The Book of Stephan – Chapter 1
Greetings; my name is Stephan, and it would appear that I’ve become the de-facto Captain of the Society. A lot of things have changed – so much so that I doubt that anything about the Company will ever be the same again. I will endeavor to the best of my abilities to pass on all the information I have as best and as clearly as I can – since this entry will likely be the beginning of history for following generations of Brothers.
This morning I was just Master Sergeant Stephan, and I betrayed my Captain. We all knew that the reason we managed to stay alive against Arogho’s onslaught was Lieutenant Silvan – not the Captain – and when he died at the Glittering Falls and Muerdetta started having to make command decisions on her own, most of the Company NCOs knew we were in the deepest kind of shit. And damn us all but we were right. In the months after the Lieutenant’s death, we’ve lost easily two-thirds of the Company to Arogho’s forces – so much so that with only a few hundred men left we managed to sneak across the Massan Mountains right before the passes closed for the winter and into the Kisharan-controlled Southlands.
As we crossed those deserted plains towards that lone peak on the horizon, Muerdetta’s plan became clear – and those of us who knew to be became seriously worried. When I confronted her about it she confirmed that she was going to charge Tablenhelm Keep and take the Company through The Ways and out of Khevoran forever – which was a startling enough revelation to be sure, but nothing compared to what came next. When I asked her how exactly she meant to travel The Ways – the mad bitch blithely told me that she had possession of Arogho’s Tome – which was pretty much the instruction manual for the Waygates. I didn’t bother asking her if that was the reason why Arogho had gone out of his mind, killed Captain T’Panga at the Summit of the Northlands, and started his own personal war to exterminate the Society. The crazy tart had stolen the old wizard’s book – and now we were in a land no one from the North had seen in centuries full of people that hated us, pursued by other people who hated us, and getting geared up to go traipsing through a magical portal none of us understood to an entirely new world full of people who, if our luck held, would probably hate us as well.
Forgive me, Saint Peruppi, for ever cursing the names of mutineers.
We approached Kishara’s Mount in the dead of night, one platoon at a time over the course of a week, mustering under the cover of a small ridge created by some ancient landslide. The dawn after the night I moved forward with the headquarters group revealed with harsh clarity that the Southlands were not what our grandfathers described.
Impossibly high above us, lazily circling Tablenhelm Keep at the summit of Kishara’s Mount, drifted two great ships of air – large gondolas slung to the bellies of hulking bags containing some arcane gas which held them aloft. They bristled with the deadly barrels of some descendant of the Bubblesneezer Cannon.
It wasn’t just the flying machines – though those were the most dramatic of the Southlands’ display – but the men too who patrolled the slopes. When our pathfinders captured one (after the loss of three of our own brothers to him), we were humbled not only by the man’s kit, but also by his words. He carried with him a small cannon, which he called a rifle – which could not only fire a projectile great distances at dizzying speeds but also re-fire several times a minute (a fact that the man pointed out with no small measure of personal pride). If that weren’t bad enough – he carried food which he claimed would not spoil, wore clothes that were tough and light and of a weave none of us had ever seen, and had a mouth full of clean, white, perfect teeth.
In a manner both patronizing and contemptuous to us “Northlands barbarians”, he recounted how every few months for the last several centuries, a new batch of thinkers, engineers, and technologists came through the Waygate – bringing with them each time a new wonder to the people of the Southlands. Sometimes it was simply a cart of seed which produced fuller grain, sometimes books of knowledge and maths, and sometimes men who would make weapons of war like the rifle he carried.
We stood in awe of the man’s tales while the Captain sat up the slope a ways with the pathfinders planning our ascent and raid. She slit the prisoner’s throat that afternoon while most of us were asleep – ostensibly to keep the men focused on the task at hand.
I must admit, my reluctance to leave this world grew tenfold after discovering the wonders that the Southlands held. When the night of the raid came, I gathered the men together who I knew didn’t want to leave and organized them into a single company. I convinced Muerdetta that it would be best to have these four platoons acting as a picket for the rest of the force as we all moved up the mountain. We approached the Keep with no more conflict that the silencing of a few patrols. The Kisharans either didn’t notice several hundred men creeping up the slope, or they simply didn’t care. My men and I slipped away into the night as Muerdetta prepared the rest of the company to assault the gates.
We don’t know what happened to the Captain or to the brothers we left behind. When the assault started we saw the airships light up the night as if hell itself belched from their multitude of guns and the telltale sounds of men dying. There was a point as we raced away into the foothills of Kishara’s Mount that the world around us seemed to…twist slightly…for just a moment. So maybe the mad tart got a few of our brothers to some safety.
Those of us who remained spent the rest of the night putting some distance between us and that bloody mountain. When day broke, we found a relatively deep ravine and bedded down for the day. We spent several of those nights as we fled the mountain trying to decide what would become of the Company. We were directionless.
Until she came.
She came to us on our fourth night from the mountain, dark and beautiful beyond all comprehension. She called us her children, and said she was happy to meet each of us. She learned all of our names, and sat at our fires listening to our stories. She started calling me Captain, and the day she left us, she told me she was happy that we were home, and she gave me a ring inset with a smoky-white gem.
And the Company was reborn.