is the Prefect of the LoreMages' Guild.
"You must forgive the rough treatment Vesh. Sometimes it is prudent to move a prisoner without fuss. I was given the impression by the Jailer that you would not have come with us any other way." He leans closer and stares directly into your eyes. "I have a proposition for you."
The web of pain that has enclosed your head has receded slightly and you try to raise it. The effort sends hammer blows of agony drilling into your temple, and the back of your skull cracks back down on the hard wood of the table. Spiralling into a white numbing mist you begin to lapse back into unconsciousness. Another curt command from the Prefect sends a further bucket of putrid water showering over your face. Again the Kalborean speaks.
"Halokim Vesh. We are in need of your services and desire that, for a reasonable reward, you should undertake a journey on behalf of the Kalborean Union."
Through the pain haze you can hear yourself laughing. The effort clears your head enough to speak.
"Milord, I am gratified to learn that I may be of assistance to the mighty Kalborean Union, but I must remind you that I am soon to be executed. I am a thief after all, and my services will soon be unavailable."
The Prefect stands even closer now. He has the confidence of someone who knows he will get what he wants. "It is true that you are a thief Vesh. It is also true that you are a mercenary, an Enemy of the State and only Providence knows what else. It is your current predicament that gives me some confidence you will gladly take on the task that I am about to offer."
Your head is now clearer and you can look straight at the Prefect. At the same time you test the strength of the bindings that hold you. They are unbreakable.
"What is it you want Kalborean?"
"Ah, I am so glad you asked", The Prefect's tone changes to a more conspiratorial one. "What do you know of the Tellandra?"
You shrug your shoulders. You know much of the ancient histories of the Dwarvendim. Once you even studied the Elder Tongue with some of the best of your peoples remaining scholars, but you don't feel obliged to make the Kalborean's job any easier.
"All right. If this is how it must be." The Prefect's tone becomes harsher.
"Have you ever heard of the ancient fortress known to your people as Stoneholme?"
For a moment you consider not answering the Kalborean. You do not trust any of them, but you cannot think of a time when a Kalborean has ever asked anything of a Dwarvendim. It is too curious a circumstance not to play along.
"Stoneholme? Any Dwarvendim child can tell you something about the old Stone Kingdoms, but what in Arborell has this got to do with me?"
The Prefect pulls a small highly polished dagger from his robes and plays its mirrored blade through a shaft of light. He seems slightly amused as a thousand shards of brilliance dance out from its metal and spread about the room. Then he looks back at you. His voice carries all the menace of a pit of vipers.
"Vesh. The LoreMages' Guild has need of your services. It would seem that the Tellandra, the most potent talisman of your nation has been broken. We need you to go and fix it."
The Prefect's words are staggering. The smooth stone pillar of petrified wood known as the Tellandra had once been the foundation of all magical power wielded by the Dwarvendim LoreMasters. Using its power the Stone Kingdoms had grown and prospered in the harsh reaches of the Krodestaag Ranges. It was the Tellandra, coupled with the native stonemastery of the Dwarvendim, that had made them a powerful people. For many Dwarvendim the pillar of stonewood was the heart and soul of their nation. It was supposed to be unbreakable.
In waves of understanding the import of the Prefect's words sweep over you. It had been the Kalboreans who had corrupted the potency of the Tellandra and twisted it to their own petty uses. The Dwarvendim had never recovered from the loss. From the look on his face it was clear the Prefect knew you understood. Something was not right though.
"Why should I help the Kalboreans fix something they should never have tampered with in the first place?"
The Kalborean pauses for a moment, nodding to someone behind you before replying. "There are two reasons. The first is that magic extracted from the pillar supports and strengthens the high wall and battlements that protect the city of Maenum. As the potency of the pillar diminishes with each passing day the fortifications that hold back the Hordim will become weaker. Soon enough the Horde Army will break their way in and then all your precious Dwarvendim will die."
"The second reason is more immediate. If you do not agree to attempt this journey I will have you beheaded now!" With that the executioner strides forward and raises his scimitar above his head. In the full light of the day the sword shines as if it is on fire. For a second it hangs there, poised above your neck. It is possible, you surmise, that they may be serious.
"All right" you say rapidly, "Seeing you asked so nicely I'll do it."
In the days that follow your agreement to attempt the restoration of the Tellandra life becomes much easier. Given good food and a dry place to sleep your strength returns quickly, and by the second evening after your interrogation you feel fit to travel. That night, as you are settling down to sleep, the door to your room bursts open. Through the shattered opening strides the Prefect, another LoreMage, and two rather unruly looking guards. Without indulging in pleasantries the Prefect orders the guards to grab your arms. They are immensely strong and you prove no match for them. Easily they pin you to the opposite wall.
"It seems wise Vesh that I ensure you keep your part of the bargain. Hence this collar is to be placed around your neck. Please don't struggle, it will only expose you to possible injury." With that the other LoreMage, a tall, gaunt individual, produces a thick white ring of metal from his robes and quickly affixes it around your neck. You try to struggle but only succeed in almost crushing your throat as the metal ring tightens about your neck.
"The collar is unbreakable. If you do not complete your mission and restore the Tellandra to its wholeness before Maenum falls, then the collar will tighten and slowly remove your head from your shoulders. I have been told that it is both a time consuming and agonising way to die."
Turning away, the Prefect motions to the guards to release you and then orders the other LoreMage to stay.
"Vesh, this is the Tak Lovar, a Historian of the Guild and Inquisitor of the Kalborean Union. Listen well to what he has to say. It may save your miserable life."
Within moments the room is empty save yourself and the Historian. The Tak Lovar does not seem the least concerned at being left alone with you. He carefully cleans the dust from a chair and sits, all the while regarding you as if you hold no mysteries for him.
"Be seated Halokim. I have been directed to provide you with information on the history of Stoneholme and of the last Stone King, Morgen Orncryst the Younger. A King most commonly known to your people as the keeper of the Dragon Windhammer."
Intrigued by the notion of hearing a Kalborean version of an old Dwarvendim folktale you make yourself more comfortable.
Sitting back in his chair Lovar takes his time, arranging his robes neatly about his legs before he speaks again. Only when the Historian is finished does he begin his tale.
"Some two centuries before your birth the Dwarvendim Stone Kings began the construction of a vast fortress deep within the ancient granite of the Devkraager Tor, the highest peak of the Krodestaag Ranges. This fortress they named Stoneholme. For many years it served the needs of the Stone Kings as a safe haven from the violence and death of the Sixth Horde War which, as even you would be aware, was being fought between the then Four Nations of Men and the Armies of the Horde. Men all fought as one in those times trying to stem the onslaught of the Hordim as they slowly advanced from the Sanhar down into the warmer lands of Arborell."
"As sometimes happens when Men fight with courage and purpose they prevailed, and the Horde were forced back across the mountains and valleys of the Great Rift. In a rout they were expelled back into the tundra of the Sanhar Wastes. The combined power of the Four Nations had secured a great victory and peace returned quickly to a land ravaged by war. The great armies, tired of battle, dispersed and returned home. Men and Women once again looked to the future with hope. For all the Nations peace had been won, but it proved to be a peace short-lived, and bitterly held".
"With the uniting force of a common enemy gone, the Four Nations quickly returned to their own natural borders and in time also returned to the petty bickering of diplomacy and the mutual competition of trade. It is no secret that this competition for wealth and power quickly undermined the determination that had previously bound committed allies. Long-held jealousies and mistrust soon found a place in the affairs of Men, but there could be no hostility between nations for the memory of the Horde was still all too fresh."
In the quiet of your room you wait for the Tak Lovar to continue, but instead he hesitates, then moves his right hand carefully inside his robes. When he withdraws it the Historian is holding a small metal sphere, dull of colour but etched with intricate patterns and a line of ancient text that encompasses its diameter. Using his thumb Lovar flicked a lever on its upper surface and you cannot help but gasp aloud as a translucent map of Arborell fills the space between you. Trying not to look too surprised you study the wonder that shines before you.
"From the battlefields of the Great Rift the Faeyen Nation returned to the high grass plateaux of north-western Arborell and to almost complete isolation. Your people followed their Faeyen neighbours west to the rugged mountain retreats of the Stone Kingdoms; seemingly content to be self-reliant and unconcerned by the squabbling of others. My people, the Kalboreans of the Union, went back to what we have always done; trading, adventuring and farming the wide plains that cover the central and eastern lands of Arborell. The NomDruse simply disappeared to the South and have been unheard of since. Not needed as a refuge, Stoneholme soon fell into disuse."
For a moment the Historian sits silently, pondering what he is to say next. You are surprised at how accurate his retelling has been, but so far he has only given a small part of the story. Clearing his throat the Tak Lovar deactivates the map and continues.
"From all the available records it is certain that for the Dwarvendim these times of peace were good. The financial power of the Stone Kings grew with each passing year, and this increasing wealth did not go unnoticed by the surrounding Nations. In particular it was the bandit gangs that roamed the adjoining plains of Kalborea that posed the greatest danger. Wishing to ensure their wealth safe from any threat Stoneholme was expanded and refurbished into a treasure house of labyrinthine size. As Dwarvendim affluence grew so Stoneholme was cut ever deeper into the mountain. When their work was done the corridors and halls, vaults and treasure troves, had delved to the very heart of the Devkraager Tor. With such a fortress to guard their wealth the Stone Kings rested, apparently well pleased with their efforts."
"It was Morgen Orncryst the Younger, last of the Stone Kings, who extended Stoneholme to its deepest levels. It was Morgen who commissioned the cutting of the final chamber at the foundation of the mountain, a vault secure enough to hold the greatest treasures of the Dwarvendim peoples. In this Deep Vault was to be laid the spoils of all the preceding Stone Kings, the most precious metals and rare stones of three hundred years of Dwarvendim adventure and commerce in the outside world. Most important of all, this vault was to hold the greatest artifact of the Dwarvendim nation; the pillar of stonewood, the Tellandra."
"Legend has it that in the process of placing this wealth within the Deep Vault a large jeweled egg was brought into Stoneholme; a souvenir taken from the Horde after the final decisive battle that forced the armies of the Clavern'sigh back into the expanses of the Sanhar Wastes. Unknown to the King or his subjects the egg brought with it a great evil that resided unseen in the quiet form of a small winged serpent; a Dragon."
"Thinking his treasure secure Morgen locked the thick metal doors of the treasure room behind him, and returned to the pressing affairs of his Kingdom, unaware of the danger lurking within. In the flickering shadows of the great cavern it would not have taken long for the closeness of Morgen's gold to entice the small, defenceless serpent from its jeweled egg. In that cold, dark place it grew, drawing energy and comfort from the precious metals that surrounded it."
"To those of us well versed in Dragonlore it is no secret that Dragons covet gold. It sustains and energises them, they will commit any atrocity to acquire it and will stop at nothing to keep it. A Dragon protecting its gold is an evil thing, a beast to be avoided."
"For Morgen and his Kingdom all went well until the Dwarvendim of Arborell fell upon lean times. Conflict between the Kalborean Union and the Faeyen began to severely restrict trade out of the cities of western Arborell. For the Dwarvendim this was an economic disaster. Unable to rely on taxes raised by the steady flow of commerce across his borders Morgen the Younger found it necessary to delve deeply into the wealth stored in the treasure rooms of Stoneholme. In his old age it must have grieved him greatly to see his people's riches being so quickly depleted. The situation however got steadily worse. The conflict between Faeyen and Kalborean grew, small border skirmishes developed into larger confrontations and eventually this tension threatened to embroil all the Nations in a bloody war. In time it did."
"With the whole land again consumed by war, Stoneholme returned to its primary purpose as a refuge for the Dwarvendim people. Within that first year the war raged all over the Stone Kingdoms and the cost of financing the conflict devoured most of the accumulated wealth of the Stone Kings. The very existence of the Dwarvendim as a separate people was under threat. Only the Deep Vault, locked and barred at the heart of Stoneholme for more than twenty years remained untouched. The day soon came, however, when it had to be opened."
"You can imagine the gravity of that day. An aged and despondent Morgen would have descended the long corridors of Stoneholme, walked unnoticing through the magnificence of the Great Hall and unlocked the first set of doors leading to the Deep Vault. As those huge metal doors swung wide the Stone King would have stepped across a polished marble threshold, and then walked the final one hundred metres to the main doors of Stoneholme's most protected cavern. Understanding the import of opening this final trove the King and his retainers must have been grimly silent. None would have expected what was to happen next."
"Confronting them as the heavy doors of the Deep Vault swung open was an apparition that left Morgen Orncryst, most powerful of the Stone Kings, rigid with fear. Out of the semi-darkness of the unlit treasure room sprang the vast bulk of a full grown Rift Dragon. Raised upon its thick hind legs, its leathery wings extended to their fullest it must have been an awesome sight, standing twenty-five metres at the shoulder, its skin black and shining like molten glass, its head a nightmare of fang, scale and cruel burning red eyes."
"The few retainers who had accompanied the King fled the room in a blind terror, slamming the great metal doors and locking them securely. It was only then that they realised the King had remained inside; unarmed, aged and vulnerable. For Morgen it was too late. Before he could turn to follow his terrified retainers he was bathed in Dragonfire and consumed."
"With no heir to the throne the reign of the Stone Kings soon ended. The war between the Nations hammered its way across western Arborell, the Stone Kingdoms were subjugated by Kalborea, then hostilities ended as an even greater threat confronted the Nations of Men."
"In a state of battle weariness the Kalboreans and Faeyen were unprepared for a new assault from the Horde that struck deep into the Union. Unable to withstand the onslaught, the fortifications and armies of the Union collapsed and the creatures of the Horde spread over Arborell like a plague. It was during this dark time of conflict that Stoneholme was evacuated by its conquerors, the last of the Dwarvendim were dispersed to work camps in the mountains of the Krodestaag. The Tellandra was forgotten."
"In time the Horde was again defeated. A series of crushing battles threw them back into the wastelands and this fortress was constructed to stop any further attempts at invasion. From that time to now only small raiding parties have remained to roam the isolated mountain ranges and frontiers, preying on unwary travelers or stealing from small communities. The pillar has remained deep in Stoneholme, its magic used by the Kalborean LoreMages but physically unreachable. And so it has remained until now."
For a moment the room falls into silence, then the Tak Lovar looks up from his thoughts and stares straight at you.
"The pillar has been broken, Halokim Vesh. For more than a century it has been used by the Kalboreans as a tool for the common good. And now the Horde or, if it is still alive, that accursed Dragon have somehow succeeded in smashing it. Until it is restored there is no magic, there is no LoreMages' Guild and there is no way of stopping the Horde from destroying Maenum and infesting all of Arborell." The Tak Lovar stands suddenly and half turns as if he is about to leave.
"I do not envy you Vesh. The quest you are about to undertake is perilous in the extreme and in truth I do not expect you to survive it. It is unknown if the Horde currently infest the ruins of Stoneholme. It is equally unknown as to whether the Dragon, who calls itself Windhammer, is still alive. Legends and myth have conspired to obscure the truth about the mountains in which you are about to travel and I would not go there for any price. Men braver than you have tried you know, and none have returned. The Guild has lost a number of powerful talismans in those attempts. Maybe you will be lucky enough to recover them as well." The historian stops and looks as if he is considering whether it would be appropriate to wish you luck. He doesn't.
"Your horse and equipment have been gathered. The Horde already tests to the limit the ability of this fortress to defend itself. At first light tomorrow you must leave. Do not fail, Vesh. Remember that you wear the white collar."
No further word comes from Lovar as he leaves the room. After stepping over the threshold the door slams shut and you hear a bar slide into place on the other side. You are locked in. Tomorrow it seems you must begin a most perilous quest. Alone in the light thrown from a solitary candle you stand for a moment and wonder at this strange turn of events. In the quiet you can hear the muffled impacts of the Horde's assault vibrating through the stone. It is then that you realise you have no idea how to restore the Tellandra, and it would seem neither do the Kalboreans. You cannot even say why they chose you.
This book, and its associated books and other documents in the Chronicles of Arborell series are the intellectual property of the author, Wayne F Densley, and all rights are reserved by him. Windhammer is best viewed at 1024 x 768 resolution. Any questions regarding the Chronicles of Arborell can be answered by emailing the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
Windhammer, Copyright Wayne Densley 2008 All Rights Reserved