Preview: The Guardian's Tale

Copyright Robert Defendi for Final Redoubt Press © 2007

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"In the final battle, the Lich King raised such an army that it seemed he would wash away all the world's warmth in the flood of the dead."

The following text is a preview of the third Echoes of Heaven product from Final Redoubt Press. Called The Lost Kingdom of the Dwarves, it covers the nation of Uzarāg, as well as Dwarves and Orcs in general. This section is an excerpt from the history of Uzarāg. It picks up after the fall of that nation to the Empire and starts with the birth of Kūlan. It ends just as the Dwarven Diaspora begins.

The General

Uzarāg eventually had its revenge. Its greatest son was instrumental in the fall of the Empire. The Marshal might have been one of the best generals of all time, but he couldn't have won without Kūlan.

Kūlan was marked for greatness at an early age, but no one knew just how great. He became an Unwed warrior and dedicated his life to warfare, but where most Unwed warriors focus on combat itself, Kūlan focused on warfare and possessed a curiosity about the surrounding world. He left Uzarāg and found a world that needed changing.

Kūlan didn't find Alric until he'd been searching for hope more than eighty years. By this time, Alric and the Herald had already met, and both impressed Kūlan.

Kūlan's story is one of support and logistics for the greater part of the war. He helped Alric when the Marshal found the way onto the Emperor's Roads. He helped to plan Alric's random assaults on the Emperor's troops. When the Emperor captured the Herald, It was with Kūlan's counsel that Alric pitted his entire army against the capital.

When the connection between the Roads and the capital was severed, Kūlan and Alric marched on the capital the hard way. Together, they laid siege to the Emperor. Eventually, they shattered the city's defenses.

While Kūlan continued to fight the Imperial troops on the field, Alric charged to the Herald's aid.

Alric won, but the Emperor detonated a great magical explosion in the center of the city. Alric's mage opened a gate and Alric ordered Kūlan through. Kūlan led the troops to safety, not suspecting that Alric would stay behind. Alric sacrificed his life to the explosion, now known as the Chaos. In doing so, he saved the world, but he left Kūlan with the aftermath.

The Guardian

The Emperor had five advisors, and they were destroyed in the Chaos Gate explosion. The assistants of four of them, however, became the Great Fiends: the Siren, the Warlord, the Lich-King, and the Demon Queen.

Three of the Great Fiends came west into Belkanāth except for the Siren who settled south of the continent. Kūlan and Vamasius, Alric's mage, were the only ones ready to stand against the onslaught.

But they didn't realize the threat of the Great Fiends. All they knew was that with the collapse of the Empire, the world fell into disarray. Kūlan and Vamasius retired to Uzarāg to regroup. It was the last time Kūlan would really see his home.

Soon, he headed into the lands of the Elves of the Brine Sea. The history between his people and these Elves was so bitter that he feared war would break out at any moment. Instead of a diplomatic mission, he found a nation about to descend into anarchy. He entered the country just in time to find a horde of Humans pouring up the pass from Köhler.

Kūlan put his meetings on hold until the Elves dealt with the threat, but in a matter of days, the Elven General and all of his most trusted advisers fell in battle. In the heat of combat, when all the Elven defenses seemed teetering to fall, Kūlan took charge, and the Elven defenders were desperate enough to listen.

By the end of the day, the Elves regrouped. By the end of the week, the nation was secure again.

Kūlan stayed for one more month, handpicking the next Elven general and solidifying defense plans. Then he headed out, moving to save the world. In 1000 AI, the Demon Queen appeared in the capital of Dientor. The army was on the border at the time, and she shattered the city guard who rallied to stop her. There, in the center of the city, she enacted a ritual and opened the first of the Great Gates. Demons and even the occasional Devil ushed through and that nation fell to their rampage in a matter of weeks, becoming an Ulcer.

A year later, they poured north. Messengers brought word to Kūlan, and he was able to intercept them with the use of the Emperor's Roads. He counterstruck almost as soon as the Demons arrived.

The battle was brutal and Kūlan lost troops by the thousand, but they prevailed after two years of constant fighting. He then gathered his army as quickly as he could. He was not as charismatic as Alric, but he had people who were, and they spread his legend. Where the stories of Kūlan reached, men were ready to fight.

He rested, but a long rest was not in the cards. As Kūlan consolidated his power and drew in more troops, everyone thought the worst was over. Little did they know that the Warlord gathered an army of Orcs. Kūlan didn't know that there was more than one Great Fiend. He thought the entire threat came from Dientor.

He was wrong.

Kūlan's Lament

In 1003 AI, the Warlord finished gathering his army of Cambions. He attacked Uzarāg, shattering the defenses and seizing the Dwarven nation. The Dwarves had relearned the secret of closing the Emperor's Roads. The Warlord avoided large amounts of underground travel, fighting across pass and defile, seizing one fortress after another. The Warlord knew he had to move quickly, that Kūlan had an army in Marnele. He didn't siege, but poured so many troops into the nation from the south that Uzarāg seemed to drown in Orcish blood. His tactics were clever, his diversions and feints compelling, and his numbers overwhelming. Worse, legend says he carried the Fell Hammer, and that not even Uzarāg could stand before it. By the time anyone knew something was happening, it was almost all over.

Galindūl, the king of Uzarāg, realized his people were doomed. As the Warlord attacked the capital, he sent Dwarves out across surface roads toward the borders, the Underground Roads were already mostly controlled by the Warlord. In a desperate delaying action, he and his elite guard fell back through the city, playing for time rather than success. Finally, he met the Warlord in single combat in one of his deepest halls. The Warlord killed him, but legend says Galindūl fought for hours, the power of God and his love for his people pushing him long after he was beaten.

But the Elves of the Brine Sea, despite the millennia of hatred, remembered that Kūlan had saved them. Knowing the Guardian would do anything to rescue his own people, the Elves rushed to the aid. They came across one of the largest refugee groups, about to be slaughtered. In a hail of arrows, they blunted the attacks of the Orcs, giving the Dwarves time to escape into Elven lands to the east. The fighting was bitter and both races bled with effort to win, but eventually they managed to secure the Elven border against the Warlord.

When Kūlan arrived, it was too late even to save more of his people. Some had escaped to Marnele as well, but most had been slaughtered.

The Warlord raged out of Uzarāg next, but Kūlan was ready, burning with righteous fury. He rallied every able-bodied man he could find, saving Marnele, Izona, Gaerydd, and the fledgling Elven-Dwarven Alliance. Finally, he broke the Warlord, and it's said that no other person in history could have with so few troops. Weeping, Kūlan decided he didn't have the resources to finish the job.

The Warlord retreated back into Uzarāg. Kūlan had saved Belkanāth again, but this time, at the price of his fatherland.

The Mantle Accepted

With the loss of Uzarāg, Kūlan gave up all hope for happiness. He wintered in Marnele, wearily watching two Great Fiends across opposing borders. His homeland was lost, probably forever, and Orcs at that moment defiled everything holy they could find inside the Dwarven kingdom.

But Kūlan wouldn't be defeated. Men had been calling him the Guardian ever since he contained the Demon Queen in Dientor. Finally, in a long dark night of the soul Kūlan prayed to God. He begged for salvation. He begged for deliverance. He begged for some way to put right what had happened to his people. He prayed with a fervor and a passion he'd never known. His prayers went unanswered.

For six nights he prayed. The first night he prayed for the Dwarves, but when no answer came he doubted that the Dwarven Church was true. The next night he prayed for the Elves, and then the Gnomes, and then the Halflings. Finally on the fifth night, he found forgiveness in his heart for the depredations of the Empire and prayed for Humanity. Still no answer.

On the final night, he prayed as an Atavist, thinking perhaps that all the Savior-based churches were wrong. That too went unanswered.

Finally, as dawn rose after the sixth night, he stopped asking God for salvation. He stepped out of his quarters and watched the sun rise over the horizon. He stared at it, trying to make out the lines of God's palace, but the light burned his eyes and he knew that Mortality was no longer worthy of salvation. These were the final days, and all the world would be lost. And in his heart, he prayed for forgiveness for his greed and his pride and his lies and his appetites and his wantonness. He prayed for forgiveness and then he begged God for one last thing.

"Please," he prayed. "Just make certain that Thy will be done." And a great warmth filled his bosom and the sun ceased burning his eyes. He stared into the center of the sun and for a moment, he saw a palace of diamond and the radiance burning within. He knew God, he knew his place, and he knew God's plan.

He was Kūlan, the Guardian.

Miracles

In the spring, a new foe appeared, the last of the Great Fiends. The Lich King moved out of the north with an army of Undead.

Kūlan moved again, this time with the confidence that comes of acceptance, using the Emperor's Roads to block the Lich King's next moves. The horde of Undead raged and flowed out of the north, and no one had any idea what had become of the nation up there.

Kūlan arrived just as the Undead rose into full swing. They fought throughout the year, Vamasius at Kūlan's side. In the final battle, the Lich King raised such an army that it seemed he'd wash away all the world's warmth in the flood of the dead. Clouds covered the sky and a legion of ghosts and specters tore toward Kūlan's army.

Kūlan prayed, asking God not for victory, but just for the chance of it, but His will be done. The clouds parted and sunlight fell upon the soldier's of Kūlan's army, and where the beams landed, their weapons glowed with a Heavenly light, becoming somehow able to injure the formless dead.

At the height of that battle Vamasius met the Lich King in single combat, but the Lich King struck him down. Kūlan's force rallied and finally broke the hordes of the Undead, but there was no miracle for Kūlan to save his friend.

Kūlan moved back to the center of Belkanāth, preparing for the next assault from the Great Fiends, and they came. For the rest of his life he beat one after another, and on four more occasions the light of God shone down on his troops, twice in the middle of the night, each time filling their weapons with the Holy power of the Almighty. These five miracles were used to canonize Kūlan later, and they are the primary tales of his followers. Kūlan fell fighting the Warlord, but not even the Warlord was great enough to beat him, whether by sword or by tactics. In the end, he was killed by a lucky shot from a stray arrow. No mortal or immortal could bring Kūlan low, and he only died when God himself called him home.

It's said that Kūlan was the only person who could beat the Warlord, either in single combat or on the battlefield. Kūlan often stopped the Warlord when the Great Fiend outnumbered him. Since then, the Warlord has only been defeated when many nations allied at once.

This is why Kūlan himself is known as the Sixth Miracle.