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Last Stand of the Dorinthians

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
As the party traveled, they seemed to have the feeling that they were being watched. Occasionally, there was a flutter in the trees or in the brush and instead of moving away, the animals sounded like they were following the path of the party. Danica believed that she saw the glint of eyes watching her from the vegetation, while Barok noted that the mountain lion was following them from a distance. It was if the entire forest kept a close eye on their activities.

As the party reached the base of Morduk's hill, they noticed a couple of large animal skeletons. As they climbed, the skeletons and mostly-decayed carcasses grew more frequent, as if there was once a great battle on this hill and nature had lost. All the animal bodies had signs of violent death from arrows, burn marks from arcane spells, and what seemed to be gashes from a huge sword. The animals stopped following at this point.

The party got within 200 feet of the hill's summit, and could make out a tall granite building. The face of it was plain, with two pillars holding an arched roof. Two granite statues of grotesque winged creatures had been carved where the pillars met the roof. The stone double doors that led into the building were open, though shadows hid the details of the interior.

"Damn," Barok cursed quietly to himself (but loud enough to be heard by the others) "I'd hate to have to face the one who did this in fair combat, but maybe we can kill him in his sleep. The fairies have obviously been spying on him for some time, maybe they know more about his habits, or any guards he might have?"

Silas seemed preoccupied every since setting out from the Dwarven stronghold. Now, staring up at the ancient temple he finally started to regain some of his old animation. "Ah! If you discount those hideous statues this temple is clearly in the classical style of the third..." He coughed with a bit of embarrassment as he cut himself off saying, "It's fairly old."

He looked over at Barok, hoping that he hadn't offended the man with his interruption. "The fey may know more about this Morduk but getting them to speak in anything other than circles may be difficult. '...her heart will be familiar to you...'?" He shook his head then absent-mindedly reached back to readjust the Python rod that he had wedged behind his pack.

"For Dornithia..." Danica offered, as the party stopped. She began to walk forward, crossbow in hand, ready for anything.

"For Dorinthia!" affirmed Dartis giving Danica a grin in either acknowledgement or agreement. His eyes focused on Danica a little longer. Dartis still marveled at the transformation she had undergone. More and more she was truly a Daughter of Dorinthia. Dartis brought his attention back to the temple.

"Silas, we make it through this, and I'll listen to what ever lecture you want. Barok, do you want point or shall I? Whoever doesn't can pair up with Ventus in the second row. So far your tale is true Ventus, I can release you now, your oath fulfilled, if you do not wish to venture into the temple" offered Dartis as he pulled out his bow and nocked an arrow.

"Oh, what the hell... I'll go first." Bloody heroes setting a bad example... he smiled as if to some inward joke. "You stay thirty feet behind me." He passed Danica, giving her an admiring glance, What a woman, and walked quietly towards the gate, passing from shadow to shadow.
Silas smiled his thanks at Dartis. "For Dorinthia!" he echoed, a moment too late and perhaps a tad too loud, as Danica, then Barok moved forward. He quickly cast his Extended Mage Armor spell, then with an awkward tug pulled the recently adjusted staff out to hold in his right hand.

As the party approached the temple, they heard a gutteral growl emanate from the darkness of the open portals. Four hairy and horned bow-wielding humanoids walked out, each with the lower body of a goat. They each nocked an arrow and watched the heroes’ approach with unease as a voice bellowed from behind them. "I smell... humans..."

Heavy footsteps were heard approaching the temple doors. "First she sends her pets, then she curses me so that I may not use the greatest of my magics, and now she sends human assassins." The gutteral growl was heard again, angrier.

"I will slay her assassins, and I will wear their bones as jewelry." Footprints appeared in the grime of the temple steps, although the walker was not visible to the eye. "Then, I will go to her glade, and take her other daughters like I have taken away her eldest then give them to my servants to do as they wish. I will burn down her ancient oak and spread its ashes across the rivers of this place and make this wood my own."

The four minions of the creature snickered, becoming more confident in their master's invisible presence. "I will do this with ease, for I am Morduk, third son of Krill the Binder, slayer of Ghul Dat, and enslaver of the dryad Trieste. Turn away, mortals, else look upon your death." So saying this, Morduk released his invisibility and appeared in the middle of his four archers. It was an ogre, but one wielding a greatsword and with a surprising amount of intelligence shining behind his eyes.

As Barok passed from brush to brush, getting closer to the temple along the way, he saw that the five humanoids hadn't seemed to notice his presence and were fixated upon the rest of the party. Barok easily made it to their flank, and was about 30 feet from the closest of the archers. Fee, fye, foe, fum, we're screwed up the... Barok thought to himself as he tried to maneuver himself behind the ogre.

Ventus paused for a moment as the others marched forth with their battle cry. Dartis' offer of freedom gave him pause for a moment, but although his duty to his captors may be lifted, he still wished to free the man who released him from Trieste's song. He pulled forth his shield from his back and drew his blade. His own battle cry caught in his throat as old habits died hard. He followed the others silently for a moment before whispering it to himself.

"For justice."
He pushed himself past Danica, Silas and Dartis, shaking his head to himself. "Mages, archers and skirmishers, what kind of front line is that? Stand behind me." At the appearance of the ogre, Ventus began to regret his decision to accompany the Dorinthians, and more so to stand at the forefront. But he still had a duty to discharge. The taunting words of Morduk stirred his ire, and he gazed into the eyes of his foe. Free of his obligations, he was his own man to act as he saw fit. He took a single step forward, eyeing the humanoids warily. "Your nose does you justice, Morduk, son of Krill. Humans we are indeed, but I am no assassin to skulk in the night for money. However, we have come to demand that you release the heart of the dryad to us."

Silas halted when the archers make an appearance. His hand, deft with practice, slipped inside the bulky pouch at his belt and he fingered the broken fragment of tortoise shell. He gave his companions a quick glance to determine who might be best protected by his spell but then guiltily prepared to cast the spell, Protection from Arrows, upon himself.
The ogre chuckled at Ventus' request. "No, I do not think so little human. She refused to love me, so I took her heart instead and remade her so that she would appreciate me more. With this act, I've hurt the dryad mother more than any piercing of my sword would have managed. Begone humans. Are your lives so cheap that you would throw them away?" As the party got closer (40' from lead archers, 45' from Morduk, 50' from rear archers) they realized that they saw fear in Morduk's eyes and those of his companions. Morduk looks prepared to fight, but he looked less than healthy. The heroes wondered if it was the result of the dryad mother's curse that he had mentioned.

Barok moved from brush to rocks that had fallen from the structure, slipping behind one of the rear archers. Would we toss our lives away? Apparently so, Barok smiled to himself as he silently moved forwards and stabbed his rapier at the back of the Ogre, hoping (but not really caring) that it was not the last thing he would ever do.

Rough Map, not to scale:
a= archers
M= Morduk
B= Barok
S= Silas
D= Dartis
Da = Danica
V= Ventus

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The party saw Barok move behind the ogre-mage, and before the two archers that he passed could react, he surprised everyone by silencing Morduk in the middle of his chuckling with a rapier deep into his back. Morduk turned and waves his greatsword, but at that moment a growl was heard and a familiar-looking mountain lion appeared from the opposite side of the temple and also attacked. The large cat sliced a gash into Morduk's forearm.

The forest came alive, the sounds of animals coming from all around the base of the hill. Flocks of birds flew around in a swirl of chaotic frenzy. Morduk concentrated for a second and became gaseous, but it only lasted for a moment before he rematerialized. It was as if this part of his magic had failed him, and the fear in his eyes grew.

Rough Map, not to scale:
a = archers
M = Morduk
B = Barok
S = Silas
D = Dartis
Da = Danica
V = Ventus
c = Mountain Lion

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Barok laughed at the expression in the Ogre Mages’ eyes, moved to flank him and attacked with both his weapons. "Come on you bastards! Charge!" He cried out cheerfully to his companions.

Silas flinched from the chaos of the birds and the screeching, baying, howling of the surrounding beasts as the battle began. He felt the barest amount of pity for Morduk but it didn't prevent him from casting the python rod to the ground and commanding its magics. "Kerastes! Come forth and coil about mine enemies!"
Silas moved next and took a few steps forwards before placing his staff onto the ground. As he spoke his command, the staff became a deadly python and raced towards one of the satyr archers. The creature grappled onto its victim, and coiled around him with enough pressure to cause him to yelp in pain and drop his bow for a dagger.

As Marduk resolidified, Danica stood puzzled at the inherent paradox of this creature. As she watched, she realized that she had not cast her Mage Armor recently, and that she was going to have to remember to do that, to keep it up. Be that as it may, her other magics were needed elsewhere. She felt liberated from not hiding her spellcasting, and as she raised her crossbow to her eye, she announced, "Marduk, you are weaker than you think", thereby casting Ray of Enfeeblement on the Greatsword-wielding Ogre. Then she fell forward to the ground, prone, and leveled her crossbow at the nearest archer. As she lied on the ground, pointing her crossbow at an ogre, Danica replayed Ventus' words in her head. That was actually quite nice of him.

Ventus looked to where Morduk and Barok were locked in combat. "It seems that you leave us no choice." His boots churned the ground under his feet as he pushed himself forward into combat with the ogre and his minions.

Dartis smiled at Barok; now this one has potential. Hell of a way to signal an attack.
Dartis loosed a quick pair of arrows at the orge as he spurred Swift on towards the closest archer. One arrow missed, but the other not only hit, but caught Morduk in his lung.

Danica’s spell contacted Morduk, but he resisted her magic's affect. At the same time, the mountain lion struck at the ogre, but also missed. One of the satyrs close to Barok leveled his bow and shot the rogue, grazing him. Ventus rushed forward and attacks the closest archer that was unengaged, but missed.

Morduk swung his huge sword, connecting with the dryad's mountain lion and cleaving it in two. The creature never even had a chance to scream. The second archer that was close to Barok also fired his bow, and left another gash across the rogue's body. Barok was unfazed and somehow managed to duck underneath the ogre-mages arm and drive his rapier upwards into Morduk's lowered throat. The ogre let out a gargled howl of pain before stumbling backwards and onto his back, seemingly dead.

The satyr that Ventus attacked lowered its head and butt at the fighter, but the ex-soldier easily knocked his horns away with a quick move of his shield. The constricted satyr attempted to stab at the python with a dagger, but only managed to hit himself, though the blade did it no harm.

The heroes heard a screeching from above, as the two grotesque statues came to life from off the pillars and dived towards the party. One swooped down and attacked Dartis, but missed before launching itself back up into the sky. The second one dived down at Silas, and managed to scratch the abjurer with a deep gash despite his protective magics, before flying back up into the air.

Seeing the ogre fall, Ventus pressed his confrontation with the Satyr archer. He kept one eye on the skies and the other on his foe as he stabbed once more. At the appearance of the stone gargoyles, Danica shifted her attention from the satyr archer to them. Barok cast one last glance at the dying ogre, something sadistic gleaming in his eyes for a moment, before moving around the crumbled body to flank the archer fighting Ventus. Silas stumbled back from the slashing attacks of the diving statue. How can such beasts of stone fly!, he silently wondered. With a bit of worry, and a feeling that his protections weren't quite enough, he cast Shield. At the same time Dartis ducked out of the way of the gargoyles claws and thought, "Great, flying rocks, Silas will want to spend a few days studying at the pebbles before we leave".

Silas finished casting his spell, and felt the magical shield protect him. Next to him, Dartis moved Swift forward a few feet before shooting two arrows at the satyr that engaged Ventus. The first missed, but the second bounced off the creature's shoulder blade. It was as if the satyr had a resistance to normal weapons.

Danica fired at the same target, and caught the satyr in the thigh. The sorceress almost jumped up in fear when she heard a horrible shriek of pain, and she saw that the other nearby archer was finally crushed to death by Silas' python. One of the satyrs near Barok attacked the rogue, but he nimbly spun out of the way. Ventus attacked the satyr that was beginning to look like a pin cushion because of Dartis and Danica. He used his shield to get in close to his opponent, then flicked the wrist of his sword arm upwards, gutting the creature badly, although it still stood.

The other satyr near Barok tried to butt the rogue, but he nimbly dodged away and moved towards Ventus' opponent. As Barok tried to slip away, one of the satyrs caught him with a dagger. Barok was able to flank Ventus' critically wounded opponent and stab it with his rapier. Unfortunately, the satyr's skin deflected the blow.

The two gargoyles attacked once more. This time Danica was a target, and she cried out in surprise as a claw raked her shoulder, slashing both skin and the blouse she paid 2 gold pieces for (-3 hps to Danica and she'll never get that stain out). Ventus was the target of the second gargoyle, which did get through his armor.

Ventus winced as the gargoyle's claws raked his back, but Danica's cry caught his attention. He could not defend the others against the gargoyles while he was embroiled in a battle, separated from the group. He shrugged off the wounds and continued his focus on the archers. He stabbed out once more hoping to quickly drop the satyrs, allowing him to focus on the airborne threat.

Danica rolled on her back to reload the crossbow. The pain in her shoulder hurt, but it did not distract her from her task at hand. From her position, she saw one of the gargoyles circling above her, and she sent a bolt coursing through the air towards it. Then she reloaded, conscious of the moisture seeping from the dirt surrounding the castle through her back.

Barok began to feel the pain of his wounds and suddenly realized the dangerous situation he was in. No longer so keen on continuing the battle he sneered at the satyrs. "Why are you still fighting, fools, can't you see your master is dead?", and once again he tried to impale the same satyr on his weapons.
Hearing Barok's words, Danica too called out, "Somebody should keep an eye on the ogre's corpse. You never know what will happen with a wizard."
Silas looked from the archers to the flying creatures and back again. He was not certain which was the greater threat but his companions seemed to be doing some damage against the archers while the other creatures were fairly uncontested. Let's see if I can bring one down within reach of our warriors... Arcane words and phrases rumbled from him as he raised one hand and pointed his palm at one of the flying creatures as it swooped within 30 feet of him. A bolt of scorching light shot from his palm and towards one of the creatures.

Dartis' two arrows impacted the satyr, but the first bounced off its tough skin, while the second only drew a trickle of blood. He moved Swift towards Morduk in order to stomp the corpse, but could not get there immediately due to the melee happening in front of him.

Danica fired straight up at the gargoyle that last harmed her. The creature grinned at her and froze for a moment at the sight of the small woman trying to harm it with a mortal weapon. This was no normal weapon, however, and no normal girl. The magic of the crossbow charged her projectile, and she fired the best shot of her life, hitting the monster through the left eye. It shrieked as it to plummeted to the ground, where a waiting Silas let loose with his own magic and cooked the gargoyle into a twisted mound of hard flesh.

Silas' python uncoiled from the archer it killed and moved towards its head to begin its feast. One of the satyrs fighting Barok stabbed the rogue in the side, which caused the former scout to sway from blood loss. Ventus attacked the satyr in front of him, catching the beastman in the ribs with his short sword, driving the point four inches deep before twisting and yanking outwards. The archer gave a long moan, and fell while trying unsuccessfully to keep his guts inside.

The second satyr attacking Barok flanked the rogue, but failed to hit him. Barok returned the favor, but only barely managed to get through the satyr's tough skin. Before he could even take a moment to look up, the gargoyle got by Ventus' armor and slashed the Imperial with a deep gash to his neck before soaring back skyward.

As Barok and Dartis watched in horror, the body of Morduk disappeared.

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Current HPs (current/max):

Danica 15/18
Silas 14/19
Dartis 29/29
Ventus 21/32
Barok 10/21

Dartis uttered an oath upon seeing the body of Morduk disappear. "Sorcery! The Rider take him and his minions." Dartis saw the plight of Barok, and spurred Swift onward, attempting to run down one of the satyrs.
At Dartis' cry, Danica whirled around -- her fear over the ogre's corpse had been realized, and she cursed herself for getting distracted by the gargoyles. I'm not a real fighter... she thought to herself, as she raised her crossbow to the square where Marduk had been.

Barok sneered in irritation at his useless weapons and instead tried to trip the least wounded of the Satyres flanking him, when he noticed the ogre’s body disappear. "Bloody Hell..."

"Ha ha!" crowed a gloating Silas at the downed flying creature. He looks around to see if anyone witnessed his (and Danica's) victory over the creature. Seeing that everyone else was involved in battles of their own he looked to see where he might be most useful and, seeing that the python was about to eat the downed archer instead of moving to attack another one, he yelled out a command, "Attack the archer!" Drawing the wand of magic missiles from where he had it stashed in his sleeve, Silas fired a missile at one of the remaining archers.

Silas' snake stopped in mid-preparation, snapped its jaw back into form, and crawled towards another archer. Silas himself fired at the closest archer, but his miss was a critical one and he instead shot Barok in the shoulder!

As the arrow hits him in the shoulder Barok cursed in surprise, and smiled crookedly at Silas "Hey! Thanks Mate. I owe you one."

Dartis charged into the mix and had Swift attack the archer to its left. It was a hard hit, but the hooves barely made a dent in the creature's tough hide. The python moved to bind the other archer, but it also missed its strike. Danica fires at where she thought the ogre-mage last was, but struck nothing, confirming her worry that he was no longer there or standing at the same location.

One of the archers butt Barok with his horns, but the rogue manages to stay standing despite the force of the impact. Ventus attacked the archer that the python missed, but also missed with his own strike. The second archer hit Barok once more with a dagger, driving it deeply in the bleeding rogue's body. Silas yelled as the second gargoyle took revenge on him, slashing him from behind. Barok attacked next, and successfully tripped the archer next to Ventus for the Imperial to easily strike down. In that same moment, however, Morduk reappeared next to Dartis.

The party heard a triumphant roar as the ogre-mage appeared next to the horsed noble. The whistling of his mighty sword caused the air to shriek as the blade tore through space and impacted against the noble's armor with a sickening sound of metal ripping through metal. Links from Dartis' chain shirt were torn apart, with many of them landing as far as Danica. Luckily, it was not a fatal wound as the armor took the brunt of the punishment. Still, Dartis' body flew from Swift, and the noble fell onto the ground and onto his back. The heroes heard him gasping for air as the wind was forced from his lungs upon impact with the ground. The ogre-mage then ducked down, using Swift as both cover and an obstacle to attacking him.

Danica 15/18
Silas 10/19
Dartis 13/29
Ventus 21/32
Barok 3/21

Barok coughed out a lungful of blood and looked around, searching for a way out but not finding it. There were too many enemies and too many knives about even without inviting them to stab his back. Besides, he'd always known he would end like this; killed in a fight of his own making. Barok, covered in the blood of half a dozen wounds, kept fighting.
Silas yelped in surprise as his magical missile flew wide and again as pain lanced through his back. He immediately turned his attention to the gargoyle. Trusting his companions to deal with the remaining archers he tracked the gargoyle's flight and prepared to cast another spell. "Fire worked before," he mumbled as he prepares Burning Hands.

The ogre's roar drew Silas' attention and he gaped in shock as Dartis was flung from Swift. Everything seemed to be spiraling quickly out of control and Silas wondered, Perhaps we've bitten off just a bit more than we can chew... Hardening his resolve he turned back to the gargoyle and waited until it began to dive for another attack.

Metal shrapnel flew around the teenage girl as Danica reloaded her crossbow and re-aimed at the now-visible ogre. Pfft.

Dartis stood slowly but deliberately, bringing his shield and sword up. "Nice hit" he muttered to Morduk. " I thought you would have fled, being the coward that you are, third son of Krill the Kraven. This just proves that you are as stupid as you are ugly. No wonder Trieste rejected you," taunted Dartis. "Go on order your goats to shoot me, I dare you! For I know you are too cowardly to face me!" Then, quick as a flash the well trained cavalry man spang into action, leaping back into the saddle and slashing at Morduk even as he spurred Swift to attack the orge.

Barok noticed the smoking flesh of the satyr in front of him and realized that it wasn't a crossbow bolt from Silas that hit him from behind, but was instead a magic missile from the wand in the abjurer's hand. The magic of this place had twisted the arcane bolt, causing it to follow a straight path through the rogue and into the satyr in front of him. The damage wasn't from physical injury, but was caused mentally by the shock of the magic passing through him. Once he realized this, the rogue shook the damage off and pinned his fallen satyr opponent to the ground with his blade, although the metal failed to pass through its skin.

While Silas waited to attack, his python took advantage of Barok's work and wrapped itself tightly around the satyr, causing it to scream in fear as it was completely immobilized. Danica fired a shot at Morduk, but Dartis and Swift blocked her vision and her bolt stuck inside the horse's saddle, but luckily did no physical harm.

Ventus moved to attack the satyr that was still fighting, and was able to use his shield to push in between the bloodied Barok and the creature, therefore protecting the rogue. His ancestral short sword was put to good use, driving itself deep into the archer's shoulder. It still stood, although it did not look long for this world. In desperation, it flailed wildly with its own blade, cutting Ventus' bicep.

Morduk sneered at Dartis and disappeared before the noble, causing the party to worry about who he would strike next.

The gargoyle dove downwards to strike once more, slashing Danica across the shoulder as she moved to reload. It laughed as it began to take off, but then it heard the casting of magic behind it and turned to catch a furnace of billowing flame from Silas. Although hurt, the creature was definitely not out, and with a shriek it took off into the air once more.

But this was when something strange happens. A cloud of crows spiraled around it, and began to peck at the blistered flesh that Silas' magic had created. The hundreds of birds each made the best of their moment, flying past the gargoyle's clawed strikes and piercing the weakened portions of its skin. The gargoyle grew desperate and attempted to fly away, but the formation easily followed it until the murder of crows disappeared with the gargoyle into the sky and the gargoyle's cries grew pitifully weaker and then finally ceased altogether.

Barok went last, and took the opportunity to circle around Ventus and flank the Imperial's weakened opponent. His strikes both hit, but unfortunately weren't able to puncture through the satyr's tough skin.

Danica 10/18
Silas 10/19
Dartis 13/29
Ventus 17/32
Barok 5/21

Silas watched in amazement as the gargoyle flew off and was quickly surrounded and brought down by the murder of crows. Shaking his head he turned back to survey the battle his friends and companions were involved in. Just in time to see Morduk vanish a second time, as Silas cursed loudly. "#%$@!!!" This is the second time I've been caught unprepared to deal with invisibility! I really must spend some time studying Astraulay's spellbook.

Rifling through his options, again Silas finds that he doesn't have much to penetrate invisibility beyond (hopefully) detecting the magical emanations. Sighing, he begins chanting and moving his fingers in intricate patterns. As his magical sight began to clear, he gazed towards the party in search of Morduk...

Danica winced as the gargoyle removed part of her shoulder, but she knew she was right to focus on Marduk and not the flying creature, whatever the damage. But she was not well, she knew. She stood, exposing herself to attack, but knowing she would at least not be a sitting duck. She reached into her pouch and grabbed the leather thong she should have used before they were even at the base of the hill.

She rubbed it over her forehead, saying "I need a barrier." She felt the eldritch power coruscating through her body, as magical armor surrounded her.
"Agreed, Barok move to Danica and Silas, leave the last goat to Ventus. We need to be ready to attack with everything should this sniveling coward dare to show his face again." Said Dartis as he sheathed his sword and drew his bow while urging Swift over to the last archer to aid Ventus, if he needed it.

The Fate of Ventus
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Dartis urged Swift on and flanked the satyr engaged with Ventus and Barok. The light warhorse reared up and kicks outward, missing the creature's head. The archer smiled since he was still alive, but then Dartis' blade came downward with enough force to leave a thin trail of blood across its face.

Danica cast a spell of protection around herself, the mage armor comfortably forming tightly against her. At the same time the python began squeezing the life force from the struggling satyr in its bonds.

Ventus attacked next, his blade piercing through the satyr's ribs like a hot knife through butter. The creature wailed and fell dead. For a moment, the Imperial wondered why his blade was so effective while his companions' weapons were not. Barok searched where Dartis stood for the sole standing opponent, but did not notice where Morduk has moved to next.

Danica was breathing heavily. Bleeding from her shoulder, her blouse torn and muddied, her eyes wide in exhilaration and excitement and terror. Her crossbow was up, and with sudden jerky movements she was twisting at her waist, pointing at the air there, no there, now there. Her pulse is pounding, and she felt sweat -- or was it blood? -- rolling down her temple. Her magic had failed her again, her attention slipped, she was wounded. But perhaps she could kill this Morduk.

But that's when Silas cast his spell and received a helpful, yet unexpected result... Silas knew instantly that the magic of this place had twisted and enhanced his spell. The temple before him then glew with a strange green aura, the results of his detect magic spell. However, what really drew his attention was a large cloud of blue haze that hovered near where Swift was, but then moved quickly to reach Ventus' exposed back. From the size and the speed, Silas guessed that this haze was the invisible Morduk. And he was standing behind a murdering Imperial soldier who had killed Dorinthians on the field of battle and perhaps in their own towns and villages. Ventus was bleeding badly, and the ogre-mage seemed to be taking his time, probably winding up for a strike that would silence the warrior forever. Silas knew he could track Morduk now, but this was an opportunity to have an Imperial quickly slain. And all he had to do was be silent.

Barok chuckles harshly, "Hell, that was too damn close. But you did well, all of you. Seems I've misjudged you, Imperial." he said to Ventus, "You had your chance to betray us, but fought by our side. That probably saved at least my life. Thanks." "Now, let's track down that cowardly goat:):):):)er and kill him a second time."

Ventus smiled at his blade for a moment as the last Satyr fell. His ancestors truly were looking out for him. He nodded briefly to Barok, but remained silent as he looked for the missing ogre and tried to listen for the heavy footsteps.

With his vision twisted it took Silas a moment to realize what was about to happen. In battle, perhaps, but not like this. "Behind you, Ventus!" he called and he again reached for his wand of magic missiles.

Ventus spun at Silas's warning, staring into empty space behind him. His eyes searched for any sign of the invisible ogre. With nothing to see, he closed his eyes and trusted in the memory of his father and grandfather as he stabbed blindly into space. "Guide my sword."

The air crackled as Silas' magic missile flew past Ventus and slammed into an invisible, and very surprised ogre-mage, his sword raised over his head in a two-handed grip that was about to be brought down on Ventus' head. The force magic cascaded over his form, showing the ogre-mage for a few vital seconds. Danica was the next to react, firing her crossbow and driving a bolt deep into the creature's shoulder. Two arrows flew from Dartis' bow, the first one reaching its mark and burying itself in Morduk's leg. Ventus brought his short sword up, but missed as he also scrambles away in desperation. It was Barok who finished it, with each of his blades successfully aiming for a different kidney.

Morduk groaned and fell onto his back, his invisibility gone. Even as he lay there, the heroes could see his wounds quickly beginning to heal once more.
Barok spit at the Ogre's face, crouched down and started sawing off Mardok's head with his dagger. "Maybe this will keep you dead, you ugly bastard," he smiled at the decapitated head. "I think the Dryad will appreciate the trophy."

Ventus watched Barok saw for a moment while he cleaned his blade and sheathed it at his side. Reaching behind himself, he pulled free the axe he borrowed from the dwarves earlier. The ogre may not be a tree, but it seemed like threatening plants would not be as important at the moment. "This may be more effective."
Together, Barok and Ventus did their bloody work and Morduk was finally no more. On his body, in a blood-covered pouch, was a heart the size of a fist and made from fossilized sap, also known as amber. The Heart of Trieste.
 

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Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Danica was dizzy with the aftereffects of combat, staggering slightly as she moved from place to place, feeling the corruption of the hilltop seeping into the soles of her feet, like dampness through cheap boots. She straightened her blouse, and shifted her pack to the other side, in an attempt to cover the hole, but the pain from her wound proved too much and she moved it back.

A small rat emerged from her pack and walked up to the corpses of Marduk and the satyrs, sniffing them, before scampering back and up Danica's leg. Then she remembered to breathe, and inhaled large gulps of the tepid air, but was nourished anyway."There could be more dangers--I don't think the heart alone is enough. We should ensure that there are no more threats on this hilltop, or hidden among the walls of this keep. WHo will come with me?"

She looked to Dartis and the others, and, having confirmed that there were no more visible threats, wandered into the temple to seek new ones. She hoped she would not be left alone.

Ventus kneeled down next to the dead Morduk, weighing the amber heart in his hand. "She said we would know it when we saw it. . ."
He leaned heavily on the gore splattered axe as he tried to catch his breath despite the pain from his various wounds. His eyes fell on the ogre's blade lying on the ground nearby and he paused to consider the effect such a weapon would have had on him. He turned his head to face Silas for a moment, and gazed into his eyes. "My thanks."

Dartis made as if to speak, but stopped himself. He gazed at Danica for a moment. Then as if an internal question was resolved, he whirled Swift and headed into the structure.
Silas nodded and looked as if he was about to say something when Danica made her proclamation and headed into the ancient temple. Sighing with exasperation, Silas hurriedly snatched up the python rod and followed. "Danica. Wait. We've wounded..." Of course, by this time it was already too late and Silas had become entranced by the carvings and construction of the temple.

Ventus groaned slightly as he rose to his feet once more. For a second he watched Dartis, Silas and Danica as they moved to investigate inside the ogre's temple. He returned the axe to his pack and drew his sword as he hustled forward, pushing past to be at the front once again. If he was going to spend any more time with these people, he was really going to have to teach them some basic military concepts. . . like formations. "I hope we're up for whatever's in here. . ." He looked around with disgust at the dominant insect theme. "Nice place though."

Barok followed Ventus, keeping an eye out for traps and ambushes while avoiding the most exposed position. He groaned a bit under his breath as his wounds chafed against his armor and clothing, but otherwise kept his composure.

'Someone must like locusts', the heroes realized as they entered through the fifteen foot high double doors of the temple. It was dark, but Silas was able to remove a torch and light it to reveal ancient brass walls covered in crawling insects...

At least that was his first impression until he took a closer look. The walls and ceiling were decorated with tiny, sculpted locusts crawling over one another. The flickering torchlight gave them the illusion of movement. The shape of the building was rectangular, and the walls were 50 feet away in one direction, while 30 feet in the other. The 35 foot tall ceiling was in the shape of a pyramid, with a large circular keystone in the center. From the rubble and chipped condition, this roof looked as if it had been greatly weakened by the ravages of time. Several bedrolls laid on the ground, and some small sacks leaned against a bronze, stained altar. On the top of this 10 ft by 3 ft altar was a giant, brass locust, perhaps an object of worship for the ancient people that used to come here.

Silas ran his fingers lightly over the wall carvings. "The detail is exquisite..." Silas took a moment to study the ceiling for structural soundness. Responding to Ventus' "Nice place though," he turned and said, "I've never seen its like." It was quite obvious that Silas, however, didn't mean it it the same sense that Ventus did.

Danica didn't hear Silas' words, the after effects of the battle still ringing in her own ears. She was careful as she walked, but was impressed with the intricacy of the carving--she was not at all phased by the insects it would appear.

"Is there any way to tell if these carvings were done by hand, or if they were made magically?" she asked, not knowing the answer herself.
She played with her everburning torch, dazzled by the appearance of movement. The sight of the bronze altar attracted her, and she carefully advanced towards it.

Barok poked around at the small sacks, but didn't find any traps on them although he did see that they were full of coin. Since nothing else in the room stood out as a likely location for a trap, Barok did a close inspection of the altar, looking more for traps or secrets rather than admiring its architecture. Danica did a similar inspection, although she was careful not to touch the altar until the rogue made sure it posed no threat. Barok found no traps.

Barok and Danica noticed that the giant locust was somehow connected to the top of the altar without having been welded, almost as if it was carved out from a large piece of the metal. There was a noticeable strip of fragile stone that ran around the entire perimeter of the altar and divided the top with the bottom half. The stone was some kind of clay or concrete.

Ventus contented himself with standing guard while the others investigate the chamber. He occasionally looked over his shoulder to the outside, but mostly watched his companions, waiting warily for anything that might endanger them. He tried to calm his breathing after the exertion outside, but the blood dripping from his wounds was quite distracting. "Well, is there anything that requires our attention?"

"How do we feel about desecrating ancient altars to locust gods?" asked Danica with half a smile. She was slightly dizzy, but knew others were more wounded than she was. She could wait.

"I think we should let the ancients keep thier secrets. Let us take Morduk's ill gotten gains" said Dartis pointing to the sacks of coin "for we shall be in need of it to clothe and feed the refugees. But if Morduk dwelt here, it may be an evil place. Even if not, the last time we disturbed the ancient past, we barely escaped. But come let us return Triete's heart to her, and free our people. We can ask the dryad about this temple. Perhaps she will remember who built it, or if there is any thing to fear from it." advised Dartis.

Silas realized that from the way this temple was decorated, he could tell that it was once a place of worship. But to what kind of god was unknown, and probably the religion had been lost in the annals of time. Still, maybe someone knew some of the oral history. The structure was sound, but the architecture was quite alien and very, very old from the look of the crumbling ceiling. The rectangular shape of the perimeter was a standard kind of design, but Silas had never heard of anyone that the Dorinthians had ever come into contact with to use a pyramid for a roof. In fact, the only obscure mention he ever encountered of pyramid architecture had been of some far away people once subjugated by the Tallione Empire. And they supposedly built large buildings that were pyramids in their entirety. The locusts were so life-like in appearance that they almost appeared as though live insects were turned into metal. With a frightening realization, Silas withdrew your hand. The walls still glew a dull green from the result of his detect magic spell, and Silas suddenly noticed that the glow came from significant transmutation magic.
Silas shrank back from the walls where previously he was quite bold in fingering the carvings. He moved to stand in the center of the hall and nods agreement with Dartis. "I agree. And these aren't carvings. I think they are real, held by some magic. I fear if we toy with the altar then we might somehow animate them." He shivered.

With that the party decided that discretion was the better part of valor. They left the ancient temple, coin in hand. They speak with the spirits that were kin to those that had built that temple, but we have not yet reached the time of that tale.
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
The heroes traveled towards Trieste's valley once more, and once again it seemed as if the entire valley was watching them although this time the heroes knew they could erase a flock of crows and a mountain lion from the list of pursuers.

When the party reached the summit of the tall hills surrounding the dryad's grove, they began to hear the lure of the dryad's song pulling at them. They were worried of pushing further, where the affects would be even stronger. The grove of trees and tall grass was about 200 feet in diameter, with a shining pond that surrounded a small isle. On the tiny isle stood a great oak, but its leaves and branches looked twisted and wrong in a way that they couldn't quite understand. The heroes believed they saw a figure or two underneath the tree, but the night lowered visibility to the point that it was hard to be sure.

"We need to return the heart to the dark hole left in Trieste's tree. The question is how to do so with out being ensnared. I think this is best done either through speed, by me on Swift, force of will to resist by perhaps Silas. Or our best option may be a woman" said Dartis looking knowingly at Danica.

"Danica, how strongly do you feel the pull of the dryad? Even now I feel her song tug at me. How I wish we had Kel with us, or Alexander who knew so much of the natural world. But we move with who we have. I suppose the last option is to simply call out to Trieste. But she seems to not be herself and would not respond well to attempts to contact her. So, how do we best proceed? Do we have other options?"

Danica also felt the pull of the song, but it was different from what the men were describing. It was a strong pull, but it was more of something that she wanted to hear more of and made Danica feel lazy and tired versus something that made her take actions she would not take otherwise.

Danica was caught by Dartis' question. Her face went blank, "Er." Her voice caught immediately. Clearly she didn't know how to explain the pull. But she courtseyed as she bit her lip and and tried again. "Lord Dartis, I don't know what effect the Dryad's song will have on me, but since it does not resonate with me as it aparently does with you, I will try. The song makes me tired, and at rest. The worst it will do -- or so I imagine -- is make me want to rest. If that is the case, then perhaps someone else could take the heart from my hands, and continue.

"I am not afraid,"
she said, visibly terrified, "But I shall do what I can. I believe the heart too might offer protection. The dryad must want it back. It is part of her." She paused, and a smile slowly grew over her face as a spark shined from the corner of her eye. "Besides, if something happened to me, I have all you men to come rescue me." She giggled.

Ventus considered the island, nearly losing himself in the song for a brief moment. He shook his head to clear it and faced Dartis. "It all comes down to whether she wants her heart back or not. If she wants it, then simply approaching with it in hand might be enough. If her nature has twisted enough where she will resist it, then it may require all of our strengths. If the lure is too much for any one of us, then we could each be lured in one by one as we attempt to rescue those already lost to the song. Perhaps if we had enough rope, one could go in and be pulled out it they failed to hold strong."

"Perhaps it will not be so bad even if we fail," Barok looked down at the island smiling. "I'll go. From what the other tree-fairies said I don't think she kills her victims right away and I wouldn't mind a bit of 'rest' for a while. If it turns bad I'll have you guys to bail me out. And I am the only one of us with a chance to enter unnoticed."

Before Dartis could prepare a plan of action, Barok snatched the heart and began running down the hill. He gave a half-pause as the strength of the song intensified, and for a moment the rest of the party thought a collective, "Oh hell..."

But the rogue recovered and shook off the music while leaping over the occasional mound. The grass came alive and reached out for him, but the dextrous Barok was able to move too quick for the blades of grass to hold him down. He made it a third of the way before anyone could think to follow.

Barok stopped briefly before charging ahead and stuffed his ears with moss and tied a piece of cloth around his head to help block out the increasingly inviting sound. He had second thoughts, realizing that maybe the singing made him a bit overeager.

Danica stared in wonder as Barok made a run for the tree. Again, her words had gone almost unnoticed. But she watched him as he went, and shouted out encouragement: "Be careful!"

Dartis swore at Barok's rashness and spurred on Swift. He cried out after Barok and led Swift into a gallop. He didn't make it more than 30 feet when the song took ahold of the nobleman, causing him to stop in amazement at the most beautiful music he had ever heard. And even though he could not see her face, Dartis knew that the woman by the pond was all the beauty he could imagine wrapped up in one stunning face. Swift begin to panic, as blades of grass wrapped up and around his hooves and immobilize the horse.

Barok continued his own run, and he continuesd to shake off the dryad's song. He was now 40 feet away, and could see her now. Despite her panic-filled face that gazed upon his defiant countenance, he noticed that she truly was a beautiful creature. A man stood up next to her, wearing the clothes of a Dorinthian noble attached to the cavalry forces. Barok's examination didn't slow down his nimbleness and once more he dodged the grasping blades of grass.

Danica dodged the grasping plants around her, but stumbled after making it only 15 feet. The music was like a beautiful lullaby, and the sorceress felt as if she should rest.

Silas moved quickly and surprisingly even more nimbly than Barok. He made it 30 feet with seeming ease, his mind concentrated upon his wife, a vision that the dryad's song had difficulty piercing.

Ventus was also able to dodge the plants, like Danica was, but only made it 15 feet before succumbing to the song... It was so beautiful, he realized.

S= Silas
D= Dartis
Da= Danica
V= Ventus
B= Barok
W= Dryad
N= Dorinthian Noble
T= Tree
..............................
.........V....Da............
............D......S.........
..............................
...............................
............B.................
...............................
...............................
........WN..................
..............T...............

The song continued, and for a moment Barok froze from the beauty of the dryad's voice. Everything was in that promise. Possession, desire, lust. Everything that a rogue could possibly want, although strangely there was no promise of love. The former scout muses that he normally made similar proposals whenever he had the opportunity. His dark humor helped him break the bonds of the enchantment, and once again he was on the move. He avoided the grasping plants and lands calf-deep in the pond by the great oak tree. As he moved onto the tiny isle, the Dorinthian cavalryman intercepted him, drawing his sword in warning. Barok could see by looking into the man's eyes that his will was not his own. The rogue could just make out a large hole in the tree behind him.

Dartis was still held by her song and Swift stopped struggling, more so because of its inability to move than from true desire. The plants wrapped steadily upwards and now touched the nobleman's legs and the horse's midsection...

Silas continued to dodge the plants and ignored the song by thinking of his family, making it another 30 feet and close enough to see that Barok was about to be engaged by a man wearing the cloak and armor of a Dorinthian cavalryman. The sight before him was almost enough to give him pause. The nobleman was Cal Dorin, the baron's lost son! And these mounds were his men, swallowed up by the twisted dryad's grove. They were not just Dorinthians. They were people of Fair Creek.

The sight of Dartis' horse ceasing its struggle pulled at the pity freely given by Danica's heart. She overcame the dryad's song and bolted next to Dartis in an attempt to free the nobleman. Before she could act, however, blades of grass rose up and snared her around her right thigh.

Ventus felt the pull of the dryad's song and took a few more steps forward so that he might better gaze upon the woman's beauty. Strangely, he was able to stumble past the ensnaring grass without getting himself caught.

S= Silas
D= Dartis
Da= Danica
V= Ventus
B= Barok
W= Dryad
N= Dorinthian Noble
T= Tree

..............................
..............................
..........V.DDa............
..............................
...............................
.................S............
...............................
............B..................
........W..N.................
..............T...............

As Danica struggled with the growing tendrils and vines wrapping around her leg, she spied the sword-wielding Dorinthian about to attack Barok. She reacted quickly, forgetting herself for a moment:

"Your strength spills into the earth" she proclaimed in a loud voice, as a shimmering beam leapt forth from her outstretched hand. She reached for her crossbow.

Barok shouted out to the two lovers by the tree while continuing to move forwards, "Morduk is dead. I killed the ugly bastard, twise, and I've got his head right here to prove it," he held up the head by the hair. "The Heart is yours once again if you will but let me pass. Get that noble fop out of the way and let me show you what a real man can do." he winked at her.

He continued to advance and struck out with lightning speed, throwing Morduk's gory head right at the knights face while hooking his foot behind the man's knee and pushing him out of the way to try for a trip. "Did you really think he could stand in my way? I'll save you wether you want it or not."

Though events had again spiralled out of his control, Silas followed as Barok ran headlong into the grove. Seeing Cal Dorin face Barok and knowing the surrounding mounds were likely his men as described by Ventus, Silas continued to plow forward to aid the man and free the others, somehow. His mind, however, was full of the image of his wife as he last saw her: holding their child, standing next to his aged father, as the town came to see them all off. As they marched faint strains of Dorinthia's battle-hymn floated after...

Suddenly Silas burst out in song. "Dor-IN-thi-AH! Dor-IN-thi-AH!..." Loud and out of tune, it was still recognizable as Dorinthia's anthem and he put all his emotion into it, hoping to rouse the sleepers.

Dartis took no notice of the malicious monocots creeping up his leg. Once more he had become far too entranced by the most wonderful song.

Ventus merely brushed the grass away from his leg as he easily pulled free to continue towards the source of his enchantment. He stumbled forward, his mind in a daze.

For a moment of surprise, the dryad and Cal Dorin watch as Barok showed the heart in his hand. Then the wood creature stopped singing for a brief second, and stared in anger, speaking the command, "Kill him."

Cal moved to comply, but before Barok could attempt to trip him, a bolt of magic flew over his shoulder and hit the nobleman. Danica's spell of weakness seemed to affect him, but then he visibly shook off the spell. Silas' shouting was heard behind Barok: "Dor-IN-thi-AH! Dor-IN-thi-AH!...". From the mounds around Barok, the cry was taken up by hoarse and weak voices, "Dor-IN-thi-AH! Dor-IN-thi-AH!..."

Perhaps it was the chanting that did it, or the recognition of heroic friends. Perhaps it was the brave and bloodied Barok's stubborn stand, or the distraction of Danica's spell. Whatever the cause, Cal lowered his blade and the rogue skirted by and drove the heart deep into the oak's hole behind him. The singing stopped, freeing Ventus and Dartis from its enchantment.

The hole sealed itself and the dryad had a change come over her. Her enraged face grew soft and pleasant for a moment, before she collapsed in tears, wailing. "Gods! He killed them. He killed my so many of my friends," she said as she collapsed with her face in her hands. Cal took a few steps towards her, as if intending to hold and comfort her. He stared down at the pitiful creature, and changed his mind while clenching and unclenching his hands.

"Thank you," Cal said to Barok with a cold expression. But come, we must now free our friends."

Barok turned and smiled expectantly at the dryad, his smile growing stale when noticing her reaction. Gods! I should have known, no "Oh my brave Hero! Look at those noble wounds, please let me kiss them and make it better..." No, instead I get a weeper.

"There, there, don't worry about that," he tried halfheartedly to console her. "Everything ends. It's the way of, uh, nature or something. At least you got your vengeance. It's all right, you'll get new friends, you've got a new one right here," he said, touching her shoulder gently.

He smiled distractedly at the knight, "That's all right sir. Thanks for getting out of the way." "...That really doesn't sound like such a bad idea, now when she's not an insane monster anymore."

Barok watched quietly as Cal took his blade in hand once more and moved towards the nearest mound, but it was not needed. Like a coccoon, the grass opened to reveal dozens of Fair Creek cavalrymen. All but two were still alive, although greatly weakened. Even Alexander's sister, the half-orc paladin Alexis, was found and gave Silas and Danica a small smile of thanks and recognition.

As the group set up camp, Dartis again found time to have private words with the various members of the group. To Danica he said, "Again you have proven your worth and valor Daughter of Dorinthia. You and your abilities, all of them, benefit the people of Dorinthia, our people." said Dartis clasping her on the shoulders. "On behalf of them I thank you."

Danica yelped as Dartis grabbed her shoulders--even as the wound began to heal, they were still sensitive, and the skin of her upper arm was exposed through the tear in the cloth. But she smiled, and courtsied, and said, "Thank you, my Lord. For Dorinthia."

Ventus stoof at the edge of the grove, a rather severe expression on his face, tight lipped and stock still. It was as much of his inner feelings as he would let show on the exterior; he did not allow his anger to cloud his face. He was angry at Barok for rushing off into the trap, he was angry at the others for following, and he was angry at himself for not having the willpower to resist the dryad's song.

The dryads sent help in the form of berries that burst from bushes that spontaneously erupted up from the ground and the heroes found that the nearby pond had fresh water to help the starved men. Somehow the grass preserved them at the same time it sapped their bodies of nutrients. The heroes spent the day burying the two soldiers that had died while the men and surviving horses recover. Cal took the two deaths the hardest. "My fault. We had to ride and try to warn my father, but the Imperials intercepted us and we rode into the hills to lose them when I heard her voice. I wasn't strong enough to resist that... thing. And my soldiers died for my weakness. In my mind I saw her as a Dorinthian noblewoman. Someone to continue a kingdom's noble lineage with. Gods..." he hissed in disgust. Perhaps the dryad heard him from her distant tree, for she looked at him in a hurt expression before disappearing into her oak once more. Some rigid pride had broken in Cal, and the heroes were not sure whether it was for the better. Although his men still looked at him with respect as he passed, he would never forget the tragedy that he was partly responsible for.

Dartis approached the stoic legionairre, Ventus, as he stoood to the side of the camp. "Well Tallione, you have proven yourself truthful and more than competent in battle. I thank you for your aid in defeating the ogre. We could not have won with out you. I again say to you that I hold your vow upheld. By your own admission, the men who saved you are now free. Though you are free to pursue your own path, I sense you would not return to Tallione. I would ask you then Ventusm would you not journey with us a while. We could use a stout man who knows about standing and fighting. I know there may be some distrust that may exist for a bit, but I at the least offer my hand in friendship." said Dartis extending his right hand, while pulling out a knife with his left in offer to cut the remaining and symbolic bonds on the legionairres wrists.

Ventus nodded solemnly and ran his wrist slightly for a moment, relieving the sensation that has stayed with him for many days now. He looked Dartis in the eyes, trying to read the man, then clasped hands with him firmly.

"You are correct in assuming that I can no more return to my home than your people can to theirs. I find myself in need of a new home, or a new purpose. Perhaps I will find my way along side you and your comrades."

Ventus saw that the situation had resolved itself, but that would bring about its own worries, for now the neccesary reprimand for Barok's impetuous behavior would never come. He stood watch stoicly over the recovering Dorinthians, glad at least that he was able to repay his debt and aid in some small way their release. His eyes gazed out over the men, seeking out the one whose words saved him from sharing their fate on his first journey to this glade, fearing that he may have been to late for him.

Dartis found Barok at some point. "I wish to thank you for your efforts Barok. Both against the ogre and to replace the heart. However I would also caution you to not be so rash. There is far too much at stake here. The future of our people hangs upon every action we take and we must not fail. I am overjoyed that you succeeded, but, had you not......."

"This is not a reprimand, nor a formal action. Though I am captain of the army, I ask you as a companion and a friend, to please exercise some due caution. There are so many back there. The same that followed you to the mountian, that desperately need us to succeed. I cannot afford to lose you, nor can I afford to have any failures. Our people's morale hangs by a thread, it is our duty to maintian that. I know you are not used to leading and thinking of the people you lead. But look at Cal and how he grieves over the men he lost. Imagine the people you lead to the mountian. They still look to you. I still need you to help lead our people to safety Barok. Dorinthia needs you Barok, will you be there for Her?"


"You really believe you're going to restore Dorinthia again? That you can put everything back together, bring us victory and peace and then give yourself a crown? With this?" he gestures to the encampment. "No, Dorinthia is lost. Her people murdered or in chains, her towns and fields in ashes inhabited only by beasts and ghosts. All we can do now is seek our vengeance and our deaths like men."

"You don't think I grieve only because I do not wallow in it? I have lost as much as any of you, but this is not the time for tears. These,"
he touches one of his wounds and the crusted blood surrounding it, "are the only tears I'm going to cry. And if I seek some pleasure on my way to death, can you blame me?"

Dartis listened to Baroks words and was silent a moment. "Then why are you here? Why not run after the Imperial column and die 'like a man'? Why not go and through your life away if you have lost so much and are seeking death?
And truly then why did you lead the refugees back to the hills? Dorinthia is lost only when we allow Her to be. You are right that this is not the time for tears, but neither of wtaer nor of blood. Nor is it time for vengance. That time will come. But if you truley have lost hope, then leave us, seek your death as you wish and find vengance as you can.
But I think there is more to you Barok. Some compassion must still dwell within you. Some pride of being Dorinthian. Why else would you lead those people to safety if 'her people are murdered or in chains, her towns and fields are ashes inhabited only by beasts and ghosts' ?

So long as I draw breath I will seek to protect Dorinthia and her people, no matter where the live. If you cannot understand that I pity you. And I will not have you compromising the future of Dorinthia. A fool I may be, but that hope is all those refugees have, and I will not fail them.

Your choice is your own. I will release you from any obilgation the Dorinthian army holds you to. But can you ever free yourself from the obligations you owe it the army and to Dorinthia?"


And Dartis turned and walked away to leave Barok to his thoughts.

Dartis found Cal at some point through the evening and pulled him aside for a private counsel. "Cal, you must recover here. You have lost no luster in your men's eyes. There is no shame here. This is not war or battle. This is sorcery. I myself was smitten by the song. I was held captive by the grasses. There is no shame in that, it does not diminsih your value as a warrior. We faced a gnome some time back who cast his sorcerous magic. Oh it was beautiful. He showed me here I could find our people, where we could live safe. But it was a lie. But Cal, these lies only have power because in our hearts we want what is promised so much. In our hearts lies the hope of Dorinthia. To desire the success of of people is nothing to be ashamed of. And if that hope makes us more vulnerable to evil sorcery, then so be it. For with out that hope in our hearts Cal, Dorthinia will die."

Dartis turned to face Cal, and grabbed him by the shoulders and stared into his face "Cal, my brother, my kinsmen, listen to me. You must shake this black mood off. Our men, our people need us. Did we weep after Kalden? Of course, but we did not cower from the next battle. Tonight we will honor those who have fallen. But we must move on Cal. Hope is finally rising, we must show that to our people."

Dartis then proceeded to tell Cal the tale of their rescue mission to find them, how they found the Imperials and how they were turned back, and finally the tale of Morduk. He also informed Cal that his father grieved terribly for him and will desire news of him soon.

Cal nodded at Dartis, though did not meet his eyes, "Thank you, Baron Kalnian, but leading men to die by the sword is one thing. Watching them helplessly as their lives are sucked out of their bodies is quite another. Still, I will carry on, for my men so that they may better serve our people if nothing else."

The party spent the night guarding the sleeping troops. Cal slept furthest from the oak tree, and the dryads did not reappear though the food continued to grow when needed. In the morning, on the crest of the hill, a small band of men could be seen observing the poor camp.

Ventus saw that they were wearing the clothing of Craeceans, a diverse and educated people in love with science and philosophy that were eventually taken over by the Tallione Empire.

The two new visitors, Nikolos and Caramip (two new PCs!), had traveled far to find the camp of Commander Sassarius, but it looked like his army had left. Which was unfortunate, since they needed to restock on supplies for their research into Dorinthian culture. Dorinthians had the most interesting, but primitive architecture, although they were hoping to move on and examine the plains that supported the nomadic lifestyle Dorinthians practiced before founding a kingdom.

Nikolos and Caramip had followed a horse trail, thinking maybe it would lead to Sassarius' cavalry, but ran into this surprise. Instead of finding a Tallione camp, here lied what looked to be some tattered remnants of Dorinthian cavalry. How marvelous! And Nikolos thought Dorinthia was completely defeated. Hmmm... the duo thought that maybe they should go before the Dorinthians noticed them as they might not appreciate being discovered... oops... too late...

At the dawning of the new morning, Ventus stood watching the newcomers, sizing them up to determine their purpose. Their clothing was familiar enough. He stepped forward to call out. "Hail to you, Craeceans. What business brings you here?"

In the morning Ventus' call alerted Dartis who went to join Ventus at the edge of the camp. "Ventus, what do you know of these Craeceans?" Dartus called back, "A scholarly expedition you say. Then by all means come and join us Witness Nikolos!" as Dartis waved Silas on up. It was best to have another scholar to join the parlay, if inded these men were scholars. As an afterthought Dartis gave Barok a small signal to indicate that the crafty man should circle around to provide some cover and ensure that this group was alone.

Ventus shrugged in response to Dartis' query. He leaned in to answer quietly. "A peaceful enough people, scholars and educators. . . but subjects of the Tallione Empire." He relaxed somewhat, taking his hand away from the hilt of his sword, but he continued to watch the new arrivals in case they were more than they claimed to be.

Nikolos glanced at his entourage, then looked at Caramip. "Well, this should be fascinating." Leaning on his longspear, which made a passable walking staff, he called back, "We are a scholarly expedition, seeking knowledge in the blessed name of Adeiros the Seeker. I am the Witness Nikolos. Whom am I addressing?" It was obviously rather silly to try to fight, and Nikolos rather doubted that his party, leading pack mules loaded with supplies and all the impedimentia of scholarly field work, were going to long out-run Dorinthian horse archers.

Nikolos smiled a little. It wasn't lost on him that the Dorinthians hadn't actually identified themselves. Still, there was little help for it now. "Well, let's go see what we can learn down below. Best behavior, hmmm?" This last was directed at his Caramip.

With an innocent smile, Caramip nods her head and follows in step behind her large friend. Her innocent smile quickly turns mischievous as she reached into her pack and produced two empty coconut halves. As if on cue, she quickly rapped the two coconut halves together as she walked behind her friend. The beat and sound of the empty coconuts mimic that of a large house trotting a long a cobble stone road. At the same time she hummed a load an obvious out of tune hymn similar to that of trumpets blaring for some Lord.

Despite protests from her large friend she continued with the gross buffoonery. Only to stop with hysterical laughter once they came face to face with the weary travelers.

Nikolos finished walking down the hill, smiling in anticipation of learning new and interesting things. Of course, the first thing he learned was that these Dorinthians looked as if they'd been battered around a good bit. Many thanks for your kind welcome. I can't help but see that you've had some trouble. May I be of assistance? I'm not the greatest healer,but the Seeker is beneficient with his power."

"Gladly would we accept your help as well Nikolos. The Seeker's gifts are welcome here. But if I may ask, what brings a small group so far from Tallione, Craecean?" asked Dartis.

Ventus stood a little behind Dartis and off to one side, watching the approaching travelers carefully. He nodded his own greetings as they approached, but waited to hear their response to the question posed. However, part of him hoped that they were no more than they appeared to be. The ogre and his allies had left far more injuries than a single night's rest could mend.

Nikolos nodded politely to the obvious soldiers, Ventus and Dartis, then gave Caramip a truly arched look. "Allow me to introduce Mistress Caramip. She is a font of tales and information...though at times..." He left that statement unfinished, and opened his healing kit. "With your permission?"

Oh boo!” She responded. “I worked real hard on that. Any idea how hard it was for me to hide a hollow coconut from you?” She humps with her hands on her hips. “Gods forbid that you show a bit of humor.

She turned to face their newfound friends and offered them a bright smile with a small wave. “Greetings! Seems like you all had a bit of fun here.”, she said as she took a better look at the disheveled camp site. As Nikolos began to administer his care, she pulled out her trusty mandolin and began to play a soothing hymn.
Nikolos spent much of his magic and healing abilities on the five wounded heroes while Caramip lifted spirits with her music. The man was quite talented, and in no time at all the party was in a much better condition. He then saw to some of the worst off of the soldiers, and the heroes began to become confident that they could get the group of them back on the way to the dwarven kingdom by the next morning. After that, it would be another couple of days of preparation before they were all on the way back to their new home.

Silas guffawed indecorously at the bard's shenanigans. Seeing that the Seeker or Witness or whatever his title was, tolerated the bard's antics put him a little more at ease to finally approach and give a greeting. "Welcome, Witness Nikolos, Mistress Caramip. I am Silas Eyrstan, a Caernite scholar and a Dorinthian." He hesitated to say more without an indication from Dartis that it was ok, especially knowing that he had a tendency to carry on a bit more than might be wise.

As Witness Nikolos tended the other soldiers, Silas asked, "Your aid is appreciated, Witness Nikolos. Seeker...Adeiros, is it? I don't recognize the name. Perhaps you could tell me more..."

Nikolos replied as he worksed over the wounded, having used the power of Adeiros to heal the worst off. "Adeiros is the Seeker of knowledge. His worship extends to all lands, though I suppose he's much more prominent in Craece then elsewhere. The Great Library of Adeiros there is an amazing place. An entire city dedicated to the pursuit and compilation of knowledge. I hope that my history of the Dorinthian War will someday reside on the shelves there."

He finished bandaging a wound, grateful for Caramip's playing. He was not a complete stranger to fighting and bloodshed, but he has seen things done to the Dorinthians, in the name of the Empire, that turned the stomach. "Of course, I doubt that my writings will be completely acceptable in my own lifetime. But many of the greatest scholars' works have only come to light after they've gone to the glory of Adeiros, so I'll be in good company."

Ventus Tessan bowed to the new arrivals in thanks for their efforts on behalf of the group. He rubbed idly at his ribs, testing the newly healed wounds and considered the Seeker and his. . . ally. "My thanks for your aid, your arrival is fortuitously timed. My name is Tessan Ventus, and I offer you my gratitude."

The Seeker's further comments about his work produce a raised eyebrow as he looked over the man. "You are writing a history of the Dorinthian War? An interesting choice of topic. I trust your research is going well?"

Nikolos returned Tessan's bow, at least so much as he could while working. At the man's question, he shrugged slightly. "It is going reasonably well. Wars are always difficult to fully understand, are they not? So much blood and suffering over what seems in afterthought to be small matters. As you might imagine, a lot of what I have, aside from my own observations, comes from various Imperial officers and functionaries, extolling their victories and courage in the face of the wicked and barbaric Dorinthians."

The nearby Silas unaccountably choked and coughed loudly. He briefly looks over at Ventus but turned back to the Witness. Rolling his eyes a little he said, "And, of course, the Craeceans were vile degenerates until the Tallione showed them the proper way of life. Perhaps you should speak to some Dorinthians though I doubt you'll find we feel these are 'small matters'." Somewhat prickly, Silas stood, intent on bustling around the camp to prepare a meal for the collected company and guests.

Nikolos smiled at Silas' comment and said before he could walk away. "Well, I'm afraid you'll find no shortage of vile and degenerate Craeceans. By all accounts, my ancestors were rather at a loss once it became apparent the Talliones weren't going to be stopped by scathing philosophical rhetoric or well-turned satiric verse. So far as talking to some Dorinthians, it would seem I've come to the right place, wouldn't you agree?"

Silas let Nikolos' indominitable good nature siphon off his flush of irritation. "Forgive me, Witness. Emotions concerning this subject are, as you might understand, still somewhat raw. I would agree, it would seem that your Seeker has indeed led you to the proper place and time to hear the Dorinthian viewpoint." As he begins ladling out servings of a thick stew and crusty bread he says, "It isn't much but you are more than welcome to a share."

After recognizing Nikolos' healing abilities, and his interest in Dorinthia's side of the story, the party invited the priest to join them and see the Dorinthian people for himself. The offer was too exciting to pass up.

Upon thinking on Dartis' words, Cal asked for an extra moment alone to talk to the dryad. She hadn't come from her tree for quite some time (not even for Barok), although as the group left and allowed Cal a moment alone, they saw her come forth once more to speak quietly with the man. What words were exchanged, the heroes did not know, although Cal seemed to have gained a necklace made of twined and somehow threaded leaves.

The party arrived as heroes once more in the dwarven kingdom, although even the dwarves seemed to be slowing down on the alcohol and more appreciative of simple pleasures, such as drinking sips of water to alleviate morning headaches... soon after the party, its ragtag army, and the rest of the refugees were supplied and on the way north.

Silas found a moment when he could talk to Dartis alone. "Lord Kalnian, before we left the kingdom of King Bermax of the Dwarves you asked me to consider several things. Finding Cal Dorin with members of his cavalry is a great thing for our people. Though the flower of Dorinthian nobility has been greatly depleted, killed or taken by the Tallione, a noble wedding would do much to restore our people's hopes for the future." Silas coughed, seeming somewhat embarrassed but continuing nonetheless. "Baron Dorin has a daughter of marriagable age and you yourself are unwed... Perhaps you should speak to the Baron when we return. We will be returning home now, won't we?"

*****

Closing Chapter 3, the Imperials. Next, Chapter 4...
 
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Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
The party traveled in front of more than a thousand refugees, members of the Dorinthian cavalry, and militia men. It was a long journey north back to the town originally named Meristra, and renamed Fair Creek, where the remnants of Dorinthian civilization had begun to rebuild their home. The trip was uneventful, although several times scouts reported seeing humanoids such as goblins and even the occasional gnoll, although all such creatures were intelligent enough to avoid such a large force. The going was slow at first, as there were a number of sick and aged people in the heroes' sizeable band, but as they came closer to their destination the party found the general excitement caused an increase in the body's daily speed.

Barok stayed oddly quiet on the way back, grumbling to himself occasionally about "Lying ungrateful bloody women."

Nikolos spent his time moving among the Dorinthians, using his healing skills, and when necessary the holy power of the Seeker, to deal with injuries, illness, and such other difficulties as he could help with. While doing so, and quite openly, he asked questions, and listened to the stories people were willing to tell. Each night of their travels, he spent hours with Gnaden, his scribe, dictating more of the account of the Dorinthian war.

Caramip, like Nikolos, too filled her time with the refugees. Though instead of gathering tales from the elderly she found herself immersed in countless blissful games with the children. She quite literally spent almost every waking hour running around with any number of the children partaking in countless of their games. Then just when the sun would set, she would go to every parent of every child she gamed with and tell them how much fun they had.

On the ride, Dartis found time to ride with and speak with Nikolos. "So tell me historian. Why is it that the Tallione subjugated Craece and the halfling territories, but seek to completely erradicte Dorinthia, man, woman and child?"

Nikolos didn't answer immediately, as he marshalled his thoughts. After a time, he said, "In truth, I don't know. I can hazard a guess, and that would be two-fold. In the case of Craece, our culture had largely lost its first vigor, and we were divided into many factions, split by old disagreements, and far more interested in debates of philosophy then maintaining our mutual defense. In short, the Talliones very likely didn't see us as a threat to their very existence. We never crushed Tallione legions, as your people have done. The halflings too were a fairly easy target, and no true threat to the Empire. Your folk, on the other hand...your rather unfortunate excuse for a king aside, Dorinthia was the only force in the known lands that could truly threaten to defeat the Empire, in the long term. Dorinthia is a strong nation of warriors. Tallione is in many ways absorbing Craecian culture all too well. Your king weakened your nation, and simultaneously allowed the halflings to stage against the Empire, providing an excuse for war. As for the slaughter...I can only say that the Empire of this age is corrupt, sick at its core in many ways...and a threat, however distant, to the Empire can expect no mercy in these dark days."

Finally, the small army of refugees and soldiers entered the outskirts to the Silver Forest and the thin, overgrown trail to the Dorinthian town. The party led the group, but pulled back into a halt when they saw four elves approach on horses, their appearances grim. The leader called out, "Halt Dorinthians! We are here to speak to the misguided one, Kelnian As'Tayal. I have here a scroll for his eyes only." So saying, he took a scroll from his hands and extended it outwards towards the sole elf in the heroes' company.

The elven priest, Kel, raised a curious eyebrow and stepped forward to take the parchement into his hands. While being haughtily examined by his fellows, he broke the seal on the document and began to read. After a few minutes of taking in the scroll's contents, Kel's shoulders sagged as if a great weight were put upon them. He walked back towards the party and explained, "The Tallione Empire is now aware that the remnants of the Dorinthian kingdom have been rescued by the elves of Silver Forest and are now threatening reprisals unless the refugees are given up. The Elven Council has reported to my people that their defensive forces are barely adequate to withstand an attack. This has caused a backlash againt the Sol'vi Elustru faction in the council, which had been your main supporters. This alone wouldn't have been enough to throw the political situation into chaos, but it seems that your own Baron Dorin has proclaimed that Meristra is going to be renamed New Dorinth in a ceremony next week, and has said words to the effect of starting a reborn kingdom here in the western edge of Silver Forest. The implications of this has completely reshaped the way most elves now see the refugees, and most opinions have turned greatly negative."

"The political attacks have been so heated that a change has taken place. Sol'vi Elustru has been greatly diminished in power, but so has my own pro-neutrality political faction, House Rela. House Dran, a group that wants to better ties with the Empire (or at least to placate them) and speaks of removing the refugees from the Silver Forest, has gained many seats. Strangely, so has the Magi, a group of wizards on the council that believes in ceasing all relations with non-elves and increasing efforts in defense. All diplomatic ties to the Dorinthians have been halted for the time being and the ambassadors recalled. Silas Generwine* and I have been asked by House Rela to come and speak in the council in your defense. I doubt Silas* will have anything good to say. I, on the other hand, seem to be your defending attorney."
Kel said this with a worried smirk before reaching for the hands of his companions in order to clasp them one last time. He gave a comforting squeeze to Rix's shoulder, though the kobold simply looked at the other elves bitterly and said nothing.

Dartis held Kel's hand a moment and pulled him close, "Remember the winged elves my friend. May the Rider bless your journey." In a fit of emotion, Alexander gave the elf a strong hug, then they both said short prays to the Rider before Kel mounted a horse, joined his fellow elves, and rode to the east.

*Silas Generwine is the elven co-ambassador to the Dorinthians, not to be confused with Silas Eyrstan the Caernite (PC).

"The harder the road for the Rider, the more joyous the homecoming," intoned Dartis as they disappeared from sight, invoking an ancient saying of Dorinthia. "Well there is nothing more we can do but wait for the counsel to make it's decree. They did not say our permission to travel through the forest was revoked. In the mean time, we have families who are seperated. Let us join all of Dorinthia, even if we must then move again." said Dartis sadly.

Ventus offered only a slight tilt of his head in farewell to the departing elf, having not gotten to know the cleric as much as his other companions. He watched the elves ride off, with a rather grim expression following Kel's explanation. So much for the hopes of finding a new home, not that he could expect much welcome among the Dorinthian's regardless. Still, the politics had gotten ugly, and it seemed that the elves were quick to pass judgement. He shook his head and spoke quietly to himself, "'Misguided one' indeed. It is good to see they keep open minds." He waited for the others to resume their journey and fell in beside them.

"Let us ride to rejoin our people!" cried Dartis and signaled for the group to continue. Dartis rode up to Silas: "We must move cautiously through the political minefield that is laid before us Advisor. Hindsight says we should have left a more skilled politician behind, but what is done is done. I fear that this declaration was not done solely to boost morale. And worse it was done prematurely. We must let Kel do what he can, and see what the situation is in 'New Dorinth' before we can plan." Silas nodded, but he was obviously troubled and deep in thought.

As the heroes entered the outskirts of the newly named town of New Dorinth, many of the locals rushed up to greet the party enthusiastically. Wisely, Cal sent some of his men to ride ahead and warn his father of the more than a thousand refugees that were about to flood the area. It was Syra Dorin and Kyle Radnal that respond, however, organizing the local priests to care for those who were sick and having some of the men from town set-up rows of tents as temporary housing on the southern edge of the town. Not everything ran smoothly, but there was at least some semblance of order.

The beautiful Syra went to greet the party directly when things calmed down, and gasped in shock when she saw Alexander and Rix being helped along and using crutches. She ordered them to be helped to the administrative building where Baron Dorin had made his living quarters to save housing space. She ignored Alexander's protests, and gave him a quick smile and a squeeze on his arm before heading back to direct the efforts in taking care of the refugees.

Silas, along with the town mage Hector and his apprentice Fineas, went from place to place casting magic to mend ropes and torn canvas. Now that her secret was out, Danica openly used her magic to help with the organization of supplies as a personal assistant to Kyle Radnal. Dartis and Cal helped with organizing the regular soldiers to help, and to help diffuse their stepping over the town guard efforts, since those men were performing their own tasks as directed by Radnal. Ventus kept close to those two men, but felt unsurprisingly isolated as the refugees were not excited over accepting his aid. At the advice of Cal, he changed temporarily into the civilian clothes of a Dorinthian farmer and found his aid more welcome. Barok was also helpful, although the man suspiciously seemed to find a way to help almost every available young woman. Nikolos was thought to be an oddity, although his healing powers diffused xenophobia on the part of the needy population and allowed him a chance to continue his research. Most of the people, especially the local Laughphray gnome ambassadors, weren't sure what to make of the prankster, Caramip. Yet that foreign gnome seemed to have a way of calming the children through this trying time. Within four days a piece of normality descended upon the Dorinthians. By the sixth day, Kyle Radnal, with Barok's help, had organized the men from the new group of refugees into work details mostly dealing with clearing new land of trees with donated gnomish and dwarven axes, building new and temporary homes that would take weeks to construct, finding land suitable for farming for the coming season, and hunting and gathering for food in order to offset the depleting supplies. The gnomes and dwarves were still sending some food, but the withdrawal of aid from the elven lands had caused concern. That night, Baron Dorin declared that the next day there would be a social in celebration of the finding of more Dorinthians and the hope that others would be brought home. Although quite pleased with the recovery of more of his fellow people and the return of his son, the strain of authority was beginning to show in the slower walk of the Baron. In Fair Creek, the town practically ran itself and the previously shy lord spent most of his time walking his gardens and drinking socially with the local minor nobility. Although he had done a passing job, he was not meant to lead during the more trying times. That he had continued to do the best for his people, despite the wearing down of his health, had made them love him much more than they respected him. It was Syra and Kyle who they respected and looked to leadership, however; the daughter of the baron was surprisingly coming into her own.

The social commenced the next day. The call for a feast was resisted, due to the concern over supplies. Still, there was enough alcohol to go around. Baron Dorin took the time to mingle with the population, while his son stood slightly behind and to his right while his daughter stood at his left. Alexander and Rix (usually seated because of their wounds), Silas, Dartis, and Danica were the guests of honor although Kel was greatly missed. Barok was allowed to join them at the head table, while Nikolos and Caramip mingled and told the amazed crowd that followed them tales about lands far away. After a week even Ventus was somewhat accepted, but only among the older soldiers who wanted to swap stories of fighting his fellows on the battlefield. Wisely, Ventus made sure of commenting on Dorinthian bravery that he had noticed while fighting their kin and avoided the more inflammatory events. If he was not at first liked, he was at least understood and respected as a fellow warrior.

Somewhere during the night, Dartis, Danica, Silas, Ventus, Barok, Caramip, and Nikolos all found themselves with a drink in hand and in conversation with one another. The party members all wore their equipment to show off as was requested by the baron. He insisted that the people should see their heroes in such gear as to make them more impressive and raise morale. It seemed to have worked, and it felt nice to be able to get away from the questioning crowd and relax with fellow adventurers. As the other six listened to Caramip tell a joke that was falling flat, Danica felt a pull on her sleeve. Rix somehow managed to use his crutches to come alongside of her and say, "I went upstairs inside the administration building to get some privacy when I saw some movement in the forest to the north of the town. Let's flee this place, Danica. Your people might feel as if the worst is over for them, but if you've been paying attention to all the local rumors and politics you would know that everything outside of this sleepy town is chaos. Something has gone very wrong."

Before Danica could reply, the heroes all heard a woman's scream to the north, which caused the crowd in the center of the town to grow quiet and listen with fear. Somewhere from the forest outside the town, a war horn was blown.

Barok, despite the bleak mood he had found himself in recently, began gradually to enjoy town-life again as life began to take on a semblance of normalcy. There were always some women who were impressed by a few scars, and being considered a "hero" didn't hurt. The food was not bad, and the wine was plentiful. Life was good, if you didn't look to closely.

Hearing the scream, Barok was not the first to rise (for that he is a bit too drunk) but instead said drily "If that's a Dryad I'm not lifting a finger."

One of the nearby men, a gray-haired member of Radnal's militia coughed out his ale in surprise upon hearing the horn and said, "By the Rider! I haven't heard an orc warhorn for twenty years." So saying, he and many of the other militia and cavalry members began to rush for the barracks for their arms and armor. It would take them some time to be ready. Alexander pulled himself up by a crutch and somehow managed to push Syra and her father into the administration building. After Danica's refused to leave, Rix disappeared into the darkness of a nearby alley.

Nikolos listened to the horns, and stood, taking his longspear from where it leaned against the wall. "Master Gnader, take the lads and see to the safety of the writings." Master Gnader tipped his head towards his master, Nikolos, in respect, then scurried to obey his wishes. Having sent his scribe scurrying off with the journal, he headed towards the sounds of the horn. As he did, he looked around for Ventus, moving close to the man, his symbol of the Seeker's Eye in hand, the longspear resting on his shoulder. He placed an Extended Shield of Faith on himself, followed by Bull's Strength on Ventus.

Dartis jumped at the sound of the horn. After hearing the proclamation by the veteran, Dartis swore, a habit life had forced upon him of late. Dartis rushed to Swift, who had also been enjoying the festivities, enjoying apples and carrots from the children. Mounting Swift, Dartis rallied his friends and Cal and the rest of the cavalry. "Come we must by enought time for the guards to mount a defense. Let us remind the orcs why they fear Dorinthian horsemen! For the Rider!" cried Dartis charging off to the northern gates.

Barok finished his drink, grabbed a hold of Dartis' stirrup and swung up behind the man. "You don't mind giving a fellow a lift, I hope?"

"Not as long as you're coming to fight" replied Dartis.

Dartis and Barok were the first to leap into action, riding Swift north, towards where they believed to be the direction of the commotion. Nikolos, Danica, and Ventus followed on foot, or at least they did for a short while. The five adventurers ran headlong into a fleeing mob. The people parted for Swift, but the three heroes on foot were swept away by the crowd. On the other side of the social, Silas gathered together his family. Silas' father found forgotten strength and broke off the leg of a chair, holding it like a club. There were a lot of women and children being made to go south, away from the violence, by the men. Silas led a group of mothers and children, while Caramip quickly formed a band of children who couldn't find their parents and did her best to console them while walking by the abjurer's side.

Dartis and Barok broke free from the mob, only to see a small band of orcs 50 feet in front of them. They were carrying axes and wearing hide armor. After their easy sport, they also looked shocked that anyone would come to confront them. There were four orcs, standing in a loose square-pattern.

Nikolos, Danica, and Ventus finally separated themselves from the crowd, but it was due more to the fact that another loud commotion sounded off from the flank of the mob. The trio headed towards the sounds of glass breaking and wood shattering, while the rest of New Dorinth's people ran by. The heroes saw one of the larger manor houses used for multiple families in these trying times. Some of the family members must have thought to barricade their home, because five orcs were struggling to enter the building. A sixth orc lit a torch and ran as if to throw it into the second floor of the house. Above the second floor was a sloping roof, and the three saw a hatch open and several Dorinthians streaming out while screaming for help. The orcs wore hide armor, and were wielding axes, the nearest orc being 50 feet away. The farthest was 80 feet away, while the torch bearer was in the middle, about 60 feet from the group.

Silas and Caramip gathered the children, when three straggling orcs rushed down a northwestern street towards them. They were 70 feet away and closing fast. Each orc wore hide armor and wielded a battle-axe. A little girl that was holding Caramip's hand screamed at the sight.

********

Thanks for the props from folks like RedTonic. I'm going to have a bit of a challenge sorting through the rest, because this was a three part battle with each team of heroes divided from the others and fighting to hold back the raiding orcs...
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Dartis and Barok

"This should be fun." Barok grinned, drawing his weapons.
When Dartis had engaged into the fight, Barok prepared to leap off the horse and get into a flanking position.

Dartis let Barok slide off Swift. "Stay close until they close, Barok. Can't lose you now," said Dartis with a grin as he brought up his bow and rapidly fired a pair of arrows at the front orc. His shooting had become deadlier over practice in battle.

Barok slipped off from Swift and readied himself for oncoming orcs. Dartis broke the silence by letting two arrows fly at the largest and meanest of the group: an orc with an old scar that had blinded the warrior in the left eye. Dartis' first shot buried itself deep into the orc's right arm, but the second shot was a critically great one, going through the humanoid's right eye and taking out parts of brain while it continued its path and exited via the back of the skull. As the large orc's body fell, the remaining orcs stood dumbfounded and shaken. Dartis heard them murmur a word amongst one another: "Dul-keyar". Finally, one gathered his courage and charged, followed by the others, but because of the delay they only made it 30 feet towards the horseman. (now within 20 feet of you) Barok decided to charge the group and attacked the lead orc, but missed with his rapier.

Three more orcs appeared from down a side street, about 60 feet to the duo's right. Two looked like young warriors, but the third was smaller and wore beads while carrying a totem staff.

.........................
.........................
.......o......o.........
...........B.o..........
.....................o..
............D.....o....
.......................o
........................

Barok suddenly noticed the odds arrayed against him and cursed. Breaking off combat he tumbled to avoid the crude orcen weapons and tried to get within the cover of a building. Then he moved stealthily to try to make surprise attacks against alone and isolated orcs, looking leaders and spellcasters. Dartis would do well enough on his own if he used his superior range and mobility, but Barok knew he could never survive alone on the front line against those odds.

Dartis gave a cry of "Dorinthia! The Riders Return!" after the lead orc went down.

Seeing the new orcs, Dartis made a quick change and fired a pair of arrows at the new smaller orc with the totem staff. Dartis had devolped a healthy respect, fear and hatred of those who could cast spells after dealing with Morduk, Nefius, and Astraughley.

Dartis moved Swift forward while firing two arrows at the orc down the road. The first hit the orc adept's leg, although the second barely missed. The creature barked an order to his comrades and they ducked into a close alley and disappeared. Dartis brought the horse forward to flank the orc Barok was escaping from and Swift struck out next, driving a hoof into the orc's back.

The creature turned around and swung at Dartis, but missed both rider and horse badly with his axe. His companions charged, one missing, but the other leaving a bloody trail along the noble's leg with his weapon.

Barok, who was holding his action once more, attacked next, using a flanking attack and catching the wounded orc in the neck, killing him.

.........................
.............o...........
..............Do........
...........B.............
.........................
.........................
.........................
.........................

Barok moved first to flank an orc focused on Dartis, and hit him from behind with a critically successful slash, separating the creature's meaty head from his body. Dartis put away his bow and switched to a sword and shield as he urged Swift to attack the remaining orc, but the hoof missed. The orc responded with another savage strike at Dartis, but the noble was able to block with his newly-held shield.

A few feet behind Barok, in an alley, was heard someone casting a spell.

..........................
..................|.......
..................<===(alley entrance)
..................|.......
............B.............
...........................
..............Do.........
..........................

Barok turned towards the sound and smiling hid himself in the shadows of the corner outside the alleymouth before rounding the corner, crouching low with his weapons at the ready.

As Barok waited, Dartis brought his blade downwards, wounding but not killing the orc in front of him. Swift also reared up, but missed. The orc got under Dartis' defenses but the noble was able to deflect the axe strike away in the last moment with the bottom of his shield.

Down the street, three orcs came forth from out of an alley. The magic-user among them cast a spell on the axe-wielding orcs as the charged forth. None of them noticed the hidden Barok off to the side.

..........................
..................|.......
..................<===(alley entrance)
.............m.B|.......
..............o.o.........
...........................
..............Do.........
..........................

******

Ventus, Nikolos and Danica

Ventus pushed through the crowd, casting around for a glimpse of their missing companions. However, the sight of the orcs attacking the manor refocused him. He quickly took in the civilians, orcs and torch, doing quick tactical calculations in his head. He'd never make it in time. Even as his mind reached this conclusion he was drawing his blade and moving forward. He pointed the sword at the torch bearing orc, calling out to Danica and Nikolos, "Stop him!"

He rushed forward as fast as his legs would take him, his shield raised in front of him and his sword held high in defiance. He shouted a wordless battlecry as he attempted to draw the orcs' attentions.

Nikolos considered the situation, then decided that a single thrown torch was the least of their worries, at this point. There wwre ample people in that house to deal with such a matter, so long as the heroes could deal with the orcs at hand.

He said nothing though, instead simply advancing in Ventus' wake, and calling on the Seeker's power and casting Bull's Strength at his ally.

On Ventus' command, Danica found herself the first to act. She raised her crossbow and fired, an incredible shot that greatly injured the torch-bearing orc with a bolt deep into the back. It dropped the torch and screamed in pain while trying to drag itself back into a side street. The other orcs moved next, advancing, but not reaching the trio. They all roared and brought themselves into a barbaric bloodlust.

Nikolos had cast shield of faith before, and now that the orcs were visible, he reached over and touched Ventus, who felt much stronger. Bull's strength was placed on Ventus.

Ventus moved forward and struck, the wound that he ended up dealing the orc would have been enough to normally injure the humanoid, but the extra strength given from Nikolos' spell drove his blade an inch deeper, slaying the creature outright as his short sword touched its heart.

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Nikolos frowned slightly, wishing he was back with his journals. This was no place for a simple scholar to find himself. Again calling upon the aid of the Seeker, he cast Protection from Evil on Ventus, careful to keep an eye for any threatening orcs. Then he readied his longspear, intending to stab past the soldier when the opportunity arose.

Ventus allowed his eyes to drift from his foe for a second as the orc slumped before him. He nodded his head tersely over his shoulder. "Good work, Danica."

He considered the orcs now arrayed against him with a dispassionate eye, standing firm with his shield raised. Outnumbered for now, he took a cautious stance and engaged the nearest orc.

Danica fired at the nearest orc, hitting once with a hard shot once more, but not felling the creature. The orcs then moved to take on Ventus, with two hitting and both bloodying the man's shoulders. The soldier countered with an enhanced strike of his own, finishing the barbarian that Danica injured. Nikolos cast his spell, and Ventus feels as if he was protected against the remaining opponents.

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Ventus winced as he felt the orcish weapons bite into his flesh, but smiled with satisfaction as another orc fell. As he was slowly surrounded by the orcs, he focused more of his efforts on staying alive. He kept his shield between himself and his foes and chose his moment to strike.

Nikolos muttered something in Craecean, seeing the injuries to Ventus, before calling upon the Seeker again, feeling the prayer for Endure Elements fading, replaced by a small portion of the deity's power, casting a Cure Light Wounds on the soldier.

Another bolt was fired by Danica at the far orc, who she had a clear shot at, but it went wide. The orcs close in on Ventus, the three of them surrounding him to get a better chance at striking at him. Amazingly, they all missed, though the Imperial felt as if a holy presence turned two of the evil creatures' blades at the last minute. His return strike barely hit, and although it wounded the enraged orc badly, it did not drop him. Ventus felt Nikolos touch his shoulder after a brief prayer and sensed his wounds mending themselves somewhat .

The orc that Danica injured before disappeared into a side street.

Ventus was grateful for the aid of Nikolos, but could not spare the time to thank the man as he found himself pressed by three orcs. His mind noted the path of the wounded orc, and he scowled as he was unable to pursue it. He could only hope that it meant to flee and not attempt to do more harm.

He continued his assault against the orcs, still wary of his enemies. He fought on with silent intensity, watching his opponents' eyes, trying to predict their attacts.

Danica fired another bolt, but missed. The young girl cursed out loud, a bad habit from the time she spent with soldiers. Although Ventus was surrounded, he was able to avoid each strike except for one slice along his thigh. His return strike dropped the injured orc, however, leaving only two. Nikolos cast another spell, and the Imperial felt his protection increased.


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Nikolos, for his part, stabbed forward past the soldier, using the length of the spear to keep the orc on Ventus' left off-balance. "Well, Master Ventus, it cannot be said that you and your friends lead retired lives of philosophical debate."

******

Silas and Caramip

Silas quickly thrusted his son into the arms of his wife and turned to his father. "Keep them safe, Father, and don't fight unless you must. Keep the children together. I'll deal with this." He turned to look at Carmip. "Join me in an orcish waltz?" He grinned with false bravado, winked at his wife (who likely saw through his charade), and turned to meet the onrushing orcs.

In a loud voice he called, "Kerastes! Defend the children, destroy orcs!" and threw the ornate python rod onto the ground summoning forth its magics.

Shhh… its O.K. my dear. They are not going to hurt you.” Caramip said soothingly to the child as she let Silas’ wife take the child away from danger. “Me dance?” She answered Sila in a tone mirroring his, “Why I did even bring the proper attire.

Turning to face the oncoming horde she offered the orcs a grin of absolute excitement. With pure glee in her voice she said, “No, no, no. You have this all wrong. If we are going to play Red-Rover-Red-Rover, first you have to freeze before you can come over." as she cast hold person.

Caramip's magic spell halted the lead orc in place. The other two ran by him and were continuing towards the group in a barbaric rage when Silas' staff transformed and headed straight for them. The snake practically leapt from the ground, wrapping itself in a critically successful embrace of the lead orc, which screamed in surprise. The orc's ally yelled and attacked the snake, greatly harming but not killing it.
In the distance, the duo could see three more orcs appear. Two carried totem staffs, while another was a warrior type with a battle-axe.
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Silas' snake squeezed the orc in its coils, causing it to scream loudly. Caramip cast another spell at the orc, and suddenly it looked at the bard as if she was his best friend. However, when the bard tried to get him to kill his ally, the orc broke out of the enchantment, picked up his axe once more, and charged the gnome. He didn't get far. Silas' ray stopped him, and the children screamed as the scorched orc took two more steps before falling into a charred heap.

Another orc ran forward and chopped at the snake constricting his friend, injuring it further.

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See that is what happens when you don’t follow the rules. No one likes a cheater,” Caramip scolded the smoldering Orc. “I believe that calls for a five minute silence penalty to the contesting team.

Sshhh. There is no need to scream little one.” She said soothingly to the little girl as she cast Silence (20’ radius) on the left orc shaman.

Silas inwardly cursed as the orcs hacked at the python. How much damage can that thing take? he wondered. And he worried about the three orcs advancing towards them. Nevertheless, he cast Extended Mage Armor, dashed forward unslinging his crossbow as he went, and dropped a bolt onto the guides, cranking back the string. "Catch me if you can!" he called out to the orcs.

Kerastes squeezed once more, killing the orc in its coils. Caramip finished casting her spell at the shamans. Both the shamans looked confused, as if something had just gone wrong for them. The other orc still moved forward to strike, one injuring the constrictor snake, while the second one hits with such savagery that the snake's head was caved in. In that next second, the snake transformed back into Silas' rod.

The orc's look of satisfaction soon turned into worry as he looked down the top of Silas' drawn crossbow...

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Silas cursed yet again. "If you can't play with my toys without breaking them, then you should just go home!" Mother, aid me in the defense of these children, he inwardly prayed. Aiming the crossbow at the orc he squeezed the trigger...

OOC:
Glasseye's comment :( They broke my pet snake!


Aim for that Shaman.” Shouted Catamip to the young mage. “The spell will not last for long. Plus I have something in store for this one.” She finished as she eyed the frightened Orc greedily.

Completely out of the blue and with an evil grin the Gnome began one of her tell-tale signs of a really bad joke“You know, this one time at band camp… ” She let loose with Tasaha's Hideous Laughter.

Silas, knowing that the odds against them would be overwhelming without the python, Kerastes, turned his attention to the orc following close behind the lead two orcs. "Ah, Caramip, you should have told me that we were playing children's games. Here I am, a tad overdressed. Ah, well. Did I tell you that one of my favorite games is Tag!?" With that he fired at the orc. "You're 'It', my orc friend," he murmured.

Caramip's spell was cast without interruption, as Silas raised his crossbow and fires. The orc was injured, but not dropped. It rushed the abjurer and attacked, slashing into Silas' robes. The second orc, an adept, moved to strike the abjurer with his totem staff, but missed badly. The second adept stepped forward, but was unable to get into striking distance.

As the round ends, the last orc was no longer held, but instead fell onto the ground laughing uncontrollably.

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******

Writer's note: I'll be on the road for the next few days as I return to the States from Qatar. But I will try to update soon after.
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Barok and Dartis

Barok stepped behind the magic-wielding orc...

Dartis and Swift struck at the orc next to them to bring him down, then turned to face the next wave. The nobleman watched as the orc adept came forth from the alley and began to weave a spell. But the orc was quickly silenced by Barok, whose rapier buried itself a few inches into the spellcaster's kidney while the knife slit cleanly across its throat with enough force to almost sever it. The head rolled backwards and with a tear, separated from the body with a gushing of blood that spattered the rogue's clothes.

Dartis also attacked, but missed with his blade, although Swift killed the injured orc with a hoof to the head. The next wave of orcs attacked, but the first couldn't break through Dartis' defenses. The second one got luckier, however with a small cut to the nobleman's sword arm.

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Barok stepped forwards, the limp corpse of the spellcaster sliding off his weapons just before they were thrust once more at the back of another orc. "Kudos to you nobles," he said to Dartis. "You sure know how to throw a party."

"Hey, I thought they were your friends." retorted Dartis as he and Swift struck at the orcs in front of them.

Dartis' blade sung through the air once more, slashing a gash in the orc directly in front of him, while Swift's hooves finished it off. Barok took advantage of the situation and flanked the last orc, but missed. The creature attempted to attack Dartis once more, but also missed. Not retreating was the last mistake the orc ever made, as the noble and scout quickly dispatched it the next round.

As Dartis was cleaning his blade, a large number of quickly armed militia under Radnal's direction made it into his intersection with wagons, carts, and barrels that they began to quickly tip over and stack into barricades. "Hurry up!" The man yelled to his men, his face calm but determined. "They'll be coming back and more organized."

Barok and Dartis looked around and noticed that they weren't so far away from the town square, after all. That fleeing mob must have slowed them down, and the duo turned away the chaotically charging orc elements and gave them something to think about. Radnal and the militia and guards that were following his direction had made two circular defenses. One outer one that Dartis and Barok were at, and an inner fall back position around the town square.

Suddenly, Cal Dorin rode up to Radnal's' position with a squad of cavalry. "Damn it, Radnal, open a path!"

Kyle Radnal looked stunned at this request, "Are you mad? This isn't open field combat! Those orcs will cut you and your men down in those streets."

Impatient and angry, Cal looked down upon the man, his sword on his pommel. "I know who your family was, Kyle. Your father was a traitor. Would you add to your tainted family crest?" His men began to dismount to clear a path for their horses.

Radnal reached for his own sword, when all parties were stopped by the sound of blaring war horns. The orcs were returning.

Barok moved to support Cal Dorin, facing Kyle Radnal and Dartis. "We can't just stand here waiting for them. This will be a massacre if we do, and it will be our people who'll get slaughtered. We have to get out there and kill their leader. If we do they'll have no choice but to run, because any subchief who gets his warriors slaughtered will have no chance to gain the leadership of the tribe, no matter how bravely the ugly bastards fight."

As the horns had sounded, and Barok had his say, Dartis looked down from Swift at both Kyle and Cal. "If any man here draws a sword on his fellow Dorinthian, they will answer to me and the gibbet. There is no time for discussions of history or family, if we do not act as one people, our people will not exist to remember whose family was noble and whose ignoble.

Now Radnal and Dorin you will both put your weapons down. I am the Captain of the Dorinthian forces, so you will both put aside your egos and pride and listen to orders.

Now there are some merits to both a stand and a charge. Barok's suggestion may work, but if we cannot find the chief, they may over run our defenses while some of our forces are off searching willy-nilly.

Additionally I do share Kyle's concern that in the streets our cavalry may be too easily picked off by snipers and shamans. Cal, I cannot bear the though of losing more of our cavalry. We shal lneed them to drive the orcs back out.

So here is what we shall do. We will man the barricades until we can determine where the greatest surge of orcs is coming from. Then we will send the calavry out after them to meet their charge where it will do the most good. In this way we can maintain the defens eof the square, which is vital, but can be best assured of finding the leader of the orcs and driving the remainder away.

Now, gentlemen am I understood?"


Afterwards Dartis addressed Barok "Handy work back there. My thanks again. Now, you are less a soldier than a scout, if you feel you can best be used here, then man the barricades. However, perhaps you would be more at home of the roof tops, scouting locations of orc movements and I have every confidence in your ability to quietly take out their scouts. It is your chioice though."

"You're the Captain of the army? What army? And by the Rider, sir, who made you king?" Cal sputtered, his attention drawn to a new target.

"What a predicament. I suppose I'll now have to keep two nobles from telling my boys what to do." Radnal's comment broke the ice between the two men, and the other Dorinthians visibly relaxed. That's when they heard the commotion by a nearby upturned cart and other tall debris set against one another. A way was opened up, and Ventus, Nikolos, and Danica came through with a couple dozen refugees…

******

Ventus, Danica and Nikolos

Down to two orcs now, Ventus spared himself a moment to point to the corner around which the first orc dissapeared. "Danica! Catch that orc, we'll handle these two!" Then he resumed his attack against the orcs, stabbing sharply at his foe.

Nikolos looked a bit rueful as Ventus was wounded again, and again called upon the power of the Seeker...feeling the prayer of blessing fade, replaced by a small portion of the Seeker's healing power. Then he chuckled, as he took the heavy mace from his belt. "And now, Master Ventus, try not to laugh at my ineptness. Weapons drill was never my finest hour at the Great Library." Moving to stand beside the soldier, he hefted the mace, and prepared to face the orc opposite him.

"Ok," Danica yelled and began to run past the combatants, crossbow at the ready. She took a shot at an orc as she went by, but missed.

The two orcs attacked once more, but one missed Ventus while the other hits with a nasty cut to his side. Ventus made up for it with a hit that dropped the orc that had injured him. Nikolos cast another spell of healing before moving up and preparing to engage in melee.

The last visible orc was beginning to have second thoughts about his situation...

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"These creatures do seem rather persistent." Nikolos' voice was quite cheerful, as he maneuvered to attack the orc. He took a step forward, in hopes that Ventus would do the same on the other side of the orc and catch the raider between them. Then he swung his mace.

The last orc attempted to run, but Ventus cut him down. Danica came back from the side street, with her crossbow empty and a look of grim satisfaction.

With great relief, the families on the roof climbed back down from the open upper windows of the manor. Suddenly, one of the last little children gasped and yells, "Oh no, my dolly!"

Her mother yelled, "Karen, stop!"

Before anyone could stop her, the little girl ran up the inside stairs. Danica sighed and rolled her eyes impatiently before chasing the girl. There would be no escorting the families with one of the children missing.

Ventus and Nikolos followed Danica in her chase. They noticed that there were sleeping bags throughout most of the house, the result of too many Dorinthians and not enough room to house them all. Pushing such thoughts out, they focused on finding the youth.

The girl grabbed a doll in one of the rooms on the upper floors near the windows. As the group reached her to bring her outside, they realized that the house allowed an excellent vantage point of the surrounding area. To the southern edge of town, they saw several lights and what looked to be Dorinthian civilians and militia crouched near each other for protection by a small creek and some houses. In the center of the town it looked like barricades were being set up by more militia, guards, and cavalry.

To the north, and on a hill they saw a series of torch lights and what looked to be two large groups of men moving out from underneath the illumination. One group headed for the center of town, while another looked as if it was flanking around.

From those torches, they heard once more the sound of war horns.

Nikolos watched, his scholar's instinct being to simply observe what happened, and record it. He wondered where Caramip was, and if she was alright, then decided that the gnome was quite capable of seeing to her own safety.

Ventus shook his head.

"The attack was too sudden, there will be no scouts to warn of enemy movements. If I had an army at my back, we could try to outflank them. But the three of us are just not enough. We must make our way to the barricade and warn the others, try and take up a position to defend all sides. We must hurry."

He scooped up the girl in his arms and hurried down to return to her family. Ushering the group to as much shelter as there was as he hurried himself towards the barricade.
The first group of humanoids that were headed for the barricades was much larger than the flanking group, which was visibly heading towards the southern mass of Dorinthian civilians and ragtag militia. Nikolos swore he saw a tall, robed human with a staff followed by a shorter figure. He took these to be Silas and Caramip.

"This doesn't look good. Even if the barricades in the middle of town hold the first force, the second one will be able to either strike them in the rear, or hit the people at the creek. And if they deal with the men at the barricades first, then both groups can attack the creek. Do you think the Dorinthian leaders know what's going on?"
Nikolos paused in the midst of taking a book from his pack...and shook his head, following after Ventus. "Right then, off to another bloodletting we go." The book got put back in the pack, and he helped shivvy the family to such shelter as was available before following Ventus.

The trio quickly move down towards the central barricades, with the sounds of gathering orcs filling the various streets to the north. It seemed as if they were readying for a massed strike and their targets were the soldiers, knights, and militia in the center of the town. There was no longer any sign of the smaller flanking force, but they seemed to have been moving towards the packed and separated refugees to the south.

The three adventurers led the way to the main Dorinthian defenses and were let through the barricades by some of Radnal's town guard, and soon they saw Dartis, Barok, Cal, and Kyle Radnal leading the defenses. From the looks on their faces, the trio of heroes seemed to have interrupted some kind of argument, most likely about their defenses.

******

Silas and Caramip

Silas, quickly assessing the situation and not liking the result, took a step back. Quickly he chanted the words of power to cast Burning Hands and spread his hands before him, trying to position the spell so that he caught all three of the orcs in front of him.

Silas unloaded with a fan of flame that issued forth from his hand, killing the two adepts outright, while Caramip moved forward and finished off the third orc. The amazed silence of the crowd behind them was only interrupted by the bizarre laughter of the orc ahead of them.

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Caramip was a bit taken back by Silas’ display of power and gave him a pleasing surprised look. “Well… That was easy.” She said as she drew her short sword and quickly made her way towards the remaining orc. “We must hurry if we are taking prisoners.” Raising the flat of her blade she struck at the last orc on the back of the skull. “Quickly, we will need some rope.

Silas quickly took a few steps forward and snatched up the python rod. Seeing Caramip move forward to deal with the incapacitated orc, he returned to his family and the group of children. "Go to that building over there and see if you can get inside. It should be safer off the streets." He looked over to where Caramip whacked at the held orc. "We'll deal with this orc and see if there are any others. I won't be gone long." He gave his father a brief nod of respect, quickly kissed his wife, and then rushed over to help Caramip.

As he crossed the distance between Caramip and the group of children and his family, Silas examined the python rod. It looks ok... Once he was at Caramip's side he said, "I'm not carrying any rope. Didn't think I would need it at a celebration." He grinned. "Didn't think I'd need my crossbow either but my father insisted I be decked out in full 'defender' regalia." He scowled at the orc. "What do we do with him?"

As the two heroes were contemplating their next action in regards to the newly unconscious orc, they once more heard war horns in the distance. A wail grew from the crowd behind the duo, and the large number of militia men among the people gripped their weapons tightly. There wasn't anywhere else for a large crowd to go, since a deep and wide creek blocked movement to the south. It might have been possible to march back into the center of the town, but stragglers might easily become separated and Caramip and Silas were beginning to hear the gutteral language of enraged orcs coming near. At best guess, the heroes had over one hundred armed men to defend nearly two thousand civilians huddled in a few hastily built refugee shacks and in an open field filled with tents. Luckily, the creek gave some defense to the flanks and rear, but it would also bottle them up for the slaughter.

To flee with the crowd would mean that some would be caught and killed. Many would be slaughtered. But how could these militia spearmen give an adequate defense? Most of them weren't true soldiers. They were a pack of leaderless boys and old men.


"We must run. We can flee into the woods!"

"Have the children hide in the bushes. Maybe they won't be found."

"It's going to be every man for himself, I say."

"By the Rider, what are we to do?"


Panic seemed to have gripped the crowd around Silas and Caramip.

Silas looked around and saw the crowd quickly descending into chaos. With little choice left to him, he jumped up on a log and waved his arms. "Peoples of Dorinthia, hear me! We have withstood the trials of war. And we will do the same today! Stand firm! Your neighbor is there beside you, together we will prevail!" Then he began giving out orders for everyone to move to the edge of the camp and for a barricade to be hastily constructed using whatever happened to be on hand and using the creek as one side of their defenses. Luckily Silas was a master of architecture and engineering. He supervised the work, striding amongst the people, encouraging them and positioning the militia about the edge of their camp.

Caramip sighed. “The People don’t like to see their Leaders hurt.” Said the small gnome as she handed the mage a small curative from her bag. “Take it.” She insisted.

The horns continued to blast and she could obviously tell that the villagers only chance of survival was about to end. Adjusting her gear, she quickly grabbed her favorite and only drum and set it in front of her. Speaking softly with her eyes drifting on the shaken men, she leaned towards Silas and muttered, “Silas, you remember the tale of when 300 Dorthians stood against an army of thousands?

Without waiting for a response she turned back to her drum. Letting her mind drift, she quickly recalled an old song taught to her by a retired Dorthian Knight. Using the mystical energies taught to her by her family before her, she began to pound on her drum in a rhythmic Dorthian War Chant. The bard's only hope was that it was enough to help turn the tide... if only for a little bit.

Perhaps it was that Silas was a known hero and veteran, or perhaps it was because he was the only Dorinthian to show calmness in the face of danger at this critical moment. The spirited talents of Caramip were definitely a factor. Whatever the reasons, the Dorinthians circled around him and listened to his orders, courage igniting in their eyes as Silas' speech was rythmically added to by Caramip's drums.

Buildings were stripped of their furniture, tents were torn and piled on top of one another, and soon the 300 foot wide inlet was defended by one hundred newly determined militia men and a roughly constructed barricade. Behind this stood two thousand civilians awaiting their fate with stoic resolve.

As Silas surveyed his thin line, Caramip continued to play and did a quick dash around the inventory that the civilians threw into piles. The militia men were wearing leather armor, but the gnome also counted about 60 spears, 20 halbers, 110 bows, countless arrows, 20 longswords, 50 short swords, and a couple hundred knives.

The two new commanders of the Dorinthian militia had just enough time to have their men outfit themselves with what they thought was best before the howling horde of orcs appeared from a narrow street. There were hundreds of them, but they came with thoughts of an easy kill as they used no kind of formation the two could discern.

******
Dartis, Barok, Ventus, Danica, and Nikolos

Ventus and Nikolos reached their comrades while Danica got the families to the safety of the interior defensive ring. They reported on seeing what appeared to be the enemy camp on a tall hill to the north of town. A large force of humanoids, perhaps numbering as many as a couple thousand appeared to be driving directly towards the barricades. Cal's face was expressionless while he listened, but from his passivity it was clear he was glad he did not ride forth.

The men also said that a smaller flanking group seemed to be headed towards the majority of the Dorinthian civilians and some pockets of ragtag militia. The civilians had attempted to flee the incoming invaders, but found themselves at the bank of a deep creek. The creek formed a 'U' and unless the crowd dispersed in all directions, they would be trapped.

"We need to send our reinforcements to help," Radnal declared, his face breaking into worry.

Cal shook his head. "It might be too late. I have a total of fifty horsed archers, and you have about five hundred guardsmen and militia. We'll need every bit of those and our defensive positions against two thousand orcs. And if we get overrun there's no one to save those people anyway."

"We can't just leave them defenseless. I have forty men in reserve. Add ten of your archers and we can stiffen their ability to fight."

"They aren't defenseless," Danica said as she returned to the group and checked her crossbow for the coming battle. "Nikolos saw Silas and Caramip there."

"This is a hard decision, so I think we can leave it to our self-declared captain," Cal said, though there was little mockery in his tone or his nod to Radnal as the orc war horns became louder and closer to their positions. "Silas may have an elven name, but he is a battle-seasoned Dorinthian veteran, although I know little of him. Can he hold or should I send vital reinforcements we may need to plug breaks in our line? What kind of man is this Silas?"
 



Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Ventus, Barok, Danica, Nikolos, and Dartis

Nikolos spoke quietly, as if musing to himself. "Were I the orcs, just now, I'd use some of my numbers to simply surround this force, which I outnumber four to one, barricaded or not, and then throw five hundred or so at the creek, slaughtering everybody there. Then I could deal with the more dangerous force at my leisure. Which would make the flanking movement more of an attempt to keep the refugees pinned in place.." He cleared his throat, and took a drink from his wineskin. "But then, I know nothing of military matters."

Barok considered his options. Going out on his own against a force like this, without even the most basic potions, to harass them on the flanks and pick off their scouts (as if they'd even need scouts at this stage) would be suicide. So would staying and fighting on the barricades. No, his best option would be to get the hell out of here, and he'd probably have a decent chance of making it... But then what? Not much point in living to fight another day when there's nothing left to fight for. "No, I'll stay right here. Fighting to the last like the rest of you bloody heroes."

"We don't even have the time to set a proper trap for them. If we had the houses along the front rigged with oil we could roast the first wave of attackers and let the rest of them choke on the smoke, giving us cover from their arrows. As it is I can perhaps arrange for a few diversions, or close a part of the front to allow us to concentrate our defenses.

If we set enough fires on this side of the town it might buy us enough time to retreat from this position and take out the flanking force before the main army can take us in the back, that is if the Lords are willing to burn the town to save the people."


Ventus stood by, uncomfortable as he watched the debate between Cal and Randal. His hand rested uneasily on his sword as he looked in the direction of the flanking force. His first instinct was to await orders. His time as a soldier taught him to follow instructions from those in a position to better judge the larger picture. But it was clear here that nobody knew the ultimate goals, tactics or disposition of the orcs.

He turned to face Dartis. "In times when there is no correct choice, the only mistake is to not choose."

Dartis listened to the cousel of Kyle and Cal and was silent a moment as the horns echoed in the square.

"And to choose how to die. What kind of a man is Silas? He is a damnfool of a scholar that wades into combat more often than is good for him, when he should have his nose in a book. And he is as dear to me as a brother and I would not see him dead by a barbaric orc if I can help it. But neither shall I sacrifice those that are here.

The square is our best hope of defense and where the main attack lies. This shall be our stronghold. Kyle, keep your reserves here there are needed here. Cal, keep ten archers here, take thirty to the flank facing the refugees and harass that flank of the main column. Once they close with the barricades I want you back here to keep the square from being overrun.

Kyle, this is Ventus. I trust him completely and this is his kind of fight. Put some men under him and let him run the front lines while you manage the remaining lines.

Danica, keep that deadly aim of yours employed here and well as other gifts of yours. Nikolos, I know your healing will be much appreciated here, and I am thankful to have you and your skills among us.

Cal, I will take ten of your fastest archers to try to intercept the flanking orcs. If I can I mean to buy the refugees some time to get here, otherwise I will stay there to defended the rest of our people.

Barok, I could sure use an experianced hand to help me guide those refugees back here, and there's room on Swift."


Barok nodded in agreement and joined Dartis. "As you say sir."

"Well, it's a plan at least," Radnal said in approval and began to direct his men to follow Dartis' idea. He left Ventus in the center of where the incoming orcs could be now seen coming while giving last minute orders to the rest of the men on the flanks.

The men began to grumble, however, as Ventus took command of the front line. He was an Imperial after all. Cal observed with a calculated gaze for a moment before he said aloud, "So, you haven't run away and have decided to stand and die with us after all, Imperial. I'd venture that your more than earning your place with us." He then rode away to pick ten horsemen to accompany Dartis, but left a much relaxed unit ready now to take Ventus' commands. Cal delivered the ten riders consisting of five paladins, three fighters, and two rangers; all experts with bows.

Nikolos and Danica took their place next to Cal, who was busy making Kyle Radnal's one hundred archers into two small companies of bowmen. He then drew his sword and stood up on the stirrups of his horse. "Cavalry! .... Dis-mount!" The remaining riding paladins, rangers, and fighters... all minor nobles and former estate owners, dismounted from their horses and sent them into the center of the town square with young squires. "Cavalry! ... Ready ... bows! Cavalry! ... hold fire...!"

Kyle Radnal was equally loud, as he moved back and forth amoung his flanks. He had roughly 150 men on each flank, while Ventus had another 150 in the center. Forty more foot soldiers stood at the ready to the southern part of the outer circular defense and could also act as reserves since that sector so far had seen no sign of the enemy. The militia was mixed with the town guard and wore leather armor compared to the guard's chain shirts. All carried either spears or halberds and short swords. "Protect the archers! Hold them back and let the bowmen do their work!"

As the orcs began to climb the northern barricades to get at the Dorinthian positions, ten horsemen led by Dartis and Barok burst forth from the southern defenses in an attempt to stop an army of orcs from slaying thousands of their kin. From where they came forth they could already see that Silas' defenses were beset by a couple of hundred orcs. Three hundred more orcs were trickling towards their position and forming a long column via one of the main streets. None of the orcs noticed Dartis' band so far.

Nikolos, Ventus, and Danica had their own problems to worry about, however. The mass of orcs were coming right down the center and Ventus' line was beginning to bow backwards from the weight of the assault.

"Cavalry, aim at the orcs in the center! Archers, aim over the barricades! Fire!" The foot archers shot over the barricades with the hope of decimating the orcs' ranks behind the first. The elite and horseless cavalry had an aim that was unerring, helping to slow the assault.

"Push them back! For the Rider! For your families! For New Dorinthia!"

Ventus stood firmly, shoulder to shoulder with the Dorinthians as the orcs pressed their attack. He tried to assemble the men into some semblance of a shield wall, wishing that he had a good old Imperial Legion at his back like he used to. He shook off his idle wishes as unimportant. He was no longer a legionaire; all he had was himself and the men beside him to hold off this attack. He braced for the first impact of the orcs.

"STAND FIRM!"

And then the orcs were upon them. His sword darted out from behind his shield as he struck wherever he found the opportunity. He did his best to aid those beside him, pushing himself harder than he dared ask of the townsfolk. When the line began to falter under the orc attack he called for one of the reserves to take his place in line.

"Cal was wrong. I have no intention of dying today!"
Gathering around half of the remaining reserve force he moved to reinforce the line where it had been pushed back, hoping the renewed assault of the fresh troops and his own aid would be enough to get the line back into shape.


*****

Silas and Caramip

The wind blew from southwest to northeast.

The duo had 100 militia men and 2000 old men (ages 50+), women (all ages), and children (ages 0-15) civilians. They had have the following weapons:
60 spears, 20 halbers, 110 bows, countless arrows, 20 longswords, 50 short swords, and a couple hundred knives.

The milita men had leather armor while the civilians had nothing. The militia men were ready to grab spears and halberds like the heroes requested. That left 20 more free, and they could either take the longswords, become archers, or use the short swords or knives for fighting a little closer and more personal.

Silas gave Caramip a grateful smile before turning back to the task at hand. I wish Lord Kalnian were here; he's much better at this sort of thing... As the state of their arms became more clear Silas realized that he was woefully lacking able-bodied men. Picking out a militiaman that he recognized, he began barking orders, "Janse, get those militia men swords and position them just behind the barricade. Give the others halberds. Armored militia in front. You there!" He pointed at a group of older men. "Grab a spear. Spread out and line up behind. You!" He pointed at another group of older men. "Grab bows and ready yourself to fire. Arrows over our forces to rain down on orcs. Hurry, get ready..." At that moment he saw the howling orcs descending upon them like a cloud of locusts. I need more time! Shoving doubt and fear down he tried to present a collected face to his fellow Dorinthians. "Bowmen! Fire!"

Silas then grabbed a nearby woman. "Get women to help you but get those children into the creek and out of sight. Make your way to the town square. Grab a knife; you may need to defend yourself."

Lacking more time, he cast Shield upon himself, inwardly seething that the magics remaining to him were of little use in battle. "Stand firm!" he yelled. Hefting his staff he rushed forward to support their meager line of swordsmen and to meet the oncoming orcs. He did what he could to yell more orders to those that could act: Armored militia with swords and halberds in the front, old guys/women with spears and halberds interspersed but a step behind, and old guys/women with bows just behind them.

Caramip did what she could where she could and prayed that everything else would take care of itself. In her mind, she had a hard time ignoring the connection of what had happened to her so long ago and how this battle was turning out. She prayed that she had the courage to prevent history from repeating itself. Despite how she felt, she did her best to keep her emotions buried and away from the surface, especially around the children.

As the horde came into view she hastily made her way towards Silas and took her place on their make shift barricade. Fires had spread across some parts of the town, and she could make out the blood thirsty eyes of the horde. Wish you where here Nik… She thought to herself as her eyes drifted to the novice militia For your healing will be in much need.

Her drums increased in rhythm and sound. Ahead of them were hundreds of crimson drinking killers. Behind them, lying in wait with fear and prayer, were a thousand more innocent women and children. In between, rested a small militia with nothing but hope, determination and iron. “This is what legends are made of.” She stated with a small look towards Silas.

Silas blinked, wide-eyed with surprise at Caramip's last comment. Finding his tongue he quietly said, "I would much rather have a quiet life." He glanced back to where he last saw his wife then clenched his jaw and turned back towards the upcoming battle.

The orcs came over the barricades, and the newly-made archers took the opportunity to fire at will, injuring or killing a couple dozen of the initial attackers. The next volley went over the barricades to impact against unseen orcs. Men with halberds and spears took care of many of the others. The orcs that fell and were not outright killed were slaughtered by old men with spears.

The abjurer and the gnome did their part while motivating the troops, with staff crushing skulls and short sword stabbing downwards. In the midst of this violent encounter, a young woman ran up to the two heroes.

"Orcs! Orcs are trying to swim at us from the creek!" All Silas' defenses were concentrated on barely holding the line, and he had nothing but huddled civilians by the creek.

To save a few, I've lost them all. Silas pushed despair away and grabbed an archer, shoving him towards the creek. "Archers! To the creek! Pick them off as they swim across." He looked around for Caramip. Spotting the small woman amidst a swirl of chaos he made his way to her.

With a smile, she greeted the Magi as he made his way towards her through chaos of battle. “Having fun yet?” She prodded as he approaches within shouting distance.

"Caramip, I need you to give the men at the creek guidance. Orcs are coming across." He flashed her a grin. "And once you've taken care of that find a way for the citizens to retreat towards the town square. We'll hold here to buy you time."

She looked back towards the river as she listened intently to recent developments. “I’ll need your rod of Darkness.” She stated reaching. Taking the rod, she shoved it into her vest pocket and the offered a simple nod to the Magi before running off towards the river.

Once reaching the river Caramip tactfully surveyed the situation and took command over the archers. With the wand in hand she quickly began to cover her side of the river bank in darkness. At the same time she ordered the archers to open fire on the on coming Orcs. Her only hope was that the cover of darkness would be able to give the edge they so desperately needed.

Knowing that he had given the woman an impossible task to match his own, Silas began to turn away when an orc lauched himself from the top of their hastily-constructed defensive wall and crashed into Silas. The two tumbled to the ground and the sudden impact slammed Silas' jaw closed on his tongue. Salty blood filled his mouth. An aged spearman thrust his spear into the orc's throat. Blood spattered across Silas' face. Silas struggled to his feet wiping sweat from his forehead and smearing blood across his face in broad swaths. Amidst a dozen other cuts and bruises his throbbing tongue struck him as the most ludicrous. Hefting his staff in both hands he turned back to meet the next oncoming orc and began to laugh...

*****

Nikolos, Danica, and Ventus

The Imperial way of fighting involved getting in close with a wall of shields, and then using the short sword for quick and controlled thrusts into the body. The Dorinthians played by different rules, preferring to use their spears to hold an enemy at bay while the archers do their work.

Ventus adjusted to the new tactics, and signaled a small reserve of men from the southern end of the exterior defenses to rush forward and meet the orcs where they were beginning to break through. His family sword was buried deep into the ribcage of an orc that he pushed against a barricade with his shield. With bloody blade held high, Ventus rallied spare soldiers into pushing the orcs back over the barricades.

All the while, Danica, Cal, and a hundred archers plied their own deadly trade. Every time the groups of archers let loose another volley over the barricades the sound of injured orcs rang out. The attack began to peter out, and the orcs could be heard regrouping on the other side of the barricades.

Nikolos followed Ventus close, keeping the Tallione man from harm more than once, and helping to pull the injured out of the way so that they might recover and fight in this battle once more. He saw one particularly older and larger orc on top of the barricades and cast a detect thoughts spell. The priest found fear and some confusion in the creature's thoughts and the Nikolos reported to Ventus what he detected. The battle was not going as easily as the orcs had thought. Also, it seemed as if they were expecting elves and half-elves, and not battle-hardened humans this far north. The orc was looking for a place to breech the human defenses and was focusing hard at their sparsely defended southern flank. The orc considered reporting the weakness to the chieftain.

*****

Dartis and Barok

The heroes' hearts grew cold in fear and worry as Silas' defenders ceased firing arrows over the barricades at the incoming orcs. Had the archers run out of ammo or were they somehow wiped out? It looked as if Dorinthian spear and halberd tips still peeked out in defense of the barricades, though. The halt in firing gave the orcs a better opportunity to form up for an attack, and they pushed harder.

Though still at the maximum arrow range, Dartis ordered a couple of volleys to be fired. It did prove a minor distraction, as Barok could see some of the closest orcs peering in his general direction in confusion.

*****

Silas

The abjurer's laughter increased when one of the orcs came from over the barricades and slashed at him, but instead connected with his shield effect, causing sparks to fly. Silas' return swing crushed the warrior's windpipe and the battle mage coolly stepped over his corpse.

On examination, it was plain to see that the loss of his archers had quickly turned the battle against the mage and his army. His defenses were beginning to bow inwards, and Silas realized that if he couldn't find a way to turn the tide again, either he would need Caramip to disobey his last order and return with the archers, or a miracle from the heavens would have to descend.

*****

Caramip

The gnome arrived at the creek's bank just in time to take control of the situation. A few dozen orcs were coming at her from the creek by swimming across the deep body of water. "Diraak", Caramip uttered the command word and waved her newly grabbed wand at the deepest part of the creek. She used it repeatedly to coat a larger area.

Although it was not impossible to see inside or outside the magically created darkness, it did make the sighting of the enemy much harder. The swimming orcs had the hardest time, though, as Caramip's archers fired either at the noise of their surprised shrieks or the slightest hint of orc in the dimness. Soon the orcs had either drowned unable to find dry land or been made into pincushions. None reached the Dorinthian side alive.
The gnome smiled, but then looked back to where Silas last stood. The mage was still there, fighting with his staff, although his line was beginning to buckle. There didn't seem to be an easy way to get the people across the creek. On the other hand, it was evident that Silas' defenses would soon fall unless aided.
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Nikolos, Ventus and Danica

"Ventus, that orc needs to die. Right now." Such words perhaps sound strange, coming from the cheerful priest of the Seeker, who was by definition a god of quiet study and scholarship. The slightly pudgy man pointed his longspear at the big orc he meant. "Two more things. One, look to the south. He has spotted our weakness there, and others may have also. Second, they are afraid, and confused, apparently the Dorinthians being here is a surprise. If any counterattack is possible at all, now might be a good time for it."

That said, he called on his dwindling store of the Seeker's power, in order to cast a Hold Person spell at the big orc. Then grimacing a bit, he started for the big orc himself, muttering. "Nikolos Viridikos, the next time the Archprior of the Office of the Holy Witnesses offers you an assignment to go observe a war...you say NO!"

Despite Nikolos' shout, the orc disappeared back behind the attackers' side of the barricades before Ventus or Danica could react, and before Nikolos could get off his spell.

Ventus and his men pushed back the orcs, but it was quickly becoming apparent that there were not enough armed people to hold the entire outer ring of defenses. Radnal moved more and more men to form a half-crescent against the invaders, but Nikolos was detecting increasing thoughts of the demoralized orcs that indicated they planned to try to circle around and find a weak spot in the defenses. Danica suggested a general pull-back to the inner ring.

Nikolos shook his head as the orc vanished, and then thumped Ventus on the shoulder. "I'm off to see Cal Dorin. Be safe." With that, he made his way to the prince, after casting Longstrider on himself to get a bit more speed out of his pudgy person.

"Your highness...I urge you to get as many of your archers mounted and together as possible. The orcs are going to start trying to probe for weak points, and given how few footmen there are, only your horsemen can move fast enough to crush the probes before they become dangerous. I urge...no I beg you, to get your men together, as many as you can, and be ready to strike at the probes, or counterattack.

****

Dartis and Barok

What the hell is going on? Barok frowned in powerless frustration, unable to contribute to the battle. Damn it, I should have been out there, scouting the countryside. Perhaps then we would have been better prepared...

"Continue firing Dorinthians!" shouted Dartis to the cavalry.

He turned his head to speak to Barok, shouting over the din of hooves. "I am going to ride up next to the barricades to let you off, find Silas and Caramip, and organize a fighting retreat back to the square. Most of the refugees know you and will follow you. Then we'll give you as much chance as we can. But move quickly."

Dartis turned the galloping Swift towards the barricades, urging the horse to a breakneck speed. The Shield of Kings gleamed on his arm as Dartis raises his sword shouting at the orcs

"DUL-KEYAR!"

Dartis and Barok found that the rows of attacking orcs were too thick, and that they were not likely to traverse both the attackers and barricades safely enough to bring all their men through. Another surprise also occurred to show that getting too close to the orc lines was not the best option... the Dorinthian archers were firing once again, and a cloud of arrows erupted from Silas' forces and into the mass of orcs behind the barricade. What was more, orbs of darkness began to cover the front ranks of attackers, spreading confusion among the barbaric warriors. This was sowed further by Dartis' attack. His riders drove close to the orc ranks, firing arrows into the globes of darkness before riding into side streets and attacking once more. Dartis’ forces were able to make three passes this way while avoiding increasing patrols of orcs that were beginning to be sent to impede their progress. As Dartis yelled ‘Dul-Keyar’, his cry is echoed among the orcs being shot up inside the magical darkness.

"Dul-Keyar, Dul-Keyar!" A ripple of fear erupted among the invaders. Partially blinded, while being shot by arrows from either side, the orc attack began to falter against Silas' defenses.

While resting a moment at a side street one of the fighters asked Dartis, "Why were you yelling 'The Rider' in orcish tongue?" When Dartis explained where he heard that word the man chuckled. "So you made a one in a million shot, and the orcs thought you were The Hunter come to save the Dorinthians. They always have had a fear of our god."

One of the learned paladins nodded. "It is said that the orcs almost defeated our people when we were still men of the plains and steppes, before the coming of the first king Dorin. Then came The Rider to save our people, like he had done in many dark times before and since." The paladin's expression and tone changed, as if he were reciting from scripture: "Know that long ago our people saw doom on the fields of northern ice. Many proud tribesmen and fey allies fell that day to stop the orcish invaders at their source. Among mounds of the slain, The Great Chief looked to the heavens and cried out for the fate of his people. Suddenly, there came the sound of mighty hooves thundering across the tundra. The Rider came that day, as he had before in dark times, and became known to orc and elf. He rode his great charger, cloaked, dark, and terrible and where fell his gaze fell death."

"Well, General," Barok jumped off the horse, "Good work and all that, but I'm about as useful to the cause as a piece of luggage right now. And since we can't get through the orc lines, and it doesn't look like we can get the people out, I think we're all better off if I go slit some throats. I'd rather die if my death could make some difference. That is, if you don't mind."
He turned and walked stealthily about the alleyways looking for enemy spellcasters or officers to kill, hoping to cause a distraction for the army.

"Not at all Barok, contribute as you can. Our ways of war are differnt but no less values to our people." replied Dartis wishing the protection of the Rider upon Barok as he slipped off into the shadows.

Turning to his horsemen. "Well enough rest, let's get back out there while those beasts are still confused. Seeing the confusion it sowed, let us all cry 'Dul-Keyar', and truly reap death among the orcs. For Dorinthia!"

****

Silas and Caramip

Well that puts an end to that.” Caramip said with enthusiasm as she watched the lifeless bodies of the orc horde flow harmlessly down the river. Still in command, she regrouped the archers and headed back towards the barricade. However, her enthusiasm drained from her like a gushing wound as she witnessed Silas and his defenders begin to falter under the horde’s attack. Without hesitation she tactfully deployed the achers and with her newly entrusted wand in hand, repeated her ‘River of Darkness’ strategy on the orc’s main force, but only on a much large scale.

Once the field of battle was efficiently covered, she grabbed her drum and once again played her Dorthain battle chant. Only this time the beats came much quicker. With strict orders she directed the archers to fire in unison and on beat.

Silas fought and fought and fought. Staff swinging, shoulder to shoulder amongst his fellow Dorinthians, Silas fought. How long can this last? he wondered wearily.

The orcs broke through and filled the top of the barricades while howling shouts of bloodlust. Silas found men falling all around him, he himself facing two orcs with victory in their eyes. It was at that moment that a small cloud of arrows rained towards him, and the abjurer for a moment feared that the orcs had their own bowmen. Instead, the arrows fell onto the orcs on the other side of the barricade. They were Dorinthian arrows! The invaders looked around in confusion at first, then terror as Caramip appeared. She disobeyed Silas' order to flee and instead ordered the archers to line up and fire, her drumbeats delivering a rhythm that was followed by volley after volley.

The orcs on the barricades died by arrows fired from either side, and their attack was halted as the gnome drove the wand of darkness through spaces in the barricades, causing the invaders to have to fight partially blind. Silas only had 60 men left on his front line that were able to put up any kind of fight, but the orcs stopped their assault and a cry of fear was heard among them: "Dul-Keyar, Dul-Keyar!". Whatever that meant...

Silas slumped as the orcish assault was broken. Exhausted physically and mentally, he slicked back hair damp with sweat and blood and began moving among the men he was fighting with. He said a low word to one, clapped another on the arm in camaraderie gained from fighting together in battle, knelt to close the eyes of one young Dorinthian staring lifelessly at the sky. Standing again, he saw Caramip, caught her eye, and bowed to the gnomish woman in an inadequate expression of his gratitude. "Thank you." Unable to say anything more he stared at the fallen that surround him.

It’s no fuss hun! I love a good game of ‘Marco-Polo’.” Smiled the energetic Gnome. However, deep down, she knew that she was no different than some of the scared men that were giving thier lives for their loved ones. She longed for this to be over so she could walk over to some dark corner and break down into tears. Recording large battles, that was what she loved to do, not fighting in them. Maintaining her calm and cheerful façade, for her sake and the men, she looked towards the orc horde and then back to Silas. With a smile she said, “Just like the battle of Rock Springs.” Ignoring the confused looks she began to elaborate, “The Darkness is confusing but it won’t hold them forever. During the war, a Dorithian force used the cover of the night to conceal their numbers from a much large Imperial force. Their tactic was simple. They used the night’s darkness and their bows to cause confusion within the Imperial ranks. And you know what? It worked. It worked so well that they were able to mount a counter offensive and drive the Imperial force away. Saving thousands of innocents.” She paused and let the mood of her story sink in to whom ever was listening. “You must lead such a counter attack.” She whispered to Silas.

The surprise was clear for all to see as it crosses Silas' face. He looked around at the devastation surrounding him and began to speak, "I don't..." Breaking off he just looked at the little gnome, Caramip, the woman whose joking words masked a wisdom he likely would never have guessed existed if this day hadn't happened. He nodded abruptly and took a deep breath. Whispering in kind, he said, "I don't know what I'm doing, but I trust you already know that." He grinned at Caramip, though he felt anything but happy at the moment.

Taking another deep breath, standing a little taller, Silas began to speak to the Dorinthians around him, "Dorinthians..." He looked at the men who were weary and injured yet still standing, locking eyes with some, "Simeon... Karril... I know you are hurt and tired. I am, too. But I can't rest until my family is safe. Safe to live here in the town we've built with our own hands. Safe to live free from the threats of others. Time is running out. We need to break this threat now. To keep our families safe."

Silas hardly dared to breath as he waited for the reaction of the people around him...
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Memorial Day Weekend Update

Silas and Caramip

With a grim and determined look, the remaining militia took up their weapons once more. There was a job to do, and the abjurer's words motivated them to finish this part of the battle. These few were not left to fight alone, and old men, lads in their early teens, and women whose husbands were fighting for their lives in the center of town all picked up some of the weapons left over by fallen orcs and men. Silas was reminded that these were Dorinthians, their entire history one of almost continuous war with either an external enemy or each other.

Following the lead of the abjurer and gnome, the mass of militia and civilians roared as one as they scrambled over the battlements and into the mass of confused orcs below. Since the front orc ranks were being reinforced with the rear ranks, there was some resistance, although brief and violent as the invaders lost the momentum from the surprise attack. Caramip could see that the force she had been engaged with was mostly comprised of young orcs, and their will to continue the struggle snapped under the onslaught. The force fled from the attack, scattering and running back from whence it came. During this, a small group of ten horsed Dorinthian archers finished off the stragglers and came to join Caramip and Silas. It was led by a smiling Dartis, who looked relieved that they were safe.

****

Dartis

Dartis’ troops continued their harassment of the orcs, crying out 'Dul-Keyar' while doing little overall harm, but sowing great confusion and fear. That's when Dartis saw a sight that lightened his heart. The civilians and militia members that were pinned by the orcs suddenly rose over the barricades and came crashing down upon the confused invaders. This was enough to finally break the orcs, which began to flee back from whence they came. Dartis’ men rode down stragglers as they united with the southern defenses, and Dartis could see the worn but smiling Silas and Caramip in the lead.

****


Silas, Dartis, and Caramip

The trio meet in front of the southern defenses, while a victory cry rose from both the small group of horse archers under Dartis and the thousands of saved civilians under Silas. Most of Silas' militia had been wounded or killed, but a number of women, young teenagers, and old men had taken up weapons to strengthen his ranks.

As the heroes congratulated each other, however, they saw that the main Dorinthian military force was falling back from its outer defenses and into the last ring of interior barricades.

Silas smiled broadly when he saw Dartis and his small force of horsemen. "Lord Kalnian, the Dorinthian Irregulars are under your command!" The relief that accompanied that statement flooded through Silas though he knew the battle wasn't over yet...

Greetings!” Beamed Caramip as Silas and her made their way towards Dartis and his mounted warriors. “Hope everyone is enjoying this rousing game of Hide’n Go Seek!” She said in witty banter.

She looked between the civilian force and the mounted cavalry with an excited smile. Shifting her gaze, she turned to the two leaders of the pack and asked, “So, Generals, what’s the plan?

Dartis grinned back, noticing the blood-stained staff Silas held in his hand
"If you continue to insist on participating in combat my friend, you must let me teach you the sword" said Dartis with a broader grin as he reached down to clasp the Caernite's hand.

"Likely I would just cut my own fool head off. Much harder to do with a stick," he said as he returned Dartis' firm hand clasp. Quietly he said, "We would have been overrun if not for Caramip's quick thinking and action..." Now if anything happens, thought Silas, and I don't survive this, she'll at least get some recognition for her actions today.

"My thanks to both of you for your valiant leadership and valor in saving these people. But come, much remains to be done and our brothers are solely pressed."

Addressing the mass of people around them Dartis drew his sword and called out, "Dorinthians! I know you are tired and wounded. I know that you are scared and weary. I know another enemy has arrived on our doorstep. But just as we fought the Tallione, so shall we fight against any who dares march on Dorinthia! You stalwart citizens have already driven off a large horde of maurading orcs. Your bravery and courage is an inspiration and a fitting tribute to our great ancestors. But the time for rest is not yet. We must get you to safety. And yes we must still fight! Our brothers hold the city square, but are falling back. We must go and save them, we must go save our brothers, and mothers and children! As you have fought here, go and fight one more time. Follow the leadership of Silas Eyrstan and Caramip Ashhearth who have lead you to victory here. Follow them to the city square and join our kinsmen and let no orc stand between you!" Cried Dartis brandishing sword and activating his magical shield.

To Silas and Caramip he added, "Take them to the square, break through orc lines into the square if you can otherwise take to the buildings and harass the horde with the archers. But get these people off the street. My men and I will ride vedette and make sure there are no surprises and hold off any incursions against you as you move. But you must lead them hence."

Silas listened with admiration and not a little trepidation as Dartis addresses the gathered Dorinthians and nearly groaned when the nobleman tossed leadership back into his lap. Taking a deep breath he again buried his dismay and presented a collected front. "Not far now. So ready yourselves. We have work to do!"

With a smile Caramip looked up the mounted warrior and said, “General!” There is a slight pause so as to be sure that she had Davik’s attention continuing. “I am wondering if remember Commander Naissirlac’s little maneuver at the Battle of Tanaab?” She flashed Silas a wink before continuing her story.

****

Ventus, Nikolos, and Danica

Cal had been anxious to take the fight to the enemy, and at Nikolos' prodding he rode up to take command of the front ranks from Ventus and ordered a general counter-attack. With a yell the men surged over the barricades, surprising the demoralized orcs and stopping their encircling movement. The Dorinthian forces caught the orcs by surprise, and the immediate gains by the Dorinthians were impressive. Still, they were too heavily outnumbered, and the counter-attack ground to a halt thirty yards past the outer barricades. The orcs used their numbers to push back, and out in the open the Dorinthians began to take heavier casualties. Radnal realized that the line could not hold and caught up to Cal. After a brief discussion they agreed to pull back to the interior defenses where they could consolidate their forces better.

Ventus took some men and acted as a rear guard, buying enough time once back over the barricades and behind the outer defenses to get almost all the men to safety. Danica took control of the archers and led a walking, yet firing retreat. The orcs didn't pursue the retreating Dorinthians as hard as they could, most likely because of the shock of the counter-attack. Nikolos helped the wounded where he could to get back up and to the safety of the interior defenses, but in his doing so nearly became separated from the rest of the Dorinthians. The cleric knew what would happen to stragglers once the orcs reached them, yet the rough hands of Kyle Radnal grabbed him by the arms, "Leave them, priest! We need your skills for those that may survive!" As Radnal pulled him away, Nikolos looks into the man's stern face and knew that he found the situation as wretched as Nikolos felt it was. Pulling the priest over the interior defenses, Radnal told him, "It was a good plan, priest. We may not have won that little skirmish, but it did bloody their nose and buy us time enough to retreat to our stronger defenses. Now we got to bleed them out some more before trying it again."

Two sights gave heart to the worn defenders. First, it appeared that the southern attack on the civilians on the inlet had been broken. Second, Baron Dorin appeared in armor and a bow in hand despite the protests of his concerned son, Cal. "I'm not here to command, I just want to help," the balding noble said in an almost embarrassed manner.

****

Barok

Barok traveled through dark streets and by burning houses, making his way up north and into the hills where it seemed that orcs were moving back and forth from. Occasionally he saw what he thought might be a messenger heading towards or away from the main force besieging the center of the town. Barok’s blade ensured that some of those messengers never reached their destination. On one of the closer, tall hills he could see a campfire, and what looked to be a series of banners and tents. Following the trees and shrubs, he got close enough to see the center of the camp and several large, older orcs watching the battle in silence. They didn't seem happy with the way it was going, and from his hidden area Barok could see that the southern defenses with the civilians on the inlet had routed the orc forces. On the other hand, the central defenses had fallen back to their interior lines after a failed counter-attack of their own.

Suddenly, Barok heard movement from the brush near him as something stealthily moved in his direction. Thinking that a scout may have discovered his location, Barok readied his blade. The sneak stopped near him, but not close enough to get in the path of his strike and whispered, "Your name is Barok, isn't it? I must say, I barely saw you sneak up this way. You're pretty good. What are you thinking you can accomplish up here, anyway? There is no way you can assassinate that chieftain from here if that's what's on your mind." In the darkness Barok could barely make out the speaker’s form, but from its shape and the voice he could tell it was Rix, the kobold adventurer that was badly injured and brought back safely.

"The party was getting dull down there, and I thought the orcs might have better booze. They like the strong stuff, don't they, the kind that burns..." he smiled at the kobold. "You've been up here longer than I have, do you know the weak points of their camp? Where they keep their food, drink and draft animals, their wounded, their women and children? If we can cause a distraction there we could throw this camp, and that army down there, into a panic and buy our people victory."

Rix moved closer so that the two could observe the encampment while being able to speak in quieter voices. He tugged at his dark goggles absentmindedly. "Actually, I haven't been here long. I thought I had seen large forces of movement coming towards the town before they struck and decided that you humans were done for. Ummm... speaking of which, I hope Danica is alright. I... umm... I figured I'd escape to the local kobold tribe, which had been trading with the Dorinthians ever since we came to this place. And guess what I found... the idiot leader of theirs was negotiating with the orcs to help pillage the place in exchange for giving aid during the attack. Luckily for us, the orcs figured him for a weakling and killed him and his second right then and there. I ran into a small tribe both angry and leaderless... and I'm kind of in charge of them right now. I'm not sure if this is such a good thing, since I got to consider them a pack of fools. Can you imagine, siding with orcs for quick profit when they had a good thing going with open trade and a settled life? The humans welcomed them, damn it all!" Rix spit in confused frustration and Barok wondered how much his time with humans had changed this humanoid's outlook. He might not have belonged to the human community, but he definitely was no true kobold.

"Anyway, just on the other side of this hill I have a few dozen very angry fellow kobolds with a score to settle. Some wanted to try hit and run tactics, while others were for trying the ridiculous and near-futile, like rolling large rocks at the orcs as if I had some boulders in a back pocket. They are desperate for revenge, but I told them to wait and let me check this out in order to find a weak spot and a decent plan. And now you come with the simple idea of setting the camp on fire... brilliant. And my kin have the supplies to do it, the rage to help, and the craftiness to get close to that series of supply wagons and tents ringing this camp. So let's do this, Barok. We all have our personal reasons to wreck hell this day."

"Hey, we're all fools, or else we wouldn't be here. Now, let's show those savages what a pack of brave fools can do.

"Let's divide your kobolds into two groups, those who have skills in stealth and those who don't. Divide the stealthy group into several groups of three, arm them with the gear they need to set their fires and have them spread out in a ring in the woods around the camp. When they hear the war-cry 'Dul Keyar' from the side of the camp facing the town they should then advance and set fire to the wagons and tents in the rear and to the sides. Then they should retreat and hide. If they then hear the war cry 'Eroll' they should advance again, evade any groups of orcs that may have been sent out to hunt them down, and attack the rear of the camp with hit and run tactics, advancing stealthily and setting new fires until they face serious opposition. Tell them to run if they face bad odds, but to exploit any weakness and confusion to cause maximum damage. If they find any women and children they should use them as hostages, but if that's not possible it's better to kill them than to leave them behind."

"The second group should be held in reserve at this position. If the orcs weaken their defenses to the front in reaction to the threat to their rear this group, under your leadership and with my aid, will then launch a fullscale attack on this sector. If our attack is successful we will press it, and call in the first group to attack again. If our attack encounters impossible odds we will retreat, setting fire to the camp as we go, and scatter into the woods."

"It's risky, but even the success of the first part of the plan may be enough to demoralise our enemies and weaken their attack on the town. A complete success will get us both glory and riches (it damn well better), and perhaps some noble titles as well. Either way, your people and mine will have bound their futures together, and the trade will flow as thick as the orcish blood on our blades."

"Are you with me?"


Barok took two groups of kobolds and placed them on different parts of the hill, both with a dozen humanoids. Rix headed the other group and split them into three packs of four firestarters while Barok led the other dozen into a spread out group of crossbowmen. When the scout yelled "Dul-Keyar" he was rewarded with the yipping of angry kobolds and the surprised looks on the orc leaders' faces as the wagons and tents behind them began to catch on flame. The orcs yelled at each other in the orcish language, and en masse they all drew weapons and raced towards the small humanoids, murder in their eyes. That's when Barok and his irregular formation sprang forth with his kobolds firing into the backs of several orc leaders before racing back into the woods.

Chaos erupted in the camp, and as the orc leaders were trying to figure out which threat to worry about more, Barok yelled "Eroll" as he retreated, causing the braver kobolds to burst forth again for another go. A couple were cut down by random orc camp followers, but a handful got through and lit up a few more supplies before fleeing for good into the forest.

The orc chieftain and a four of his right hand men charged towards the direction of Barok's voice and the rogue decided it was time to go. Yelling to his kobolds to scatter, the scout found that the enraged group of barbarians were quickly gaining on him. The thief heard the crash of a large orc and the whistle of a blade behind him and tumbled forward in time to avoid being cut into two. Instead, the side of the tree near his head exploded from the barbarian's sword swing, throwing wood chips into the night air.

As the rogue retreated down the hill and back towards the town, with five barbaric orcs on his heels, he suddenly realized that he was in trouble...

"Ah, bloody hell" Barok cursed as he rolls out of the way of another swing. This wasn't going quite the way he'd planned. "Rix, buddy, a little help here..." Looking around he found he was on his own and therefore turned deeper into the forest in an attempt to shake off his pursuers and hide, hoping to use the terrain, his smaller bulk and greater dexterity to his advantage.

****

Dartis, Silas, and Caramip

The trio watched as the central defenses almost became overrun and realized that their force might be able to harrass them, but not break through. Caramip suggested going after the leadership and chopping off the enemy army at the head in order to bring this battle to a quicker end. The three heroes agreed to lead a small contingent of a couple hundred young lads, militia, and old men to seek out and destroy the camp. The archers were all taken, but fifty women were given spears in the hope that they could deter any force from taking the inlet and civilians within. It was a gamble, but one that the party was adament about trying. Besides, Dartis had a general idea about where the enemy camp was after listening to Nikolos' report.

The group did not travel unimpeded, and several skirmishes were won over small bands of orcs that were occupied with looting and setting fire to several houses. Despite the street to street fighting, the group finally made it through the majority of the town, only to suddenly see several fires springing up in the area that the enemy camp was believed to be located. Like a beacon, it drew their attention and, from the shouts on that fiery hill, the three could tell that chaos had just broken loose in the orc camp.

The three heroes thought that they saw a man being chased down the large hill by five others, but they could not tell who they were. It was evident, though, that they intended to kill him as he tumbled away from one of their blades. He was about two hundred feet away, at the base of the hill.

****

Nikolos, Ventus, and Danica

"Here they come again!" Radnal yelled out a warning as the orcs came at the interior barricades with strong force and better organization. It's as if they were being led by barbarians with better experience than the last group, and the heroes noticed that older, more experienced orcs were now appearing in greater frequency. A few dozen broke through where some of the milita are unable to hold them back.

It was Cal who rushed forward with some of Radnal's town guard under his command and plugged the hole, but the orcs that made it through either snuck into the administrative building where Alexander and Syra were or took the time to attack behind Dorinthian lines. Cal engaged these also with the help of Ventus and a handful of men. The Imperial and noble Dorinthian fought hard, but were eventually separated by the brutality of their conflict. Ventus was able to hold back two orcs at once with his shield, but Cal went down to a large and scarred barbarian. As the muscular orc was about to drive his axe into the fallen noble, his father, Baron Dorin rushed forward and swung his longbow like a club, splintering it against the barbarian's face and throwing off its aim. With a roar, the orc attacked once more, mortally wounding the baron with a blow to the chest. Cal screamed in shock and drove his longsword upwards with two hands as he rose back up, impaling the large orc in the heart with such force that he actually lifted the dying enemy inches off the ground.

With the threat halted for the time being, Nikolos and Cal rushed to the dying baron's side in a futile attempt to save his life.

"Ah, son. I see why you enjoyed riding so much with the men. This... this made me feel alive... Still... I would ... would have preferred to... have seen my old garden... than war..." With that, the mild-mannered baron closed his eyes and died.

A pitiful wail burst forth from Cal's lungs, and the dryad's necklace began to glow around his neck. The wail was taken up by others, as they noticed their baron had fallen. Instead of falling to despair, however, rage burned in the eyes of the Dorinthians. It was all Radnal could do to hold them back from a tactical mistake in the midst of the battle. As the heroes watched Cal, however, they saw his skin become like bark at the same time that the necklace began to dim. With his new protective hardened skin the noble picked up his blade and looked as if he is ready to go over the barricades by himself. It was Ventus who first gained the courage to grab Cal before he did something foolish, magic protection or not.

That's when Nikolos suddenly spotted the fires that now erupted all over the suspected location of the orc camp on a hill to the north. Absolute chaos had broken out in the enemy encampment and the attackers began to slow down as all wonder what it means.

****

.



Dartis, Barok, Silas and Caramip

Dartis left the militia to continue their march as he took five of the cavalry (leaving five with the militia) and rode quickly to investigate the commotion at the hill.

Looks like someone got themselves into a loosing game of ‘Kill-the-Carrier’...” Mentioned Caramip to both Silas and Dartis as she spotted the small man running for his life. “You think you might be able to help even up the odds while Silas and I get everyone in position?” Asked the Gnome to Dartis.

As Barok continued to flee down the hill, tumbling and dodging blades along the way, he used the vegetation and rough terrain to keep just ahead of his pursuers. Unfortunately, the vegetation began to disappear and the ground became flatter as he reached the base of the hill. Then he heard the sound of hooves thundering upon the ground. Coming quickly at Barok was Dartis and five Dorinthian horse archers. They had bows drawn. Right behind them were more riders, and some armed militia under the command of Silas and Caramip. The cavalry had arrived.

As one, Dartis and his five men commenced fire, slaying two of the orcs outright and injuring several others, including the massive older chieftain in the lead. With a panicked look, the orcs quickly turned and ran, but the cavalry was able to run down two more before a severely wounded chieftain and a lieutenant fled up the hill. The chieftain blew several notes on a war horn, and the heroes saw the mass of orcs attacking the center of the town begin to withdraw.

The withdrawal became an outright panic as everyone in the town could see the cavalry and militia swarming over the remnants of the camp. Dartis and his men rode through the fleeing orcs, using up most of their arrows to rain death down. The yell of Dul-Keyar delivered more chaos. Barok, Caramip and Silas led an assault that swept the remnants of the camp off the hill, while Rix and a few dozen kobolds leapt upon the injured fallen and murdered helpless orcs with such brutality that even the most stout Dorinthian turned away. Once the hill was cleared, the Dorinthians rallied together to hit retreating orcs left over in the town, while the kobolds looted the orc camp. But Barok, Silas, Caramip, and Dartis found in the town center changed everything...

Ventus, Nikolos, and Danica

Nikolos looked around, seeing the dead noble, and shaking his head. Then he looked at the somewhat faltering orc attack, and a frown crossed his normally cheerful face. "Well, nothing like witnessing events from the middle." Then he moved towards the orc that seemed to be giving the most orders, grabbing as many loose Dorinthians as he could manage, trying to get close to the leader chosen.

Danica turned, and it was like her eyes suddenly came into focus for the first time throughout this whole enterprise -- her silent demeanor and blank face are replaced with a small smile, curving up at the corner of her lips, as she began to engage with the chaos that surrounded her.

She was ready to fight, and she was looking for a target amidst the many lights in the darkness. For Dorninthia.

A scream from the administrative building reminded everyone that not all the orcs that got through were killed. Ventus and Cal enter the administrative building that some of the orcs were able to enter in order to protect Syra and the severely injured Alexander. They were able to slay three of them that stopped to loot the lower floors and found the bodies of several more, fallen near the bodies of butchered men and women who were able to put up somewhat of a weak resistance. Cursing, the Imperial tightened his grip on his blade as he reached the top floor and saw Alexander standing weakly before five orcs, a couple fresh wounds newly scarring his body. Amazingly, the half-orc was still standing with blade in hand, and protected a frightened knife-wielding Syra. The orcs taunted their kin and leered at the noblewoman with sadistic intentions.

Ventus and Cal drew the attention from their prey when Ventus slammed into the closest orc and buried his short blade into the creature's ribs. Another quick strike to the throat finished the badly wounded orc barbarian off, but not before Ventus got a deep cut in his thigh. The Imperial was used to such pain, however, and grimly stuck down a second, younger orc warrior. Cal handled two others, his barskinned flesh deflecting several blows while he hacked up the enemy in rage. Alexander took advantage of the final orc having turned to face Ventus, and grabbed the creature by the arm and throat. With a twist, the incredibly strong Alexander tossed the screaming orc through the nearby window, where he landed with a crunch by the feet of Danica. The sorceress looked surprised, but quickly recovered and moved her weapon to the stunned orc's face and released a bolt, finishing him. Looking up, she saw Alexander waving from above, a crying Syra holding him tightly. The half-orc turned to give Ventus a silent nod of thanks, and Cal sighed in satisfaction, glad to see that if his sister found a man to admire it at least be one who would fight to the death for her.

Suddenly, the orcs attacked in one more wave and all able-bodied men moved to solidy the defenses. Nikolos even saw his servants Redd, Shirte, and Gnaden near him close to the fighting. The scribe held a spear and yelled to him, in embarrassment, [color]"Sorry, master! Your books are safe in the basement of the building if it's any consolation."[/color] Then added with a slight touch of surprising humor, "How goes your research thus far?"

The assault was weaker than the last one, and the Dorinthians were both better prepared and angrier. The orcs saw that their attacks were failing when a war horn blew once more from the hill to the north. All turned to see the sight there, and that most of the orc camp was now on fire and that Dorinthian cavalry and militia were swarming over it. The orcs panicked and fell back, while Radnal found that he could not control the enraged men any longer and Kyle Radnal was unable to hold back the men. He gave command to Cal who came forth from the administrative building and turned the flight to a rout. The orcs were still numerically superior, and often stronger, but their disorganized withdrawal allowed packs of Dorinthians to butcher them mercilessly.

The Dorinthians that raided the orc camp came down from the hill, and joined the slaughter.

****

The attack had been stopped, and the swarms of orcs began to flee in all directions. The seven heroes met up in the center of the town, but the happiness that should come in victory was nowhere to be found. A couple of hundred Dorinthians were believed to have been killed in the fighting, nearly five percent of the refugee population. The numbers would have been much higher if not for the efforts of the party. What is more, Baron Dorin had fallen in battle, giving his life to save his son. Confusion reigned as the angry Dorinthians questioned who would lead them now? Cal, Syra, and Dartis were all candidates, but none of them were yet willing to make a declaration and all three seemed to want the position. Kyle Radnal stayed out of it, and began to create work details to bury the dead, put out fires, and rebuild. His militia and some of the people spoke aloud that he should lead the Dorinthians, and rumors swelled that he himself was of noble blood. Cal and Dartis also looked to see what remnants of cavalry could be put together to run down the surviving orcs, but the men were exhausted and the prospects questionable.

The biggest question, however, was why this happened. Why had the orcs come back? And why did it seem that they expected to find elves, not Dorinthians? And if this was an attack on the elven nation, how fared Saleentra and the Silver Forest? For a moment, Alexander, Rix, Silas, Danica, and Dartis recalled the prophetic words of the Mad Gnome:
Saleentra will burn.
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
I am a bad man for failing to update until now:

Barok leaned back against a wall, wiping sooty sweat from his eyes, leaving his face a black-smeared mess. He laughed, a sharp harsh sound, his eyes shining with adrenaline and exhaustion, "Ha! And I thought orcs were tough, damn useless cowardly rabble. If only all our enemies were that soft we'd build an empire in no time. I guess this settles the elven issue, though. Those long eared limp-wristed sissies hate the piggies with a passion. They wouldn't dare turn against us now."

He looked at the faces around him, sensing their mood. "Oh, yeah. Due respect to the dead and the grieving, but man, we showed those bastards what it means to be Dorinthians, and Kobolds, and southeners, I guess. "Rix, brother, and you too my liege," he bowed his head to Dartis, "I owe you both a drink."

Later Barok took Dartis aside, "I believe the succession issue can be resolved tonight. There may still be a few orcs left, hiding in town just waiting for an opportunity. They would like nothing better than to strike against selected parts of our Dorinthian leadership..."

"I too owe you a drink for your ingenuity and resoursefulness. Indeed my friend, I would like to put your crafty mind to use as the Spy Master of Dorinthia. Well should I have any say over the matter that is." added Dartis with a grin. "But as to your other concern. Well keep your eyes peeled for any threats to any Dorinthian. There are too few of us as it is. Of course, I'd be most appreciative of any threats you stop my way in particular." Dartis added with another wink.

"It would be an honour, sir, and I will keep a look out for any threats coming our way. Both from the outside and our own ranks. The Dorins may not be as chivalrous as you. Take care around them, or take care of them, my offer still stands."

Ventus remained standing as he met with his traveling companions in the center of town. He swayed a little, and the wound on his leg troubled him, but he yet had the energy to remain on his feet. His sword had been cleaned and returned to its sheath, spotless, but the rest of him was covered in grime and blood. He turned to look at Barok, but hadn't the strength left to be irritated by the man's impudence.

"That may be it for one band of orcs, but it certainly makes clear that this refuge is not as safe as one might hope. It seems a wall is in order, if we expect to hold the town against any further attacks."

Silas was relieved that the orc attack was broken. But when he took command of the camp-site militia he lost track of his father, wife, and son and desperately looked for their faces amongst the survivors in the town square. And then, to hear that Baron Dorin lied dead... It was almost more than he could bear. Looking around he saw that many felt the same but was relieved to see that Kyle Radnal had taken that task in hand and was organizing work parties.

Despite Silas' grief, distraction, and weariness, Ventus' mentioning of a wall snared his attention. "A wall," he murmured. Interest piqued, he immediately turned his eye to mentally mapping out the town's layout. "Now. How would I..."

A nearby argument concerning who should assume rulership of the Dorinthians snapped him from his musings. Quietly, he said, "I should have spoken to Baron Dorin before on Lord Kalnian's behalf." He sighed, weariness once again weighing him down. Now, unless this is resolved quickly, things may fall into chaos. Unless...

Silas casually made known to Dartis that he would like to speak with him privately. When they got a chance, he said, "Lord Kalnian, the time may seem inopportune but we are in danger of our people splitting into four factions. I feel you are most suited to rule but you must press your suit now. Seek Syra Dorin's hand in marriage; persuade her with co-rulership. Court the support of Kyle Radnal; I think he'll support you as you've proven yourself a sound commander. It is true that Cal has some support amongst the cavalry but he has always been ruled by his tempers and has become more erratic of late. You are the only choice in which Dorinthia survives, unified."

"Silas my old friend, I have always appreciated your advice. I have always sought it out in times of doubt. And I agree with you. But there are more important things to be done right now. What good does it do to unite Dorinthia under one leader to have it decimated? But I will have a discussion with my peers and see what civility we can bring to this process, but I will keep to your advice as best I can. In the meantime we have work to do to tip the scales in our favor. Notably to show the elves that we are allies worth having!"

Silas, afraid his tactless presentation of his worries may have offended Lord Kalnian, was much relieved when Dartis assured him that he is working for Dorinthia's best interest. "Thank you, Dartis. As for the elves," Silas began, "I shall think on it."[/sblock]

Dartis next found a quiet moment with the former legionairre. "Ventus, thank you for your stout defense. I hope you can placate some of your demons with your valourous deeds here. In any case, you have my thanks."

Ventus silently considered Dartis's words for a moment. He shrugged slightly and looks to the Dorinthian.

"In the end, I am still a soldier, as always. When battle presents itself, I fight. Today I fight for your people. I do not require them to forgive me my past, merely to accept that today I fight beside them. I think that they have learned that lesson."

Dartis found Kyle and pulled him aside for a quiet word. "Kyle, the deeds of our fathers mean very little here, in a new land, a new city, a new Dorinthia. What matters here are our deeds here and now. And you have done a great service for our people Kyle. No one can question that. And I want to thank you for it. Without your leadership, the square would have fallen, many of our people would have died. We have many many trials yet to overcome to ensure that Dorinthia survives. And I am glad to know that our people are still served by men of honor, distinction and bravery such as yourself.

I also want to thank you personally for the use of Swift. He had been a loyal and brave companion to me. And I would ask that I keep him a while longer. My work is not yet done.

Lastly Kyle, I know that there is a great deal of confusion right now as to the leadership of Dorinthia. I cannot ask you to make a choice as to who to support. I only ask that you support whoever comes to power for the good of our country and our people. I do not hide the fact that I wish to the throne. I do, but only as I seek the best for our people Kyle. And I can only tell you that I do appreciate people for what they have done, not their ancestors. And I know that you have proven yourself more than capable of a leadership position. Every city needs a Captain of the Guards after all. But this may be premature, first we must ensure that our fledgeling city lives! I may be off again Kyle, shepard our people well"


Kyle looked at Dartis in surprise. "So now we get to decide who the new baron is? I shouldn't be stunned that this has come up, since we do need to know who will be making the decisions, but it's still not something I desire to deal with right now. Still, that's a poor response on my part, so I will tell you honestly how I feel. First, I have no interest in being a lord, so I am out of the running. On the other hand, I have faithfully served the old baron, Dren, and I feel that it is my duty to continue to do service for either Syra or Cal should they seek the position. If they do not, then I will happily continue my work in your name."

Dartis next went to Baron Dorins old quarters and sent off couriers to find Syra and Cal. As they arrived Dartis addressed them both. "My friends, my peers, my fellow nobles. Our people look to us for leadership. My heart aches for you both for the loss of your father. He was dear to me as well. Still though we grieve, we must move on. We shall bury Baron Dorin as best we can. In the meantime we must present a united front. We can either throw our small nation into civil war as we fight amonst ourselves, and I am not even sure which of you has inherited his title. Or we can unite. We are still beset by enemies, orcs, the Tallione, perhaps the elves. We need to show our people we care about them, so they do not despair! Let us set aside issues of succession for one week, ruling as a triumverate. Out of respect for your father at least."

As Cal left, Dartis called Syra to meet with him privately to talk. The conversation with Syra didn't go well at all. First, she had ignored Dartis summons and asked that he speak to her in Baron Dorin's old office. "Syra, the fact does not escape me, that you are the last lady of noble blood, and I the last gentleman of noble blood not related to you. There are worse things I could think of than to be married to woman as beautiful as you. Please consider a future for us, when you consider the future of our people. A royal wedding would cheer the spirits of our people and ensure the continuity of the throne of Dorinthia. A queen rules with more authority with a king beside her." said Dartis taking Syra’s hand and staring into her eyes.

She smirked grimly at Dartis’ words. "It is a nice offer, Baron Kalnian." Just by her choice of words, the noble knew this could be going better, although the elder Lady Huffring looked upon Dartis with approval as she stood by her side. "But I already have an offer for my hand, and it is with a gentleman I very much approve. Of course, he is asking me to give up my current occupation and live with him in some forest, but I assure you I will convince him that a courtly life is a better life. And if he isn't willing to surrender these fancies for his lady, then... perhaps I will give greater thought to your proposal." Syra escorted Dartis to the door, although Lady Huffring gave him a half-smile that told Dartis where her own preference for Syra lay.

Dartis decided to go see Cal before turning to preparations. After such, he gathered his fellow heroes together over some food and drink cobbled together. "My friends. I know you are tired, I know you are sore and injured. We have all given much to defend out town. But to know we were not the target gives me fear that our neighbours are in trouble. My plan is to ride forth, we few, for I will not detract from the city's defenses. But for us to ride to the elves and offer what aid we can. It may be symbolic, but I wish to show the elves that Dorinthia is a neigbour and an ally worth having. Additonally I feel it may be the best way to help ensure that the orcs are defeated or driven away from our city. But I have known some of you for longer than others, but I still value all of your efforts, and thus all of your opinions. Is this a wise course? Even if the elves survive the orcs, will they not betray us to the Tallione, unless we show them there are more advanages to keeping us? Please, my friends, let me know your thoughts."

Rix walked up to Barok and interrupted his focus on Dartis’ speech. "I just wanted to tell you good-bye, one sneak to another. After spending some more time with my fellow kobolds, and also listening to some of their stranger ideas about this town and looting, I've decided it's time to go. I'm taking the tribe with me since they see me as their new leader. Maybe I can teach them a few things out there so that they can live next to humans one day. It's just not going to happen right now, and it's better to go before there is a misunderstanding... or even an understanding. I'm off to say bye to Alexander. If you see Danica, tell her good-bye, too. I just have trouble trying to explain myself to her. Oh, and I doubt you'll see Kel, but if you do let him know I thought he was alright, for an elf anyway."

Barok smirked, "All hail the Kobold King. Heh, sometimes I admire the ways of your people. At times it just hurts my teeth being around all this chivalrous sweetness. I love Dorinthians, but they're often too damn Good for their own good. Guess that's why they need people like us, huh.

"Good luck and all that. Maybe I'll be heading your way one of these days if things don't work out here."


Rix laughed at his comments regarding him as a kobold king, but grew serious as Barok offered to visit. He seemed to see into Barok, and yet accepted what he sensed, "You, more than almost all others, will be a welcome guest should you journey to us." With that, he turned and left.

Barok shook his head, smiling as Rix walked away. He's in love with the Sorceress, with a bloody mammal. Not that I mind her mammary parts, but for him that's just perverse. How the hell did that happen? And how the hell would they get together anyway? Do the parts even fit?

Barok thought once more on the kobold, surprised by his sincerity. Then he shrugged, smiling a little, and went to loot the battlefield on the hill.

When he searched the bodies he found that the kobolds had also swept through much of the town overnight. All Barok could find were several copper earrings (and noserings) that he pawned off for 34gp, and a collection of coins: 293cp, 12sp, 3ep, 4gp, and 1pp.

Barok laughed quietly to himself. Bloody Kobolds, heh, at least they've got their priorities straight. What the hell had he been thinking, just leaving the field of battle to talk politics, as if anyone cared about his opinions? The little buggers had earned their share, but left him with nothing but scraps.

He grabbed the stinking corpse he's been searching and heaves the orc over to its back, expertly rummaging about on the bloody mess for anything of value. He kept that up for quite some time, moving from corpse to corpse, slitting a throat or two that he found still alive.

Barok picked his teeth with a piece of bone, leaning back in his chair casually, yet growing more empassioned the longer he spoke. "And if we go to rescue the elves will they then aid us? Will they take their depleted numbers and throw them against the Empire in our defense? Will they be of use, or will they continue to be a liability? Seems to me we'd be better off if we let them wipe out each others. Then we could finally settle these forests and use their rich soils to rebuild our people, to make new farmlands that could feed our refugees. Then we would have a solid base for retaking our land at a time of our own choosing, when the Empire is weakened or distracted. And then this would be the New Dorinthia that Baron Dorin died defending."

"The Elves... they will always consider this land theirs. They will always resist our settlement of these forests, as they always have in the past. They are as much a threat as the orcs, and if they had their way the forests would once again grow to smother the heart of Dorinthia. I say, let them die, and then deal with the orcs.”

"Or why not use the orcs to make war against the Empire? They fear us. They should, after this defeat. And they fight for loot and glory. The Empire is rich, decadent, and a far better target for them than our poor nation of warriors. And then, when the orcs are weakened and burdened by loot. Then, let us stab them in the back and make a deal with the Empire, with our blades at their throats, for peace and the return of our country."


Ventus shook his head slowly at Barok's words.

"Do not mistake corruption for decadance, the Empire is mighty. Recall the most recent war your people held with Tallione. W. . . They won, your nation was wiped from the map. I do not know why the invasion of Dorinthia was one of destruction and not conquest as in the past. However, there must have been SOME purpose. New Dorinthia exists either because the Empire is unaware of its existence, or because they no longer see it as a threat, or because they have no desire to move to outright war with the Elves. If it is either of the first two reasons, presenting yourself and trying to bargain with the Empire could lead to disaster. If it is the third . . . then the securing of an elven allegiance is of paramount importance."

As they sat over the meal and discussed, Nikolos poured himself a small glass of Craecian wine, and sat back, wincing a bit. He was a scholar after all, not a soldier, and the day's battle and exertions had taken their toll. "I will go with you, of course. With your permission, however, I will leave my staff here in the town. This doesn't seem like a mission for a scholarly entourage, and they may be able to do some good here. As for what the elves will do, even if they are victorious, it will still be a matter of what is more important to them. Do they value your allegiance more or less then they fear the legions of the Empire? That said, if you remain here, and simply defend this small corner of land, and your people, you will be far less valuable to the elves then if you offered direct and effective assistance to them."

Silas listened, eating almost absent-mindedly, as the others spoke. When Barok finished Silas dropped the bone he just cleaned of meat onto his plate with a clink. He glanced at Nikolos, "You speak of our 'value' to the elves." Silas nodded consideringly but then turned his attention to Barok with a scowl. "And you speak of the elves usefulness to us, the possibility of future conflict, and treacherous acts." He shook his head and looked like he was making a great effort not to say something else to Barok. Finally, he continued, "The elves were our allies once, and may be again. Whatever decision they make in the future is for the future. Now, now we can stand with them against those who would take from them what has been taken from us. Does 'value' and 'usefulness' matter? For practical considerations, it does. But aiding them is the right thing to do, and for that reason alone, for me, it is enough." Finished speaking, Silas sat there looking around at the others then grabbed up his mug and took a drink.

"It's not that the Empire is not powerful, but that's not the reason you beat us. Dorinthia fell because of the idiot madman on the throne. With better leadership we'll get better results. And I'm not suggesting we treat with the Empire now. Even if they must know where we are and they must, (There are spells for that stuff right Silas?) there would be no point to negotiate until they are weakened.

No, what I'm saying is that the Orcs will be more useful to us than the Elves when it comes to fighting the Empire. Because even if the orcs wouldn't mind slaughtering us all they would rather attack a richer foe, if only to fight a war of raids. The elves are too few. And the littles sissies don't like breeding enough to risk the few fighters they have in a war they have no reason fighting, especially after just having fought the orcs."


"Damn it man! We're talking about the survival of our people. That's the only morality we need. The 'right thing to do' isn't the right thing to do unless it serves that purpose. Did the elves save us from the Empire? No. So why should we save them? Haven't we already done enough, already far more to help them than they have done for us? Haven't our people already died enough fighting the enemies of the Elves?"

Recognizing that there was a fundamental difference of philosophy between his way of thinking and Barok's that will likely never be reconciled, Silas only quietly said, "Yes, enough of our people have died."

The discussion ended, and as each headed his own way, the clerical scribe pondered the heady night he had enjoyed so far. Over the last short while, Nikolos had come to like the Dorinthians. They lived in a way, even in the current dark days, which made the Empire, and Craece even more so, seem rather stultified and dead. A part of him wondered what that meant to his objectivity as a Witness of Adeiros, but it really didn't matter.

Later that night, in the privacy of his tent, he sat over a sheet of paper, with the pen in his own hand. That was a rare thing, most often he dictated to Gnaden, but tonight was different. The pen scratched over the paper, as he wrote:

To the Chief Witness, Antonicus Scipianus

As always, I remain a humble and devoted servant of Blessed Adeiros, and of the Order. However, things that I have witnessed, here in these northern lands, have brought me to a difficult decision, regarding my mission of Witness. As you know, Brothers Wilmur and Karros chose to remain with the Legions of the Empire, and I trust that their missions go well. Now, though, I must respectfully submit my Journal of Mission, and ask that it be placed into review by the Library Commitee. This missive will be included, with my notes and observations, along with the Journal.

Which brings me to the decision I mentioned. At this time, I formally sever myself from my Mission of Witness. My actions henceforth are my own, and bear no Seal of Mission from the Holy Church, nor are they condoned or authorized by any save my own conscience. Any blame or repercussions from my actions are mine alone.

Well, that certainly sounds ominous, doesn't it your Grace? In any case, I pray that your family does well, and that your grand-daughter's wedding was a great success. Remember me to our friends at the Great Library.

Yours in Service to the Seeking Eye,

Nikolos Viridikos
Journeyman Priest of the Order of Witnesses


Finishing the short letter, he dated and sealed it, and called in Gnaden. "Place this with the journals, please. We'll send the whole lot south when opportunity presents itself. While I am gone, you will write all of our various notes into the Journal of Mission, and do try to make the narrative flow, if you can."

Silas and Ventus had mentioned to Cal and Kyle that building a wall around the town might be a good idea. The morning after Dartis’ speech, Cal volunteered the two to lead the project since the militia were still helping to clear the debris and bodies while the cavalry patrolled the area and killed straggling orcs. With five men Silas and Ventus surveyed the land and realized that wooden pallisades were the best route to go for now. The five town guards Kyle sent with them were a rough sort, but among his better educated since it was obvious they could do simple math and read. With parchment and ink to write with, they awaited instructions on the kind of defenses to be want built. The town stretched for about a mile diameter in all directions. Because it was set to grow from the swelling amount of refugees, the town would probably be expanded to double its current diameter. There were hills to the north and west covered with woods and shrubbery, while to the east there was light forest, and to the south a difficult to cross winding creek. Farmland would have to be tilled outside the walls as there would not be enough wood for the defenses to encircle the harvests. There would probably be a couple hundred men available to help build the defenses, at most. Other men were trying to build new structures and continue farming for the town.

Ventus stood himself on a hilltop, looking down over the town, trying to best visualize the defenses that he thought would be needed. More refugees, more buildings, more to protect, and more to lose. His own expertise was far more in dirt and temporary field fortifications, but he had seiged and stood atop enough walls to have some idea of what was needed. A simple soldier at heart, he had no qualms seeking the advice of the men sent with him, bouncing ideas of them and getting their opionions on the defensive capabilities of the Dorinthians.

"Without more information regarding this attack, I fear we must act as if the town is at war with unknown agressors. Larger scale fortifications will be a long term goal, but for now, a defensible position is the most pressing need. Even as it is, the town is too disperse to be encompassed quickly, and another attack could come long before a larger wall could be completed. I recommend a small scale inner wall around the center of the town, containing most of the vital functions. In the event of another attack, civilians will retreat within the walls. Once the inner pallisade is complete, a second, more extensive wall can be planned."

Scratching a quick schematic into the dirt at his feet, Ventus attempted to plan a wall for construction, well within the current town borders. It contained as much of the town operations as possible, central command, water sources, and food storage. He attempted to incorporate heavy stone construction buildings as part of the wall. He pointed out that the walls themselves should be simple vertical wooden poles, with archery platforms to capitalize on the strengths of the Dorinthian defenders.

In his report to Cal he also recommends a sentry position hidden in the hills to the northwest, to attempt warning in the event of more attacks.

Ventus left open to debate the size of the second phase walls. The town may grow and require larger construction, but he was not sure if sufficient troops currently existed to defend such a large scale fortification.

Cal happily accepts Ventus’ proposal, and was astonished by his grasp of the situation and realistic goals he had set forth. He promised to get men started right away.

Silas lent Ventus what knowledge he had about fortifications. It was mostly academic, learned at the feet of his father and his mentor among the Caernite scholars, but some of it was learned first hand facing the Tallione forces. "Ventus, I will aid you in whatever ways you require. Just say the word. And, I know it will be some time in the future before we are ready to build with stone, but my father is a master stonemason. I am sure that his expertise could be put to good use."

Hector the Incredible found Silas after his final notes were completed on the proposed defenses. Hector looked nervous and ashamed as he said, "Hello, Silas. I know I haven't been the most supportive of your work in the town, since it wasn't easy having another wizard around. Still, I'm having a hard time dealing with the fact that I was holed up in my home while you were using your magic to really make a difference. A lot of people are actually talking about it, and I've lost the confidence that I once had with my apprentices. I can't live like this competition, and it's not like you are going away never to come back. I was hoping that with your experience, maybe you could teach me some things. Maybe a few spells you might know or maybe some moves in case it comes to a fight. I need to do something to get my confidence back," the wizard said, his eyes downcast.

Grasping the dejected man by the arms Silas said, "Hector, my friend. Look at me. There is no need for us to ever compete. The people of Dorinthia have need of us both. And in truth, you have talents of magic that I can never match. Speaking of which, I have come across a gnomish book of magic with many spells in it that I have been unable master. I have no doubt, however, that you will easily learn them. Come, let's go take a look at the book." Silas took Hector and showed him Astraughlay's spell book, full of illusionist spells nearly useless to Silas, and let him copy from it. Leaving him there at work, Silas headed off to Cal's meeting.

Hector seemed surprised by Silas’ generosity, and carefully held the spellbook with appreciative and shaky hands. The amount of knowledge inside was impressive and valuable. "Thank you," he said as Silas departed.

Kyle Radnal eventually found Danica and gave a broad smile, "Danica, look at you. It hasn't been that long since you last left and you came back with the confidence of a woman." He said the last part with a hint of sadness, and the sorceress realized that Kyle looked at her as a daughter he never had time to have. "Cal wanted me to find you for a meeting he wishes to have, but let's chat awhile. How has your time been? I've seen that you've become very handy with a crossbow. What do you think of this Dartis character? Do you know he approached me earlier asking me if I would support him being our ruler?"

Danica blushed when she met with Radnal once again. His men had taught her so much, but she bit her lip when he mentioned the crossbow, and she smiled.

"There's something I've been meaning to tell you. This crossbow--I'm proud of it, and I'm proud of what you taught me, you and your men. But I'm a different person now. A better person. Someone who I thought I should have been, but never was. Here. Watch."

She placed her crossbow on the ground, and she sat up straight -- the arch of her spine extending, and adding inches to her height. She flipped her hair back, and it fell down over the mended blue blouse she had bought, and she whispered, "Ka-pow..."

Sparks flew from the fingers of her left hand, rising up like fireworks, and dancing in rainbow shapes, which she sculpted into dancing marionettes of light with her right hand -- pulling an arm, then a leg, so that it looked like a ballerina twirling.

"That's just one of the things I can do. There are others, sir. I'm good with the crossbow, yeah... but there are some things that I feel I'm becomeing Great at. things I didn't tell you about, but that I now know I shouldn't have hid. So I hope you'll forgive me. I owe you so much, and it's you who made me who I am..."

Her voice trailed off a bit. But then she picks up at the questions about Dartis.

"Lord Dartis has helped me a great deal. In many ways, he has carried on with what you started for me. He is kind, and a great leader, I guess... He wants to help Dornithia. And I've been helping him with that, in whatever way I can. To tell you the truth, your opinion of him matters as much to me, as mine does to you. I hadn;t kown he approached you, but my sense is that he is not working for himself. He is serving his country. Or, at least, the memory of it."

She looked him straight in the eye, and then her face exploded with a laugh... "Ka-Pow!" And then she giggled, and gave Radnall the hug that she thought he had been waiting for since he first saw her again.

Danica was somewhat surprised to see that Kyle doesn't seem shocked at her revelation, instead he hugged her back before taking another good look at her. "I know a thing or two about secrets, and I guessed yours a long while back. Some of the boys might have been fooled, but I've seen too much. I'm glad you finally felt comfortable enough to tell me, and I want you to know that I'm always here for you, sorcery or not."

Caramip was playing with some children, when she heard another small voice behind her, with a sardonic, adult tone. "So this is what a gnome from the east is like, eh?"

She turned to see Phly Loughphray behind her, a gnomish noble and ambassador to the Dorinthians. Caramip heard that he was away from the main defenses during the fighting and saved himself, some other gnomish delegates, and a number of Dorinthians by using the illusions that he was known to be an expert with.

He continued. "Cal wanted to have you see him when you get the first opportunity, but I thought I would come by and have a chat first. Tell me, what is it like to work so close with humans as you do? I heard your lands were taken over by the Imperials, but now you seem to have a working relationship with them. If I tread on soft tunnel earth, please let me know."

She gave the elder a warm smile as she pulled herself away from the children and sent them off to play another game. She watched the children run off safely through the streets of the besieged town before returning her attention to elder. With a pleasing tone and still with a smile she said, “More or less.

”Gnomes were not the only ones to call a lot of those villages home.” She said as she politely waved off the elder’s tender footing. “In those villages,” she continued. “Many of us shared neighbors not only with our race but with Humans, Half-Elves, Halflings and dwarves.” As the conversation grew she finished collecting her things and then began to walk.“ Or should I say we used too.” She said before going silent. As eyes drifted down a nearby alley way her smile slowly faded away. Quickly she turned her attention away from the alley way is if it some horrible beast hiding in it and looked back towards the Elder. Instantly her smile returned and she continued her tale. “My family where town-historians and during the times before the invasion it was I, the oldest in my family, who inherited the family business.” She gave a small laugh as her mind continued to drift back in time to that of her family. “Back then, my younger brothers and sisters always did seem to have easier than I.

Heron Silvertongue, the main priest of the Dorinthians pulled Nikolos to the side when he could finally get him alone. "I meant to speak with you earlier, Nikolos, one priest to another. I wasn't sure what to think about your arrival, but now that I hear that you saved a number of my fellow countrymen I want to help you. I have heard that you have several men that need a room and board until your return. I can help you with that, except I need a favor in return. Our healing magics are not enough for the amount of wounded that we have, and I was hoping that you can lend a hand. A lot of what we are dealing with at this point are the mortally wounded, and all we can do for them at this point is ease their suffering before their final moments. I know I'm pressuring you, and I apologize since I don't know you too well. Still, we can truly use the help. Cal is hoping you can go see him right now, but if you are willing to render aid please stop by the temple later."

Nikolos looked a little surprised, since he'd been healing to the best of his abilities since the first moment he'd actually met the Dorinthians. Still, he smiled and nodded. "Your assistance with housing my staff is most appreciated. Please don't hesitate to put them to work, in my absence. Gnaden is a gifted scribe, and is also versed in the mundane arts of healing. Liza, his wife, is a good cook. Redd and Shirte are good in a fight, should another arise, and they also have strong backs for labor, should it be needed. As for the assistance with healing, I'll be right over, as soon as I've seen Cal Dorin."

The members of the party eventually went to see Cal in a building he had set-up for his cavalry units. As the rest of the party trickled in he offered seats at a large table and some adequate wine. Once everyone was ready, he skipped formalities and headed straight to the point.

"I started my day trying to prepare for your proposed trip into the elven lands to render support, when suddenly rumors of Baron Dartis Kalnian reached my ears. Supposedly, my cousin here has aspirations to rule here. The way I see it, most people want me to take over for my father, or at least expect this to happen. I myself care little for the title right now. Two weeks ago I would have taken the title of ruler without hesitation, and would have been willing to fight Lord Kalnian to a duel for it. But these last few weeks have given me much to think about. Kyle Radnal doesn't want the position as he renounced his royal title a long time ago, but still he and I have grown to understand each other more of late and I feel he might support me. Syra, though, has been ruling in all but name for some time now, and it will not be easy to make her relinguish her claim. She also has Alexander's support and love, and is trying to convince the poor man to court her and marry into nobility. Lord Kalnian may not be as established in this town, but he has shown his worth to enough people and I also sense that he has the influential support of six other heroes who happen to be sitting at this table," Cal said pointedly while searching faces.

Barok listened, keeping his snide remarks to himself.

At the cavalry barn, as Cal Dorin had his say, Nikolos simply listened, sipping his wine. So far as he was concerned, this was a matter for Dorinthians, not a Craecian priest far from home. He liked Dartis, and thought he'd make a good ruler, but there seemed much else for him to be doing, just at this time. Finally, though, he did speak. "I will support Dartis in whatever course he chooses to take. I know him to be a good leader. As are you, Cal Dorin. So far as who should rule your people, if things cannot be decided, perhaps a ruling council might be a way to pool your diverse talents, for the betterment of your remaining kingdom."

With the arrival of Cal, Ventus sat back to listen to the discussion. He remained silent on the subject of leadership. His own views might not be accorded much weight. . . or indeed they could be viewed as a mark against a leader. After all, Ventus’ last move in Dorinthian politics was the toppling of a king. Regardless he had no position to espouse in any event. Dartis seemed capable enough, but he had no measure by which to base an opinion of Syra. Perhaps though, Dartis' greatest flaw was his penchant for adventure. To ride off to the rescue of the elves. Noble, heroic, important. It could be all those things, qualities of a great leader, but not of a civic planner. The town needed heroes, but it would also need someone to shape it and hold it together. Who would do that with Dartis gone?

Arriving somewhat late to Cal's meeting, Silas shuffled in and got seated just in time to hear the nobleman's pronouncements. Suprised that matters had come to a head so quickly he hesitated, wine glass held almost to his lips, before he took a fortifying sip and set the glass down. Oh, it's my fault! Wanting to speak, still he hesitated, afraid of making matters worse.

Dartis looked at Cal for a moment, then erupted, "By the Rider Cal! You're baron, not Syra. Alexander is my commrade and friend. If he is happy I wish him the best. But I know he cannot be happy within the bounds of a city. And I have reservations about whether his presence as a ruler would split our people."

Dartis walked up and takes Cal by the shoulders "Cal, we are family, bound by the blood of Berl Dorin. I would never fight you for the throne. I know that we both have the best interests of our people at heart. We both see support among the people for each of us. We have both worked hard to rally our remaining people. And damnit yes I believe I could rule as well as you. But would not a cagy politician seek to stay here and consolidate his power? And what do I seek Cal? I seek more aid for our people, more security by leaving. By seeing aid outside the city.

Not for one moment did I regret seeing you released from the grasp of the dryad Cal. Even though it meant another rival, another challenger, all that was in my heart was gladness to have found another Dorinthian, and all the better my cousin.I could have left you in her clutches Cal. But would I have been worthy then? Could I have called myself a Dorinthian?

Cal, too much needs to be done to worry about succession. We must build better defenses. We must build a wall, we must secure allies outside of this city. We must put our people first. I say we form a council of nobles and rule as a group. But if not, and I doubt Syra will agree, then I must still do what I can for our people Cal. I cannot stay here and play politics with a girl still dreaming of a fairy tale.

There is still too much to be done, you know this in your heart. What matter who is king if they rule over a graveyard? I will do what I need to for our people, just as I know you will. And I will not see our people divided, by anything or anyone.

I am going, alone if needed, to Saleentra. Do what you will here, I would listen to Ventus and build a wall. But remember Cal you are Baron, do not let anyone take from you what your father gave you.

Long live Dorinthia, Long live Berl Dorin and long live the Rider, may he return in these dark days again."


Dartis embraced his cousin and sat again with his companions.

Barok choked on something and coughed violently for a few moments. Damn it, there goes my future fief, my wealth, my title, my power and respect. Damn it man, damn your bloody honour.

Cal chuckled, but looked tired for a moment as he looked away from Dartis. "Yes, you're right. Right and wrong, but more right. You've been a good man, and I know you have no wish to duel or fight with myself or my sister. However, we are still Dorinthians and we still burn with want and fight for our dreams. Deny it as you like, Dartis, but should you truly not want such a responsibility... should your blood not boil with passion for what may be yours, then you are no son of Dorin. You are right that Alexander does not desire to sit as a lord, and yet my sister wants both him and a title. She will have to choose. For now, let us forget politics. It is a tasteless affair, and I much prefer war. In politics, unlike in combat, you never have allies. Just tools to be manipulated.

I think that I understand Kyle Radnal now and why he turned away from his title and land. It was the political machinations that drove him to renounce his claim once the king demanded he disown his traitorous father. Instead, he broke the sword he was to swear on oath upon and walked away, something I never understood until losing my own father. The man was lucky not to have been condemned and put to death."


Cal took another bottle of wine, poured himself another glass, then passed it around to the rest of the party. He sipped his drink and stared into his glass before continuing. "Let us turn to more pleasant things and leave the domestic policies to my sister. Such as taking revenge upon the orcs. Using Ventus' plans and some of Silas' suggestions, I'm content in using my men and that of Radnal's to fortify the area and try to make repairs. You've discussed a mission to the elven lands in order to render support, and both Syra and I believe this to be an important piece of our defense. We do not need a hostile elven nation to our northern border. If you wish to go, I will be able to provide supplies for you."


-----

Silas sighed. Cal...Baron Dorin...shirking responsibility, Syra indulging herself in foolishness, and our hope for true leadership driven away. Speaking up, Silas said, "I would accompany Lord Kalnian on his mission to the elves."

Cal nodded at the decision to go to the elven lands and passed a list of items that he would provide to the group free of charge:

2 Gauntlets
28 Daggers
12 Punch Daggers
9 Light Maces
3 Sickles
35 Clubs
3 Heavy Maces
2 Morningstar
121 Shortspears
138 Longspears
14 Quarterstaffs
104 Spears
250 Crossbow Bolts
6 Light Crossbows
36 Darts
53 Javelins
8 Slings
140 Sling Bullets
22 Throwing Axes
3 Light Hammers
4 Handaxes
3 Light Picks
4 Saps
142 Short Swords
3 Battleaxes
2 Flails
24 Longswords
2 Heavy Picks
4 Rapiers
12 Scimitars
1 Trident
5 Warhammers
4 Glaives
11 Greatclubs
32 Halberds
1 Scythe
145 Longbows
103 Shortbows
1,400 Arrows
1 Bastard Sword
1 Hand Crossbow
113 Sets Padded Armor
245 Sets Leather Armor
15 Set Leather Armor (Small)
32 Sets Studded Leather
15 Set Studded Leather (Small)
3 Sets of Hide Armor
6 Chain Shirts
32 Small Wooden Shields
23 Large Wooden Shields
47 Bucklers
17 Backpacks
232 Bedrolls
23 Coils of Rope (100 ft)
4 Grapples
423 Trail Rations
65 Hard Biscuits
66 Water Flasks
112 Torches
26 Lanterns
12 Tinderboxes
87 Flasks of Oil
6 Tanglefoot Bags
110 Large Sacks
55 Small Sacks
6 Mirrors
23 Bottle of Ink
78 Pieces of Vellum (paper)
2 Sets of Thieves' Kits

Further, the halfling merchants were selling many items for their pre-war costs.

True to his word, Nikolos excused himself once the decision seems substantively made, and returned to helping heal the victims of the fighting. He kept magic for the truly serious cases, mainly relying on his mundane healing talents, and those of Gnaden.

Silas accepted little from the stores that Cal offered: only a few bolts to replace those he used and some travel rations. Then he went to prepare for departure so that he would be ready to go whenever the time came and (again) say good-bye to his family.

Silas also went to see Hector before he left. "Hector, my friend, I am again being sent out to lend aid to our allies. I would much rather stay here with my family, but..." He shrugged. "Anyway, I would leave the gnomish spellbook with you for safekeeping and so that you can study it. And I have been thinking. If you wish to repair your reputation you might offer your services to the Baron. A man in his position needs the support of men such as us." Clasping Hector's hand firmly, Silas ended with, "Farewell."



Later Barok returned to town, washing off some of the stink in the brook and grabbed himself some equipment from the town supplies before appearing, a bit grimly, when the heroes were about to depart. He grabbed the following:

1 Rapier
1 Shortbow
40 Arrows
1 Backpack
1 Coils of Rope (100 ft)
10 Trail Rations
1 Water Flasks
2 Torches
1 Lanterns
1 Tinderboxes
20 Flasks of Oil
6 Tanglefoot Bags
and some Healing potions.

He also bought three potions of Invisibility from Hector at 300 gps a piece and two oils of Magic Weapon for 50gps a piece. Barok left his light crossbow and bolts in the town warehouse.

Ventus wandered the town for a few moments, mentally saying a goodbye to the place that had actually become his home for a short while there. He touched base with the wall builders, leaving them with as much advice as he could, but trusting them to oversee the construction while he traveled with Dartis.

He looked over the equipment available with the eye of one used to traveling as lightly as possible. So much stuff, but not useful for anything but weighing down a man in a fight. He gathered up some of the rations to sustain himself on his travels, but left the rest for the townfolk.

The seven heroes left New Dorinth and headed north on riding horses. All brought enough food and water for the trip, although Barok's saddlebags practically bulged with supplies while Nikolos carried along several books on elves and a couple of blank journals where he could record his findings.

The group was only two days out when they meet the first elven patrol. The patrol did not take the intrusion into their lands kindly, even when Dartis claimed that the group had come to help. Tensions were high until Kel was mentioned, and the elves begrudgingly allowed the party to continue, though under guard.

As they spent the next days travelling through the elven lands, the party could see reasons for the anger towards outsiders. Most of the outer elven settlements had been almost completely destroyed, and ravens were a common sight among burnt out wooded homes. It seemed that the elven dead were put to rest, although bloated orc bodies still baked in the sun. As the party got closer to Saleentra the damage seemed to be lighter, indicating that the orcs found stronger resistance as they grew closer to the capitol.

Barok started the journey with a hangover, and his mood became even fouler when faced with the elven hostility. Reading the signs the war had left behind, his mind turned towards casualty figures and elven birth-rates, and he grumbled to himself about the follies of joining the losing side.

The elven escorts ran into some of Saleentra's guards, and there was a lengthy discussion on whether or not to allow the heroes to see the elven capitol or to make them wait outside. Orders came from Councilman Kel to let you through... it looks like the old friend had gone far in a short amount of time.

And that's when the party saw it...Saleentra, the center of the Silver Forest. Despite scorch marks on some of the structures and armed elves constantly on the move, the city was still splendid. Towers made of white marble and boasting intricate designs inlaid with silver-painted metal rose up through the canopy of trees. In the center of the town lay several great oaks that dwarfed all others that they had seen, and it was in these that many elves had built small cottages and bridges made of rope and wood.

Barok's eyes widened at the sight of all that wealth, and a grin split his face both in greed and admiration of the beautiful scenery. "Those little buggers sure know how to make things look pretty." he said to no one in particular.

Danica had been quiet for much of the journey. She had taken a case of crossbow bolts from the supplies that had been offered, and was reaching for a pair of the tanglefoot bags when Barok had taken the lot. She was still learning about her new companions--no doubt she appeared aloof, or perhaps reserved, but that was fine. They seemed more than capable, if somewhat rough at the edges. The thought made her giggle: compared to the nobles the group had seen, and compared to the elves they were about to visit, no doubt she too would appear rough. Shouldn't judge.

But her visit with Radnall had been satisfying -- it was clear she could never go back to the relationship tey had once enjoyed, but that too is part of growing up. He was proud of her. Now she could become worthy of that pride.

And so as they travelled, Danica listened to the stories around the campfire, and laughed and drank alongside them, but did not socialize much during the day, preferring simply to walk, and to listen to the forest and enjoy the journey. In the evenings, her straight back and long neck holding her head high, she remained slightly removed from the others, sitting on an old stump, and learning about her companions through observation.

The sight of Saleentra, of course, made her gasp audibly. Its beauty and the surprise of seeing it emerge through the confiers they had been passing brought a smile to Danica's face that lasted most of the afternoon.

Saleentra had indeed been an eye-opener. Nikolos, in his travels, had seen some of the grandest sights human civilization had to offer. The great cities of Craece, and the Empire, and the ancient cities of the south. Saleentra wasn't as large as some of them, but it had a beauty all it's own.

Dartis didn't have time to be distracted by the sights of Saleera. While it was good to see Kel again, he was here on business, and the Dorinthians couldn't afford for him to be agog at the sights.

The party was made guests of the elves, although from the sharp looks that they received they were unwelcome guests. Kel appeared with a large smile, but a face lined with stress and strain. He allowed the heroes to stay at his councilman's quarters, an elegant cottage but one that was cramped with the adventurers and their gear. Still, it was likely safer with Kel, given the mood of the city.

Kel told the party that the orcs attacked on all fronts at about the same time that New Dorinth was assaulted. The elves suffered badly, completely losing most of the settlements on their western borders and taking extensive damage elsewhere. There were four factions in the council now: the religious party that was pro-Dorinthian or at least willing to help the Dorinthians during their plight, a neutrality party that Kel was once a part, a pro-Imperial party that sided with the Empire's demands for surrendering the Dorinthian refugees, and the militants that were led by influential wizards and sorcerers and demanded that the elven nation's power be used to enforce their will on their neighbors before their nation was destroyed by external forces. Currently, Kel had joined the pro-Dorinthian party called the “Sol Party” in Common lingua, despite the fact that he worshipped a different god. He was made a council member due to his past experience working with humans and his recent reputation for heroism. Silas Generwine had also left the neutrality party and had joined The Warhawks. He was far from alone. The Sol and neutrality parties had lost much of their influence and the elven council was now made up of mostly pro-Imperials under House Dran and The Warhawks.

The heroes were invited to be witnesses under the next Elven Council meeting, and were provided elven clothing to make themselves fit in. The council was set up inside a white, marble building at the top of the Great Tree of Life. The chairs formed a circle around a purple crystal that pulsed as if alive. Seated underneath the crystal, was an elf who delegated whose turn it was to talk, and this moderator was known as the Voice.

The heroes were unsure of why they were asked to attend, however. Kel translated much of the proceedings, and Caramip did the same when Kel went up to speak. There was a lot of finger-pointing in the party’s direction, and the council discussed whether or not to seek an alliance with the Imperials by turning over the Dorinthians or instead to ready the elven nation for war on all fronts. Curiously, though the Warhawks had no love for the Dorinthians, their stance was that New Dorinth should be left alone, as well as the dwarven and gnomish kingdoms, since they don't pose the threat that the Imperials and orcs do. The party wondered what their fate would be if the Warhawks were able to eliminate the others and have more time to concentrate on New Dorinth.

Barok barely choked his laughter, As if the elves were in any position to attack anyone right now, or within the next four hundred years or so until they have replenished their losses in this war... Deluded fools.

Barok paid little attention to the debate as his eyes wander between some of the more attractive females in the assembly. As some of them notice and return his gaze with their haughty stares he soon loses interest and grows bored. Occasionally overhearing the discussion he still can't help but to think that it would be best for Dorinthia if the orcs and the elves were allowed to kill each others off. Though it would be a waste of some of that pretty flesh.

For a brief shining moment, Nikolos had thought that the fabled elves might be somehow above the usual concerns of the mundane. Then they'd gone to the council meeting, and he'd realized differently. He'd watched and listened with growing amusement, as the meeting had gone on. They sounded just like every council and senate he'd ever encountered.

Kel gave a well-spoken speech on the importance of allies and the aid that other nations, such as the remnants of Dorinthia could give to the Silver Forest during this time of crisis. His speech was met with unsurprising shouts of hostility, but the heroes noted a smattering of applause. Kel had his supporters, and it was perhaps wise of the Sol Party to make him a councilman.

The council was a bit disappointing, but also informative. The shifting alliances within the elven kingdom presented an opportunity for Dorinthia's survival. Some good may yet come from the orc attack.

No questions were asked of the party, and the heroes felt even more isolated as the debate wore out the day. Finally, it was over and Kel sent an assistant to bring the party back to his quarters while he went to a private meeting. After an hour, he returned, this time with one of the heads of the Warhawks! This was the very mage who spoke while seated at the central crystal.

"Gentlemen and lady, this is Councilman Varel, the new Council Voice," Kel said as a way of introduction.

"Evening. You have journeyed long I have heard, so I will not waste your time," the councilman stated. He lacked the natural haughtiness of many other elves the heroes had met. In fact, the elf seemed positively indifferent. There was a coldness in his voice that spoke of a man who trusted only in knowledge and logic. In a way, it was more unsettling. "Kel has convinced me that it would be better to have allies at this juncture, in order to put the fight out of the orc nation. They are currently led by a new orc chieftain named Zugash in their capitol by Ice Mountain. We lack the forces to invade their land, so I propose making two strikes. A group of elves led by Silas Generwine will sail along the coast, then come in through the few still unfrozen rivers leading into the orcish lands. There, they will conduct raids upon their food stores and leadership. Their operation may last a few months. Your mission would be quicker. We need to cripple the orcish ability to respond to the threats on their interior, so I am looking for a group to strike at either the orc chieftain or his capitol. If you decide to go after the chieftain, I am sure you know the risks you are taking since you would be entering a hostile land, and then try to enter a hostile orcish city, get through the guards, and eliminate the target. On the other hand, I have what may be a simpler solution. I have in my possession a certain book that talks about the Mountain Lord, a being of great destruction that sleeps inside Ice Mountain. His sleep is guarded by a lost temple and several guardians that reside there. Finally, there is a great seal that must be opened at the final portion of this ancient temple. And I have found that key. Take it, if you will, and awaken this Lord of the Mountain. Should you do so, the orc tribes will have to deal with chaos inside their own land and my strike force should have a greater chance of success. If we succeed, both your new home and the Silver Forest will be able to crush the orcish threat for another human generation."

Barok answered first. "Ah, and then we'd just sing a little lullaby and make the big bad monster go back to sleep? Or maybe it only likes orcish meat? Maybe it will even be grateful to us for freeing it and make all our wishes come true? Or, is there a possibility that we'd be unleashing something that was imprisoned for a very good reason? And if we let it loose we'll have far worse things to worry about than a few cowardly little orcs?"

"No, I like the first plan better. Of course, decapitating the orcish nation is dangerous work. Our Lord would probably dislike me asking for some compensation for our troubles, but maybe you could send along some of those fabled elven archmages to make our work a little easier?"


Danica’s pupils were wide. She was no tactician, but it was clear even to her that The Voice might not be either. The choice of missions he offered seemed unexpected, and she was surprised when Barok gave voice to the sentiments she had instantly felt on hearing the offer. Barok had chosen different words, of course, but it was clear to Danica that Barok's perspective on the matter echoed her own. "Hmmm." The noise was really only to herself, and she had not meant to attract Varel's attention with it. But nevertheless, there he was, looking at her.

"I'm no strategist..." she began apologetically, "but I suspect Barok is correct -- a direct approach on the orc chief offers us fewer variables. But perhaps youcuold explain the key to us in any case... Do you know what the Lord of the Mountain even is?" She hadn't ment the last question to sound indignant. If they knew what the creature was, even what sort of creature it was, and if they knew the nature of the key that guards it... well, thatknowledge too could prove useful.

The meeting after with Varel didn't make Nikolos any more impressed. Assassinating an orc leader, or unleashing some dread monster on the orcs. Neither sounded very promising to him. He listened to Barok, and Danica, then said, quietly, "It seems to me that unleashing this monster might have some benefits. It may take the orcs longer to rid themselves of the monster then for a new leader to take control. However, that is only true if there is some means to return the beast to its sleep once it has fulfilled its purpose, assuming the orcs haven't dealt with it."

Dartis listened to the offer from Varel impassively but intently, as he did to his friends replies. A pensive look clouded his face as he looked at Ventus, Caramip and most intently at Silas, awaiting any input they may have as he awaited for some clarrification from Varel on the Mountain Lord

"I understand your concerns. Which is why I'm willing to give you a wand that will allow you use on one another to fly away. Nothing in the small pieces of lore in our libraries have indicated that this Lord of the Mountain can fly, although we are not fully aware what he or it might be. We do know that there was once an ancient and great people that used to dominate this land in a time now forgotten. These people bound this Lord to the center of a mountain and sealed him away underneath a great temple, but supposedly not before it destroyed much of their surroundings. There are also indications that this person or creature can only expend so much energy before slumbering once again for decades or even centuries. Either way, it is likely that a tribal group as large as the orcs can either destroy or exhaust it, if it even still exists. What is important is that it will provide a distraction if it was as destructive as legends suggest. I understand there are risks with either course. If you have a better suggestion for a distraction, I am open to listening. However, I would suggest a quick and significant strike that would get the attention of the orc tribes, but give you an opportunity to escape."

Silas was content to absorb the sights of Saleentra and later listened and took in all the information he could from observing the elves and their councils. But this mission to Ice Mountain... A fool's errand, he thought. He frowned, unable to fully mask his unease. Feeling the weight of Dartis' gaze, he quirked one brow questioningly and shrugged slightly to indicate his uncertainty. Finally he cleared his throat quietly and said, "This is a weighty thing you ask. And the likelihood of success... I presume you have ancient lore or maps that can lead us to this temple and guide us to this Lord of the Mountain?"

Varel nodded at Silas and says, "Yes, I can provide maps. They are ancient, although I believe little has changed in the frozen north and the limited scrying that we have done says that some structure is there in the mountainous location indicated."

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Caramip thought to herself as she listened to the Elven’s plans. As everyone offered their opinion on what was to be done, she patiently waited for a lull in the conversation before sharing her thoughts on the matter.
I am no tactician nor wish to be, however my concerns are for the ones not in this room but for those defending their families and for those yet to be born.” She paused, just for a second as she let her words sink in to those who were listening. “It is plain to see,” She continued, “That both nations, Elven and Dorinthian, will benefit from the success of your plan Senator. Though the real question still remains. If successful, what will become of the relationship between these two nations? Will an alliance of old be reborn such as it was generations ago or is this simply another tale like that of the Great Tearht Downfall?” She paused for a second time before continuing. “Alliances and more importantly friendships are hard work and often require sacrifice on both sides. If both nations are willing to spill blood together should they not be able to live peacefully amongst each other?

When Caramip asked her questions the elf turned to her, with a slight look of pleasure. It seemed he has been waiting for this inquiry. "I am willing to use my considerable political resources so that the Council of the Silver Forest will formally recognize the people of Dorinthia as a sovereign neighbor to the south. Borders can be negotiated, but because much of this territory on the southern tip of the Silver Forest is currently unoccupied it should not be too difficult to secede a part of the land. We will maintain neutrality in any conflict between you and the Empire, however. You will have no reason to fear an invasion from us, but we will not assist you against them. Trading rights will continue to flow to both groups. Still, you will be in a perfect location to establish trade with us, the gnomes, and the dwarves. You will have yourselves a new country... if you can hold it."

Nikolos listened to the elf speak, intently. When the promise was made, he smiled at Caramip. Her ability to get to the heart of a matter was a constant joy to him. Then he looked at the elf, and spoke again. Senator Varel. Your promise to the Dorinthian people is most generous. My question to you is this: Given what the Empire did to the Dorinthians for simply allowing a halfling rabble to make raids from within their territories into Imperial lands, what reaction do you think the Empire will have to your providing lands, even empty ones, to their most hated foes? And if that reaction is as extreme as I fear it may be, do you have the influence to keep the elves neutral in the face of Tallione ultimatums?"

Dartis had remained silent through the discussions, taking in the various opinions. But Caramip had indeed solicited the key issue here.

Dartis answered Nikolos' question though as he addressed Varel. "It is enough for them to secede the land to us for now Nikolos. A country of our own again is nothing to look twice at, especially in the presence of the giver. Remember that Counselman Varel may indeed have witnessed the founding of Dorinthia by Berl Dorin with his own eyes. We are but a neophyte state to Saleera. A nation that they wish to ensure can survive on its own without their aid. Obviously we did not. Yet Dorinthia remains so long as her people do. For now we are a convienent barrier against the orcs, and a ready market for their goods.

Saleera would wait a thousand years, before deciding that we have matured enough to becomes allies. And yet there remains behind all these discussions the Tallione Empire as Nikolos has raised. Thus far Saleera has maintained neutrality, though not with unanimity nor solidarity.

Should the Tallione arrive at their doorstep, I have no question that Saleera would be able to resist their advances. The Tallione will press them of course, and even threaten them as they can. But even the Warhawks will see that the Tallione are a plague upon the land and that the Tallione would not be satiated with the paltry remains of Dorinthia. Indeed imagine the Imperial Legions marching upon New Dorinth, burning and destroying. Would their Commanders not cast a greedy eye upon the wonders of Saleera that now lies at their feet? Would the Tallione Commanders be able to resist the treasures of Saleera, even if the Elves of the Silver Wood gave up Dorinthia? I doubt it.

In time, I know that Saleera will come to see the Tallione as they are. And as we shall now unite to fight the common threat of the orcs of the north, it will be inevitable that we must united to face the Imperial threat from the south. The Hart of Saleera could indeed throw the Dorinthian Hare in the path of the hungry Tallione Bear, but the Great Bear of the south has an inexhaustable appetite.


So Councilman Varel, if you can assure me that your considerable political weight, combinded with our dear friend Kel here, can secure the rights to the southern lands, and that Saleera will not betray the Dorinthia people, lands, or interests to the Tallione empire or their agents, then I believe that we can work to ensure the safety and security of both of our peoples.

Now I think we should seek to free the Lord of the Mountain. Not the least becasue if we fail to assasinate the orc leader, we shall bring the whole of the orcish nation down upon both our nations, and neither of us can afford that. Should we fail in releasing the Lord of the Mountain, the orcs may be none the wiser. With the counsel that the Lord of the Mountian falls asleep again and will not come to destroy our homes, I think this is our best course. It would be too easy for a sub-chief to rise up out of the chaos and reassert control, even partial, and still remain a threat to us.

Additionally, we have had some good luck with ancient seals haven't we Danica"
as he gave the young lady a sly wink.

The negotiations became friendlier, or at least as friendly as the stiff mage could possibly be despite Dartis mispronouncing his nation's name of Saleentra. Nikolos was able to smooth feathers. It was a common mistake among foreigners, and easily forgotten. The journey would take weeks through hostile terrain, so Varel made another promise that Kel and he would be able to have the Council move for Dorinthian recognition before leaving to gather necessary supplies for the band, along with maps.

When he left, Kel was all smiles from a successful negotiation. "See, my friends? Thanks to our efforts, your country will live again!"

As she thought about it, something itched in Caramip’s bardic tales about the Lord of the Mountain. It was supposed to be a being capable of great destruction and able to ruin entire settlements. It was made to slumber long ago by fantastic magic.

Nikolos couldn't tell about what, but the elven spellcaster wasn't completely truthful about something. The cleric felt he was honest about Dorinthian recognition, elven neutrality, and the requested mission. Also, he seemed to dismiss the Tallione Empire as a lack of a threat, however, and Nikolos wondered if the Councilman knew what he is getting into.
 

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