“…And the manfools piled rocks on rocks and raised a treesie roof, hammers saws tear the skin of goodsie wood… and laughs at the Woodsie Lord… And when He learns the Lord of this, He sends His beastesses to the manfools… who attacks and hammers saws their useless fleshes, and builds Him a house of they rotted skins…” – Unattributed Trickster Song
“Come the Time of Peril, did the ground gape, and did the dead rest unquiet against us. Our bands of iron and hammers of stone prevailed not, and some did doubt the Builder’s plan. But the seals held strong, and the few did triumph, and the doubters were lain into the foundations of the new sanctums…” – Collected Letters of the Smith-In-Exile
“The ancient corruption was again contained. To do more would have upset the balance, but we knew to remain ever vigilant lest it resurface. Neither the Hammers nor the Pagans could be trusted not to meddle…” – The Keeper Annals
“The Vault”, the Fallen Fortress of the Lost Starfall
TR 1049, 28th of Echos, The Drawing Down
“What a blessedly chilly day!” Krevan of the Starfall Militia exclaimed to no one in particular. He was dressed typically in a coat of scaled armor under a thick parka of woolen-lined leather, trimmed in wolf fur. His spear and arming sword at his side were well-worn, but serviceable, and the helmet on his head was fitted with a warm under-cap of knitted wool. His boots were stuffed with wool and his gloves, were similar to his coat; scale covered with warm and weather-proofed leather. His shield leaned against the tower battlements, along with his crossbow and quiver of bolts, all within easy reach, as he rubbed his hands together to give them more warmth, and the streamers of his misted breath slipped off towards the east, in the direction of the prevailing wind.
It had been several weeks since one could actually mount a post on the towers, primarily because of the freezing snows and rains that had knifed their way across from the Beast Shards, sealing most people in their homes and only rarely drawing people to the town Great Mothalla for trade, or to the community alehouses for warmed cider and fireside companionship. A “Wolf Winter” was what they called it, and so it had seem, with the Drake River freezing solid, and even the wells requiring daily clearing of ice to allow water to be drawn. Firewood was at a premium in the markets, and in the break of the storms, the woodcutters and charcoalers were out in force daily, regardless of the weather.
From his tower roost, the only one built on the new portion of the walled town of Starfall, he could see across the frozen stream and had a good cover of the bridge leading towards the town’s north gate, as well as the town itself. Ancient beyond his reckoning, the market and the Great Mothalla next to it were the only notable features. To the north of town lay the newer businesses, and the prosperous inns. Further north he could see the large sprawling stone complex of the “Shrine to the Radiant Sky”, an abbey dedicated to the Shining One and known for its scriptorium and library, though none could access it without due authority. Scattered east and west down the valley, were the numerous farms and snow-swept fields of the faded Kingdom of Starfall, now only a local market town on the fringes of the Forest Kingdom.
Trevan thought on the recent rumblings of war in the highlands to the north, and cast his eyes to the distant peak of Myre’s Den. Armies had been marching west of that peak along the Drake Valley, not a few months ago, and had never even come near the town, due to its isolation and the fallen bridge away to the west. Small miracle the ancient thing was gone; its absence had saved the town from trouble this harvest, yet again. Certainly the local Highland Ninn tribes had been a little more active, but they rarely came into town anyways of late, and other than the usual wool merchants, the market and the taverns, cared little for the locals. He knew that only a few miles north, lay the ruined fortress of the Kingdom of Starfall, known now only as “The Vault”, and just beyond it, the Ash Barrens, but nothing ever stirred from that desolate place.
He gazed in the western approaches, and thought he saw a dark cloud gathering, but turned away to the south, seeing if he could glimpse the dark mass of the Gaunt Forest, but the ridge line prevented him, except for the little bit he could see through the pass, and the mountain peak overlooking the valley beyond. He knew that the foot of the tall spire known as Cairngloom was cloaked in trees; the Elven Wood some called it, but he knew better… “Demon Wood” was more apt. The place was home to foul magicks and fouler beasts, he’d heard. The only thing that kept the locals in Whitebore overlooking the place was the salt mine, and that was little enough. He silently hoped he never drew a lot to stand watch at the Wolf Tower, in that forsaken community.
He glanced back to the west, and thought the clouds looked like they were moving closer. “Drat!”, exclaimed Krevan, “…not another storm!” He gave a curse as he hugged himself and swung his arms a little to get them warmer. Returning his gaze to the eastern valley, he gazed across the fields to the scattered woodlands of the Gray Woods, and thence to the distant sharp pass and the peak that overlooked it, The Thane as it was known. He could just see the smudge of Healer’s Grove, where a small cloister of Amalthean Preistesses served the valley and all travelers as healers. Beyond the pass, lay the small village of Shale and the ancient tower of the valley mages. Beyond to the north-east lay the Old Forest, and the distant community of Hark, a forest village that was only loosely affiliated with Starfall, but had come to prominence with the recent rumors of a Wolf Winter, and the surge of wolves wandering through their woodlands. The Lady of Starfall had offered a substantial bounty, and many adventurers had arrived to take advantage of the chance at easy money, though the storms had isolated the community.
Again, casting his eyes to the west, he noted the dark clouds were moving very quickly down the Westfold from the across the Fellreeves and Drake River. He figured the clouds were dropping more snow over the distant village of Greensedge, where Princess Adrianna Warduke’s Magistrate lived. At that present speed, the clouds would be in the town within minutes. He made certain his coat was secure, and tightened his cloak, then checked his crossbow and shield, finally grasping his spear and trying to spy a battlement to hunker behind, away from the increasing winds…
“Hmmm… Odd that…” Krevan noted that there was no real wind proceeding the clouds. Yet they moved swiftly. Then he heard it,… a distant sound of chattering, like a market at noon. He peered over the battlements at the growing darkness a little closer, and thought he also heard thunder and a rustle come from the growing clouds. Then he spotted it… that was not a cloud of snow or rain… it was a cloud of flying birds…
The dark mass of birds were winging their way across the snow-covered fields, and started to circle around the town, filling the sky with their presence and cawing as they swept across the battlements and the towers. Krevan dove behind his chosen place of cover, and looked in horror as he spotted they were no ordinary crows… they were Krell, the dark and twisted cross between raven and vulture, and only seen in small numbers along the edges of the Beast Shards, and always portents of dread and war. The flock swarmed around the town for a few minutes, then began winging away to the ruins of The Vault a some miles away to the north. After a short time, they seemed to settle onto the ruins, and disappeared from the sky.
The town guard became active, and a horn blew from the south gate, announcing to all that it was closing, and the north gate followed suit and local farmers made for the gates swiftly to get behind the walls. The town walls came alive, and Krevan could hear the booted feet of his fellows coming up from below to investigate. Krevan peered north and then back west, and his blood froze in his veins as he heard a distant horn away from the west… an ancient sound that all humans knew was trouble… the were Tauri armies were on the march…