There was something strangely beautiful in the flames stretching toward the night sky. Something calming about the waving tendrils of heat melting through the snow-covered stone. Rikard Sol thought about this as he raised his shield to intercept a flight of barbed arrows. The fire cast a hellish tint over his frozen home in the Noharvan Nordlands. He pulled his axe from an Elf in front of him and spun around, his armor sparkling all manner of reds and oranges and giving him a look of being aflame himself.

Blood Elves clad in flowing robes of red and gold or wicked spiked armor poured through a broken gate, flames sparking from their outstretched hands. The Elven vanguard pushed deep into the courtyard, double-bladed spears and curved rune-swords flashing in the light. Arrows, invisible in the night sky, fell around them and pinned Humans and Elves alike to the burning ground. Rikard's forces fell back in ordered squads towards the Keep with shields raised, leaving a trail of corpses behind them. Too many of those were Human.

Beside the commander fought his beloved wife, commander of the Nordland cavalry. Her braided hair flew around her as she leaped among the robed warriors like an angel of death. A leather-bound tome chained to her hip carried the spells of her ancestors, and it was these incantations that she whispered under her breath while her wakizashi cut through cloth, flesh, and bone. They were not spells in the traditional sense, but were instead a subtle shifting of shadows to hide her blade, or a whisper of wind to put her opponent off balance. Even without them Anelia was one of the deadliest women Rikard had ever known. She remained the only person to defeat him without a wound received. He only hoped their newborn daughter took after her mother.

"Anelia, what of Iridia? Has Bor made it past the walls?" Rikard's voice was strained with exhaustion. He sidestepped a wild thrust by his adversary's spear and placed his axe with precision in the skull of the Elf in front of him.

"Yes. He's making for Korida. She'll be safe once she reaches their patrols." Her words overflowed with rage, sorrow, and grief. Each of those emotions slowly etched their way into her soul, reaching through her blades as pure and unbridled hatred for the enemy that necessitated the removal of her only child. But with the siege drawing to an obvious close, her firstborn's safety could no longer be guaranteed.

Instead she was to be sent to the neighboring empire of Korida, whose leadership had always been friendly to the needs of the Noharvans. It was the hope of the Commanders' Sol that their child, under the stern eyes of their Warden, would gain a Koridian escort to the Noharvan High King's palace far to the south where she would live until the threat to her life and home had ended. For years the Blood Elves had made known their desire for the ownership of the Nordlands and the Wastes beyond, giving little in the way of reason. Negotiations had been under way to discuss the possibility of a joint outpost. This siege of the Last Hearth Garrison, Rikard's fortress, was unexpected. Its consequences would reverberate deeply in the politics of the two nations for years to come.

Rikard gave the order to break ranks and retreat into the Keep itself. He and his wife remained outside the doors until the last of their warriors were behind the protective walls. The Blood Elf vanguard surged up the steps to be met with axe and sword. Pillars of flame crept up the walls, searching eagerly for an unsecured entrance to the glorious life within. The two commanders locked shields and stood on the threshold of the Hall, daring their enemy to gain entry. Sword, spear, and flame washed over them like water on rock, and were as easily repelled. It wasn't until Rikard's axe broke over the shield of a warlock to his fore that he and Anelia sealed the doors against the raging tide.

Bor swung his axe hard, splitting an Elven skull in two. He crouched low over his dead horse and gently placed the crying bundle of cloth behind the corpse where it would be sheltered from any arrows that went astray. Pulling free his second axe, the Warden turned back to the enemy and gave a roar so primal in its fury that their attack faltered. Bor Stonebreaker seized the opportunity and stepped forward into the Elven ranks with blades swinging. With one eye on his precious cargo, the hulking brute strode like an avenging god through the foes around him, his heavy axes cleaving through their steel armor with ease. Blood flowed freely around him, clouding the air and staining the ice and snow beneath his feet.

He cried out as a blood-spear bounced off the haft of one of his axes and cut a path up his face and across his left eye, an alien keening emanating from the blade as it tasted him. The Warden dropped one of his axes and clutched at his face, roaring in pain and fury. He blindly swung his other weapon and beheaded the offending Elf. A ball of flame exploded against his chest and forced him back another step where he tripped against his horse. Blood poured down Bor's face as he braced himself over the child, batting at the flames while simultaneously swatting away an advancing Elf. He whispered a brief word of encouragement and love to the girl before standing again. Snarling like a wounded animal, the Warden ripped the shield away from the next enemy in line and clove him in two.

Using the stolen shield as a bludgeon, he batted aside his opponents like so many flies to be crushed under his boots. An arrow buried itself in his arm and another in his shoulder. A sword pierced his side before the owner was crushed beneath his fury. Flames licked up his arm and he cried out in agony. Throwing his remaining axe at the sorcerer, he drew the broadsword hanging across his back and swiped at the nearest Elf. Grabbing the child from the frozen earth, he barreled his way past the ring of enemies before breaking into a dead sprint. He speared the first Blood Elf to get in his way and disemboweled the second. A moment later a thrown spear pierced his back, the barbed blade exiting just below his sternum.

Coughing blood, the Warden stumbled forward a few more steps before collapsing. He sheltered the child beneath him as the sounds of thundering hooves and Iridia Sol's crying accompanied him into darkness.