Lava Strike Force

 By Jeremy Sung and Brian Stevenson
Art by Nate Baertsch

 *Our tale begins before the events of BLOODLUST.

Eassy being Vilhain ssoldier.
No need to think, jussst obey.
Over-sseer ssummons.
Risse from the Magma Pit.
March. Fight. Die.
If no death, rejoin the Pit.
March another day.
Fight again. Die or Rejoin.

What a simpleton I was.
It was easy being a Vilhain Soldier, or at least it should have been.
You see we Magma Gohlem are all raw simple creatures. We share a hive mind, the mind of the Pit. Lord Umbreus or General Brutok summon us and once free of the Pit we must think and act and fight as a unit.
We are of the Pit. If we don't die lost, alone and far from our home we return, we merge again with the hive mind and are reborn. Every memory lost. Everything we know lost. Everything that would make us individual is lost. Everything lost, except our battle training. Somehow we retain that no matter how many times we are returned and reborn as stupid, simple and obedient as ever. Not I, not this time. I've been out of the Pit now for 293 days by my count. This may make me the oldest living Magma Gohlem. I don't know, my kind have no history, no family, nothing. Nothing that is, until a handful of us found ourselves free from the Pit for an abnormally long amount of time. What I've learned in these many months of freedom I've jealously guarded since I last saw the Pit.  Since I last saw my brothers and sister of the Pit…  

I’m rumbling…. I should begin at the beginning….

We were sent on a campaign against the Gearo 293 days ago. One thousand Magma Gohlem, led by General Brutok. The march was far. The march was long. Our target was a Gearo encampment on the far side of Mount Glacius. By the time we arrived our internal fires had dimmed and some even had dark patches of lava and rock on their extremities. Our natural shape-shifting ability was dampened, but we fought. We fought well. We fought legions of stolid Steel Gohlem that were led by Commander Palidar himself. Our fire against their steel, that alone should have given us the advantage. Again and again we charged, howling our madness and hatred at our gleaming adversaries. Though we brought down many of our foes, we did not prevail. We were crushed, snuffed out one by one. Our desperate rage met with their courageous discipline. Only a single squadron of us survived along with General Brutok. Thirteen of us there were. Thirteen and the Mighty General stood fast before Palidar’s forces. It was a tumultuous battle and we held our own. In the end Brutok brought down the mountainside and we thirteen escaped in the avalanche of broken rock and snow as it crashed down. We were separated from Brutok, but I knew he would have survived. Nothing can stop that one.

So my fellow survivors and I picked ourselves up and eventually began the long trip home to Castle Umbreus. However, we were changed. We'd been out of the Pit 100 long days. We could think clearly. We could feel. We could decide. Without the control or the commands of Brutok or Umbreus to guide our actions we became more than a hive mind. We became individuals and we started to become aware. Our skin began to cool further and crack, turning black like Volcanic Rock or Obsidian. Our overseers told us that  Magma Gohlem prison their bodies become. But we did not. In our freedom we had surmised that they lied to keep us controlled and stupid.  Or perhaps we were just different. This band of brothers were not just mindless Magma Gohlem any longer. We had become more.

In our journey back across the expanses of Monkaa to the Shadow Realm and Castle Umbreus, we further evolved. Some of the squad started taking on unique forms and adapting new abilities as well as being able to better control our shape-shifting and forging traits. The first of us to do so was my brother, Ehmber. He'd given himself that name, so proud to finally even understand what a name was. He chose to emulate the armor and helm of Palidar. “That all may be our enemy,” he would say. “But that all was the most formidable foe we will ever face on the battle field. I honor his skill by wearing this helm.” The others soon followed Ehmber’s example. They soon gave themselves names. Burhn, Boihl, Blahst, and Blahze. Followed by Mag-Nahr and Mag-Lahr, the molten twins. Then came Cyndehr, who to the surprise of the squad took the form and beauty of a fierce warrior maiden. After that Inferneus, Volcaneus, and Scaldeus. Finally the largest of us, Flame Beard who sprouted an uncontrollable plume of searing fire on the entire lower half of his face. I was the only one of us yet to choose a name. Ehmber assured me that my name would come to me when the time was right.

Many months passed. So curious we became about our world and in honing our new individuality that we had all but forgotten we set out to return to the Pit. We travelled across the entire northern hemisphere of Monkaa. Battling Gearo, and occasionally Vilhain, depending on the encounter and the balance of power. The whispers on the wind had reached us that our small band of warriors were being called the Lava Strike Force by the common folk and the survivors of our battles. We had become an impressive and deadly faction all our own. From some we were met with honor, reverence, given shelter and sustenance when we needed. From others we were feared and shunned, entire villages emptying like spirit vaults when we rode through.

We were a force like none other on Monkaa. Not quite Vilhain, no longer Gohlem, and certainly nothing like the Gearo we had met along the way. We came to odds many more times with the Vilhain and the injustices we witnessed perpetrated against the denizens of Monkaa from them than we ever did with the Gearo. Injustices that as we drew closer to the Vilhain keep we could no longer turn blind eyes to. We would indeed return to Castle Umbreus, but we would not be welcomed. We would arrive at our destination much more than the Pit, much more than the hive that spawned us. We were veterans, a strike force of elite warriors. Instead of returning to the Pit to be reclaimed by it we would return to liberate the rest of our kind. We thirteen would return to defeat the Vilhain hordes and give those of the Pit the same freedom and abilities we had finally come to realize were our rightful place in the Great Gear.

We stormed the gates of the Castle in the mid hours of the resting. We had thought that would be to our advantage. We were so very wrong. Along the road, a raiding party of one hundred or even an encampment of one thousand proved to be no match for the thirteen of us. Castle Umbreus and the bowels of the great mountain it is carved into the side of held over thirty thousand Vilhain soldiers. Venom, Umbrean, Ruby, Granite, even the lowly Obsidian and our own kin the Magma Gohlem were called forth to do battle against us as we struggled to advance through the castle to reach the Pit. We fought hard, we fought strong, and we fought as one. There would be songs of this battle if we grasped victory. There would be…. If.

Finally, as we breached the Lord of Shadow’s throne room we were set upon by the one sentient being on all of Monkaa that no one, save the brave Palidar, has bested in open combat. We were set upon by the mighty Brutok himself. It was then that we realized our folly in returning. The green behemoth made such brutal and short work of our little band of freedom fighters. He cut through us like the claws of a sand tiger through a tender young meadow deer. We were no matches for the General. One by one he felled us all. He was cold, swift and without mercy. We were naïve thinking we could defeat an entire army, but we were downright foolish to think this confrontation would have had any other outcome. There were thirteen of us, very unlucky.

We knew our return to the Pit was now imminent. Gathered up by the Umbrean Guard, we were bound and marched right back to the Pit from whence we came. The Lord of Shadows was standing on the thin stone bridge above the Pit. He stood there for several moments just staring into the roiling mindless mass of our people, our race. He was rolling a dimmed heartstone in his fingers. “So,” he hissed, “You want to be free do you? This mighty Lava Strike Force? This band of brothers?” He laughed a vicious and maddening cackle. “You sad failures! You unfortunate abominations! Better you should have died against the Gearo scum than waste your worthless resources venturing back here in a feeble attempt to free this!” He pointed down to the Pit and flung the heartstone into its center. Immediately where the heartstone had sank beneath the surface a form began to take shape. A new Magma Gohlem emerged and climbed its way onto the rocky edge of the Pit.

“General Brutok,” he called down to the mighty one standing below. “If you will.”

“This a waste of good soldiers!” the hulking beast barked back in what seemed like defiance that mirrored our own.

“Do not tempt me to hurl you into that pit along with them,” Umbreus said coldly. “Now do as you are told.”

Brutok looked at the newly formed and still burning Magma Gohlem that stood before him. We all watched in horror as the brute drove his massive fist straight into the inferno of the poor Gohlem’s  chest. When he withdrew his hand he held within it the heartstone that Umbreus had released just moments before. “Brutok, we’re waiting….” Umbreus said. The General growled another disapproval of his appointed task and crushed the heartstone to dust. The magma form before him screamed out in agony, bubbled, warped, and oozed into an intangible puddle of liquid before his executioner’s feet.

“Monster!” Blahst cried out.

“Monster?” quipped Umbreus. “Monster? My dear misguided Magma Gohlem; it is I who gave you life. Without the heartstones that I provide, you would all be no more than that disgusting, oozing mess below. No more than this horrid smelly Pit that is blight on my palace. Without me you would never have even known the short meaningless lives you’ve had. I am not a monster, but your savior.” He chuckled, “and right now I am saving you once more. Saving you from these awful notions of freedom and individuality.”

“Brutok,” he commanded. "Take their heartstones. Throw their bodies into the Pit! Melt them down!"

“What shall I do with heartstones?” Brutok asked. “Not crush them!”

“No. Bring them all to me”, the Lord of Shadow replied. “I have a new curiosity to explore.” With that he tore open a rift and disappeared into it leaving us to our fate.

The first of my brothers, Burhn was thrown into the Pit and what was once our home, our mother, and our birthplace became a scorching inferno of unrelenting torture. We saw him crackle and melt, screaming in horror as his mind, his newfound identity was seared away. One by one they pushed my shackled brethren into that white, hot hell mouth. I will never forget the look in the eyes of my brother Ehmber. He turned to me and merely said, "Run. Remember me. Remember us. Just run." He grabbed me with both hands and hurled me out over the Pit into the catacombs just beyond. Then he roared his defiance and tore into our captors like a tornado of rock and fire. My last sight of him was as he confronted Brutok and a dozen vicious Venom Gohlem. They cut him down and hurled his remains in all directions.

And so I ran. I ran deep into the catacombs of Castle Umbreus, far from the only family I knew.  I ran and wept for my brothers. I cursed Umbreus. I cursed this horrible ability to think and feel and hurt.

It took days before I was able to do anything more than cower in a crevice and try to shut out the pain and the fear and the hate. All I know is that when I think of Ehmber and the others, of what we survived and the betrayal and bitter end they all met, I burn. I burn with a fire hotter than the Pit, and I renew. My body softens and my shape-shifting abilities return. Oh, but my mind endures.  My spirit endures. My intellect burns as bright as my defiance.

My fire was not extinguished like my brothers and sister. However now I was alone, so alone. So I began to test my abilities. I began to push the limitations of what we had learned together as the squad of thirteen. I began to push myself in ways we had never imagined. Instead of merely forming blades and weapons and fighting forms and limbs, I began to mimic. Like my brother Ehmber had done when he donned the helm of noble Palidar. It was crude as my recollections were rushed and confused but I forced myself to mimic the great and terrible figures I'd seen in my short life. I turned gaunt and twisted and wore the face of my betrayer, the hated Lord Umbreus. I boiled and contorted into the form of a ravenous Scaled Leopard Dragon, then a Sand Tiger, then a Thresher Maw. I grew spikes and bulked up like mighty General Brutok, I liked this form the most. It suited me. I stretched and flowed and did my best to mimic Palidar, the Gearo Commander. I only saw him once at the battle of Mount Glacius. A Steel Gohlem had been surrounded and was set upon by dozens of my fellow Magma Gohlem. It had lost both legs and was struggling and would have soon died had Palidar not leapt into the fray, single handedly barging his way to his wounded comrade and dragging him to safety. I remember Palidar shrugging off blow after blow, his armor rent and cracked, but never losing his grip on the wounded Steel Gohlem. Much like brave Ehmber when he sacrificed himself to save me. Vilhain don't do that. They care only for themselves. We are not like them. We are not Vilhain. Ehmber was not like them. He died along with all my brothers, but he saved me. At the cost of his own life, he saved me. We are of the Pit. We return if we do not die to be reborn. That is when I left the cavern I'd hidden in. That was when I decided to avenge and rescue my family. That was when I decided to end Umbreus.

So I trained, oh how I trained. I knew Umbreus would be hard to kill, that tyrant guards his life even more jealously than his power and possessions. Crude bludgeons and blades would not do the job. I knew I would only have one chance to end him, so I debated my options. One was to try using my new mimic abilities to disguise myself as an Obsidian Gohlem servant or miner and attempt to get close enough to deal him the final blow. I practiced that disguise until it was perfect, even calling myself "Sooty" and mimicking the rough speech and earthiness of the Obsidians. Ultimately, I discarded that plan, as even though my mimicry was better than ever, I feared his eldritch powers and scrying abilities would see through my disguise. I thought about becoming a great beast and devouring him as savagely as he dispatched my brothers into the Pit. However, my ability in holding such a form long enough to rend his carcass asunder was not as strong as my desire. And what of General Brutok? Surely he would be there to protect his maser and do his duty. I had become a formidable warrior, but not good enough to best that one in single combat. So I knew my only option was to end him from distance. I would have to forge a weapon I'd never tried, a projectile weapon. I tried everything from crude javelins to slingshots to bows, but none had the range or power I needed. I simply did not have the expertise. So I set out to learn.

I carefully made my way up from the bowels of Castle Umbreus, past the toiling Obsidian Miners until I was near the armory and garrison. There I observed. I watched the Venom Gohlem and Umbrean Guard training and practicing. It took weeks but finally I found a unit of Venom Snipers. They had modified their own forging abilities to create long snouted weapons that spat concentrated balls of energy, harvested direct from their heartstones. The overseers trained them relentlessly and more than one died when his heartstone was exhausted. I mimicked them carefully but discovered that my fiery rage could fuel a precise energy blast much better than the Venoms could.  So back down to the bowels I went, practicing, always practicing.  I practiced until I was so precise that I could knock a stone seed out of the grasp of a tiny granite crawler high on a stalactite far in the distance. I was ready.

Among the Obsidian Gohlem in the mines I heard rumblings, Umbreus had a new power. The Lord of Shadow had uncovered the Bloodlust of legend, once wielded by the despot Magelok. He believed this power would give him dominion over all of Monkaa and was wasting no time. I waited and watched until I learned that Umbreus was planning to address his troops before a new offensive against the Gearo. He would address them from a high balcony on the tower in the mustering yard. Perfect.

I climbed the opposite cliff wall of the stronghold at night and carved out a hide, careful to blend the opening with the natural imperfections in the rock. And I waited. I banked my internal fire, lest my glowing rage give me away to the prying eyes beneath, but kept a core of white, hot fire to fuel the one shot I would need to end him. If it emptied my heartstone so be it. As long as the tyrant fell, I no longer cared what became of me. Finally, the daylight came and the muster yard filled with hundreds of thousands of restless, gruesome Vilhain soldiers, Bloodlust Warriors I believe is the name I had heard the Obsidians murmur about before they all mysteriously disappeared from the mines. Black and bloodied, I had never seen anything so terrifying in all my short life. I was so obsessed with my mission I didn't notice that there was not a single Magma Gohlem to be seen, or any other type of Gohlem for that matter.

At last, the stone doors parted and Umbreus stepped out into view on the balcony. However this was not the Umbreus I had expected. He was twice as tall and was just as black and bloodied as the creatures he intended to address. I couldn’t think about the uncertainty that was welling up inside me like a volcano on the verge of eruption. It was now or never. My squad, my family demanded this vengeance be carried out, now. I extended my weapon arm and sighted down the barrel, putting his leering skull adorned head squarely in my sights. I stoked the flames of my internal fire and prepared for the shot of my life. I fired. The shot was true and sped straight toward the grinning sadist's temple. This day I would rid this world called Monkaa of a most heinous being… But then Umbreus turned and looked right at me, my burning energy bolt coming to a dead stop, suspended in the air just inches before his face.

"Who dares?!," he shouted.

Before I could turn to run, he leapt from the tower and flew across the fortress. A blast of magic blew open the hide and he had me by the throat in a crushing grip. He formed a wicked scythe with his other hand and savagely tore off my weapon arm.
"Soooo..." he hissed, " of the Magma aberrations survived..."

Then he laughed and hurled me down into the mustering yard among his frothing bloodthirsty horde. They swarmed like a plague of Cragghoppers upon me, their claws ripping and tearing at the thick rock that had formed around my heartstone. Their teeth gnashing and cutting deep into my skin until one of them pierced my armor and unleashed a torrent of scalding magma into their unyielding maws.

The gush of my molten life force sent them reeling back. It wasn’t much but it was enough time for me to stand. In an instant and without even thinking I formed my remaining hand into a tendril and drove it into the earth. Where my arm had been severed by Umbreus’ scythe the magma pouring from the wound reformed my lost limb. I was whole again. As that hand reshaped I pointed it downward and another tendril plunged into the rock beneath my feet. I released a howl that was of both agony and ecstasy.

The ground surged then buckled before finally swelling into a jagged mound of rock and lava. That mound lunged forward and took the form of a savage Scaled Leopard Dragon. The fire breathing behemoth leapt from my memory and formed of the very ground I stood upon. Umbreus and his horde looked just as astonished by the feat as I felt in my ability to accomplish it. I wasted no time being proud of myself though, I set the stony creature upon my assailants with all the fury and anguish of these long weeks since witnessing my brothers returned to the Pit. I tore into them and tore them apart. The carnage continued for what felt like hours but in reality probably lasted only moments. I had expended too much energy in short a span. I could feel my flame ebbing. My head became lightened and I felt my heartstone beat its last.

I would make this count. With one final effort, worthy of the Eternal Barbarian himself, I launched the creature at the hovering Umbreus. This would be my dying act. I would bury him beneath the rubble of this beast’s final salvo. The ground erupted forth as my stone dragon grew to ten times the size it had started. Flying with open jaws at the murderous jackal above. This was it! “Vengeance is nigh, my brothers!” I cried. Ready to expire and join them once my puppet had completed its deed.

Suddenly, Umbreus’ armor cracked and split as a flood of shadow and blood poured from his body and engulfed the rocky monster, petrifying the giant in mid attack and melding the rocky form to the ground. I was spent. I had no more. I had failed. I fell backwards landing in a pool of cooling lava. Umbreus snarled as his armor sealed itself around the bloody cracks. He launched himself down, landing on me and crushing one of my legs. Lying in a broken heap, leaking hot lava, I thought it was finally the end of me, but Umbreus had other plans.  "I believe this is mine,” he glowered as he once again tore my arm off. “Take him to the gallery..." he snickered to the Bloodlust Warriors standing over me.  One of them formed a scythe and swung it at me. I felt an explosion of fire as it pierced my chest and then all was blackness....

I don't know how long I was out, but when I awoke I felt nothing but pain. I was still alive and my rage burned deep in my core and burned past the fog of despair. As my senses returned, I realized I had been hung from the ceiling of a circular chamber. Cold steel chains had been punched through my body, every wound a universe of agony unto itself. The stump of my arm had sealed around the wound, but in the process of being hung I must have lost my damaged leg, as it was still oozing and dripping liquid lava to the floor below.  Looking at the circular Pit below me, I realized with horror that it was all that was left of the magma Pit that spawned me. My rebellion must have enraged Umbreus so that he destroyed the Pit, snuffing its fire forever and leaving a cold, dead crater...   Then I looked around the chamber and what I saw nearly froze my already dimming heartstone.  Umbreus had called it a gallery, and a gallery it was but the art was something only a truly depraved and sick mind could envision. I saw bodies. Or what was left of them. Twelve hanging carcasses, blackened and cracked covered in ash. Magma Gohlem. The Thirteen, my dear brothers and sister. Directly across from me I saw what was left of Ehmber, only a head and half of a torso. This gallery was one of horrors.

Rage like none I'd ever known exploded in my heartstone.

The steel chains suspending me from the ceiling evaporated like morning mist and my blackened cracked body burned white hot as I fell to the floor in a shower of fire. I hit the cold stone floor and immediately liquefied a pool of lava around me. My body drank in the hot liquid stone, regrowing my lost arm and leg, as I swelled and grew powerful, renewed by my righteous fury. The Chamber was now fully ablaze by my glowing form and I again saw, more clearly now, the sad remains of my brothers and sister. I howled and formed a long flame whip with my hand. The searing lash struck the chains suspending Ehmber's remains and I ran forward, catching what was left of my brother as he fell. Hot lava tears streamed as I cradled what was left of Ehmber. As I held his broken body I heard something. Heard it in my heartstone, the tiniest beat of life, banked like coals buried deep beneath the ash and soot and wreckage of our sad existence. I reached for that spark and fed it with a line direct from my soul. The heat poured out of me in waves, again liquefying the floor and slowly Ehmber stirred.  I doubled my efforts and his body started to draw in the fresh liquid lava, reforming. REBORN!

Finally, Ehmber opened his eyes and said words I never thought I'd hear again, "My Brother.”

Then I laughed, for the first time in ages, I laughed and he joined me. "We can save them!" I shouted, "We can save them all!"

“Not without that all heartstones,” my brother said with a somber tone. “For that all past months Umbreus has toyed with us all and experimented. We all been destroyed and reborn a hundred times over. Each time he would destroy the bodies but our spirits, our hearts grew stronger. We all did not lose what was gained. Our individuality and thirst for freedom remained. Each time we all rose, it was us all and not his mindless Gohlem slaves. It enraged Umbreus so much that he continued his mad tortures of us until that all Pit had been completely drained. When he was done with us all he would remove our heartstones”

“In his last visit,” Ehmber continued. “Umbreus was interrupted before he could remove my heartstone. It has been weeks since he’s been to this all cave of atrocities. Then that all creatures brought you here.”

“So the other heartstones,” I implored to my brother. “Where are they?”

“Of that I am unsure,” Ehmber answered. “I had feared that they were destroyed, but I can feel them call to me, pulling at my own to find them and to free them.”

“Then that is exactly what we shall do,” I said. “Are you with me?” 

Before he could answer there were Bloodlust Warriors clawing at the door to the chamber of horrors. Our rebirth had been noticed. "We'll fight them..." I growled through clenched teeth, readying mace and shield limbs.

"Of course..." nodded Ehmber as he forged twin swords of pure molten magma. The door exploded and a rush of Bloodlust Warriors poured in. We fought like madmen, but soon the numbers took their toll and we were driven back. I looked at Ehmber and thought how unfair it was that we'd be snuffed out so soon after being re-united. Suddenly the ground shook and the chamber began to fall apart around us. Large formations of rock began falling as the room caved in. Ehmber and I dodged and blasted the rock as it fell. Most of the Bloodlust creatures were crushed. I moved to try and free the others from their bonds but it was no use. If the Great Gear wanted us to return to the Pit it wasn’t going to have very much longer to wait.  A giant portion of the ceiling gave way and was heading straight upon Ehmber I leapt and tackled him, hoping to move him out of harms way. The moment I touched him the world exploded in light.

When my vision cleared it was barely coherent as everything was still a bright blinding white. We were in a stark chamber, suspended in a dimension of unending light. I looked around and spied a dark form slumped on the floor bathed in burning white beams from every direction. We approached and saw that it was a woman. She was bleeding badly from numerous wounds and at first we feared she was dead. She stirred and we went to her, trying our best to make her comfortable. She looked at us through blood glazed eyes and asked weakly, "...who are you...?"

"Brothers," replied Ehmber, "I'm Ehmber and this all is…”

“Fyreball!” I blurted.

I glanced in shock at Ehmber and he smiled and said, "It's the perfect name."

I smiled too and nodded, "Yes, we are brothers.   But who are you...?"

"Hmm... brothers..." said the lady with a smile, " appropriate. I am a mother who has lost her sons..." Suddenly, her tired eyes opened wide with a look of utter clarity. "He's coming," she murmured fearfully.

Ehmber and I didn't need to be told whom she meant. We lifted the lady to her feet and as we held her she seemed to touch our souls. She smiled. "You are unique among your kind...I think we can help each other...join hands," she said.

We did and felt that familiar explosion of light building.  But this time it was not random, it was controlled, as this dark lady, The Mistress of Shadows, was guiding our newfound ability to open rifts when connected to one another. She smiled again and we winked out of sight, out of the bright, bleak prison of light.

We materialized far from Castle Umbreus. Ehmber and I built a stronghold in back of a narrow ravine Noiria brought us to, hewing a comfortable yet extremely defensible home out of the bedrock.  There is something called a Lifespring hidden here. She says there are a few others like it scattered across Monkaa in secret kingdoms. It does Ehmber and I no good but it has worked miracles with our new mistress’ wounds. Most of her hurts are now healed. The ones you can see anyway. The Mistress was still weak from her ordeal at the hands of Umbreus, so it took a few months for her to regain her full strength. Much of her power was diminished, drawn away through the blood Umbreus had taken from her to fuel his Bloodlust powers. So Ehmber and I used our internal fires to bolster her power where this Lifespring is unable.  We nurtured her body as she nurtured our minds and taught us how to hone our mimicry and forging skills. She spoke of the other Lifesprings and other tribes. She shared with us many secrets of Monkaa, secrets her lost sons never knew. She told us the sad history of the War of Light and Shadow and her imprisonment, while I told her and Ehmber of lonely days fighting to survive in the bowels of Castle Umbreus. Our shared tragedy at the hands of Umbreus has built a powerful bond between us. We have become a family.

The Pit is no more. The Magma Gohlem are gone. The Mistress of Shadow is gone, at least as the rest of the world is presently concerned. We are the Lava Strike Force and we protect our new mother, Lady Darkfyre. We still have much to do.  Our ten brothers and sister remain shackled in the gallery of horrors buried beneath Castle Umbreus, their heartstones calling to us. We three still desire a reckoning with Umbreus, but that will all come in time. We will rebuild our brotherhood, and one day repay Umbreus for the cruelty and evil we have all suffered at his hands. For now we continue to build our strength, striking from the shadows and lighting fires where we may. We are the flame in the darkness, burning ever bright. We may find new allies and make new enemies, but we put family, our family first. Always.

"The Great Gear Turns! Yet Our Fires Burn! Be Friend or Be Foe, This Lesson You'll Learn! We Rise From The Magma! Our Heartstones are Strong! We Strike Without Warning and as Quickly are Gone! A Force Without Equal This Lava Army! We Fight For Freedom! My Brothers and Me!"