“Time is like a river, and so history repeats.” (1.) A dim, swinging lantern illuminated the small cottage window, casting the shadows of spiderwebs to the windowsill. Tucked away in the majestically-sized thistle and burdock of the forest of Heaven’s Glade, the flame breathed a final gasp of oxygen before a quick breath brought darkness to the building. Only an eye adjusted to the moon’s light could have noticed its door swing open, and a tall, mud-bruised, tattered-tunic-wearing Palladin slip out, and in one swift motion swing himself atop his steed and kick it automatically into a high velocity charge. One eye did see it. A Dragonkin snapped its silent, bird-of-prey-style circling into an aerodynamic, steady glide with the snap of its wings into a new position. For a while, the two flew together, silently, as if linked by an invisible thread, one on land and one in the sky. The Palladin did not move his hand to his hilt. He would be ready for danger in an instant, anyway. It was a long journey to StoneReach. Finally, the Palladin slowed his horse. A Dragonkin would not be welcome beyond those walls. It gently lowered to the ground, claws grasping the protruding roots of an ancient Eastern Hemlock. Still the Palladin seemed at ease. Comfortable, even. The Dragonkin raised its head and let out a horrific, high-pitched scream, then lowered it to the ground. StoneReach’s towering walls shrouded the flying reptile in shadows as it began to squeeze its limbs toward its body tightly. Moments later, in the quiet of night, the Palladin heard the sounds of bare feet stepping off of the root. And no longer did the scales of a dragon shimmer in the darkness. Instead, two female, human-like eyes revealed themselves. “Nice ride, Sorceress,” said the Palladin. “I should stress that getting around as a demon is not nearly as fun,” said the shapeshifter. “I can imagine no horse would stand such a sight,” he replied. His voice was rough, and carried the tiredness of a weary traveller, but the passion of one who refused to rest. “What did you learn of the Orcs’ new leader?” The Sorceress sighed, shook her head. “It has nothing to do with Sapphire, that is for certain. My scouting in the high mountains seems to have been in vain.” No response for a moment. “Then... Sapphire still takes to the skies?” Meekly, this time. The Sorceress nodded grimly. “More than that.” She hesitated to continue, but felt compelled. “Not only is she seemingly alive and as strong as ever, not one scar lies upon her body. And...” “How can that be possible?” wondered the Palladin outloud. “I was there for the slaying of the blue dragon, as the Dwarf of Monarch City raised Gorgutt’s own blade, the Wolfbane Blade, and sliced her neck near enough in half. I saw the Rogue of Monarch sacrifice her best aide in the name of not repeating a flawed battle. Time seemed as if to stop. But I saw her crash into the canopy of the trees, dead as a rat in a bear trap.”
The Sorceress did not belabor her point. “She is alive. Beyond that, Varkolak’s bones have become again animated. And Balazarg’s firey command has somehow returned from death, igniting the passion of his demon warriors. The only one who rests still is Gorgutt.” “How can this be possible?” the Palladin protested. “They all should be as dead as Gorgutt. And slain by his own blade, I still do not understand how the Orcs appear united, spreading ever like the scourge they are.” The Sorceress reached up and plucked a twig of conifer needles from above her head. “He goes by the name Hemlock. ...Another dragon,” she sighed. “And Sapphire, not content with this, is pioneering her own trebuchet campaign, smearing the landscape with ranging flames of war.” Little more needed to be said. The two looked to the horizon. They could almost see a wall of smoke emerge on the horizon. It seemed that the kindling of war had not evaporated. It had merely become hot coals, powerful enough to ignite ever larger pieces of battle. “Let’s get to it,” they agreed. Irrepressible, the memory of a Palladin (2.) As Sapphire crashed into the utmost of the canopy, her body brushed aside the more bendable terminal branches. They sprung back as she sailed through them. It wasn’t until she clipped the jagged limbs of an Exaggerated Shagbark Hickory that the freshest, deepest cut in her throat literally snagged the twisted, curling bark of the giant tree. Most of her body kept flying. Her head flopped like a giant piece of meat on a skewer, and the Dwarf’s tight grip turned the situation into a relatively quick descend of a tree. At the bottom, his unicorn galloped over to greet him. His blood-stained armor gleamed no longer silver but red with dragon blood. His assistant Ellyne ran over, clung to him with an epic hug, and he dropped the Wolfbane Blade to the ground - carefree, for a dwarf. The dwarf looked at him with both the warmth of a mother figure and the disrespect of a man who grew up among men and felt, simply, exhausted. “Where were you ten minutes ago? Ten hours ago? Ten days ago? We have heard word of you, of others like you taking up the prospects of ‘defending the realm,’ but where have you been during this entire war?” The Dwarf’s voice reeked of mockery. “Take the blade. It is yours. Your turn to defend.” The Dwarf’s long, white beard, a clump of experience, smattered with blood and tears, blew violently as a gust of wind rocked the forest. Moments later, his unicorn carried the party away, leaving the Palladin standing with the Wolfbane Blade at his feet.
Tainted (3.) The fire proved to be the least of the Palladin and Sorceress’s problems. Although many long trips were spent searching for Water Elementals at the side of the river, the catapults of Sapphire’s Dragonkin proved shoddy, weak, and generally fell apart without much effort. “Sapphire shows her intelligence with her shortsighted attacks,” the Palladin said after demolishing a fourth, and seemingly final, battalion of trebuchets. “Maybe this won’t be so bad.” The Sorceress, shifting into a reddish, glowing, grotesque figure, trailed off in saying “If only the same could be said for Balazarg’s army...” So few demons seemed like so many. Everywhere, they spread. It seemed as if the usual contagious nature of the Orcs was almost patient compared to the spread of the Red Death. And with it, miles around their convoys, came a feeling of dread. Not of the shallow fear that accompanies the Undead of Varkolak - not that hollow feeling of death. This was a feeling of hell on earth, of the life draining right out of the Realm. Of the land being tainted. The Palladin gallavanted from place to place. What Water Elementals he did recruit, he used to cleanse the corruption of the land. Of what Demons the Sorceress encountered, she used her trickery to turn them upon themselves, to destroy them with ease. But their devastation upon the land was not so easily reversed. That took time. Everywhere, the bones of Varkolak fell. No tendons were strong enough to adhere them to spirit. Varkolak remained still. Poised, but still. Elsewhere, Sapphire’s Dragonkin efforts proved futile. She made a joke of her catapults. Before long, her fire paled in comparison to mother nature’s own forest fires. She remained at headquarters, evaluating. And the Orcs payed little heed to their new leader. Though small groups of passionate and easily convinced grunts charged through the valleys, never did their reputation exceed the stories that led to the naming of “Orc Valley”... the Green Dragon Hemlock made nary a move. Though rumored powerful, she made no moves. Nor did Balazarg move. But Balazarg didn’t have to move. From his own hell, he spread his minions and their taint on the land with the wave of a finger.
An unfortunate turn of events (4.) “Shit,” said the Palladin after some futile battles. “What?” screamed the Sorceress. After a quick bout with some Undead, she remained dark,
and as demons continued to harass the landscape, she couldn’t muster the time and energy to change into proper form. The Palladin’s horse took a hard hit. He jumped off. His sword went flying. “I have failed!” he screamed in emotional agony. “...I left the Wolfbane Blade at the cottage!” Darkness crept upon the landscape. Demons appeared to grin. A black vein crept up the wall of StoneReach. The Palladin collapsed; the Sorceress gasped and muttered, “I hope we aren’t the only Defenders of the Realm.” Everything went black. End!