Red Hand of Doom
The dry hilltops danced with fire.
Throughout the heart of the wild badlands the humans called the Wyrmsmokes, great bonfires had been kindled atop the ridges overlooking Elsir Vale. There thousands of warriors had gathered — hobgoblins in armor dyed scarlet, thick-thewed bugbear berserkers, goblin worg riders and skirmishers and archers, and the scaled ones as well, who often towered over the rest. For so long they had fought each other, tribe against tribe, race against race, engaged in the endless test of battle, feud, and betrayal. But tonight . . . tonight they stood together, hated enemies shoulder-to-shoulder, shouting together as brothers. And they saw that they were strong, and together they danced and sang and shook their blades at the smoke-hidden stars overhead.
“We are the Kulkor Zhul!” they shouted, and the hills shook with the thunder of their voices. “We are the People of the Dragon! Uighulth na Hargai! None can stand before us!”
One by one the tribes fell silent. Armor creaked as thousands turned to look up to the Place of Speaking. There, a single champion emerged from the assemblage and slowly climbed the ancient stone stair cut into the side of the hill. A hundred bright yellow banners stood beneath him like a phalanx of spears, each marked with a great red hand. The warpriests holding the banners chanted battle-prayers in low voices as the champion ascended.
On the hundredth step he stopped and turned to face the waiting warriors. He was tall and strong, one of the hobgoblin chieftains, but dull blue scales gleamed along his shoulders, and jutting horns swept back from his head. “I am Azarr Kul, Son of the Dragon!” he cried. “Hear me, warriors of the Kulkor Zhul! Tomorrow we march to war!”
The warriors roared their approval, stamping their feet and clashing spear to shield. Azarr Kul waited, holding his hands aloft until they quieted again. “The warpriests of the Doom Hand have shown us the way! They have taught us honor, discipline, obedience — and strength! No more will we waste our blood fighting each other. We will take the lands of the elf, the dwarf, and the human, and make them ours! Under the banner of the Red Hand of Doom we march to victory and conquest! Remember that you stood here this night, warriors of Kulkor Zhul! For a hundred generations your sons and your sons’ sons will sing of the blood spilled by your swords and the glory you win in the nights to come! Now, my brothers — to WAR!”
The burning hills were too small to hold the shout the Kulkor Zhul gave in answer to their warlord’s call.