The Winghammer rises...
“ This is an excerpt from Daer Copperpounder’s journal, edited by Sturgrim Inkbeard, a giant among the dwarf scribes. It concerns of a battle of Ironforge Mountaineers against the dark elves at the borders of Khaz Modan, and the unexpected events that followed… “
Hurrying through a dark tunnel, we – the Rapid Deployment Division of Ironforge Mountaineers, the pride of the dwarven kingdom – were gaining the Hinterlands to our sight. Our marching speed was doubled, because only hour ago, a Hawk Owl had brought message from the border guards of our Wildhammer Cousins: A division of Blood Knights was moving towards the tunnel, their intention clearly to cut to the flank of the men of Strom in the Highlands.
There was a common look Barron Hillsmith, Vandurth Steelheart, our Captain Waywatcher and some other, older Mountaineers had exchanged upon hearing this. They had fought these blood elves before and knew what they were capable of. We could not let them pass the tunnel – we would not let them pass the tunnel! It was made by our hands, said some white-bearded Mountaineer whose name I didn’t know, and we would keep it.
And so we marched, double speed and caring little of the weight of our heavy bags. Battle was about to be joined! My heart beat faster.
Night had already fallen outside, when we reached the tunnel’s mouth. But we gained it before the Blood Knight riders and, following our orders, manned the tunnel’s entrance. These elves were known for their powerful cavalry charge. Unlike the high elves of old, they donned heavy armor and wielded heavy weapons capable of scourging any open field. But we were born of these mountains, our essence one with their stony core. In this tunnel, there would be no enemy that could push us aside. Our hammerers dug their feet firmly against the stone floor, exchanging grim looks and patting their weapons against broad palms. We riflemen and a few Warders lined up behind them, loading spare flintlocks ready for swift shooting. And we didn’t have to wait for long before the enemy was upon us.
Realizing that they could not ride into the narrow tunnel and uphill on their heavily armored battle chargers, the Blood Knights appearing from the woodlands dismounted and came up to us by foot. We gunmen laughed at their efforts, as they stumbled in the mud, black armors gleaming in the moonlight. We greeted them with a volley of cast-iron bullets and the magic of the Earth. More than one slanted-eared knight fell into that said mud before their comrades reached the gate. There the best swordsmen of Elzarius Sunstealer - so my older comrades told me that he was named - struck against our hammerers. And all the while we kept loading and shooting them from every gap we managed to find.
Barron Hillsmith, a large warhammer in his both hands, was locked into a battle with a sword-wielding strong Blood Knight at the left. On the right, Grohar Darkgrip and Thrain Stouthammer, younger lads to the green such as myself, fought as an effective pair, Darkgrip giving cover to the other lad with his shield and Stouthammer delivering powerful two-handed strikes from behind it, sending elves to their knees despite their helmets and heavy armors. We lacked in magic, but under the mountain, the Earth itself seemed to bless the efforts of our Warders and heighten our resistance against the bale magic of our enemies. The air crackled with Vandurth Steelheart’s stormbolts and the ground around the tunnel mouth drew into crackling frost by a certain gnomish wizard’s conjuring.
The straining battle at the tunnel’s mouth almost cost me my very life, too. As I glanced up from loading my musket, I suddenly saw a javelin speeding towards me, over the ranks. Having thought that I was safe behind the fighting lines of my comrades, I had no time to react… but another Mountaineer Thilars by name, shouldered me aside, sending me rolling to the floor, while the javelin passed us. As I stumbled to my feet, the senior marksman called Woodbeard had already answered the thrower with an accurate, roaring shot of his own musket.
And so the battle under the mountain continued, ebbing back and forth, under the cloud-veiled moonlight and suddenly lit fires.
They say that our Captain went berserk, when he charged forth. I don’t believe it. I had seen him turn his gaze suddenly to his left, when a Mountaineer there was struck, and then right, when a curved blade left from Barron Hillsmith’s sundered armor, tattered with blood. I saw something rise in him, when he turned back against the assaulting blood elves. I thought that maybe he just had vowed to himself that he would not lose another squad – like it’s told that he did, back in the Second War.
Somehow his torch was gone, shoved into the face of an elf, who was screaming and pulling back. The Captain had pulled a shield from somewhere, and blood flew from his stump of a shortsword, as he barreled his way into the ranks of the dark-clad warriors, bending helmets and cutting into armor-joints, while no attack seemed able to bit him back through the humble Mountaineer mail.
One elf lost two fingers to his blade and dropped his weapon, and was pummeled unconscious by his shield. The Captain swiftly ducked under a swiping flamberge and snapped the exposed knee, then throwing the elf over his boulder-like back. For a moment, the elven ranks were in disarray, and I was sure that they would break and flee. But then their commander shouted something with sharp elvish, and the Blood Knight regained their senses. They surrounded the Captain, who had ventured too far from the dwarven ranks, methodically, and blades cut into him from all angles.
As if possessed by the spirits of the old, he kept fighting, battering aside the attacks with chipped sword and splintered shield. Yell erupted from more than one dwarf lips, as a large blade finally slipped past his defenses and cut him from shoulder to waist, toppling him among the fighting elves. He had to die from a strike like that. That broke our patience. Together, we roared out to our ancestors and to the spirits of stone, and abandoned our guard post, shearing into the enemy ranks, pounding metal and flesh in frenzy, until we had surrounded the Captain’s fallen corpse. As the blood elves, yelling triumphant insults due to the kill, retreated towards the forest, I crouched down, behind a circle of covering shields, to see if he was still breathing. The Captain turned, painfully, and I saw a fierce grin flash on his broken lips. Sand and crumbled stone rolled from his torn cape, instead of freely gushing blood. A laughter of relief rolled from my throat, and I was not the only one. Just as he was receiving the mortal strike, our good Captain had managed to turn his skin to stone!
We reached Aerie Peak late at night. The city around the stronghold was in disarray and chaos. Children and women – save from the shield maidens – were being helped to the safe houses and caverns under the city. Arrows and spears were being run to the preparing Windwarriors. Our rumors were confirmed: the entire land was under an attack, Sin’dorei war-flags arriving from the north and massing over the river to the ruins of Seradane. More than a dozen Wildhammer gryphon riders had already been feathered with elven arrows as they flew too close to it.
We were welcomed with mixed feelings. Some Wildhammers cursed us for bringing the war to their homes. Others understood that we had come to help, and swiftly arranged a bunker and a number of swift-footed runners to our use. I watched it all, more than a little baffled, as campfires started to lit in the night, crying children were herded to safety, and an old gryphon rider cursed aloud at the corpse of his dear, slain companion and vowed for bloody revenge.
Our Captain did survive. He rode to Aerie Peak himself, swaying in the saddle, but gritting his teeth and growling at any attempts to help him. Now he was being tended by the healing craft of Graybeard Rhogor and it seemed that he would recover from the wound like he had from numerous before.
But then something strange happened, that I need to tell you about. As I was stroking my ram’s fur coat clear at the well, a gray-hooded old man (or crone, I cannot be sure, for his face was covered) came to me. “Boy”, he said. “Listen carefully! War and woe have come swiftly upon us, and Aerie Peak is under the threat of death and destruction again. Time has come for the Winghammer to rise once more.” He shoved an item, steel wrapped in a dirty cloth, against my chest, and I grabbed it out of reflex, staring at the strange dwarf with widened eyes.
“Take this to your commander, boy. It will restore his lost strength. It was said that the Winghammer would rise when the people of the Peak would be in dire danger again. It would rise again in the hand of the one of ancient blood, but who has forgotten where the blood comes from. It is time. Aye… It is time for it to see the daylight again and to strike back the invaders.”
“Of the blood?” I muttered amazed. “But the Captain, he is not of your blood! He’s a Bronzebeard of Ironforge!”
“He is, is he now?” chuckled the cloak-masked elder with a rasping voice. “Tell him this, too, for a warning and a curse go with the Winghammer’s legend: the spirit of the ancient heroes are with the one who wields it, and the gryphons will come to his call. But should the Winghammer ever again be lifted to slay kinfolk, it will leave the hand of its wielder and will turn against him.”
The old dwarf gave me a rough push, sending me reeling back. “Go now! You’ve come in time to save Aerie Peak, but there’s no time to lose! Go!”
Later that night, with shaking hands and in the flaring light of the roaring campfires, I handed the Captain the Winghammer.