The spring winds gently rolled across the green valley, carrying with them the fresh new smell of spring. The winter snows had finally resided, though a slight chill still rolled down from the surrounding mountains. Winter was finally over and the new season change had arrived suddenly, not an unusual occurrence for the mountainous region known as the Rashine mountains.
Rastain closed his eyes as he listened to the sounds of the valley and took a deep breath of the fresh spring air. He had been on patrol for days and next to nothing had happened during that time. He was grateful, it meant that the elven kingdom was at peace. The sound of the approaching rider echoed in the breeze, he heard it before the pounding hoof beats echoed across the mountain sides.
“Rastain!” The rider hollered as he came into view. It was Bryliff, one of the younger rangers that had joined the ranks at the beginning of winter.
“Rastain!” Bryliff panted as he approached, pulling his mount to an abrupt halt. The stallion stamped and snorted as it paced back and forth. Bryliff slid off the horse once it stopped and was immediately stopped in his tracks. The large snarling wolf stared at him, its glistening teeth and dark blue eyes held him entranced for a moment.
“uh… Hi Sid.” Bryliff gulped back the sense of fear rising in his throat. The large black wolf always seemed to drive fear deep into his heart each time he encountered it. The wolf’s dark blue eyes seemed old and wise, as it stared at him snarling. Bryliff was convinced it could see right into the deepest recess of his soul.
“Commander Monsaic, I have urgent news.” Bryliff suddenly remembered his decorum and addressed Rastain properly. Sid ceased his snarling and turned away from Bryliff and stood at Rastain’s side. Bryliff was convinced the wolf had a smug look of satisfaction on its face. He pushed the thought out of his mind and pulled out a small scroll from his pouch.
“Must be something big happening. My patrol ends tonight.” Rastain took the scroll and read through its contents. He looked up gravely at Bryliff.
“Have you read this?” Rastain asked as he handed the scroll back.
“No sir.” Bryliff answered. He was surprised that the commander had asked him such a question. He was even more surprised that he handed the scroll back.
“General Alvarin has called a war council and all rangers have been called back to Valencar Keep.” Rastain looked to the west and scowled as he noted the sun was starting to slowly transverse its afternoon course.
“We only have six hours of daylight left. Valencar Keep is at least a day’s journey to the west.” Rastain grumbled as he turned to head west.
“Sir if I may?” Bryliff asked as he pulled out a small case from his pack. The case was a small nondescript wooden box, but Rastain knew instantly what lie within.
“Seriously? A summoning stone?” Rastain asked as he took the box from Bryliff.
Summoning stones were a rare and ancient form of magic, left over from ages long past. It was believed that the stones had been crafted by the first dwarven runemasters and given only to a select few mages. Over the centuries most of the stones had either been destroyed or lost, to the lament of many a mage. Only a handful of them remained amongst the dwarves and the elves. They where highly coveted and used sparingly. The stone’s imbued magic allowed them to be attuned to specific locations. Once the stone was later activated it would open a portal that one could travel through to the exact destination.
“Aye. The master mage gave me one for each of the commanders on my list out here in borderlands.” Bryliff smiled and mounted back on his horse.
“With your permission commander.” Bryliff nodded waiting for permission to depart.
Rastain nodded and Sid growled as the ranger turned and rode off.
“Cut it out.” Rastain looked down at Sid and the wolf ceased its snarling. Rastain turned his attention to the small box. The summoning stone inside the box was a small black obsidian stone, the shiny rock reflected the rays of sunlight off it as he lifted it out of its felt padding. As the sun’s ray’s hit the stone, Rastain could see the faint magic runes glow across the stones surface.
“Well here goes, you ready?” Rastain asked as he looked at Sid.
“Valencar Keep.” Rastain whispered the name of his desired destination. The runes on the stone flared to life and shot off the stone like elven arrows fired from the high ramparts of a castle. They swirled around in a clockwise fashion, then a counterclockwise fashion in rapid succession until they flared out brightly in a blinding flash. At first the appearing portal was a small black speck that appear, growing rapidly into a large swirling vortex. Rastain could feel the magic pulling him as the winds kicked up around him. The keep itself could be seen at the vortex’s center, as if one was looking through a window in one of the keeps towers.
Rastain stepped through the portal, with Sid following obediently. The portal whisked shut. They appeared instantly into the court yard of valencar keep. The stone in his hand was cold and lifeless as Rastain looked at it. The trip through the portal was instant, no different then simply stepping through a doorway.
The main courtyard of the keep was in chaos, organized chaos but chaos never the less. Couriers and pages scurried back and forth, patrol units and battalions all filling in through the main gates as well as commanders and generals all appearing instantly as they activated the summoning stones. Rastain didn’t bother to linger and watch, instead he headed straight for the main tower. The elves where massing for war, that much was evident, but war with whom was the real question.
The tower guards looked at him with suspicion for a moment and then let him pass. Rastain found it a bit odd that they hesitated before letting a commander of the High elven rangers enter the main tower. He shrugged it off, the answer would soon be evident once he met with the general.
The interior of the main tower was as chaotic as the courtyard. Tables and makeshift maps where on display everywhere. Rastain made his way to the general’s office and knocked on the door. Sid let out a low growl as the soldiers in the room looked at them with curiosity and suspicion. Rastain took a mental note on the strange behavior as he heard the generals voice from behind the door.
General Alvarin was seated at his desk, reading over scrolls and maps. He was dark skinned compared to most high elves. His head was also completely shaved and scarred from his years of war in the service of the king. A distinct and purposeful deviation from the norm amongst high elves.
“Rastain, Come in and sit.” Alvarin pointed toward a nearby chair as he continued reading through one of the scrolls. He didn’t bother to look up or even speak further till he had finished.
“I’m glad to see you are one of the first ones back.” Alvarin spoke as he stood and walked over to the window. He stood with his back to Rastain as he continued.
“You know me by now, and know I chose to speak simply and to the point.” He turned to look at Rastain.
“The elves are at war.” Alvarin paused waiting to gauge Rastain’s reaction. He assumed the ranger would take the news in stride revealing little of his own personal feelings. He smiled as he noticed Rastain’s calm demeanor and stoic expression.
“I gathered as much, once I arrived. It’s kind of obvious with all the commotion outside.” Rastain smirked slightly as he answered.
“The real question is… who are we at war with?”
Alvarin’s expression flashed a sudden look of sadness, but it was quickly replaced with his usual stern demeanor.
“The dark elves and the frost elves have declared war.” Alvarin answered as he sat back down at his desk.
“For what reasons?” This time Rastain’s voice showed his concern and grief.
“Religion, racial, the oppression of their sovereign rights, you name it. It really doesn’t matter the frost elves have already attacked our outposts along the north and the dark elves have moved their armies along our southern borders.” Alvarin pulled a scroll out and handed it to Rastain.
“The capital city is embroiled in a political quagmire, the church has taken this as a sign of the king’s weakness and have started moving towards dethroning him in the senate.” Alvarin waited as Rastain read the scroll’s detailing of the protests, accusations and racial riots breaking out across the capital before he continued.
“The dark elves and the frost elves both claim the right to rule elven kind, pointing back to ancestral ties to the first born and right of rule. It’s all crap if you ask me.” Alvarin sat back in his chair and ran his hand over his scarred head. Rastain noticed the old and tired look flash across the general’s face.
“This situation now brings up a point that I hate to even mention…”
Rastain interrupted the general before he could finish his statement.
“My mixed heritage and my stand as one of the princes of Queshanmori.” Rastain answered flatly.
“Yes. I hate to even mention it, but there are those that will want to use you as a symbol for their cause.” Alvarin scowled as he spoke, he hated to having this conversation.
“I’m not about to let that happen, I’m keeping you as far from the capital as possible.” Alvarin stood again and walked over to the window. He remained silent as he watched the troops preparing below.
“I figured my heritage was an issue, the moment I arrived. The looks of suspicion where evident on the troops faces.” Rastain broke the silence as he spoke. He never let the fact that he was half dark elf and half human bother him, he was well aware though that others found issue with it from time to time.
“The troops are well trained and you are an officer in the Ranger Corp. They will say nothing nor do anything to cause you problems.” Alvarin answered. He scowled in disgust at the reaction of those with weak minds that felt race mattered.
“However, I do have plans for you.” Alvarin smirked as he faced Rastain.
“I’m going to make you a symbol. However a symbol of what it means to be a Ranger.” Alvarin walked over to his desk and sorted through various scrolls till he found the one he was looking for.
“This scroll details the movements of the dark elves into the forgotten lands. We don’t know why they are there. They have moved a small force deep into the wastes and we need to know why. I have my suspicions, however they are unfounded.” Alvarin paused as he handed the scroll to Rastain.
“I believe they are looking for proof to their claims of the right to rule. The forgotten lands are the lands of legend and history, the birthplace of the mortal races. Home to the dragons and the shamari. The land is cursed and treacherous, but its secrets and mysteries have never been unveiled. I’m convinced that dark elves intend to exploit that to their advantage. What ever they claim to find doesn’t have to be true for them to simply say it is.” Alvarin studied Rastain’s face and expression for the slightest hint as to what the Ranger was thinking. He saw nothing beyond what Rastain wanted him to see. Indifference.
“The report also speaks to the humans moving as well to the outskirts of their borders taking advantage of our “civil unrest”.” Rastain scowled slightly, before he quickly maintained his composure.
“Yes, the Erahaim have been moving to make land grabs on the edges of their kingdom, but we haven’t seen or heard anything for sure to support it either way. I have a hunch they may have started to move into the forgotten lands as well, though I cannot prove it.” Alvarin suddenly had a spark of excitement flash in his eyes as he sat at the edge of his desk. He leaned forward as the glean in his eye became stronger.
“That’s where we are going to use your lineage to our advantage. I am sending you to the forgotten lands. You’ll met Talia there on the borders and proceed to find out exactly what it is that the dark elves are doing. Your secondary mission is to find out what the humans are intending. You’re going to have to travel through their lands to get to the wastes. So it’s best you let your hair down, and change your armor. Blend in, use your human features to your advantage. Once you get to the forgotten lands Talia will brief you on the next leg of your mission.” Alvarin was once again giving orders, the commanding tone left no room for further discussion. Rastain wasn’t going to be deterred. He stood and looked out the window at the courtyard below.
“Why Talia?” Rastain asked. He already knew the answer but he wanted Alvarin to answer it himself.
“She volunteered.” Alvarin stated.
“And it has nothing to do with her connection to the royal family?” Rastain wanted to simply know that she wasn’t being sacrificed for politics as he was.
“Nope. You best get ready, you leave once the sun sets.” Alvarin answered. His tone told Rastain the conversation was over.
“Yes sir.” Rastain nodded and left the office without any further word.
Shortly after the last rays of the sun had set and the sentry fires lit, Rastain set out under the cover of darkness. He never once looked back at the elven fortress. He didn’t have to, something inside told him there was no need. He had no problems leaving his elven armor behind, he preferred the black non nondescript chain mail and leather armor he now wore. He pulled his cloak over his head and headed down the road leading away from the keep.
The sounds of the forest at night brought peace to Rastain as he and Sid continued traveling toward the human borders. He didn’t let his mind wander or dwell on the current conditions within the elven nations, he was focused on the task at hand. The night held many dangers and with the elves being at war those dangers were now intensified. He caught the scent of the smoke well before the dull amber glow of the fires could be seen further down the road. Rastain looked at Sid and simply nodded. The wolf lowered his head and growled softly before bounding off in the other direction.
The moments that it took to approach the clearing, where the fires blazed, gave Rastain enough time to assess what was actually happening. He saw the human soldiers dragging bodies into piles and rummaging through the over turned wagons. A high elven flag , torn and shredded lay at the nearest fire’s edge. It was clear what had taken place and the anger started to rage inside Rastain. He drew his swords and walked into the clearing. He saw the elven bodies laying there, his heart ached as he saw that even the females and the children had been slaughtered.
The humans must have come across an elven merchant caravan camping for the night and with little thought or mercy simply cut them down while they slept. They were dogs, savages and Rastain wasn’t going to let them get away with slaughtering women and children.
“What we got here?” The nearest soldier asked as he saw Rastain enter the clearing.
“You there. What’s your name and where you hail from.” The other human soldier asked.
“Does it matter?” Rastain answered through clenched teeth.
“Not really.” One answered as he shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t need to know your name to gut you like a little pig.”
They grinned as they drew their swords and advanced towards Rastain. They took their time as they slowly encircled the ranger, the arrogance and cockiness in their demeanor made Rastain grin as he studied them.
“What you grinning about boy, you think you can take both of us?” The largest of the two asked as he puffed out his chest in an unconscious show of bravado.
“I hope you’re prepared for this.” Rastain answered.
He saw the flash of black fur bursting through the flames from the shadows behind the large human just as his companion screamed to warn him.
“What the hell! Look out Haydrin.”
The warning was to late. Sid was more then the human soldier could handle. The wolf was larger then most wolves and had been raised with Rastain, fighting and training with the Rangers. The wolf knew how to fight against a well armed foe. Sid used his enormous weight and speed to barrel into the large human. Knocking him to the ground. Rastain assumed that the last thing Haydrin saw was Sid’s gleaming teeth as the wolf sunk them deep into his jugular.
The remaining soldier charged at Rastain, but it was a futile attempt. The soldier was reacting out of stunned fear and was off guard from seeing Sid suddenly burst from the shadows without warning. Rastain stepped sideways and swung both his swords in one motion. The soldier stood there motionless with an expression of shock frozen on his face. His body slumped forward as his severed head rolled back into the nearby fire. Rastain looked down at the corpse laying at his feet and noticed the red arm band with the double headed black phoenix on it , identifying them as Erahaim soldiers.
Rastain turned to Sid and nodded. The wolf sat back on his hunches and let out a piercing howl that echoed through out the valley. The Erahaim never traveled in small numbers, the others would be nearby. The general wanted to know more about the Erahaim’s intent, the answer to that was clear in Rastain’s mind. Innocents had been slaughtered for no reason, even in times of war this was uncalled for. Rastain would answer blood with blood.
The hunt was on…