Scales of War
The Red Hand of Doom
For centuries following the collapse of Rhestilor, the dry and dusty Wyrmsmoke Mountains were home to dozens of goblinoid tribes. Although travelers were forced to skirt the goblin-infested hills by a generous margin, in general the Wyrmsmoke tribes, depleted by the battles surrounding the collapse of Rhestilor, posed no significant threat to the nearby human towns and settlements other than the occasional bloody raid.
Yet deep within the mountains lay hidden something that would spell doom — an ancient temple dedicated to Tiamat, god of wealth, greed, and envy, revered by evil dragons everywhere. Built hundreds of years ago to serve as the hidden redoubt of a despicable cult of dragon-worshippers, the temple was eventually cleansed by a band of heroes from the human city of Rhest. For several centuries the complex lay empty. Then, eighty years ago, the young half-dragon hobgoblin warrior Azarr Kul discovered the abandoned temple and was awed by the teachings of Tiamat he read on the walls therein. He abandoned Maglubiyet, the traditional deity of his people, and dedicated himself to leading the rest of his nation to Tiamat’s worship.
Over the next twenty years, Azarr Kul grew into a powerful warlord and a mighty priest of Tiamat. Early in his rise to power he struck up an alliance with his sire, the blue dragon Tyrgarun. Aided by this powerful ally, Azarr Kul converted his entire tribe into fanatical worshipers of Tiamat. He renamed the tribes that had fallen under his wing the Kulkor Zhul and began to lay his plans for conquest of Elsir Vale.
Dedicating themselves to the Queen of Evil Dragons with the fanaticism of the recently converted, the members of the Kulkor Zhul grew strong, stronger than any Wyrmsmoke tribe before them. Adopting the standard of the Red Hand, an ancient symbol of Tiamat’s cult, Azarr Kul created an elite caste of warpriests, monks, and dragon-favored champions to lead the Kulkor Zhul.
Eventually, Azarr Kul and his dragon-worshipping zealots destroyed the last opposition to his supremacy over the Wyrmsmoke tribes, slaughtering the Black Knife Goblins and the tribes allied to them in a ferocious onslaught. The survivors accepted his sovereignty and were absorbed into his realm. Azarr Kul named his new kingdom Harg Kulkor, or “Land of the Dragon.”
After a long season of rebuilding his strength, offering bribes to many of the intelligent monsters in the region, and cementing the power of his Red Hand warpriests over the disparate tribes he ruled, Azarr Kul finally turned his attention to the lands beyond the Wyrmsmoke Mountains. What he saw whetted his ambition for power; no city or state within hundreds of miles could field an army as strong as his. The High Wyrmlord dreamed of carving out a hobgoblin empire stretching from the Sunset Sea to the Golden Plains – and the first step was to crush the human towns in Elsir Vale. Kul’s generals sent well trained scouts ahead to silence any that might alert the Vale to their approach. Fortunately, the depredations of one of Kul’s less able lieutenants, Wyrmlord Koth, had already put the western towns of Elsir Vale on alert.
With goblin brigandry on the rise, the council of Drellin’s Ferry had recruited the aid of a foreign band of adventurers to investigate and quell the goblin threat. These adventurers, known collectively as the Order of the Phoenix, traced the goblin raids back to the ruins of Vraath Keep at the base of the Wyrmsmoke Mountains. After vanquishing the goblins and putting Wyrmlord Koth to flight, they discovered that a massive goblin army was poised to overrun Elsir Vale.
Realizing that even the hardiest adventuring band could not face an army, the Order of the Phoenix set about delaying the army in order to give the citizens of Elsir Vale time to evacuate the hamlets and villages that stood in the path of the Red Hand and muster a defense at the city of Brindol. To that end, they destroyed the ancient dwarven bridge at Skull Gorge. Upon succeeding, they immediately headed for the nearby town of Drellin’s Ferry, raising the alarm and giving the people what time they could to prepare.
While the warnings of the Order of the Phoenix saved countless lives, and the destruction of the bridge slowed the advance of Azarr Kul’s host, no single band of adventurers could stop the horde. The host moved forward, and one by one, the homesteads of Elsir Vale fell under the shadow of the Red Hand.
During this time, the Order of the Phoenix proved themselves valiant defenders of the people. They led raids on the Red Hand supply lines, garnered allies from neighboring elven and dwarven settlements, and even braved the stinking Blackfens to prevent the Red Hand from creating an army of dragonspawn that would have surely tipped the balance of the war in Azarr Kul’s favor.
The Red Hand spread through the eastern plains of the vale until it stood at the gates of Brindol. The walled city was the first real obstacle the army had faced. The Red Hand laid siege to the town and wore down its defenses relentlessly. Thousands of people died defending the towns walls, and countless more perished of starvation and plague from the crowded siege conditions. It seemed that the folk of Brindol, and by extension, the Vale, were without hope.
Then, as if by a miracle, the army of Azarr Kul was stopped. Led by the valiant adventurers of the Order of the Phoenix, the citizens of Brindol, in their most desperate hour, beat back the invaders from the city walls. In a titanic struggle, the Order slew Hravek Kharn, Azarr Kul’s war general, leading to the route of the Red Hand army.
However, the struggle was far from over. The Order knew that unless they sought out and destroyed the Red Hand’s seat of power, Azarr Kul would regroup, marshall his forces, and attack the Vale once more. Acting on information gathered by Lord Jaarmath’s wizards, the Order ventured all the way to the Fane of Tiamat in the heart of the Wyrmsmoke Mountains, and struck directly at Azarr Kul himself. With the charismatic leader of the Red Hand dead, the Red Hand splintered, with large parts of its forces simply heading back to the Wyrmsmoke Mountains. In response, the forces that had rallied to the defense of the Vale quickly shifted to the offensive. Disjointed and surrounded, the goblinoid tribes were pursued, isolated, and crushed. The host of the Red Hand was no more. Stories of the Order of the Phoenix and their unlikely deeds spread like wildfire.
The threat of the Red Hand of Doom was ended, but the damage wrought by the hordes of Azarr Kul left scars that have not fully healed. Outlying communities remain abandoned, outposts once manned by brave soldiers lie in ruins, and the dangerous creatures that inhabit the Blackfens are bolder than they once were.
And what of the Order of the Phoenix?
- Quamara, half-elf druid and staunch defender of the wild, founded the Keepers of the Sun, bringing the forest druids of the Witchwood into partnership with the town of Witchcross. Now in the twilight of her life, she resides somewhere in the Witchwood, providing guidance to errant travelers but still able to channel the primal energy of the wild to keep monsters at bay.
- The swashbuckling adventurer Gaspard and the mysterious wizard Noname remained in Elsir Vale for a time, further increasing their notoriety, until they were gradually heard from no more. Some whisper that their recklessness finally proved their undoing, while others speculate that they left the Vale in search of new lands and opportunities for glory.
- The valiant fighter Pradir gained fame and fortune in the Siege of Brindol, rising to the rank of colonel in Lord Jarmaath’s army. Following the defeat of Azarr Kul, Lord Jarmaath gave Pradir the lordship of Vraath Keep and charged him with the task of ordering and protecting the lands north of Drellin’s Ferry and Elsir River. As Lord of Vraath Keep, Pradir kept vigilant watch against evil coming out of the Wyrmsmoke Mountains until his death ten years ago. He is survived by his two sons, Eothain and Eothel — stodgy but good-hearted middle-aged merchants who run a trading concern out of Brindol — and three granddaughters, the eldest of whom is a student of arcane magic.
Fifty years have passed since the fall of Azarr Kul, and in that time the Vale has enjoyed a period of relative peace. Today, the war of the Red Hand is little more than a story told by greybeards to frighten schoolchildren, a fading museum with a doddering caretaker in Brindol, and a local holiday marked by picnics and revelry. All is at peace. At least for now…