Taken From Thormun's Journal, Chapter 3
Journal Entry #24
We are camped among the ruins of Stechavan. Its stone pillars and fallen walls act as a window into the past of this strange world. The lifeless eyes of a weather-worn face stare out at me from among the ruins. Those eyes of stone, belonging to some abandoned and broken statue, are a haunting sight.
This is my second war, both wars fought for a righteous cause, both enemies ruthless and vile; and yet even now, as I fight against the most horrific of monsters and demons, one thing remains the same: The eyes, the look of overwhelming fear and desperation in every set of dying eyes. And yet, the gut churning feeling I get when I look into those eyes is the very same feeling that keeps me here on the frontline. Some other set of eyes is counting on me to keep the sparkle of life and freedom alive in them.
Stechavan is a tactical bottleneck. Mountain ranges surround it on both sides, forcing Utgar to march his army right through here in order to flood Nastralund with his troops, and take the grand city of Valgrind. I am told that if Valgrind falls, so does all of Valhalla. That city is the last great place of freedom on this war-torn planet, and if it breaks so does any hope of winning this war.
Now, for the first time since I was sent down here to lead the forces at Stechavan, we have a chance to win this fight and scatter the encroaching army of Utgar. Utgar believes we are all tapped out. His forces have cut away at our numbers by engaging us in battle after battle over the last several weeks. But finally, the tides are changing. The kyrie, Saylind, brings a large army of reinforcements from Jandar's newest ally. Not only that, but Jandar has also managed to summon reinforcements of his own.
Earlier today I was caught off guard by the thunder of hooves coming from an unexpected direction. I reached for my binoculars to take a closer look, and discovered a sea of white and red. Mounted knights rode towards us garbed in white tabards bearing red crosses. As they approached the camp, the man at their lead put a hand in the air. The many knights who followed him pulled back on leather reins, bringing their horses to an obedient halt.
The Templar's leader stepped down from his proud steed and removed his helmet, holding it in the crook of his right arm as he walked towards me, his armor clanking with every step. He extended a gauntlet-encased hand, proclaiming, "Sir Dupuis and the Templar Knights at your service."
Tomorrow we go on the offensive. We strike at Utgar while he least expects it.
Journal Entry #25
We have traveled by the light of the moon along a dangerously narrow mountain path. A select few are with me, some of the my best warriors. The sun breaks over the horizon, and with it comes a new day, a day that won’t soon be forgotten.
While still climbing through the last stretch of this winding pass, I can hear the clatter of battle rise from the valley below. It is our troops assaulting Utgar’s camp. Their attack is only a ploy. The plan is beginning to unfold. The attacking force, led by Thorgrim and Finn – the Viking brothers – catches the enemy off guard, and then, just as Utgar’s army musters their forces, the Viking brothers turn and retreat. The Utgarians take the bait: Their forces charge after the retreating soldiers, thinking the attack was some desperate and ill-conceived attempt at victory. Utgar’s army believes that today is the day they will triumph over Jandar’s dwindling forces. They could not be more wrong.
When the retreating troops reach the foot of Stechavan, they turn and charge back upon their enemy, an enemy that outnumbers them more than twenty to one. I can picture it now: The rows of Grut Archers howling in laughter as they let loose their arrows at the command of pacing Swog Riders, the great troll stampeding forward, his oversized sword swinging back and forth in deadly strokes, the grin worn by the Minions of Utgar as they lick at their teeth in anticipation of the coming slaughter. But the slaughter will be their own. From over Stechavan’s hilltop flies a sole kyrie warrior. She lifts a spear above her head, and with a mighty battle cry thrusts it to the ground. There, at the point of the spear’s strike, a towering giant appears, charging with sword in hand. A dozen more kyrie fly over the hilltop, then two dozen, then four. This gives pause to Utgar’s forces for only a moment, and then – laughter.
"Pathetic! Not nearly enough to matter!"
They speak too soon, for in the very next moment over the hilltop and among their ranks ride the Templar Calvary, and just as quickly, the swarming forces of Ullar’s viper army join the fray. Utgar’s army falls to chaos and is swept away by the frenzy of vipers and charging knights. Victory belongs to us! But not without its costs…
Rumors have been stirring that Utgar himself has come, in his arrogance, to be here when his forces break through into Nastralund. Now is my opportunity, this is our chance to take that tyrant down! And so, under the cover of night and during the long battles of this day, I’ve led my small band of soldiers through the hidden mountain pass. Our purpose is to enter Utgar’s camp while his soldiers are out at war, fight our way through his personal guard, and destroy Utgar himself.
I scan the western perimeter of Utgar’s camp with the aid of my binoculars. Two of Utgar’s Minions stand guard. With a movement of my hand, I signal the pair of Omnicron Snipers who traveled with us. The soulborgs move in unison and fire on each of the minions with a deadly precision. We stream into the camp in pairs, splitting off among the black tents in search of the evil Valkyrie general. Paired with me is Shotgun Sullivan, and I’m glad for it; we’ve become quick friends since meeting here in Valhalla, and I trust the man with my life.
Shotgun makes a low whistle to get my attention. "We’ve got trouble," he whispers, nodding up ahead. From around a tent stalk three ravenous wolves sniffing the air. These are not the werewolf-looking types we’ve encountered before; these ones crawl on all fours. Looking up, the wolves spot us, their eyes lighting up in anticipation of their newly discovered meal. Snarled lips twist up, bearing sharp teeth. The wolves spring at us. Sullivan reacts quickly, peppering them with shotgun spray. Two of them drop; the third releases a warning howl cut short by my sword. It's too late— the camp is astir, our cover is blown.
Journal Entry #26
Utgar’s soldiers swarm about the camp. Chaos breaks out, but our troops are keeping their wits about them and dealing with the situation. Sullivan and I drive deeper into the disorganized scattering of blackened tents. The air here is so thick with foul stench that I can taste it.
The last bit of sun ducks down under the horizon and the stars begin sparking to life. We’ve all but cleared out the immediate threats; but still no one has spotted any sign of Utgar’s presence here, nor the presence of any of his leaders.
A blood-curdling scream breaks through the dusky silence. Now again! From another direction comes a piercing scream. I look over to meet Sullivan’s eyes. In unspoken agreement, we both head in the direction of the last scream. Rounding a tent, we set eyes upon one of the MacDirks. The site turns my stomach. He lies on the ground, twisted up into an unnatural position, his face frozen in complete terror, his entire body a ghostly white as if drained of all blood. Another scream rings out from behind. I twist on my heels in time to see another of our soldiers fall, as a flash of black and red jumps away, up over a tent and out of site. I sprint in the direction the blur headed, Sullivan following closely behind. Frantically I dart out from behind one tent after another, finding nothing.
My lungs burn for oxygen. I stop to catch my breath, pulling in air in haggard gasps, hands on my knees. “Sunnuva!” I’ve lost Sullivan! I turn looking for my partner, but what I find standing behind me makes my heart stop. Overwhelming fear seeks to overtake me as a tall figure wrapped in a cape stalks forward slowly. Why am I not reacting? I should be drawing my blade! I can’t move! I grind down on my teeth, forcing my mouth to close and my brow to furrow in rage. I swallow down the fear and draw my blade just as the monster reaches a bony hand out for my throat. Moving like lightning, the dark-haired man’s cape is all my sword catches, as he leaps backwards with inhuman speed and strength. Now his full form is revealed. He wears armor of red and black. Hanging at his sides are two large, nasty looking blades. His face is a pale white, like that of his victims. A slow smile crosses his visage, revealing a set of fanged teeth. With a low and soothing voice he speaks. “We meet at last, Sergeant Drake Alexander of Earth. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Lord Cyprien Esenwein, and I’ve come…”
“I don’t give a rip who you are!” I fire at him with my grappling gun. He turns and leans to one side, narrowly avoiding my projectile.
“Well, away with the formalities then.” Cyprien ducks forward, and with a jump and a twist he dives at me faster than I can react. Midair, and in the blink of an eye, he draws a sword into each hand, spins to one side, and strikes. Both blades slide along my right arm at the shoulder. The arm goes numb, I drop my sword. His face is inches from mine, his black holes for eyes swallow my soul. I look into my own death. My head swims, my will gives way. Looking up, I see that the moon is full, silhouetted against the moonlight is the form of an angel come to take me away. All goes black.
When I awake, my senses are overloaded with bright light and extreme pain. I reach for my wounded shoulder, but a soft hand holds onto mine. She leans her head forward and blocks out the sun. My eyes adjust to see her face. “Raelin, it was you. You were my angel!”
“Never mind. How is it you took on the pale-skinned fellow?”
“I wasn’t alone. He flew off when he spotted us, faster than the wind that one is. But I sent with him a spear wound as a parting gift.”
“Ha!” The laughter brings a new swell of pain. “My arm, is it going to be alright?”
“Our new friend, Zetacron here, has an answer for you. When he’s done patching you up we need to make haste to Anund on orders of Jandar. Great trouble is stirring there. Jandar’s visions turn toward the jungles of the south.”
Journal Entry #30
My blade runs through guts, bone and sinew. The creature’s lidless eyes go blank as it collapses to the ground. Turning, I cut through another, and another. The skinless bodies pile up at my feet, the fetid smell of their exposed innards makes my head swim. A bitter taste burns at the back of my throat as my lunch tries to escape my stomach.
Marro flood in endlessly over the valley. Their ranks stretch out beyond the end of my vision.
You’ve got your run-of-the-mill fin-headed spear-wielding Marro, and they’ve brought plenty of those. They’ve brought the ones that look like twisted dogs, those will start you hacking and wheezing something awful if they come in too close. Both of them types are “average” enough, I’ve fought plenty of them in my countless battles here on Valhalla. It’s the new ones that have got me nervous.
Know your enemy, it’s the basics, it’s rule number one! But the enemy keeps changing form and face. They’ve upgraded their arsenal. Some of them wield pistol type weapons, while others carry heavy-looking guns that fire lightning from their metallic mouths.
“KRACK KAW!!!” The screeching sound screams past my right ear. Sonlen’s little pet, the winged-lizard, lands on a Marro, like a hawk on its prey, snapping and clawing. Another Marro steps forward, taking the place of the one downed by the lizard. Sonlen forms a ball of glowing and shifting light in the palms of his hands and with a thrust of his arms sends it sailing at its mark. Hitting the Marro square in the chest, the light appears to consume the creature, running in streaks from out of the Marro’s body as it falls to its knees, turns to ash, and is blown away on the wind.
Distracted by the light show, I’m too late to notice one of the heavy-gunners making its way up my flank. I hear the distinct sound of popping electricity that their guns make when charging for a blast. My head snaps in the direction of the sound to see tendrils of energy leaping in my direction. I instinctively raise my right arm, now clad in Soulborg armor, to cover my face while clasping shut my eyes. After half a moment, when I don’t feel the stinging power of electricity surging through my body, I open my eyes. The world lies in shades of blue. Turning, I spot Raelin some distance behind me. Her spear is raised to the sky, her protective aura engulfs me. She’s learning to extend it further, and in doing so saved me from the Marro’s blast.
Sonlen stands at Raelin’s side, his strange pet perched upon his shoulder again. I fall back to join them.
Raelin shouts out over the noise of battle, “Our lines are breaking, we cannot hold against them much longer!” Then, as if called into existence by those very words, a new threat emerges: the Marro Dragon Rider. Tales have spread through Jandar’s camp of this dreadful Marro leader. He rides on the back of a fleshless dragon, and now he has joined the battle. I can see the hideous beast swooping in on tattered wings, the rider on its back shouts in an alien tongue, his words create a frenzy among the Marro fighters, the very sight of the Dragon Rider and his awful mount causes our soldiers to break ranks, fleeing in terror.
Journal Entry #31
Soldiers retreat in hysterical disorder all around me. I shout orders that go unheeded. I push through the breaking ranks attempting to rally our forces, to no avail. The Marro are closing in all around. The retreating forces stumble upon themselves and each other, and the Marro collapse in upon us. Left with no choice, I call for the retreat. “Back to the wall!” I cry.
The Marro dragon swoops low. A rush of wind washes over me as it passes close by overhead, picking soldiers out of our ranks with its razor-lined maw.
The wall of Ullar’s yet-unfinished stronghold swells wider and higher, filling my vision as we fall back to its safety. Soldiers drop screaming on my right and my left. The feeling of inevitable doom grows within me. I wait to be shot in the back and take my place among the fallen. Just as the thought of my own demise nearly consumes me, a wave of arrows sing from their bowstrings, raining down upon my pursers. The archers on the wall ready a second volley, and release. The Marro make a terrible noise as the arrows find their marks. “NOW TURN!” I scream, spinning on my heels and raising my sword. The soldiers turn and envelop the Marros who make it past the steady stream of arrows pouring down from above.
The dragon-riding-Marro circles just beyond reach of the arrows. It swoops and rears up, its underside facing our stronghold. It beats its wings in long hard strokes, buffeting our arrows, sending them sailing off mark. The beast stays there, suspended in mid-air, sending wave after wave of wind against the archers’ arrows.
Without fully understanding or realizing the consequences of my actions, I lift my metal encased arm, pointing it at the torso of the fleshless dragon. As I squeeze down on a lever fitted in my palm, a piece of my new metal arm breaks loose at the wrist, whistling through the air toward the beast. The flying piece of shrapnel expands into a clawed hook, taking with it a thin metal cable attached on the other end to my arm. The grapple grabs hold of the skeletal dragon’s long spine, and with another squeeze of the lever the cable goes taught, the earth spins beneath me, and my feet become free of the ground.
I slam into the dragon, sending it reeling backwards. The beat of its powerful wings washes over me in steady gusts. I grab onto a ridged vertebrate and hoist myself up hand over hand, bone after bone, scaling the mighty creature and working my way around its back.
Breaching the dragon’s side, I look up. My knees go weak. I see nothing but blue sky, a flurry of black wings, and the dragon’s skull bouncing up and down behind the shadow of its rider.
Hanging on with one hand, I reach down with the other and search for the metallic snap which holds my pistol in its place. Freeing the weapon, I take aim on the Marro. The motion of the dragon’s flight makes it difficult to steady my arm. I wait for a moment, timing out the beat of the dragon’s wings, and adjusting my aim to match. My heart pounds in my chest, my throat has gone dry. I finger the cold steel of my revolver’s trigger, letting the point of it dig into my fingertip. Slowly I pull back until the weapon jumps in my hand, its lead shot cutting through the air.
The rider slumps in his saddle, falling off the side of his mount and tumbling to the earth below. I climb up to take his place on the dragon’s back. The entire battlefield comes into view. From here I can see the end of the Marro’s ranks, and beyond that, the Bitter Sea. At the foot of our stronghold my men still wrestle against the breaking tide of Marro, which pin their backs against the wall. And then a new movement catches my eye. An army engages the Marro on their southern flank. These are no troops of ours, they are Soulborgs clad in the dull gray armor that distinctively marks them as belonging to Vydar’s cause. They have come to our aid. Thormun is successful in his quest.
I draw my blade from its sheath and swing it in furious strokes, hacking at the enormous dragon’s right wing. It flails in response. I hang on tight with my left hand, still swinging at the wing with my right. The dragon dives and twists, trying to free itself of me. We fight there for a time, suspended, reeling around and around losing all sense of space and direction.
There is a flash of white and green. The taste of dirt and blood fills my mouth and I find myself tumbling across the rough ground, the dragon flailing along side me. Struggling to hold my consciousness, I feel my body flood all at once with a paralyzing pain. A black wing blocks out the sun as it collapses on top of me. I lie there still, drained of my strength.
Through the wing’s thin membrane I see the fuzzy outline of Marro legs scattering in all directions, as I hear the robotic stomps of the Soulborg Army on their march.
As the last of the marching metal passes me by, I hear the whine of hydraulics. The wing that traps me is lifted off and into my field of vision comes a pair of glowing eyes. In the droning voice common to all Soulborgs, I hear, “I am called Q-10.”
Journal Entry #35
Streams of light, shooting in through arrow slit windows, are made visible by particles of dust floating on the air. The room is rather stuffy. A great number of people are gathered around an oversized wooden table, making the otherwise moderately large room seem small. At the head of the table stands Atlaga, a tall kyrie with long blonde hair. He is one of Ullar’s men, in charge of the stronghold here, and he speaks authoritatively.
“Beldun and Thormun have returned. An alliance has been formed between the Valkyrie Ullar, Jandar, Einar, and Vydar. Some of you are here as a result of that alliance. As you all know, trouble stirs in the swamplands and jungles of the south. It has been decreed that a small band of warriors will brave the Volcarren Wastelands and venture into the jungles below. The goal is to scout out the jungle and return with whatever news can be gathered. Jandar has foreseen that the jungles hold a secret of great significance in the war for wellsprings, and has sent Sgt. Drake Alexander and Raelin the Kyrie warrior for the purpose of leading the proposed band of warriors.”
Raelin stands and speaks out in that clear and confident tone of hers. “We have chosen the heroes who will accompany us on our journey: Sonlen, the elven mage for his knowledge and skill with the magical arts; Major Q10, a leader in Vydar’s army who successfully quelled the most recent attack by the Marro on this very stronhold; and finally, the young ninja that Einar summoned, who accompanied Thormun’s party on their return trip from Lindesfarme. Thusly, our company will have representatives from each of the four allied Valkyrie Generals.”