In the far wastes of the north, beyond the Iron Mountains on the border of Helegeron and Midland, there is towering pile of rock, stone, snow and ice know as Helcar. Atop it, sprawled across the highest peak is a small fortress of high towers and low walls, black iron and grey stone giving the already forbidding mountain a look that is sombre even in spring.
Several hundred feet below the castle, a great spur just off the western side of the mountain, on which sits a series of more walls, houses, huts, and towers. A road winds from this spur up to the castle, and down to the icy lake, almost two miles away. On the other side of the mountain, another large outcropping the size of a large hill stands out from the center most peak, which is decorated with a single tower, from which a lone thing battlement runs into the side of the mountain, the road that runs atop it vanishing through a gate.
Set into the side of the mountain, from which a wide stone stairway winds it’s way down, is a massive door of oak, steel, iron, and stone. Fires burn in pits outside, and torches blaze from their sockets in the gate itself. And if one looked long and closely enough, they would perhaps have seen an elf, standing silently beneath the gently falling snow that coated all in a smothering blanket of whiteness.
His white hair hung down to his waist, with a thick braid running down the center. A cloak of grey and silver, the upper half of which was made of fur, was clasped to the pauldrons of steel upon his broad shoulders. Upon his breastplate three gems, black, blue, and white were set in a formation about a depiction of an eagle which outstretched wings. He wore no helm, but a circlet of black iron rested upon his hair, with five large spikes jutting into the air. Beneath each spike was set a pale, white jewel.
His gaze roamed about the snowy wastes, his breath quiet and controlled. The elf’s eyes were pale blue, with flecks of white, and gleamed beneath the gathering gloom of night. They flicked across the landscape searching, eventually settling on a rider, slowly moving up the slope.
As the figure grew closer and closer, the elf made no motion to meet or greet him, remaining standing outside the mountain’s gate. The horseman gradually revealed himself to be an elf, atop a grey steed. The rider’s hood was up, snow was heaped about his shoulders, and the furs piled about his person were streaming water, but a grin could nevertheless be seen. He pulled his tired horse to a halt beside the other, leaped off, and crushed the first elf in a fierce grip.
”Suilad!” exclaimed the crowned elf, standing back after a moment. He looked down at his companion, overtopping him by half a foot. ”How was your ride?”
”Not so well as to make me forget my thirst! Come on, let’s get broach a barrel!” The ruder abruptly burst out laughing. ”Frost take my beard! It’s good to see you! How have you been?”
The tall elf frowned, his mood darkening. ”Worse than I would wish, but better than I fear. Velar is gathering his host. You have not returned too soon, brother.”
The rider’s face fell. Pushing back his hood to wring the water from it, he revealed a series of flowing locks and braids, jet black with blue beads holding the strands in place. ”I know. But I am here now, and do not intend to leave.” Snow began to fall with greater fury. ”You and I have much to discuss.”
The white haired elf grimaced. ”That we do, but first, get you inside and dry your clothes. Even Helcelen freeze, Magor.” His lips curved in a grim smile.
”Now that you mention it, this cloak is damned uncomfortable.” The rider, Magor, moved towards the gate, leading his horse by the reins. His brother glanced around for a moment, and followed him, now silent. He called out to the wooden and iron bars.
The response was the gate grinding slowly open, and a tall elf in furs walking out to greet the pair. Upon seeing Magor, he grinned.
”Olossë take me! The prodigal’s son returns.” He grabbed Magor in a fierce bear hug. ”Welcome home.”
”Hold, Chieftain, we’re drowning here.”
Magor’s brother chuckled. The fur covered elf smacked one hand to his chest with a metal crash. ”Tera-Macil. .” he replied respectfully.
‘Macil’ returned the salute. ”Get the gate closed, and finish up here. My brother and I need to talk.”
The three vanished inside the mountain, the door scraping across the pave-stones to close with a crash as locks and bars slid into place. Snow continued to fall, and the watchful night closed in.
A long hall, adorned with banners and torches, with stone-faced soldiers in blue and silver standing unceasing watch ran into the mountain for two-score meters, passageways leading to the barracks’ of the guards and sentries branching off. At the end of the hall, the center of the road dropped steadily downward, moving further underground. After a time, the GateHall ended in a oval room, beside a bottomless chasm hewn straight down into the rock. Pulleys and platforms plied up and down, maintaining the flow of elves up and down. Moving to the lift, Macil and Magor entered, pulled a lever, and dropped several hundred meters down. Lights shown all about, from veins of gold and silver running through the stone walls, from which light cast by a thousand torches was reflected tenfold. A ringing of hammers echoed through the long shaft down, the elven miners ever at work in the lowest caverns and passages of the deep. Scores of hallways, roads, streets and the like split off at various levels thoughout the pulley-shaft, spreading through the mountain like a massive anthill. This was Helcar, the largest of the Helcelen cities, and it had been wrought in the ancient ages of the world.
But there were signs of decay. Macil could seem them with his plain eyes on the long ride down. While the upper levels were mainly populated by soldiers and warriors of the Sorni Clan, and the levels directly beneath them were virtually awash in the remainder of the clan, who made their homes there, below that the number of elves to be seen dropped off dramatically. Helcar was vast, originally built to hold all the clans in times of need, but barely a fifth of it was in use now. Macil shook his head. Too many empty passages, abandoned homes carved into the rocks.
The last few meters of the ride were quiet, aside from the grinding gears of the trolley, and the lift-shaft sank into darkness for a few moments. But suddenly and without warning, the walls vanished, and Magor and Macil were slowly moving down into the center of a seemingly endless hall. Might pillars hundreds of feet high ran up all around, sustaining the full weight of the mountain. Here was where the Sorni retreated when all hope was lost, the Hall of Kings.
Fully half the Sorni Clan were gathered, trading, working, building, or living. Many of the pillars were interconnected by stone bridges, and houses, homes, and hamlets clung to the walls. At the far end eastern end of the hall, stood a wall made of iron and steel, set into the rock by unknown hands, with a archway to a gate set into the center. The faces of forgotten lords and kings were set in images of stone, but through the archway, where a gate might normally have stood, was only smooth stone, leading to nowhere.
The lift stopped, coming to a halt on the floor. Below them, the shaft continued on for a distance that even the elves had forgotten, the blackness swallowing everything. Macil did not bother with the pit at his feet however. He and his brother exited the platform, which beginning immediately rising once again towards the surface, and moved along a road set into the ‘floor’ of the gigantic hall, pushing through the steady flow of traffic.
After a few minutes walk, they reached one of the pillars, opened a door, and climbed up several steps of stairs, exited the pillars and crossed a bridge into the southern end of the hall, followed a series of passageways that twisted and turned for a few minutes more, and entered the Sornion home.
A fireplace was burning, a rack set beside it. Magor began hanging his soaking garments on it. Two torches on either side of the door provided additional light. Four small hallways led to bedchambers, but two of them had bolted and locked doors guarding the entrance. Swords, axes, bows, arrows, and spears decorated the walls, along with various furs and animal heads. Multiple rugs also fashioned from furs were cast about the stone room. Multiple chairs were arranged behind a counter, several brown wooden barrels set along the wall. A stone bowl of water, adorned with chunks of ice floating in it, was part of a small alcove on the other side of the room. A table, with a few pieces of parchment and charcoal pens scattered across it was the only other furnishing.
Macil hooked his leg around two of the chairs, yanked them to the fire, and grabbed to large mugs.
“You want a drink?”
“When would I not?”
Macil laughed, and poured an extremely clear liquid with hints of blue in it into the mugs. He handed one to his brother, who was now in a changed, his previous attire hanging on the rack by the fire. Both elves took a seat, raised their mugs in a silent salute, and took a swig.
“This is better than what they serve on the border, I’ll tell you that much.” said Magor, savoring the taste.
“Too sweet, or too strong?” grinned his sibling.
“Neither. No kick to it. After I kill somebody, I want a drink that will knock me around a bit. And those Midlanders can’t fight worth a damn, so I need something awful strong to forget the fight.” Magor spat in disgust. “They either hide, or go find some other man to do their killing for them.” He leaned forward. “They’re paying anybody to fight for them now. Mercenaries. It makes for easier raiding, but boring fights. A man who lives for gold won’t die for it.” He took another drink.
Macil filled this news away thoughtfully. “So that’s where you’ve been? I wondered about that.”
Aye, things were too quiet up here for my taste, so I headed down to see Belar and his Angoni." Macil raised an eyebrow at that. ‘Too quiet’ indeed. Four small clans had been fighting for control of hunting grounds not twenty miles from Helcar, and Macil had had to intervene. Now none of them had the grounds, and were still licking their wounds from the havoc he had wreaked on them.
“Any how, I joined up with one of Belar’s Clan-Chiefs. Spent the fall hunting for…knights. Midland word for a real warrior. They take their best fighters, cover them in more armor than you can imagine, give them the largest lances and shields I’ve ever seen, then send them galloping at you on a horse called a destrier. Makes for glorious combat.” Magor’s eyes sparkled. “Thing is, they spread them out so much that it’s almost impossible to pick a fight with one, unless you march up to their homes and demand a combat. For people with such imposing exteriors, they don’t like to use that armor of theirs very often.” He stared at the fire.
“Sounds awful. But there’s going to be a fight worth attending here pretty soon. Verel has put a price on my head, and is gathering as many clans to him as possible. The numbers are even for now, but they won’t be much longer.” interjected Macil. He took the circlet from his head, and held it in his hands. “The moment I put this bloody thing on, the whole place exploded into more bloodshed than you can imagine. Verel wants vengeance for his wife, and since our father’s not here, he’s decided he’ll settle for taking the throne by force.” Magor laughed.
“If ruling is such a bother, why not let him? You’re clearly not enjoying it. It’s a freezing stone chair. Let him rot on it, if he chooses, and call himself High King of the Helcelen. No one will follow him, aside from his Narmani. ‘The Helcelen’ might be to how others refer to us, but the only one who obeys the Teranor is whichever clan he already led. You know that. It’s just a title.” he said.
Macil’s jaw hardened. “I’ve thought long and hard about that, brother. Why do they not obey the Teranor? We all swore an oath to the crown, long ago. But now, it’s every elf, clan, tribes, chief for himself.”
Magor leaned forward. “That’s because the last time a Teranor tried to impose his will on the tribes, they told him to stick that will of his up…” He smiled grimly. “They won’t listen to anyone unless they either have something to gain.”
“And Verel is offering them something. They are beginning to follow him Magor, because he is the Old Wolf, because he promises them glory beyond the Iron Mountains, and because he’ll wipe them out if they don’t. The first clan chief did tell him to shove it, but no one else has after that.”
Magor looked interested. “Oh? What’d he do?”
“His wolf ripped the throat out of the chief, his warriors destroyed the males to a man, the women and children vanished without a trace, and the village is now longer on the map. He dug up a hill, and shoveled it on top of the ruins.”
“I’ll be damned. That is a way to get the clans’ attention, I’ll give him that. But all this talk won’t mean a thing if we don’t do something. And yes, I mean we. I’m staying with you, Macil.” Magor said. “So, what will we do about it? You think better about this stuff than I do.”
Macil turned to his brother. Magor never forgot the look on his face. The amount of determination and resolve in Macil’s eyes and face was disturbing, even for him.
“What if…” Macil said slowly, gazing calmly at the circlet of iron and gems, “We united the clans behind one banner. An Sorni, banner.”