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Coldforged - Shadows of War: Chapter 1 - Ûr-Keldon

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Ancient Gamer:
Outside the Maldauer Swamp Fortification
At the border between the Kingdom Province of Ardamien and the Imperial Province of Belemar

The thunder of sorcery rolled over the swamp island from which the battered walls of the Keep known as the Maldauer Fortification rose. Outside its walls, on the battleground, were untold thousands of men, marching in columns, chanting ancient battle hymns. Insults were exchanged as they approached each other, their myriad voices full of hate, panic and fear. Suddenly a blast of bright fire engulfed a company of soldiers wearing regal black Ardamian clothing, obliterating the warriors before they had a chance to react, and a mere half second later a wash of crackling heat from the blast hit the nearby columns of men who were thrown off their feet. More Ardamians arrived, their ranks glittering with weapons, looking like the iron fanged maw of a giant snake. For hours they fought and only when night fell over the battlefield did they finally withdraw to sleep and eat. Random flashes of light from alchemists’ fire and fiery spells occasionally flared through the darkness, but eventually silence settled on the swamp. While priests retrieved the wounded, carrion birds and nameless beasts feasted on the corpses that littered the swamp, and looters plied their ignoble trade, heartlessly slicing of fingers and in other ways mutilated the dead to get at their valuables. The first day of the Ardamian offensive had utterly failed and thus more nights of starvation were in store for the guardians of the crucial Maldauer fortification.

Through the pallor of smoke the harbinger birds wheeled. Their calls raised a shrill chorus above the cries of wounded and dying soldiers. They were six in number and had been in the skies throughout the entire day. Far below, on the battlefield outside the battered walls of the Maldauer Fortification, other carrion birds were feasting on the fallen, but the Harbingers had no interest; they had only come to bear witness to the Imperial onslaught. Then a faint sound rose from the northwest; a keening, forlorn sound to which the handful of men still awake turned their attention for a brief second. When the sound had died, only the Harbinger Birds still paid it any attention, and with mighty beats of their wings they started their journey home, for it was the keen of their new masters, hundreds of miles away.

The Empire has struck and the Kingdom reels from its mighty blow. The line of Keldon runs weak in the King’s veins and most of his heirs are mindless buffoons or dangerous youths drunk with power. The Kingdom needs you now in its darkest hour, lest the Imperials swallow this land, like they have swallowed so many others.

A dry voice answered from the other end of oblivion: “Why should we care?”


On the Slopes of Mount Keadle
The Eastern Cyllereans
Close to the Tarnil lake in Ardamien

Screams of excruciating pain and intolerable suffering was combined with the whispering voices of women. Needles pierced flesh that knives had flayed, sewing ancient skin in place. It all seemed like a dream, but a part of Domunsoka’s consciousness had returned and half awake he listened to nearby voices as he watched the ghostly figures move through the room, removing patches of skin from a carcass on the floor and placing them onto another body on a nearby table. As the women whispered Domunsoka discovered that he recognized the language the women spoke, even though it was one he had never spoken before.

“We found another one unconscious in the bushes, great one. He had been attacked too.” The voice belonged to a woman and was frail and innocent.

“Yes, I sensed him earlier. We will need him so prepare him for the transformation” said another voice. It was a voice he knew well, but which he couldn’t quite place.

Domunsoka tried to awaken with more than his spirit, struggled to regain consciousness and slowly, involuntarily, his limbs reacted to his will.

“Oh, no you don’t” said the familiar voice and laid a hand on his forehead. Domunsoka felt waves of fatigue wash over his body, something he had never experienced before, and soon he was fast asleep. But his sleep was troubled; his entire body ached in a thousand places, some of which he didn’t realize existed.


“You sleep my children and you dream. Your visions are true for you have been linked to other places and beings, like the Great Harbinger Birds, through the powers of several tattoos which are even now being grafted onto your bodies. Fear them not, for they will give you much, but they also bind you to our service; the service of the line of Keldon. You must defend the ring of Keldon at all costs, even your own life. You must ascend the mountain and prevent the ring from falling in the hands of your former master” The words echoed through dreams of pain and torture, the honey sweet voice of a girl angelic and pure.

Again there was a reply from the other end of oblivion; six voices were raised in defiance: “Why should we care? Why should we obey you?”

The reply came swiftly and sounded as if it was shouted from a long distance away: “You care and you obey because you have to.”


On the Slopes of Mount Keadle
The Eastern Cyllereans
Close to the Tarnil lake in Ardamien
2 days later

A chill breeze blew through the forest, rustling the leaves of the trees, soothing six figures lying unconscious on the ground, partially covered with leaves and stains of blood. The sounds of birds were few and far between and apart from the trees and insects and plants themselves, there was no other indication of life. The roots were thick underfoot, a latticework here and there through the humus, spreading out to bridge the gap between every tree. The wet leaves on the ground was stirred by the chill breeze and some were tossed away, some even landing atop one of the immobile figures.

Then there was movement. Several of the prone men stirred in their sleep. As an ant crawled up his chin, approaching his lips, Hans Sternflucht brushed it away and sat up, groaning with pain, groggily cursing beneath his breath. His arms were shaking and slowly he raised the left one, staring numbly at it. A tattooed patch of skin had been stitched onto it, a confusing mass of tattooed runes, with glyphs speckled among them. Looking around he discovered that five of his men were still around, lying semi-nude in the leaves, covered with blood and stitches and tattoos similar to his own. For long minutes he just sat there, staring at his tattoos and those of his men, before he finally had the presence to speak. “Wake up, men. Wake up.”

The wind brushed past his wings, the air flowed arounding him, beneath him, through him. His wings beat a steady tempo, holding him aloft, thousands of feet above the stony ground. He could still smell the blood as the carrion birds fed upon the fallen. Foolish, weak two-legs. Lacking in the ability and freedom of flight. He turned and flew away from the scene of carnage, toward a destination unknown.

With a gasp of awakening, Hunthar sat upright. He looked around, trying to make out his surroundings. He relaxed slightly as he saw the others of the band, most likely all that were left. Giving a nod to Hans, he shook his head slightly, trying to remember the fleeting images of his dreams. All he could remember was something about the HexenJaegers and frozen cold; with a sigh, he filed away the thought for future reference.

As he tried to stand, Hunthar finally became aware of the steady, throbbing pain in his left ankle. Looking down to see what was causing the discomfort, he saw the tattoo on his shirtless chest, familiar in some way he couldn't discribe, with its stars and lines connected into an image he couldn't form looking at it upside down. Grafted onto his left arm was new skin, the glyphs and runes looking strange and foreign to his eyes. The runes finally resolved themselves into the image of a man, ghostly in appearance somehow. His mind began to remember his dreams with increasing clarity, and Hunthar gave an involuntary shiver.

His hand moved down to the leg of his breeches to pull it up, and there along his leg was more transplanted skin. It looked almost exactly like a noose, wrapping around his leg in an aching pain, and in that second he knew without looking that the tattoo travelled all the way up to his thigh, where the pain started. He growled in annoyance at whomever might have done this to him. All he had done was escape from the barbarians and kill a few. Nothing deserved this sort of annoyance.

Hunthar looked around to the others, just now rousing, and tried to find his shirt, yet couldn't find it. With a sigh he sat back down, resolved to kill the person who had marked him so.

I lied there, the damp earth pressing against my back, its unceasing attraction the only thing preventing me from floating away, towards the weeping stars, whose tears ran down all over my body, tracing creeks in sweat-bound dirt.

I tried to catch them, as they swirled before my aching eyes, I reached up to grasp a few, yet too swift they were, darting hence and forth. Instead, their tears became bloody, salty against my lips. I blew them a few kissess, thanks for weeping so intensely for me.

"No need my dear to despair so - I am well and the eart is soft..."

As my hand wandered closer to my eyes, I noticed there - streams of blood covered its surface, dripping down all over my features.
I felt pity for the numerous stars that must have bled to death.
Or not?
My other hand - where did I put it? - appeared bloody too, yet - nowhere else the stars had bled.

From the mists, the chill forest emerged into existence, sending shivers across my skin.
Still, the question remained - why all the blood? Have I slain someone? Rip out his heart?
It did not seem so, lest I'd remember the taste.

As it became more and more, so came a nagging thought to fore, so obvious and yet unreal - the blood was mine, but ... yes, the wounds I feel.

As I staggered to my feet, the pain was there, so clear, complete...
By needles and knives I had been stung, foreign skin across me strung.

A squeal escaped my lips, as my mind came into waking, flooded by the full extent of the pain, a whine kin to a banshee's wail.

Flare sat up, spitting leaves out of his mouth. All he could hear was roaring, though he knew it was just in his head. As it faded he traced the lines of something on his back and a curious look crossed his face. He suddenly winced and his hand moved to his chest, as if it were tender.

Opening his shirt, he traced a scar running from his left shoulder toward his navel, but about halfway down, his fingers shifted to the right and he looked with a slight frown at the rough skin grafted there. First his finges ran over what looked like a strange roiling mist, though Flare didn't understand how a tattoo could appear to move. Perhaps it was his eyes. Closer to his right nipple, the feel of the skin changed, a new seam appearing. On this, almost cradled by the mist tattoo, was what looked almost like a constellation. He looked at it for a moment, then it hit him: The Scorpion Spirit. He thought for a moment, but the myth surrounding it wouldn't come to him. Something about being cornered... hidden strengths? He shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs still fluttering around.

Ancient Gamer:
By the roots of a nearby tree lay separate bundles containing the shirts and equipment of the mutilated mercs. Someone had put salted meat, nuts and dried roots as well as a wine skin full of vintage red among their stuff. Hans Sternflucht sat almost naked, staring at the bundles, absently noticing that someone had polished his sword. Then he broke down and began crying, one of the rare instances his men ever saw him do so. "I... I don't understand. Why would anyone do this to us? Now the Order will burn us for sure! Why would they do this to us?" Then he wiped his tears and looked around, smiling half heartedly. There was a time for crying and there was a time for survival.

"I don't know anything about what is going on. I don't know who did this. I don't know why. All I have are these really confusing dreams and even they don't tell me much." Hans said and sighed. Then he stared down on the chaotic mass of runes that covered his entire stomach; it was shaped as a snarling dog backed into a corner. An involuntary shiver visibly went through his body and he stared at those who was awake.

"Where is the rest of your squad, Hunthtar?" he asked before looking at Sharee. "Any answers for us, Sharee? please... Flare? Anyone?"

Hans Sternflucht had a haggard, destitute look on his face and his eyes darted from shadow to shadow. He was a man on the verge of breaking down.


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