Ambush - Tome of Chaos Story


Riklauniman looked up at the moon, its light casting a silver blanket over the forest. He could hear the rapids from the River of Life to the east, the rush of white-water thundering in the distance.

“Penny for them?” Satha asked, sitting on the deadwood beside him.

He picked at his teeth with a grouse bone and sucked at the strand of meat stuck there. “Just remembering the fallen, that’s all.”

“You thinking of her again?”

“She was a beautiful thing, Satha…a beautiful thing.”

“What was her name?”

“Alatariel Kestrel, sea captain of the Jewel of Lyveria,” he turned and smiled. “I’ve never met a woman like her. And boy could she fight. Her rapier was like death’s finger, a doomsayer of the seas.”

Satha passed him a mug of brew. “We always said you should settle, find yourself a wife. You might be full of scars and wind, but you’d make someone a damn fine husband.”

Riklauniman sighed. “She was the first one I could’ve pictured a life with, though, I’m not sure any settling would’ve been on the cards. She liked her Jewel far too much to leave it for dry land.”

“There’ll be others,” Satha sipped from her own mug.

He placed his hand on her shoulder and turned. “I’m sorry about Bryla. I know you loved her.”

“She was hell of a woman,” Satha’s voice wavered.

“Ain’t that the truth,” Riklauniman replied. “There’s no doubt we’d have lost more if she hadn’t stayed behind and held that cabin on the Vicious Maw. She saved lives that day, and I’ll never forget it.”

“Seems we’re both brooding over better days.” Satha wiped a lone tear from her cheek.

Riklauniman squeezed her shoulder. “Seems that way. Memories grow fonder with age, though, so it ain’t all bad.”

Satha nodded, looking up at the night sky. “May their spirits fly like the wind for the rest of time.”

They sat together in silence until the peace was eventually broken by heavy footsteps.

“You need to see this,” came Skagrun’s grim voice.

Riklauniman read through the message again; his head still spinning from the first time.

“What does it say?” asked Hidana.

“The king is dead… Lyveria has fallen.” Riklauniman heard the words coming out of his mouth, but he still couldn’t believe them.

“How in Kron’s name did that happen? We stopped the fleet leaving Praetoria?” Hidana pressed.

Riklauniman shrugged. “I don’t know. It just says Silus destroyed it all.”

Hidana grabbed her bow and stood. “Then let me put an arrow through the heart of this Silus. Let him know pain for what he’s done.”

“Easy girl,” Skagrun’s voice sounded steady. “Let the captain think a moment.”

Reading it a third time didn’t make it any easier. Riklauniman wondered briefly at the danger the messenger must have put themselves in to send the missive. The carrier bird cooed gently on a branch behind him. King Wilhelm, dead. Riklauniman wanted to mount up and fly right back to Lyveria and find this Silus, hunt him down and make him pay, but that was just his anger talking. What they needed was a plan, and he was too damn tired to come up with one now.

He screwed up the parchment in his clenched fist, and all eyes turned to him. “Get some sleep. In the morning, we move.”

“Where to?” Redis asked.

“I don’t know yet,” Riklauniman said, as he walked off into the night.

The night was full of troubled dreams. Images of Alatariel and Bryla falling to Chaos Legion weapons, explosions across Telburg’s harbor, broken bodies being thrown through the air, and the face of King Wilhelm in his final moments of agonized death. It was the image of an old man, though, that remained with him the following morning. A gentle face appearing out of the gloom, full of beard and wisdom. Riklauniman could still see it, clear as day, even with the bright morning sun on his face. The old man’s words still resounded in his head, over and over, the urgency in his voice echoing.

Satha was crouched over a steaming pot, the smell of sweet oats wafting over to him when Riklauniman approached. The others sat around the fire in silence. Skagrun looked up as he neared.

“Restless night?” he asked, offering up a mug.

Riklauniman took the drink and nodded. “But I think I know where we have to go.”

Skagrun raised his eyebrows and took a long drag on his pipe. “And where might that be?”

“Tell me,” Riklauniman crouched down next to his friend, “you ever heard of the Lightbringer?”

“Not for an age, but my old sword master used to always speak of him when I was a boy. Aggroedius Lightbringer, a great and mighty wizard. He used to lead the Wizard’s Council, I think.”

“He was in my dreams last night, but I believe it was more of a vision.” Riklauniman scratched at his beard.

“Can’t say I’m overly enthused about wizards poking their head into my dreams.” Skagrun’s brow wrinkled into a deep furrow. “And what did this Lightbringer have to say for himself?”

“That we need to travel north.” Riklauniman reached into his pack and pulled out one of the many scrolls they had grabbed from the Vicious Maw. He unrolled it and laid the map flat on the ground. His finger traced north along a mountain range before skimming over a series of lakes and settling upon a large canyon south of a tangled jungle. “We need to go here, to the Abyssal Canyon.”

Skagrun pulled on his pipe again, blinking the smoke from his eyes, as he leant forward and tapped the mouthpiece on the map. “That’s about ten days’ worth of flying if we rest at night, maybe eight if we push the griffins hard. Did this wizard tell you why we need to go there by any chance?” he sat back on his haunches.

“There’s a small party making their way there, led by a dwarf called Bera. He just said if we don’t get there in time, then they’re all going to die,” Riklauniman replied.

The sound of the fire consumed the silence as it feasted on the dead wood. Riklauniman looked around at the twenty-two remaining rangers, they were tired. None of them had slept in a proper bed for months, and it had been nearly as long since they had a good meal. They would follow him without question, though, there was no doubt of that.

Skagrun stood with a grunt. “Well, you heard the captain, you best get your things together and mount up. We’ve got a canyon to visit and a dwarf to save.”

Riklauniman nodded and gave a smile. “Rangers. Fly like the wind…”

“…Cut like the claw!” They all called back making themselves ready to move.

Their journey was mostly uneventful apart from the sixth day. It happened at midmorning, when the sun had nearly reached its zenith. They were passing over the Ice Mask, a great lake with shimmering water, when the cries of a dragon could be heard. Redis spotted it first, approaching from the Feral Mountains to the northeast, and called out a warning to Riklauniman. They dove low, gliding just above the crystalline waters of the lake. When the dragon passed above, it could not see them. The sun’s reflection hid the rangers as they passed safely beneath the enormous monster. By the time its shrieks of frustration reached them, the rangers were safely away and pushing their griffins hard.

As the evening of the eighth day cast its shadow across the land, the canyon came into view. It was a vast scar on the landscape. The darkness within consumed any remnants of sunlight that still scattered over the rocks and trees nearby, reaching up and dragging it down into the black hole. Riklauniman signaled to his sections, pointing to a tall outcrop of rocky hills nearby, a stone’s throw from the entrance to the canyon. Countless campfires were dotted about, orange glows casting creeping shadows up the flat rock faces and through the nearby treeline. It was obvious that whoever had set up camp there shared no concerns over being seen. A typical arrogance shown by most victorious armies who think they’ve already fought their toughest battles.

With a series of sharp hand signals, the rangers broke down into battle ready formations, each section drifting apart and moving to different heights and angles. As they neared, Riklauniman could make out the familiar Chaos Legion armor and monsters huddled around their fires. He felt the anger grow inside of him, a pure ball of white-hot energy that raged and spat with a need for vengeance. The faces of his king and Alatariel flitted through his mind, only serving to make the anger burn even brighter. He would make them pay, every last one of them. Drawing an arrow, he notched it to his bow and hunted for a target.

A loud screech from above snapped his attention away as a bat-like creature swept over them. Its wings were a dark purple, and green light seemed to seep from its eyes. Long talons flexed as it moved into position to dive on Redis’ section. Riklauniman raised his bow and fired. The arrow flew true, but at the last minute, it seemed to change direction with a subtle twist, just missing the body of the creature. More of his team fired, but the same thing happened. Riklauniman didn’t try again. He had seen these creatures before, when the invasion first came. Arrows would be useless against them. Digging his heels into Pallus’ side, he urged the griffin on, towards this new threat. Pallus sensed the urgency and beat his wings, quickly gaining on the monster. When they met, there was a brief tussle in the air, but this newcomer was no match for the armored body of the griffin. Pallus tore it from the sky, ripping flesh apart with beak and claw, before discarding the lifeless form and leaving it to spiral to the ground.

By now there was shouting and screaming coming from the ground as rangers sent death raining onto the gathering of Chaos troops. Soldiers were running, searching for cover, while their leaders desperately tried to command some semblance of order but only succeeded in making themselves the next target of a deadly arrow. Riklauniman spotted a small detachment of portal spinners readying themselves for a counterattack.

“Skagrun!” he shouted, pointing. “Don’t let them open any portals!”

Skagrun nodded and directed his section into a steep dive. The group of portal spinners saw them coming at the last moment and shifted, trying to turn their attacks upon this new threat, but they were too late. The griffins fell amongst them, biting and tearing limbs from their bodies. Riklauniman spotted one small portal open nearby, but the large rock that fell through completely missed him, falling instead upon soldiers making their last stand against Hidana’s squad, crushing them completely.

Turning in his saddle, Riklauniman noticed a man edging along the rockface, hugging the shadows and gripping a satchel. Directing Pallus down, he was determined to cut the man off and prevent any escape into the woods. He hadn’t necessarily intended for his mount to land on top of the fellow and rip his head from his shoulders, but then, you cannot always guess what is going through the mind of a griffin. Nevertheless, the soldier did not manage to escape, and Riklauniman had his bag, so he could not really complain.

As Riklauniman delved inside the satchel, most of the fighting had petered out to just a few stragglers being rounded up. Nearly all of the griffins had landed, and his squads were out on foot taking control. He gripped a cylindrical case and pulled it free, moving closer to the firelight. Removing the wax seal on top, he let the scroll slide out into his hand and tossed the container aside, unraveling the parchment. He started to read, and the detail within caught the breath in his throat. It stated how these soldiers were sent here to kill the same Bera Riklauniman was sent here to save. Bera and her contingent were coming to the canyon to open a portal to call forth a band named the Riftwatchers, warriors that might turn the tide of Chaos.

“There’s movement in the woods,” Satha hissed beside him, holding her bow at the ready and signaling to others nearby. “Another patrol perhaps?”

More rangers moved into shelter behind the large boulders, their bows covering the treeline while they waited for orders.

“Easy.” Riklauniman held up his hand. “Let’s see who they are before we put holes in them.”

Whoever it was, it sounded like they were running and crashing through the undergrowth, making enough noise to wake the dead. It certainly wasn’t anyone trying to sneak up on them. Moments later a short figure burst through the bracken, quickly followed by others. They stopped on seeing the slaughter before them, holding weapons halfway to ready, unsure who the rangers were.

“You must be Bera?” Riklauniman stared at the ragtag band standing before him. He had never seen such a group of misfits before.

“Who’s asking?” the dwarf breathed heavily as an elf lay his hand gently on her shoulder.

“My name is Captain Riklauniman Adrin’eth, leader of the Lyverian Rangers. We’ve just saved your life. You were about to walk into an ambush.”

Bera looked around. “We heard the commotion and were looking to help, though I can’t say I’ve seen many ambushes where they light enough fires for all to see for miles around.”

Riklauniman chuckled at that, this dwarf had some spark about her. “That’s a fair point, but then fires or not, I think their numbers might have overwhelmed you.”

An old man stepped forward to join the two, an orange flame flickering across his skin. “I have heard of you, Captain. It seems that the fates have saved us from a most unfortunate end to this day.”

Nodding his agreement at the Efreet, Riklauniman moved to join them, Satha and Skagrun at his side. “If you are Bera, then I have something here you might want to see.”

“And what might that be?” she replied, her voice still holding an edge of caution.

Riklauniman handed her the parchment. “It seems that Queen Mycelia herself has shown a personal interest in you. She sent this company of troops here to stop you getting into that canyon.”

Riklauniman waited as she scanned the parchment, the others with her crowding around to get their own view of it. When finished, she looked up and their eyes met. “So is it true?” he asked.

“Is what true?” Bera answered, her eyes narrowing.

“Can you really summon these Riftwatchers, whoever they are? And can they really save our world?” Riklauniman stared hard at her.

“So I’ve been told,” Bera cast a glance over at the old man.

Riklauniman shouldered his bow and pulled a long pipe from his pocket. “Well then, let’s get on with it, shall we?”

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Story: Daniel Beazley
Editor: Sean Ryan
Narrative Lead: Joey Shimerdla
Character Art (cover): Candycal
Illustrations: HPL Game Design Corporation
Graphic Design: Tamer "Defolt" Oukour
Voice Acting: David Dahdah
Ending credits song: AfterSound
Music: Isaria
Post Production: INFLUX Pictures
Creative Director: Nate Aguila