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The Hardanger Fiends
(A compilation from the journal of Astrid Ragnisdottir. ED.)
It is said that men and women who die bravely and valiantly will feast in the Great Hall with Odin All-Father. The All-Father must be welcoming them by the dozens, hearing their tales of great deeds and victory, as no less than two dozen wounded lie before me, chanting of battle as death slowly calls to them.
Let it be known that for the past month, the armies of Ragnar, as well as brave men and women from beyond Soderfjord, have fought bravely, strong in arms, and determined to destroy the little monsters, as all soldiers born. But the clever devils still continue to resist. They lay traps, as the mountains above fall on the warriors, granting them an inglorious demise, or as pitfalls suck the heavy-footed down into the pits of death. Surely as they are weak and vile, the little dogmen devils are clever, devious, and cunning, as if the spawn of Loki himself.
Yet the gods (It seems the northmen call the Immortals gods for some odd reason. ED.) eventually smiled upon Ragnar, called the Stout, as they praised his mighty axe-arm and courage. After besting many of the dog- headed monsters in personal combat, he who calls himself King Ragnar led his men, and his vassals' men, into the mouth of the Falun Cavern. There did they crush the last of the filthy beasts that guarded the entrance and sent so many a brave warrior to see the All-Father.
There is celebration, for this fortnight, the first step into a glorious victory has been reached. But the drinks are light, as woe be unto him who lets mead cloud his judgement while so close to such a clever enemy.
Let all who would be wise learn of the troubles that plague the men of Soderfjord. What fate had smiled upon us as an easy victory has become a death trap for the foolish who smile too soon.
The dog-men have lured Ragnar to their lair, where now they play with him as a tyrant jarl plays with his serfs. The caverns are as deadly as a berserker's axe, yet not nearly as visible or honourable. Pits filled with bones as sharp as any spear have claimed the lives of over a dozen brave souls. The cowardly beasts fire several arrows from the darkness of their passages, then flee into tunnels too large for the brave warrior to follow just as a rat scurries into its hole to avoid the cat.
The dog-beasts breed like the wild rabbit, and they are well aware of their greater numbers. A treacherous tactic of the devils is to bring sections of the dark cavern down upon a force of true warriors, forcing them to separate into smaller groups. Although they fight bravely and are easily worth one hundred of the monsters each, they are soon outnumbered and fall beneath the blades and arrows of the enemy. At least their souls will now be travelling to Asgard since their deaths were honourable and courageous.
In their lair, the traps are all made to maim and slay the human warrior, as blades spring from the wall at the height of one hand above the head of the little vermin, cleaving into the foolish pursuer who does not know the patience to wait for them to come to him.
Last is their dark magic, surely granted to them by Hel or Loki. Their dark priests call upon evil illusions to fool the eyes and ears of the noble warrior. Some call upon the unnatural darkness of night to cover the flames of the torches, preventing the soldiers from seeing their cowardly enemy.
Ragnar would be wise to call upon the guidance of father Odin, as his battle of victory will soon turn into a defeat, and woe unto him if he should return to his home in such shame.
To call the dog-men devils would no longer be an accurate description, for surely this day it is real devils that prey down upon us.
These frog beasts stand at least a head taller than the largest Northman warrior. The vile stench that follows these fiends is enough to make all but those with the strongest stomachs to wretch and fall helpless to the ground. And of those, it takes the hardiest and bravest warrior to still face these demons and look them in the eyes, for it is the eyes of pure evil that stare back at them.
Let it be known that even bravery and a strong will are still not enough to vanquish the frog-men, as only the most faithful and devoted who have weapons blessed by Thor or Odin can even pierce their strong skins. If such beings are not devils, then may the cold of winter take us all before a real devil ever shows its face in our lands. (Our research seems to indicate that these beasts are called Hezrou, from the type of fiends/devils known as Tanar'ri. Ed.)
Ragnar, although brave, is not a foolish young man. He has called back his warriors to regroup and make plans to defeat such unvanquishable foes. He intends for the skalds (Ed. Note: a mixture of priest and storyteller) to cast Odin's and Thor's blessing upon the warriors and their blades, so that even they can stand up to the demons in a fair and honourable combat, facing death on even grounds. The skalds are also to play a vital role in banishing these fiends back to Hel, as their holy prayers to the All-Father will force them to leave the physical world of mere mortals.
I must leave now, as the messenger says my divine-granted powers are needed to help Ragnar and his brave men ready to die for their King. Let it be known that once this is over, Ragnar the Stout will be the greatest of Kings of Mystara, or he shall be forever known as the foolish who has brought his nation into ruins and despair.
(Ed. Note: not in Astrid's handwriting!)
To whomever is reading this, I am sorry to inform you that Astrid was severely wounded during the last battle. She was sent, along with all the other priests, to a final confrontation with the fiends that have overrun the Falun Caverns. Unfortunately, she received grave injuries, and I am as of yet unsure whether or not she will survive.
From what I have read of this journal, it seems she has been keeping an accurate detail of the events of this siege for you, so I will endeavour to accomplish this for you as Astrid was a good friend of mine.
As mentioned, there was a great battle between the men of Soderfjord and the fiends, with the priests of Odin, Thor, and even Frey and Freyja at the forefront. Their priestly magics were the key in banishing the fiends back to the Pits, but it also put them as the primary targets of their attack. Over half of them died in that final battle, as well as three-score soldiers who were protecting them.
Despite the great loss, the battle was won and Ragnar emerged victorious. Luckily for him, the fiends seemed to have taken care of the kobolds beforehand, as there was none left to oppose him. Had they been still waiting, Ragnar would not have had enough men left to survive.
The Falun Caverns have been cleared of the evil kobolds, and Soderfjord should now be free of them. This should allow more peaceful relations with the more civilised tribes throughout the region.
I hope this is what you expected...
Misha (Ed. Note: We believe this last section might have been written by Misha Mananov.)