The Fellowship of Phoenix Flame
Part VI: Humbling Experience
One of the Fellowship is in grave danger; a rescue must be launched. Some Aegis forces are about to learn not stand between a dragon and it’s wrath…or any Gifted for that matter.
Darla gasped in shock and agony as her wounds started to close. Being Gifted had its advantages; the pain of coming back to life was not one of them. Before she knew it Axelrod and Kayna were kneeling over her. Kayna was casting a few spells.
"She’s not poisoned. She's not cursed. She’ll heal just fine." Kayna asserted. As Axelrod lifted her to her feet she puzzled over the situation. "Why do you two care?"
"He cares because it's you. Did you really need to ask? I care because he cares…and you’re in my guild," Kayna explained so Axelrod didn’t have to.
"What happened?" Axelrod demanded, barely containing his rage.
"Wulfegard got in over his head as usual," Darla explained solemnly.
"Not as usual, you’re too hard on him. He is a berserker, very skilled, and very strong, he just gets over confident and forgets he has other people to worry about." Axelrod admonished.
"So he’s off the hook just like that?" both ladies asked incredulously.
"No, it just means he’s going to save him," Flintstahl smugly explained.
"Then, I’m beating him to death for getting the people I sent with him killed….What? He’ll get better…" Axelrod began mumbling about how soft women were and stalked off to get ready. All three shook their heads in comfortable unease. This was who their guild leader was. He wouldn’t actually beat a guild mate, not over this. "Xarfax! Gather up the guild; they want one of us, they get all of us!" Axelrod pulled his axe from the wall where it hung. "Flintstahl! You st-"
"-Ay here and cook for the relief efforts. Great idea sir. I’ll send Treesnip with you he’s a fairly adept wizard."
"Great idea, glad I …thought of it…"
Within an hour the guild was mobilized in the hall. The guild officers stood behind him arrayed in gear for war. Darla had gone and claimed her family heirloom crystals for her bow. Kayna was decked out in mithril plate mail, a harsh change from Kirasanct wear, ready to take on her role as guild healer. Ygnar had traded his cargo gear for mithril plate as well. Xarfax was too large to fit inside. Instead the dragon’s presence was made known by a large dark eye at the window. Flintstahl was busy in the kitchen but he had a proxy gnome stand in. Said gnome was dressed in proper attire for a wizard, complete with a cog studded staff. Finally at the podium stood Axlerod in his own suit of bloodied mithril plate. His flaming mithril axe was still stained with the blood of a thousand foes. After taking roll call, Axelrod took in his audience. It was time. A veritable hoard of guild mates looked on, some were fit for battle in the Eastern Deadlands, some were not, but all were going to retrieve their guild mates from danger.
"We move on Harro today. We do not stop until our guild mates are back here and safe. There will be no questions about this. If you stand in this room you are considered combat worthy and you shall either take your leave of this guild or join us in the rescue mission. You have five minutes to decide." Axlerod continued to stare out at his audience meeting the gaze of each member to steel their resolve. At the end of the five minute silent eternity, no one left.
"Good, let's move out."
The Fellowship of Phoenix Flame was now arrayed about the arrival pad in Harro. Axelrod came through last. In accordance to Axelrod’s battle plan each group had a flight worthy dragon, a healer, a ranged combat expert, a hand to hand combat expert and an arcane spell caster. People were allowed to choose their grouping so long as these requirements were met. Xarfax had opted to take Serratus, Terius, and Merdyl in a special reconnaissance group. Even Axelrod chose not to argue with a Lunus ancient, further proving his wisdom. The groups began to move out slowly and discuss individual tactics.
After tearing apart some Nahguk ogres and a blight hound, the scouting party found a circle of kwellen berserkers standing around Wulfegard and his men. This was not, however, their greatest cause for concern. Daknor the Berserk stood with his back to them beating Wulfegard with his staff, only to have a zombie come forth and heal him so the process could repeat. All around the make shift camp similar tortures happened to all of these men.
"Why won’t they let them die?" asked Terius.
"That would be a release, then they would come back home. The Aegis can stop a Gifted from returning to their shrine. They cannot do it if the foe is dead. It has happened to me once. They torture you for information until you crack. They even muzzled me so I couldn’t bite out my own tongue. So I kept breathing fire until the muzzle melted, then I bit out my own tongue." Xarfax stated as if it were simple everyday fact.
"That’s pretty intense." Merdyl responded as Terius and Serratus looked on in shock.
"Shift to khutit form like I have lest we be seen," chided Xarfax.
The group sat and watched as the beatings continued, waiting for the other groups in the guild to find the camp before staging an attack. Wulfegard did naught but laugh and spout obscenities and references to his captor’s mothers. Quite the vulgar prisoner he was turning out to be. Before long a kwellen looked up and roared pointing at the rock formation they hid behind. It had seen Serratus’ tail and the kwellen charged.
"Run!" Xarfax bellowed as he shifted back to dragon form. He took to the sky and grabbed Serratus by the tail. Terius took off at a full sprint, letting his Saris speed carry him. Merdyl too took to the skies and climbed until naught but a speck could be seen from the ground. "Get back to the others, the battle shall be glorious!" With that Xarfax launched Serratus headfirst at a kwellen like a javelin and followed up by dive-bombing Daknor off his cloven feet. The others in his scouting band bid a hasty retreat back to Harro.
"Are you worried about them?" asked Ygnar. Axlerod had kept his group back at the portal in Harro to be a central location for the scouting parties to return to after the kwellen had been found.
"Nope, they have Xarfax with them. I’ve never known a foe to stand before that dragon for very long. If Wulfegard and Xarfax ever made a conscious effort to get along, the Lich King himself would have something to worry about." Axlerod admonished.
"Axelrod look!" Darla pointed at Merdyl descending from the clouds. At the same time Kayna moved to intercept a rather scared Saris running full bore towards his guild master. Terius skidded to a halt, sending dust into the air. Kayna handed him a canteen and waited for him to catch his breath. Meanwhile Merdyl had touched down, but waited for Terius to tell the tale.
Between gasping breaths and swigs of water, Terius spoke. "Wulfegard and his crew have been captured by kwellen, just like Darla said. Daknor is there, they’re being tortured!"
"Where is Xarfax and Serratus?" Darla asked while Ygnar stroked his beard in thought and Axelrod fumed.
"…Stayed to fight. I presume in order to hold them off," gasped Terius.
"What he says is true," asserted Merdyl.
"Alright people, we’ve been preparing to fight, now we move on our foes. If anything gets in your way, cut it down. One more thing, leave Daknor to my group. Merdyl, Terius, you two are with me." Axelrod spoke and people obeyed. It was time to save their friends.
Foes fell before the teeming mass of Gifted flowing out of Harro’s gate. Blight hounds, aegror, and the Nahguk tribes were cast aside or downed like dry leaves in a storm. Finally they reached the edge of the Spiritous Swamp where by some miracle Xarfax still stood and warred with kwellen. Judging by his wounds and number of foes lying crumpled in his wake, it appeared as though he had little time left. The Fellowship divided into efficient groups and set to their grisly work.
Axelrod and Ygnar spearheaded the attack driving a wedge into the lines of foes. The goal was to cut a path to Xarfax and Wulfegard. Darla and Terius stood in the middle of the elite war band firing arrows into the fray. Merdyl and Kayna took opposite sides and Treesnip brought up the rear. Though these demons were mighty foes, they were ill prepared for veteran Gifted combatants. Terius and Merdyl were far from elite troops but they were inspired by the heroism and fought like never before. By spell, arrow, and strength at arms a swath was cut for the rest of the guild to fill. After Xarfax made the gory mess he did, the kwellen no longer even had numbers on their side. It was truly a massacre.
Upon reaching the center the group surrounded Xarfax as Kayna saw to his wounds. Treesnip blasted restraints from the shaman in Wulfegard's band of men and began warding off foes with powerful spells. Merdyl created a large shield for the archers to use for cover and Ygnar, along with Axelrod, took the brunt of the foes advance.
"We’re in too deep!" howled Ygnar as he crushed a kwellen into the blood soaked ground.
"The guild is moving in, we’re fine!" Axel responded while making short work of his foe.
Finally Daknor moved from the stand of trees where he watched with sadistic glee. This fight was about to get a whole lot harder. Bowling over his own kind, Daknor plunged into battle with Xarfax, plowing him over. All hell broke loose. Most of the Fellowship of Phoenix Flame had never seen a general of his caliber and Daknor knew this. They froze in their tracks whilst his minions began to pummel them. He delighted in picking apart groups of Gifted seeking shred of his hide for that miserable fool Lord Commander Jatell. He had met an immovable object in Xarfax however. Daknor found himself face first in the muck from a well placed trip via dragon tail. The battle rage took Daknor and he bellowed, striking fear into even the kwellen berserkers with him.
Axelrod called his group to him and confronted the mighty kwellen. Terius and Kayna were notably missing. Darla and Treesnip were ordered to hold kwellen off of the warriors as the guild slammed into Daknor’s flank. Battle raged on all sides and more than a few Gifted fell prey to assaults of the powerful demons. In the midst of the melee Terius and Kayna managed to slip by undetected due to skillful use of blood magic and ranger stealth. When they arrived at the torture site the scene was that of the most macabre nightmares. Kayna set to cleansing and healing wounds immediately. The shaman who had been freed saw this as his opportunity to aid the rescue and began using nature magic to hold back the few kwellen who had noticed the diversionary tactics and rescue for what it was. Soon all the berserkers under Wulfegard were freed and whole again. With thunderous fury Wulfegard howled and channeled his inner rage.
Things were looking dire back on the front line. Many of the guild were on their last legs and Treesnip was forced to recall to his shrine.
"Face it human, you’ve lost!" Daknor growled while trying to crush Axelrod and Yganr both under his titanic staff.
"See this blade demon? I took it from a friend of yours; Gigoroth junior or whatever he calls himself. I wonder what grand reward I’ll have for tearing a chunk of your hide from you after I best you." Axelrod quite cleverly replied.
"Face the wrath of a true demon lord!" Daknor let loose his most powerful spell, the berserker barrage, only to find Ygnar in its way. The dwarf fell prey to his own honor, but saved his guild leader from defeat. He was finished chanting his recall incantation before he hit the ground.
"Hear that howl Daknor? I think that half-giant would like another round." With Axelrod’s devastating rebuke a far more devastating blow to Daknor's back came from a cadre of berserking Gifted. At the same time Kyren, Wulfegard’s shaman, let loose the power of the Dark Cyclone upon the kwellen gathered about. The tide had turned once again. Between Kayna unleashing powerful life draining spells and reviving fallen comrades and the hail of arrows all around the fight didn’t last long. Merdyl and Xarfax took to the air to help spot and hunt down the remaining scattered troops as Daknor made a headlong rush far from his defeat, as if trying to outrun his failure. Even one with his might cannot defeat a horde of Gifted.
Wulfegard, seeing the prey escape, grabbed Axelrod and hurled him at the fleeing Daknor. His aim was not quite true and Axelrod would have sailed by had he not grabbed hold of Daknor's left wing. He hung there a moment before the membrane gave out and Axelrod was left holding a bloody, rotten shred of kwellen hide. When his guild caught up Axelrod was laughing.
"Looks like I got my piece of his hide after all!" Axelrod roared, holding his grisly trophy high. The rest of the guild could do little but look a little shocked and amused at the exuberance of their guild master.
The walk back to Harro was without incident. Nothing was foolish enough to attack a group of Gifted that large moving in force. Kayna was letting Darla lean on her and Merdyl was helping to steady Xarfax. That beast never fell in battle, but was certainly shaky on the walk home. Both he and Darla had refused medical attention until they were home. Terius was moving from group to group collecting war stories and writing them down. He decided he would take up music this day. Someone needed to tell the epic tales of his guild. Axelrod walked ahead with Wulfegard.
"What you did was inexcusable Wulfegard."
"I know. This is why you are guild master."
"No." Axelrod proceeded to punch Wulfegard full force in the chiseled jaw. The half giant fell to a knee and chuckled rubbing it gingerly. "That is why I am guild master. I’m not afraid to put people in their place with words or blows. Someday when you learn to be articulate perhaps you too can lead." Wulfegard merely nodded, he knew better than to challenge this. He was in the wrong and not too proud to admit it.
The rest of the guild officers caught up by the time Wulfegard gained his feet again.
"You really hit him?" asked Kayna and Darla in tandem.
"Indeed he did. Some warriors only understand strength and violence, Axelrod knows his people. It was the right thing to do." Xarfax explained this matter-of-factly.
"What happened to Serratus?" Merdyl inquired meekly.
"Broke her neck when she hit the kwellen head first." Xarfax shrugged. The surrounding members gasped, excluding Wulfegard. "They would have captured and tortured her otherwise. She could not escape on foot. It was a far less painful fate. I am certain she recalled and sits at the headquarters as we speak. No doubt Serratus will hold a grudge. I think I made a Lunus this day." With a detached growl that may have been a chuckle, Xarfax pushed by to continue home on foot, wings too tattered at present to fly.
"That was both efficient and disturbing," muttered Kayna with grim humor.
"Let’s go home Wulfegard. My ladies look tired." Axelrod more suggested than ordered.
"Your ladies?";"Excuse me?" the lovely battle field maidens replied.
"Well, I saved the day, I figured I’d get some gratitude, claim the spoils of war and some attention from the fair maidens." Axelrod joked. Kayna pointed to his scrap of hide and smirked.
"Seems you already have your prize Axel," Darla taunted and the ladies walked on ahead leaving Axelrod with Wulfegard who couldn’t contain his laughter.
"Shut up!" Axelrod growled and continued home.
The month wore on by. During these weeks the guild threw itself body and soul into the relief effort. Axelrod spent most of his time giving orders and managing things from home base. He had managed to isolate Kayna and Darla with his not so suave behavior. Battle had that effect on him. Though, they did seem to be getting along better, so not all was lost. Terius and Merdyl were still partners and hunted well as a team. Wulfegang avoided the eastern lines of the war, but only on implicit orders. Flintstahl indeed made culinary delights for people far and wide, as well as the larder. The guild crafters, led by Serratus who was fine and Ygnar; who was also fine, began to build homes. Potions were brewed, spells and weapons were made. Armor and tools were forged; and idle banter and politics were at an all time low, just how Axelrod liked it. Many guild warriors sought easy jobs of playing guard to settlements, which was fine. Some got paid, others simply volunteered, in any case it served the cause well. In the end, the Fellowship of Phoenix Flame won the prestige of most generous guild in the Empire and all the perks that went with it.