CHAPTER 10

1 NEW HEX UNLOCKED

WAR COUNCIL

The Netherwood. The first and last wall against the tide of Chaos coming across the ice wastes. So, what does The Netherwood Hex do? Vote for your favorite:
This poll has ended (since 13 days).
The Netherwood lets you roll your Hero Dice for unexpected effects.
45.01%
The Netherwood increases your attributes while on it.
28.77%
The Netherwood is sourrounded completly by Impassable Terrain.
15.38%
The Netherwood draws Hordes or Legions closer.
10.83%

*Please note that we have to playtest these thoroughly, so they might change a bit.

Below are the stories written by fellow rebels, to continue the tale of Kha’al, Syndra, Baranth, Kyushi and Ronja. Click on the name to read their contribution to the Lore of Azuhl. Please keep writing this story with us!

The Netherwood giveth, but the Netherwood can taketh away…

Although the party welcomes the replenishing bounty this strange oasis offers, the unshakable feeling of being watched by something just outside of their field of vision never leaves their mind…

They pluck the ripe fruits and add them to their provisions, they will need whatever the island has to offer because a hungry army, is a weak army. And if there is one thing our allies will need, it is their strength and their wits about them.

A strange force draws our heroes to the ruins… A strange energy resonates through the bones of this place and calls to them, tugging at them ever so gently to find something, to set something free…

Drak’Xiy, Ancient City of the Gods

Deep inside the Netherwoods lie the foundations of the Great City of the Drakh. One of the oldest and most beautiful city of the Ancients, devoted to the old Gods. This sacred land was blessed for all the worshipers. It was forgotten long ago, lost in time, until the mighty Old Gods came back. Like a phoenix, the once great city of Drak’Xiy now reborns again from its ashes, rising toward the sky as if time never passed away.

As Baranth was looking off to the rising storm on the horizon, a dark foreboding, other important events were taking place.

The chaos horde that had been endlessly driving towards the capital was split. Those closer to the NEW island the Netherwood were drawn by their insatiable hunger by the large gathering. Turning their focus to the Uprising.

Baranth again on the hilltop could see the black storm clouds split and one moved towards the island and one cloud looked to be moving towards the capital.

At the capital where the legions had retreated to fortify the leadership began to fracture. The Ironclad and the Nameless feared betrayal from the Mage Breaker who was rumored to be an agent of chaos. The two legions convinced the Empress to execute him and hang him from the garrison wall as a warning for the horde. It was a mistake they would not live long to regret.

As the horde arrived at the capital with its overwhelming force – the Lichqueen with her skeletons, Oda the fallen and the Kraken where amount them. The Empress did not panick.

Orders were issued and the Warlock legion was sent to release the magical restraints on the empires most deadly but uncontrollable weapon, the Drakoliche. Just mentioning the Drakoliche, in a war council filled with seasoned veterans, was enough to silence the room and the Empress let the fear hang about them by pausing longer then she needed to before issuing her next order. “To arms, prepare for battle!”

Back on the island the black clouds were approaching but as the leaders of the Uprising got a closer look they realised it wasn’t just a storm but much, much worse. The storm clouds were made of chaos, it looked like a massive misshapened mouth with jagged black teeth wide open looking to consume them. Dark shapes inside lumbered towards them their size and form deceptive. The slow advance shook the ground beneath what must have been anvil sized feet or numbers greater then counting.

The clouds were now upon them and it was the hordes of chaos driven by insatiable hunger. They had sensed the gathering and the first to arrive was the Harvester with its six beady eyes searching for souls to consume, death from above. Tucking it’s wings tight to its body it dove like a hawk, grabbing and suspending victims in the air, harvesting their souls and dropping their empty husks to the ground. Over and over.

The Druids were quick to act summoning their own unique elementals of bone, leaf and stone. This gave the Uprisin time to regroup. Each faction was deployed against the horde.

As the battle raged on Kha’al knew he needed to destroy the Harvester in order to turn the tide of the battle. So he advanced, waving his sword, yelling and taughnting the Harvester to get its attention. “Hey…beak face … yes you. Your ugly and ummm your mommas ugly too. Yeah she’s so fat, that when she fell down, no one was laughing but the ground was cracking up!”

The commotion got the Harvesters attention and it dove to attack. Kha’al dodged the first set of whirling tallons as they flew in his direction. On the second pass Kha’al was helplessly scooped up into the air. It was Tzadani and her Hokqan archers who then focused their attack on the Harvester coming to Kha’al’s aid. Kha’al and the Harvester crashed to the ground. Slowly Kha’al picked up his discarded sword and advanced on the Harvester who was unable to take flight. Kha’al’s first strike removed the Harvesters arm that it put up in defense and then Kha’al plunged his sword through the Harvesters chest.

The tide of the battle had changed. Kha’al turned and gave a respectful and thankful nod to Tzadani reluctantly showing his trust.

Baranth wasn’t the only one who was concerned with the dark clouds drifting over the frozen wastes towards the island; the Druids read bad omens in their shapes and the foul scent on the winds. Whether or not these signs were reliable was soon answered when one of the Hokqan scouts reported the approach of an Imperial Legion, his tail whipping back and forth in agitation. There wasn’t much time to muster a defense against an entire Legion. A hasty war council was gathered consisting of the Druids, our Adventurers and Tzadani. The Last Herd had already taken their flocks deeper inland to find grazing land.

Tzadani said that she would move her Stalkers to the edge of the Netherwood to stall the advance of the Legion with ranged attacks before they ventured too close. She hoped this would give them enough time to have a runner get word to the Last Herd. As desperate as the plan was, no one had a better suggestion. Baranth, Kha’al, Syndra and Ronja would stay with the Hokqan Zealots as a second line for the Stalkers to retreat behind if necessary. Kyushi bravely declared that he would stay with the Druids and assist with anything they needed, but no one bought the act.

The Ironclad Legion had been traveling for more two days. Word hadn’t taken long to reach the Emperor about a previously unknown island seemingly lush with untapped resources. He immediately sent troops to claim this new land in his name. Unfortunately for the soldiers, there was no way they would be able to navigate to this location through the Nethersea, so they were forced to march by land and frozen sea the entire way, to the sound of much grumbling and complaining. The days were long, meals were meager and rest never felt long enough. It was unusual for the Ironclad to leave the Capital, but with the disgrace of the Mage Breaker and his mercenaries for failing to reclaim the Prophet of Thorns, the Ironclad requested the honor of this mission, hoping to raise their standing in the eyes of the Emperor.

Moving ever forward, under the great ashen cloud produced by their war engines and their leader’s giant Mech, the Legion make slow and steady progress towards the island. Within a few hours they will have the beginnings of a new garrison and a new territory to exploit for their nation. The trees of the vast forest that grows right to the shore promise untold amounts of plunder. And who knows what food might reside within or beyond those woods? With this hope of bounty and rest in the minds of the Legionaries, it’s a shock when first one agonized cry, then another brakes through the sounds of marching troops and machinery. The troops stutter to a halt when one of the large war lizards hitched to their mobile cannons tumbles to the ground with a gurgling scream, an arrow lodged in its throat. On the cusp of panic the blaring voice of their commander issuing orders from her giant machine steels the resolve of the unit. “Musketeers and Cannon, aim for the forest! I don’t want to see a splinter standing!”

Flame and thunder pour forth from the Iron Legion. Smoke and steam rise above their position on the frozen sea. Trees shake, topple and split apart as iron shreds bark and limb. Still, through all this, an occasional arrow flies from the wood and an Iron suited soldier, or an armored war lizard falls to the ground. “Forward! Take away their cover!” bellows the Commander, stomping her war machine towards the forest. The cannons cease as the Legion troops rush the Stalkers. Arrows continue to fly, but more often than not they bounce off or break against shining armor, the weak points much harder to hit in motion.

With yips and calls the Stalkers retreat through the wood. They turn occasionally, taking an opportunistic shot at their pursuers as the heavily armored troops slow to navigate the narrow avenues between massive tree trucks. Frequently these shots are echoed by booming reports from the powder rifles of the Legionaries, and the groan of a fallen Hokqan. As targets dwindle, a halt is called by the Ironclad. The troopers regroup and stand in a loose semi-circle facing deeper into the forest. Beneath their feet, the ground begins to shake at regular intervals. A few minutes pass, then the center of the semi-circle breaks to either side. Huge trees crash down behind the soldiers, then beside them and eventually in front of them, pushed or kicked aside as the huge metal monstrosity piloted by their leader cuts its own path through the Netherwood. The Ironclad foot soldiers fall in behind the Iron Giant allowing it to forge their path through the timberland.

Stalkers burst through the tree line, running flat out, some with shouts of ‘metal monster!’ others too winded to articulate the fear in their goggling eyes. Not sure what has caused such a panic in their brothers and sisters, the Zealots of the Hokqan brace themselves for whatever they might meet. Beside them Kha’al settles into a battle stance, both hands tight around the hilt of his sword. Baranth stands tall and straight, his great War Hammer held across his chest, knuckles turning white as he grips the haft. Ronja, her staff held at her side slides her free hand into her pouch, ready to grab one of the various items she keeps in case of emergencies; will she need a powder grenade, smoke bomb, flammable Dragon oil, acidic serpent venom? She doesn’t know yet, but feels confident she’s prepared for anything. Syndra stands with bowed head and closed eyes, her hands in constant motion, describing symbols and producing gestures that don’t seem to have any meaning whatsoever.

Her eyes snap open as she and everyone around her start to feel the ground shake rhythmically. The sound of cracking and crashing trees isn’t far behind. Looking to the tree tops the gathered warriors can see swaying braches deeper into the wood getting ever closer. The Zealots start to bare fangs and growl, or swish tails as they hunch and ready for battle. Unconsciously, Kha’al begins to ape them and it doesn’t look that unnatural on the large Krowh warrior. Something massive starts to become visible within the twilight under the boughs. Necks bend up, dragging eyes again to the tree tops. Just within the edge of the forest, black smoke belches out from between dark green leaves before those leaves, and the tree they’re attached to fly apart, ripped asunder by giant metal hands. The ground throbs as a massive metal foot slams down onto it. Shouldering its way through the gap, the Iron Giant stops, surveying the line of tiny troops amassed against it. Inside the Mech, a smile tugs at one side of the Commander’s mouth.

With a yell Syndra launches a magicked orb of force at the chest of the machine, causing it to stumble back a step. A growl of surprise and frustration booms out of the Iron Giant’s speaker and the gigantic machine launches itself into a run at its gathered opponents. At the same time a cry is heard from the forest and the foot soldiers of the Iron Legion charge after their monstrous leader, firing as they run. If intimidation was their plan they didn’t know the Hokqan Zealots. With roars like lions and tigers, the humanoid felines rush forward, heedless of the iron balls whizzing by them, or the huge metal feet slamming into the ground ahead of them. Running right beside these ferocious fighters the Adventurers press the attack. As the distance closes, Ronja pulls out a glass globe from her pack and whips it out into the field. As the foot of the Iron Giant crunches down into the miniscule container, a muffled whomp can be heard and an even larger rumble felt through the ground. The machine stumbles to the side but regains its footing, though no longer dashing across the turf. “Syndra and I will distract the Monster, take care of the rest!” shouts Ronja as she tugs the Druwhn witch with her to the North. The two women continue to harass the Iron Giant with everything at their disposal, but other than making the pilot angry, they don’t appear to be having much effect.

Seeing that they won’t be dominating their opponents through fear, the Legionaries form up into a firing line and begin taking precision shots at the on-rushing attackers. Hokqan Zealots fall by the handful each time, but their companions never break stride. The gap between the two parties closes by the second. When the effective firing range has all but vanished, the Ironclad Legion foot soldiers drop their muskets and pull out their swords. Roars and cries mingle with the rasping and pinging of steel and Iron. As savagely as the Hokqan Zealots fight however, the superior armor of the Ironclad Legion gives them a distinct advantage. For every Ironclad solider downed by the Hokqan or one of the Adventurers, three of the Noble people fall to their blades. The numbers begin to even though, when arrows start piercing the Legionaries from the side and behind, the chinks in their armor exposed to the Stalkers once again. Beset on all sides the Legionaries begin to fall back putting the open plains, instead of the forest, to their rear. Slowly retreating they head north, attempting to link back up with their Commander.

Ronja is huddled behind a rock, panting hard. Her left arm is numb, caught by a glancing blow from the Monster. How can something so big be so fast? She envies Syndra right now, who’s holding her own thanks to her ability to teleport around the giant thing. Awkwardly reaching around herself with her other hand, Ronja feels around in her pouch and confirms what she was afraid of. She’s out of concussion globes, powder grenades, acid globes, anything that might help against that thing. ‘I always try to be prepared, but who could prepare themselves for THAT?’ goes through her head. ‘I hope Syndra will be okay…’ follows soon after.

Another force spell launches from her hand, but it doesn’t seem to be unsettling the metal monster like it did before. Whatever it is, it seems to be adapting to the attacks. Luckily, so far it hasn’t been able to adapt to the teleportation spells. ‘Not sure how much longer I can keep this up, but I have to make sure this thing doesn’t turn around and head for the others.’ Gritting her teeth and pushing down her fatigue Syndra tries a different tactic. Quickly warping behind the monster, she focuses on the ground beneath its right leg. Uttering a word of power she lifts her arms and the ground shoots up like a stalagmite that forms in an instant right under the foot of the machine. The Iron Giant topples over onto its left side with a thunderous crash. The hoot of triumph dies in Syndra’s throat as the machine quickly rolls to its front then pushes itself back up with its arms. Stunned at how quickly it recovered Syndra nearly finds herself crushed under a metal foot. Teleporting away at the last second she drops, panting behind a rock. Peering over it she watches the giant metal monster look under its foot as if it were trying to see if it had stepped in something. “How’s it going?” a voice asks. Turning quickly Syndra sees Ronja tying a makeshift sling around her left arm. “I’ve done all I could. We need to get out of here.” the Druwhn says, shaking her head.

Regrouping with the remainder of the Zealots and their friends, Syndra and Ronja look over the survivors. Battered, bruised and bloody was the general theme. Kha’al is covered in blood, but at first glance it isn’t apparent if it is his own, or the Legions’. The toothy grin on his face makes it even harder to tell, but noticing how his left arm hangs limp at his side, it was clear he hadn’t gotten away unscathed. Baranth on the other hand looks like he might have just woken from a nap. The only indication he has been in a fight is the dripping blood and chunks of gore that still cling to the head of his great maul.

“Was the great iron monster defeated?” asks Baranth as the two women walk up. They shake their heads and he grimaces. “It seems our enemies are regrouping. They’ll come at us again as soon as they’ve linked up with that thing.”

“Like that?” asks Kha’al, pointing with his sword to the North. Turing to look, the other three see the Iron Giant walking towards them slowly, flanked on either side by Ironclad Legion foot soldiers. Tiredly Syndra, Ronja, Kha’al and Baranth, as well as the remaining Hokqan line themselves up to again meet their enemies. Suddenly Kyushi trots up to the Adventurers with a bow and with a Tua-Than’s version of a smile he starts pressing things into their hands.

“What’s this?” asks Kha’al, looking at something on a looped string that appears to have been carved by a child.

“Goooood luck chaaaarm.” replies Kyushi making sure each one put theirs on.

Ronja looks to the North, biting her lip. “Not sure what kind of luck you believe in Kyushi, but I don’t know of any that will help with that.” She points to the Iron Giant, now only a few dozen meters away.

“Weeeeee’ll see.” was all he said in reply.

The space between the two groups dwindles and as the ground once again shakes under the defender’s feet the Ironclad Legionaries begin to shout, picking up their pace, preparing to run the final few meters and destroy their opposition. Without warning the Iron Giant falls forward, flat on its face. The yells of the foot soldiers turn to shrieks as they’re trampled by a stampede of Ironhooves, Tricerahogs, Reazorback and other creatures, the largest of which stands behind the overturned Mech. A celebratory cry goes up from the defenders as they see Tzadani on the back of a massive Ironhoof riding next to Mjor and the Last Herd. Circling the Iron Legion, the Herd drive their frantic beasts over the fleeing or crumpled forms of the foot soldiers again and again, while the Hokqan chant “Dani, Dani, Dani”. Tzadani stands on the saddle of her Ironhoof, waiving to her people. She can’t hear when the chanting becomes a warning shout and she goes flying off her beast. The bellowing creature is yanked into the air and torn in half by the recovered Iron Giant. It pitches one half at Mjor, dropping the other to the ground nearly on top of Tzadani. Mjor tries to direct his Herd towards the giant to topple it again, but the pilot is ready and savagely attacks the vanguard of beasts. Dozens of Razorback are felled with a single kick. Tricerahogs are swatted away like insects. Mjor quickly turns his Herd away from the iron monster and bolts away.

The Iron Giant sprints across the soil, machine and pilot in a frenzy. In her madness to destroy the meddlesome inhabitants of this island the Commander doesn’t realize she tramples some of her own troops. The surviving foot soldiers run for their lives, heading back through the path the Iron Giant cut through the Netherwood. The defenders also scatter as the giant machine slams fists and feet down in all directions wanting to smash every last living thing. Tripping due to fatigue Ronja lands hard just below the flailing Monster. Her eyes go wide but she doesn’t have a chance to scream before a massive iron first slams down on her, leaving her broken body in an indent in the ground. Kha’al screams for her instead, a bellow of rage and surprisingly, loss. Futilely, he rushes towards the Iron Giant. He doesn’t notice the red glow around the fetish he is wearing, nor the green glow from the pit that contains Ronja’s body. With all his might he slashes up at the hand that crushed Ronja and is about to crush him as well, but instead of the sweet agony of death that he was expecting in the back of his mind, part of the metal hand sheers away and falls beside him, the rest of the arm going into the ground just to his left.

From the crater that had become her grave, Ronja gasps and then slaps her hands over her body. Not only is she whole and sound, but her left arms isn’t even numb anymore. She scrambles out of the pit, looking around. Gazing up she notices the Druids are on the hill by the stone table. They stand side by side watching the spectacle. One has his hand pointed a Kha’al, a dim red glow pulsing around it. Another is pointing at her, a green glow only just perceptible as she lowers her hand. Ronja looks down at the fetish necklace she’s wearing and sees the green glow disappear there as well. “God powers” she whispers.

“God powers! God powers!” Ronja comes running up to the others, holding her necklace out in front of her like a talisman. Syndra stares opened mouthed at ‘Ronja-the-once-dead-now-living’ while Baranth looks like her mirror image as he stares at the mangled hand of the Iron Giant that Kha’al cut in half.

“God powers” hears Kha’al. It doesn’t register at first through the shock of what he just did, but he does recognize Ronja’s voice. He turns his head and sees her running towards the others. He has to blink a few times to make sure his eyes aren’t playing tricks on him, but no, that’s her. Running. Not dead. “God powers” He feels the warmth of the sun fade as the light grows dim. Instinct kicks in and the throws himself backwards just before the mangled hand of the Iron Giant drives him into the dirt. He rolls forward again and springs to his feet. “God powers” He looks again at the severed part of massive hand and notices a slight red sheen reflected back. He looks down at his chest and sees the red glow. “God powers” His lips pull back in a wicked grin as he takes a firm grip on his sword, launching himself at the Iron Giant again slashing for all he’s worth and taking off the rest of the hand at the wrist.

The Commander is shocked out of her blinding rage. Pulling up the Mech’s left arm she stares through the view port. How did she lose her machine’s hand? While she’s contemplating this question her machine jars beneath her. Trying to stabilize it, its left leg sinks deeper into the soil than it should. She tries to pull it out and has a difficult time. Finally pulling free she steps forward and it sinks in again. Bending over to see what this new problem is, she notices that the ankle of her Mech is digging into the ground, there’s no longer a foot there. No hand, no foot, what in Azuhl!? Another jar. She is still in position to view her left leg, but her mind can’t comprehend what her eyes see. A single man, a Krowh from the look of him, just sliced his sword through iron strut and pistons like they were old beef. The ankle of the machine is now gone and it is standing on its shin support beam. Regardless of how much her mind is telling her this can’t be happening, deeper instincts kicked in and she pushed her machine hard in the direction of the woods. She needs to get away from this person before he completely disables her Mech and captures or kills her. As good a pilot as she is, panic plus the loss of structural integrity of the massive machine makes escape extremely difficult. With a shriek of sheer terror stuck in her throat she fights desperately to drag her Iron Giant back to the path she made previously and get to the safety of her Legionaries and their cannons.

The Druid let his hand fall and Kha’al sees the glow fade from his necklace. At the same time he feels a huge wave of fatigue. Stumbling forward he keeps himself upright by jabbing his sword into the ground. Syndra, Baranth and Ronja come up to him. “Take a rest, you earned it.” Syndra says, patting him on the shoulder and she and Baranth follow the metal giant to the edge of the wood, leaving Ronja to take care of him. As they approach the Iron Giant, Syndra’s fetish starts to pulse with a purple glow. The corner of her mouth quirks up and she raises her arms. “Let’s give it a little help. I want it the hell off his island.” Scrawling an odd symbol in the air, Syndra drops her arms, palms out towards the machine and hurricane force winds batter at its metal hide. At first it just rattles and shakes, but after a few moments the Iron Giant starts to roll end over end picking up speed as it goes. Syndra and Baranth follow behind it, walking at first, but eventually having to sprint just to keep up. At one point they think they hear a weirdly distorted shrieking, but it’s probably just the wind Syndra is generating.

The Iron Giant shoots out of the Netherwood like a cannon ball, tumbling over the Frozen Waste and crushing a good number of the cannons lined up outside the edge of the forest. Foot soldiers and cannoneers gather around the twisted and mangled remains of the centerpiece of their Legion. The warped voice of their leader quietly comes from the speaker. “SomE ONe geT Me oUt oF HERE!” Legionaries try prying open the chest of the Iron Giant to get to their Commander but to no avail. After minutes of trying, a group breaks away saying they’ll travel to a nearby island and try to get some tools. The leader of this group, T’lak, and her Lieutenant Mukla, don’t plan on returning. The Ironclad Legion proved itself weak, fallible. They will take fate into their own hands.

Arriving at the shore winded Baranth and Syndra watch the Legionaries attempt to crack open the shell of the metal monster. One of the cannoneers notices them there and shouts a warning. Getting his war lizard in position he fires his cannon at the two Adventurers. The cannoneer’s aim is true and the ball explodes that section of beach. As the dust and smoke settles though Syndra lowers her arms and the shimmering purple barrier that surrounded the two of them vanishes. Baranth steps out onto the Frozen Sea, his fetish necklace glowing a pale blue. Standing tall he looks over the remains of the Ironclad Legion. “Leave this island and never return. The Empire is not welcome here.” No one moves. With flashing eyes he shouts ”Begone!” Guns raise to shoulders and tapers to wicks. Hoisting his hammer over his head he slams it down onto the Frozen Waste. With a sound like mountains ripping asunder the ice of the Frozen Sea cracks, buckles and shatters. The Legionaries are thrown to their backsides. As they try to get up, the chunks of ice they are on shift, slip and flip dropping them into the freezing waters. First one or two Legionaries, then whole groups, war lizards with their cannons, and war engines coughing and spluttering as they sink. Finally with creaking and groaning protest, the Iron Giant begins to slide. Raising its remaining hand towards the two Adventurers the Commander called out “SAve mE! PLeaSE! doN’t lEt Me” The final word cannot be heard over the crashing of the massive chunk of ice as it settles back.

 

Returning to the hilltop the Adventurers thank the Druids for their help. Without a word of acknowledgement the Druids hold out their hands. “Return the icons” speaks The Watcher. The Adventurers look at each other then reluctantly hand over the fetishes. Gathered together and sitting on the hill the group watches the sun set in the west, the long swath cut through the Netherwood perfectly framing the spectacle. “Very pretty, but it’s a shame so much of the forest is damaged.” muses Syndra. Kyushi takes a drag off his pipe. “Nooooo neeeeed to be sad. The Druuuuids are asking for a boon.” Syndra looks over her shoulder and sees the Druids gathered around the stone table, hands placed together, lips moving silently behind their masks. Turning back she thinks for a moment that she missed the sun dipping beyond the horizon, then gives a gasp. She can’t see the sun anymore before the entire expanse of destroyed trees has completely disappeared, leaving the forest as dense and lush as it was when they first set eyes on it.