It was a summer to remember. In fact, most would remember it the rest of their lives. It was the summer when the mysterious heroes came to the Reaches and, to put it shortly, cleaned house.
They started in a ramshackle, dusty mining town and ended in the Catheral of Erathis. Wherever they went they spread justice, or so the tales will tell. They cast down the corrupt lords and healed the peasants of their ills. Some of the stories are even true. What is fact, though, is the roster of the dead:
- Baron Trask, leader of Elsircross and reputed puppet of the Maimed God.
- The corrupted brothers of the Shrine of Erathis
- Lord Durant of Brindol
- Prelate Harrask of Erathis
But the deaths they caused are balanced by the life they brought; most literally, in the form of Lady Celiira Nesten, the ruler of Talar. She was slain before her time by an unidentified assassin, but Sly of Erathis brought her back to life.
Compared to the summer, the fall and winter were… pretty boring. With the Reaches pacified and no further orders from the Eternal Emperor, the heroes eventually went their own ways. They had been brought together in conflict, and without that conflict their separate interests were soon more interesting than their company.
Gimor, the bearer of the Axe of Durgeddin, returned to his people the dwarves. He soon gained the ear of Prince Tharon, heir to the throne of the dwarven lands. As was his wont, Gimor counseled of a military expedition. Specifically, an expedition to the Stone Tooth, the ancestral homeland of the Elsir Dwarves. The party had been there once before, and Gimor believed that with a squad of dwarves the Tooth could be reclaimed. He was correct, of course; the tale will wait for another time, but Gimor led a masterful pincer maneuver. The duergar working the forges were put to the axe and the Tooth was in dwarven hands for the first time in generations.
Katriona, the eladrin, simply… disappeared. She went wherever it is that Eladrin go; perhaps it was spawning season, perhaps she was merely wandering the forests of the Feywild. She would tell later of saving the Amethyst City from a horrific invasion of shapeshifting memory eaters.
Stan faded into the shadows. He spent much of his timing organizing the less lawful elements of the Reaches. Those that stepped beyond their bounds were disciplined; at first gently, then more harshly as circumstances warranted. His closest confidants dared not to even whisper of deeper plans. A collection of artifacts of the Raven Queen, and much time spent with the Shadar-Kai of Onyx. Soon Stan had ears throughout the Reaches and eyes wherever it was his cloaked minions went. Try as he could, though, he never did get word of the one he sought – the mysterious assassin who had claimed the lives of both Lady Nesten and Lord Durant.
Verick took to wandering, never staying long in one place. After some months he found the Reaches too small and returned to the life of a caravan guard. He and his pet wyvern became the scourge of the bandit tribes that inhabited the grassy lands south of the Reaches. His crusade culminated in the single-handed defeat of the Stone Ogre tribe that scattered the bandits for a generation.
Sly of Erathis had a church to clean up. He set to with a will, and soon the rot had been burned away. It was comparatively straightforward; Prelate Harrask was not the cleverest of schemers. Sly was able to balance his time behind a desk with his time with the Knight Commander of the Church, and grew mighty in the martial ways as well as the administrative ones. With full access to the archives of the Church he also mastered the artifact that Prelate Harrask had used to summon angels, and turned it to its natural use as a powerful force of healing. The Cup of Al’Akbar, as it was originally known, helped Sly usher in a time of prosperity for both Denovar and the entire Reaches. But not all was well with the (arguably) most powerful man in the Reaches. He also sought the fabled Talisman of Al’Akbar, counterpart of the Cup. Research and divination, all signs pointed towards the kingdom of Rhest and its ruined city of Rhestilor. An expedition was mounted but returned fruitless, having found only a ruined city sinking into the swamp. And as fall turned to winter, his dreams were troubled; dreams of fire, and of ice, of acid that burned flesh from bone, and of a dark, shadowed foe.
On Midwinter’s Eve, a night of a new moon, Sly woke to find a note pinned to his pillow. It read, simply: “Second Timothy. Maybe then you will understand that what I do is necessary.” There was no sign of the one that left it. Dawn found Lady Bristeir, the Mayor of Dennovar, dead in her bed of a single knifeblow to the heart. Word soon came that Dame Mishann of Brindol, Lady Nesten of Talar, and Scar of Elsircross had also been assassinated in the same night. With the assistance of the Cup of Al’Akbar, Sly was able to return Mishann and Scar to life; Lady Nesten returned to life for the second time. Lady Bristeir, though, was dead forever.
Sly sent his men into the archives and soon one returned with the book the assassin had written of. Much of it was mad ravings; however, Sly could decipher one important phrase: “In the Year of Fallen Leaves they shall come from the rising sun. They bring the promise of Eternal hope and spread justice in their wake. But they are unknowing harbingers of things to come, and if the Five still draw breath when the year turns and fades then these lands, all lands, shall be plunged into war and blood.”
Midwinter’s Eve is also a time of import to the dwarves. Though no snow falls in the dwarven realm they still celebrate the return of the sun. Gimor was summoned back from the Stone Tooth to join in the celebration. It was a joyous time, and the dwarven ale ran deep. But the joy was matched by equal horror soon to come. Before Gimor could return to the Tooth word came of captive dwarves marching east under guard. Prince Tharon and Gimor rode to meet them and discovered a scene of blasphemy. The dwarves were the inhabitants of the Tooth; while Gimor was away it had been retaken and the dwarves taken prisoner. The leader of the attackers, Wyrmlord Koth, had ordered all of the dwarves but 125 slain; those he had divided into five groups of twenty-five. And then the torture had begun. Twenty-four out of twenty-five had their tongues cut out and their eyes gouged; the leader of each troop was left with a single eye to lead the other twenty-four. Like that they were led back and abandoned on the edge of dwarven lands.
Stan never spoke of what befell him Midwinter’s Eve, the darkest time of the year. It is known that he spent it in the company of the Morrigan, blessed of the Raven Queen. When he returned a darkness followed him, half-glimpsed out of the corner of the eye.
Verrick also dreamed Midwinter’s Night. He found himself speaking with his old master; well, more properly, being lectured by his old master. He woke remembering only a single phrase: “You have much to accomplish. Soon the planar veil will be rent asunder and the five-fold horde will threaten those you have pledged to guard. But that is yet minor compared with what looms on the horizon. Lo! a misbegotten band of fools chafes under their burden, but in throwing it off will plunge all into chaos and blood. Now get up and fight!” He woke to find the Invulnerable Coat had departed to find another who needed it more, but in its passing it had left him a gift.
Kat rarely spoke of what happened to her on Midwinter’s Eve, a time of great feasting and revelry among the Eladrin. She merely smiled mysteriously.
Our tale finishes with the story of others who are of some small import. A room hung in blasphemous tapestries of death and blood. A table with five sitting at it; advisers standing behind four. The fifth speaks. “Wyrmlord Vistra, your report?” A female hobgoblin responds. “High Wyrmlord… I have to report a minor setback.” The first responds, almost conversationally. “A setback, you say? I have heard of your setback. Our weaponsmiths slain, the Tooth retaken by dwarves. And what do you have to say for yourself? Hrm?” His voice grows mild. “And your plans?” She opens her mouth, begins to speak, and stops. After a moment she finds her voice. “Highlord Kul, I beg your mercy. Give me a Hand and I shall retake…” It was the wrong thing to say. The High Wyrmlord makes a gesture with a clawed gauntlet and she stops, then chokes… and a second later collapses as her heart explodes from her chest. She slumps forward and the others look on in shock. Kul looks towards the hobgoblin standing behind the dead Wyrmlord Vistra, and speaks: “Wyrmlord Koth. Congratulations on your ascension. You have the services of a Hand and one month; do not be soft.” Koth salutes, barks “High Wyrmlord! In the name of the Red Hand!” and marches from the room. The High Wyrmlord looks at the other three. “The Red Hand of Doom marches in one month. Be prepared.”