On the back of the Blood Queens escape from the kingdom came a groundswell of rumours about the existence of Salvagard in the outside world and the apparent riches that were contained within beyond the borders of its mountains. There have been whispers of the Blood Queens involvement in spreading such rumours, but as with many things, this could never be proven.
In response to the rumours came hundreds of pioneers, all set on finding a safe way to cross the great peaks and frequent blizzards that shielded Salvagard from the rest of the world. Cold weather gear was fashioned to provide the pioneers with a measure of protection from the icy conditions, and durable foodstuffs were invented that could last the months of travel that were required whilst searching for a passage though the mountains.
However, the task was a monumental one, and the profusion of natural dangers combined with the trolls in the mountains (Forced there by the Werewolves so many years before) meant that many pioneers met a grisly death before they were ever able to find a clear route through. But, in the end the inevitable occurred and a group of enterprising southerners from the tropics joined an expedition, bringing with them many bizarre inventions. Among these creations lay the devices that would apparently ensured the expeditions success in finding the lost kingdom, black powder explosives.
Using these devices the expedition was able to blast through the snowdrifts and rock falls that had blocked many a pioneer before them. Finally they broke into the Pass of the Prophet, the route through the mountains taken by Salvagard himself on the Long March. It was an area sheltered from the weather by high peaks and free of the trolls that patrolled the rest of the mountains. It had been mysteriously sealed by avalanches some time after the werewolves arrived in the land that would one day become the kingdom of Salvagard.
The Pioneers followed the rediscovered pass, using the shelter it afforded, not realising the significance to the history of the kingdom as they followed it, finding small remnants of the Long march on the way, pieces of pottery and glass that confirmed their theories that this was the correct route to take. They were aware that this gap in the mountains may have been what people had been searching for these many long years, and could be worth a fortune. Through perseverance they eventually reached the head of the winding valley, apparent by the clear skies free of mountains before them. However, they spotted something else as they reached the end of the pass, and were stunned by what they came across.
It was a wall. Not one made of snow, ice or lose rock, but of dressed stone. Set into it was a huge gate, at least ten times the height of a man and many times as board crossing the whole entrance of the pass. It was fashioned from iron and steel in a way that dwarfed many homes, leaving none of the Pioneers in any doubt that they had reached the fabled Kingdom of Salvagard.
What they had found, in fact, was the Great Gate. Bordering the fortress town of Prophet’s Pass, it had been constructed over a thousand yeas ago as a last line of defence against the Iceman hordes. If needed, the gate would be sealed, allowing the remainder of the Salvagardian’s time to escape through the Pass of the Prophet as the Icemen tried to pass the immovable door.
Now the Pioneers stood before it, pondering how to get past the great defence. In its position it prevented any further advance into Salvagard, and the cliffs either side were too shear to climb round, and remained that way for many miles back into the pass. It was a dilemma, and although they spotted shadowed figures high atop the wall, they calls of greeting went unanswered. They tried to enter for many days, but with no success. Finally, greed over the possibilities beyond won out, and many of the party could not wait to find the promised treasure that was rumoured to lie beyond. They decided there was nothing for it, and set several charges on the gate, ready to blow it open, then they would explain themselves.
However, luck was not on their side, as the charges had become damp. When they detonated, their power was far reduced, causing a lot of smoke, sparks, vibration and noise, but very little force.
When the defenders of Prophet’s Pass, who had been observing the strange people trying to enter their kingdom with aloof distain, saw this attempt to breach their defences they concluded it was as an attack of some kind. Leaping the battlements they dropped into the deep snowdrifts at the base of the Wall, their forms shifting to half man/ half wolf in order to combat the invaders.
It was a massacre, with almost all of the pioneers being killed by the guards of the pass, and the remainder fleeing as fast as possible from the ‘monsters’ that guarded the wall, taking what little supplies from camp they could as they ran.
Only three of the original pioneers ever made it out of the mountains, their minds almost gone through fear and starvation. They were convinced that they were being stalked, although the Salvagardian guards had never left the base wall. It took them months to finally tell the tale, and many still did not believe them, thinking the story to be fabricated to hide other events that may have occurred, such as a mutiny or madness. However, one man did believe. He was named Tzu Chereng, a general in the armies of the human empire whose boarders touched Salvagard’s mountains. His belief was based not only on fact, but on grief, as it was his eldest son who had lead the expedition, and Tzu’s pain at the reports of his son’s death overrode any sense that it had been his sons greed that had led to this outcome.
Mustering every force he could find, the general defied direct orders from his superiors to ignore the explorers claims and set off into the mountains with one of the surviving pioneers as a guide, leading them the winding route to The Pass of the Prophet and the Great Gate. Many soldiers died in the treacherous conditions, but the general pushed the men on, motivating them with stories of untold treasures and great glory if they conquered the ‘monsters’ at the gate, never telling them that their aims were for revenge, not treasure.
So, as their forces gathered before the wall after many weeks passing through the frigid mountains and cold passes, Tzu called up to the sentries on the wall, who were observing the gathering forces with alarm. He ordered them to surrender, to face punishment for their crimes and to be subjected to the rule of human law, claiming his empire to be the rightful owner of the land they inhabited.
Unknown to the general, the sentries had no clue as to what he was saying, with even the Cleric’s being unable to understand the speech. A thousand years of isolation meant that little knowledge was left in the scriptures of the time they lived among humans and any knowledge of their language was hopelessly out of date.
With no answer forthcoming the general ordered the attack. Archers began to pepper the walls with arrows as specialist infantry advanced with Black powder charges, kept dry and ready to break down the gate, allowing the army to pour into the fortress town beyond.
However, this was unnecessary, for as the specialists approached under the arrow cover the Great Gate screeched, and then opened a small gap with a grinding noise. From this opening came the towns guards, 100 werewolves armed with daggers and spears, their wolf like forms outlined in the light beyond for all their opponents to see.
And on the walls stood the citizens of Prophet’s Pass, every able bodied man and woman, armed with light spears and simple rock slings, ready to combat the opposing forces as best they could.
Standing before the gates the commander of the guard drew a line in the snow with his spear, and spoke a sentance remembered by all who survived that battle, both citizen and solider alike.
“Not one step further shall they come.”
With that the 100 charged, hopelessly outnumbered by the thousands of humans in the opposing army, but far greater in strength and speed then any that stood against them. With spear, dagger, tooth and claw they fought, cutting a bloody swath in the empire’s forces, even as the army began to close in around them, over four thousand armoured warriors fighting to prevent the Werewolves reaching the general at the rear of the force. From the walls both spear and slingshot rained, with many hundred human soldiers falling wounded or unconscious by the projectiles even as their archers rained death down upon the walls.
The battle lasted for almost half a day, and the cost in lives was huge. Over a thousand humans were killed or injured in the fighting, and every member of the 100 guards died, their bodies punctured and bleeding as they did so, taking many humans with them as they fell into darkness.
On the walls the numbers were thinning by the moment, and although their reach and strength allowed even the most average citizen to kill many with their spears and slings, they were no match for the arrows being fired at them by the archers below, and their limited ammunition soon ran dry.
Finally the werewolves retreated, and the empire’s forces were finally able to plant their charges on the Great Gate, blowing the structure to pieces and dismantling a large chunk of the wall along with it, throwing huge lumps of stone back with the force of an avalanche into the small town.
The human soldiers flooded into Prophet’s Pass, and the general ordered the slaughter of every citizen of the small town, his mind still filled with retribution for the wrongs committed against his family.
However, the General’s second in command, a man known now as Commander Tzen Woh, was appalled at the generals order. He saw buildings aflame, mothers and children hacked down in the street, and babies being thrown from high windows to hit against the frozen ground bellow. It was a scene from hell, with the remaining citizens helpless against the onslaught of the empire’s forces.
As the killing diminished the general ordered that all surviving werewolves, many of whom were badly injured, to be brought before the far wall of the town. The group was made up of those too old, too young or too sick to fight, and were a pitiful group huddling together against the bitter cold winters night wind.
The General looked upon their huddled forms with malice in his eyes, the fires of hatred still burning strong within him, and he sought nothing more then complete destruction of the ones who had taken his son from him, regardless of the pitiful nature of the group assembled there.
He gave the order to end their lives.
Tzen was horrified, and instantly demanded that the general repeal the order, arguing that they had not come here to slaughter innocents. The general refuse, and grew angry at the commander’s defiance. He had him arrested on the spot, and immediately had the army assemble on the Kingdom side of the wall, the dark night masking the land from view.
The general was ready to make an example, and had the commander tied down to a barrel. He began to beat him with the haft of a spear, calling him a traitor, shouting obscenities at him for defying his superiors will. As the beating continued the General began to rant about how the ‘monsters’ must be destroyed, for they did not deserve a place in this world, and how they had taken from him, so he would take from them.
The men, many of whom respected the Commander, found the Generals fervour whilst beating the man disturbing, and began muttering to themselves about the true motives for their presence here. The general noticed their dissent, and flew into a rage, calling their objections traitorous and cowardly.
It was not long before he began to strike the men as he ranted, many receiving blows from the haft of the spear as the General attempted to restore order in his own force, and when he could not, strode over to the still bound commander and threatened his death. The men relented and backed away, but now knew that General Tzu Chereng had truly gone mad.
As the general stood there, ready to drive the spear through the commander’s chest, he suddenly went stiff, and dropped to the floor. Many were puzzled for a moment before they saw a long and ornate spear projecting from his back. Suddenly the light from the burning town seemed to grow brighter, and many in the army saw that within the tree line stood thousands of Werewolves, an army watching the spectacle of the humans silently, their eyes glowing fiercely in the firelight.
It was the Kings army, over ten thousand strong and led by Akrim Norberg himself, an army which had been sent for at the first sign of the human advance thorough the Pass and had only just arrived to see the town in flames and the General shouting at his men. The King had halted the advance, watching the humans and assessing the situation.
The Forces of the Empire drew back towards the walls of the burning town, their army completely unprepared to face a foe so large. Whilst they number close to three thousand, even a fight one on one would leave them completely outmatched by the werewolves, and many knew that their end was near if the Salvagardians decided to engage them. As the Humans helped their new General to his feet, he saw that fighting was hopeless, and so was their reason for being here. They had been duped by a madman hell-bent on revenge, and it was going to cost them their lives.
There was only choice was obvious to Tzen they could not return to their homeland after this defeat, and they could never take the Salvagardians by force. Walking towards the werewolf forces alone, he spotted the their leader, obvious in the firelight, as King Akrim stood a head and shoulders above all others there, and wore a plain gold circlet, a sign of his high office whilst in war. Tzen approached the king, arms held away from his sides, and then dropped to his knees, his head bowed in submission in a gesture of surrender to the superior force.
King Akrim, known to many as the wise, understood Tzen’s gesture, and although his blood cried out to kill the ones who had caused this devastation, he knew that any fighting would cause huge lose of life for all, and no amount of blood could ever bring the dead back from the grave.
From that day on the remaining Empire forces were taken, treated as prisoners of war and sentenced to hard labour for the rest of their lives to rebuild what they had helped destroy.
Their manual labour was used in reconstructing Prophet’s Pass and the Great Gate, larger and with fortifications better suited to attack from the outside world now the Salvagardians knew of the existence of black powder.
They were then used as miners, able to get at resources previously unavailable to the Salvagardians. Although never truly trusted, the three thousand human prisoners were a boon to the Kingdom, allowing many new advances through the resources they could now gain access to, as the humans had no fear of confined spaces as the werewolves did.
"You don't have to be mad here, but it helps."