I’ve never been comfortable in Ustrecht and it’s not only the Horrors. Some hold Ustrecht up as an example of what Trolls could build, a great kingdom, one of the great powers before the Scourge. It has been used to cast the mountain clans in a bad light, to paint us as savages or brutes regressed from a state of enlightenment and civilisation. This is total Bollocks. The Tro’o’astia were raiders before Ustrecht, continued to be so during the height of it’s dominion and we are still long after Ustrecht began to rot in ruins. We welcomed many of the citizens of the kingdom into our Kaers before the scourge but they clove to our ways and our traditions, forsaking their vaunted society. On our blasted mountainsides we have endured while the civilised and the enlightened have met a fate worse than death – an eternity of corruption and pain woven in webs of crystal and blood magic. Trolls were made to live a certain way. It is our nature, our Pattern. Ustrecht was my people’s greatest folly.
This was my third time to enter the city. The first was successful but the second expedition still haunts my nightmares. Only the loss of the Crimson Dawn in the Mist Swamps pains me more. So many fine companions have met their ends at my side. Ago’astia. the Doom of the Trolls. The tale of the fall of Ustrecht has never been told in full. Perhaps that is a mercy. This time we were better prepared. Arristan and Olaf are amongst the most potent magicians in the land. Not much gets past Mitch and myself and Reish can tackle most foes up close. We are well armed and armoured and are trained in ways of defeating horrors and their constructs both on this plane and the Astral. Even so we were pushed pretty hard in the Crystal Tower. Most of Ago’Astia’s constructs were easy prey for us. They were still dangerous in numbers – particularly to the casters as they prepared their threads. That said, bunching up and trying to swarm the magicians is a good way to get yourself and your bloody mates ended en masse, for good. Cuts both ways I guess.
The main foe was the Tower and the very ground beneath our feet was treacherous. The crystal grew and changed shape, grasping for us greedily and trying to lock us in place or steal the breath from our lungs. Olaf could undo the worst of it but the path was narrow and if one of us was encased our progress could be blocked. The best tactic was direct. If you were free to move you charged up and took out anything in your way. Boldness was the key. I took some hits on the way up but my charge put the Horror on the defensive. Reish followed close by and the spellcasters were a bit further back. As we got closer I began to get the feel of things within the Tower. Ago’astia would meet the same fate as Ustrecht. In building and creating the horror had locked itself in place. The Tower it had become had been a place of security, a bastion, but now it was a trap. Soon it would be a tomb. I reached the final door and spent all of my strength battering it open to clear a path for Reish. Smoke swung a dozen times and cut the heart from Ago’astia. Bloodwall was seized and the Doom of the Trolls was no more. Celebrations had to wait as the crystal above and underfoot began to crumble and crack.
Olaf lost the head a little and blasted me off my feet with some spell in an effort to reach the outside. The wall was too thick however and we were forced to use the stairs and run. I picked him up and sprinted. Reish, Mitch and Arristan were in front of us but it was hard to make out anything amid the falling crystal. The delay in standing up proved to be critical. I was felled by a massive chunk of crystal masonry. I never felt a blow like it and that includes the hammer of Chorak Bonecracker. In fairness to Olaf he took responsibility for his actions he and the boys came back for me and dragged me out. We sat there for a time amid the destruction. I looked up at the Twilight Peaks, grim and impassive, towering above us. We are but small things scrabbling on this world. We think we build great things for pride is common to both Namegiver and Horror but what are our creations compared to the works of Griahk’kan.
We made it back to the Garlenites and healed up a bit. I decided to visit the followers of Raggok and see what they were about. I don’t know what I thought to accomplish but it seemed right to give them fair warning and the dictates of Thystonius. They are lost men and women, every one. It’s a road I could have walked after what the Therans did to my family but it is a road no true Tro’o’astia should be on. Take responsibility for your own actions. Don’t wallow in how you have been wronged by others. It gives the bastards too much power over you. A Sky Raider must always define himself with his own deeds, not second-hand whining about past betrayals. Poor wretches. They cannot escape from what they are. They will come for the Garlenites. On another day they might have won, though the victory would give them no comfort. Today we are here and they will be cut down. It is the way of things. There is no glory to be won in putting down a rabid hound but it is a task that must not be shirked lest his affliction spread.
While we waited myself, Arristan and Olaf resolved to seek out the nest of Hydras and destroy them. It may be a way to curry favour with the Great Dragons for the work that is to come but for me it was another test that could not be ignored. We hunted one down and slew it in the broken ruins before following its tracks to the lair where three more awaited us. The blood was up and after the sickening encounter with the followers of Raggok I relished the simplicity and immediacy of the hunt. The Hydras were potent enemies and I felt both their poison and the fire. They felt both my thunder and lightning as my blade and shield cut and battered through them. Olaf and Arristan countered the worst of their attacks and unleashed potent spells of their own. The mother Hydra struck me with her venom before I lost consciousness. Olaf purified my blood before death could come but I was never worried. I knew he was there and would not fail me. I knew this day was not my final day. Still I was reckless and endangered my sworn brothers. The skeins of their fates are not woven the same as mine. I must strive to remember this.
Much of my equipment was ash by the end of the battle. I would have been the same way but for Dread Naught. The harness has protected me from blade and spell and fire and death. We recovered an ancient spear that may serve as a thrown weapon and the Hydras had gathered a great horde of valuables in a mockery of the ways of their dragon forebears. Tonight we await the Passions in the old temple. We are ready.