From the Archives of Arasunia
Recorded by Vestigo in Ephemeris from Beyond the Verge
~3714, During the Uniting of the Clans
Blood is frozen in the wide bootprints of this hard, frozen soil, and I am left to wonder at the size of a man who would be heavy enough to leave a track in the permafrost as he advanced toward the brutal enemies waiting beyond the ridge.
He must have been armored, for his enemies were infamous for their savage weaponry of clubs, maces, axes, and broadswords. I follow the bootprints along the trail, between sentinel pines sagging beneath the weight of perpetual snow, and try to imagine his thoughts.
Was he nervous? The chanting and war drums of the enemy would have been audible, thunderous enough to be felt in the chest.
Was he already wounded, with blood running down his legs to pool in his wake? No; as I glance away from his path I see the thin, gray slush covering the ground is tinted pink in all low-lying areas. It is not this man’s tracks that hold the blood—the entire ground is saturated with it. The battle ended nearly a fortnight ago, and still the blood seeps. The landscape is peppered with spent arrows, broken shields, and notched blades, cast aside by those too busy dying or fleeing.
I return to the trail, hoping the tracks I follow belong to General Atrox, second-in-command of the Legion forces behind only the King himself, Maliken Grimm. Ah, forgive me. I keep forgetting I write these entries not for myself, but for those who come after me. It may help to know why General Atrox was here before I wander off on the tale of why I’m looking for him.
By the winter of 3714 Lord General Grimm had vanquished the Scouts, the Builders, and the Order of the Chapel, bringing these clans beneath his banner to face the remaining rebels: the Savages. These heathens were the most dangerous of all the clans, for they did not fear death and took ferocious pride in taking as many Legion lives with them before they died. It was a common jest among the soldiers that they would rather fight a Beast than a Savage—Beasts knew when to die, and they smelled better.
The Savages had carried out a chaotic, murderous retreat from their settlements in the Forests of Caldavar, leaving nothing behind except bloated corpses and scorched earth. Lord Grimm pressed them even harder, driving their disorganized numbers east to pin them against the Iron Mountains, but the Savages—whether through vulgar instinct or some rare semblance of strategy—cut north and evaded extinction by tunneling through the Ice Caves, which they sealed behind them with avalanches and cave-ins. The Savages were now on the northern side of the Iron Mountains, isolated from the rest of Newerth and free to make their new home among the Frost Fields.
Or so they thought.
The Savages, not widely known for discipline, celebrated their survival with great feasts and endless barrels of the blinding grog known as Throatkiller. But Lord Maliken was not willing to cede the war so easily. He and his men immediately set forth on a task never accomplished in the known history of Newerth: traversing the jagged, unforgiving northern ridges of the Iron Mountains…and living.
Grimm’s Builders came forward with belching machines capable of felling a quarter acre with one swipe. His Scouts found paths among the rocks—most of them barely passable by a goat—but Lord Grimm pushed his men to lengths of legendary stamina and temerity, and most would admit the only reason they were successful was because they had to keep up with their Lord General or be left behind to die. When they at last crested the final peak and found themselves on a small, forested plateau, the troops were stunned at the sight of man-made structures. There were ramparts made of wood and stone, and looming, cracked marble statues of hooded men praying over swords and shields. All of it was overrun with withered vines and tree roots and looked as if it had been abandoned for centuries.
Lord General Grimm and his advisors remarked at the durability of the barricades and stone statues, assuming they were made by the hands of men, but as the Martyrs drew close they felt the presence of deep, ancient evil. They chanted their prayers and carried Sol’s light along the narrow, twisted paths among the pines, but the darkness crept in from between the trees and compelled these hardened veterans to glance over their shoulders for things which steel could not kill.
Only Lord General Grimm was not unnerved. He surveyed the haunted land and its monuments to this forgotten battleground, and recognized the terrain for what it truly was: a crucial scrap of earth which had been contested over since Man first lifted stone and stick against his brothers.
Grimm inhaled deeply of the frigid, biting air. “A fitting piece of soil for what we are about to do. Can you feel it? This land has seen extinction many times over. Save your prayers, holy men. We tread upon a graveyard even Sol cannot cleanse.”
The soldiers moved with haste across the forsaken plateau until they came to the far edge, overlooking the vast, frozen expanse of the northern Frost Fields. They were welcomed by a constant blast of sub-zero wind and a dominating view of the haphazard Savage encampment. Both were welcomed as proof that they were still among the living, for even though their time spent on the plateau was brief it left each man feeling alone and forgotten, an apparition to his cohorts.
The Savages saw them as well. (It must be noted that Lord General Grimm did not attempt to conceal his position; in fact, he lit his remaining barrels of rum as a signal to the Savages that the battle had recommenced, and to his men; if they wanted to get drunk, they’d have to do it on the enemy’s supplies.) It was immediately apparent that the Savages were done retreating. They would not be pushed across the frozen tundra of the Frost Fields to die cold and starved—if this was to be their death song, it would be sung by them loudly and filled with curses. They charged up the slope and smashed into the Legion forces, who were exhausted from their harsh journey and fell back onto the plateau before the raw brutality of the proud enemy.
Lord General Grimm saw his campaign was on the brink of ruin. All of his efforts and the ultimate sacrifices of his men would be for nothing if he did not conquer the Savages and unite all of Man under one banner, and his campaign would die among these silent stone statues, as he knew on a primal level so many other armies had through the course of time.
In a desperate move, he pulled his most valiant and decorated leader, General Atrox, from the center of the line and sent him and his small band of elite troops in a flanking maneuver. Atrox needed no ensign to rally men to his location—they need only look for the hulking brute in steel plate standing a full head and shoulders above the next tallest man. If a soldier lacked decent vision, the sound of Atrox’s war mace crushing skulls and reducing grown men to piles of mush was easy to follow.
General Atrox left the fray, assembled his crew of professional killers and formed a skirmish line that swept through the hushed pines and stone outcroppings like a horde of wraiths. The Savages had never embraced proper military formations and did not know how to counter the maneuver, and their scattered bands of warriors found themselves caught between the hammer and the anvil. General Atrox and his men took the Savages in their left flank and rolled through, leaving fur-clad corpses and red bootprints behind.
Finally, when they saw their bloodlines were nearing a final end, the Savages yielded. Some leapt from the heights rather than bend the knee or be killed by the enemy, but the rest dropped their weapons, survived, and so joined Maliken Grimm’s Legion.
As was the Lord General’s custom, he honored his new allies by feeding them and tending to their wounded—his wounded, now—and he built a great bonfire to warm their bones as they traded tales of the battles they’d fought against each other. Grimm learned the Savages had placed a bounty on his head of forty goats, a fortune for these nomadic people, and the honor nearly brought him to tears. The warriors from both sides were so grateful to be alive and done with war, at least for a moment, that they did not bother to move their night of revelry from the plateau. Their fires cast dancing light upon the statues and softened the frozen ground, exposing flashes of bone and rusted steel that went unnoticed.
Also overlooked was the absence of General Atrox. Not until Lord General Grimm called his prized warrior forward to accept his reward for winning the day did the men realize they had not seen the General since the final clash of swords had faded into the pines. A search party was organized with the assumption they would find Atrox celebrating the new alliance with a Savage She-Wolf or three, for his appetites were even larger than him, but he was nowhere to be found. When the sun finally reached the plateau, the men followed his bloody footprints along the twisting path, chuckling at the spots where he did not break stride to smash his mace into a Savage warrior, until they reached the end of his trail.
And that’s exactly what it was: an end.
His bloody tracks simply stopped, and when the men looked up from the trail they stared into the dark, stone hood of one of the ancient statues. There was no trace of Atrox’s body, living or dead, and the men were so unsettled by the statue’s gaze they refused to walk past it, choosing instead to retrace the route which had brought them there. When they carried the news to Lord General Grimm, he laughed at their superstitious nonsense and promised General Atrox would have harsh words for them when he finally turned up.
The combined armies had depleted what meager supplies they had in the celebration, and so they buried their dead, gathered their wounded and retreated from the plateau, which had been called many names in as many languages throughout Man’s history of war, and which was now called Grimm’s Crossing.
Now you know the story of General Atrox and Grimm’s Crossing, and one hopes you have made the connection of why I now follow these frozen, bloody footprints. The General has still not been found, and I consider it my duty as a thorough archivist to discover the reason why. That, and people of considerable power have set the task upon my shoulders, which cannot be discounted as motivation.
Even so, I too feel the presence of something eternal and malignant in the stillness of the pines, just as I mark the spots where Atrox cut his swath through the Savages. Some of their bent weapons lie half-buried in the gray, frozen soil, which defies logic. This ground has not seen a deep thaw in centuries, and I am left with the impression that the eerie terrain is consciously claiming the steel as its own. I press on, ignoring the weapons sticking up like gruesome headstones, until I find the abrupt end of Atrox’s path. The reports I’d heard are true. It seems as though he was snatched into the sky or sucked into the earth, removing all traces of his existence. Not even his legendary war mace was left to provide a hint of his fate.
I reluctantly lift my gaze to the cracked, stone statue barring my way. It gazes back, I am certain, and I do not linger long enough for it to do more than that. My pace quickens, trying to match my pulse, and soon I am running between the sentinel pines without a destination in mind; I only want to get away. I push between heavy, snow-covered boughs that pull at me like heavy, dead arms, and find myself in a dead-end. Rock walls grow from the landscape to form a small horseshoe-shaped valley, and the trees above form a silent audience to my horror.
I have found General Atrox.
Or…what is left of him.
His armor stands at the far end of the small valley, waiting. I say armor, for there is no flesh within it. It is worn by a shifting energy that moves like the flames of a funeral pyre, an energy that raises the massive, blood-stained war mace and points it at me.
“Messenger,” it says. The voice is death’s whisper.
I manage to nod, stunning myself due to the efforts I’m devoting to not fouling my breeches.
“Tell Grimm I serve another master now.” The shade of Atrox spreads his arms, as if to indicate a vast number of comrades surrounding him. I see no one. “For time immortal, this land has claimed the most worthy soldiers to defend it. I am the latest, and I carry within me the strength of my predecessors. Spread the word, messenger: None shall tread here and live.”
What happened next is blurred in my mind, so I beg forgiveness over the lack of clarity. I only remember the shade extending his right hand toward me, then a brilliant burst of light sent me into darkness. I woke at the southern base of the Iron Mountains, bruised, bloody, and scorched, but happy to be alive and no longer alone in the haunted pines of Grimm’s Crossing. It is a place of abiding death, and no sane being should willfully seek it out.