While I’d been following up with Roebuck, the merchant’s wife, on her interest in learning the healing ways of nature, several of my travelling companions had gone North. On visiting the Sisters, they met none other than Boraen, now a cleric of Misha! I’m not as fond of him as I was of Ja’Kar, but they both hew close to my thoughts on nature and the world. After a harrowing visit to see Alfred and Gerald being tortured by demons in their Chaos Tower, they returned to Ennonia just as I was getting restless.
Marshal Roehm was off to the South to bring to heel Dame Orielt and Marshal Kelvin, who had risen in rebellion against the Duke. A theocracy of Lightbringers to the South seems a thing to be avoided; while I as a Littling might be left in peace, humans who also revere only nature would not. I can’t maintain the forest alone – I need to safeguard those humans who would try to help me. And that meant making common cause with the followers of the old gods and the more orthodox clergy of the Light.
We decided to ride for Irecia, to see if we could get into the mages’ library for Pyria and learn more about the Chaos Towers – one of which was surely in Irecia. We stopped for the night in the fort in the woods, hosted by the gracious Captain McCarry. He told us the orcs had stopped trying to get into the woods, but goblins were plaguing travelers.
Emerging from the woods on the Irecian Way, we saw the abandoned orc camp a little way to the south. I noted one tent still standing, so we made our way towards it, only to be ambushed by a group of goblins. As a child, I’d been paid a bounty for slinging at any goblins that tried to steal our apples, so I was quick to dispatch one with a stone. But goblins are good at hiding themselves, and the battle was confused (I think some of the goblins were victims of friendly fire!) so most of them got away. And there was little enough to see in the camp, for all the trouble we took to get to it.
Boraen set the camp on fire, careful that the wind blew the sparks away from the forest. And we headed back to the road, only to be ambushed again. I should note – I was not surprised! But the noise these humans make kept Belaldur from hearing the goblins creep up. I slinged a stone at one, then gave chase with my cudgel out. Pyria cast sleep on a group of them, soon dispatched by Grel, Josef, Talvi, and Boraen. Several of the party were injured. I treated Fergus, hit by a couple of arrows, and we retreated to the fort, Boraen burning the prairie behind us. I was aggrieved at the destruction, but consoled myself with the thought that prairies need an occasional burn to flourish. I was glad the forest seemed safe from fire; I am more attuned to the forest than any other part of the natural world.
McGarry was surprised to see us return, but grimly noted that the goblins had been getting bolder. He invited us to stay and heal and rest a day, which we reluctantly did, but we fed ourselves and our horses so as not to draw down the garrison’s supplies.
The dawning of the 35th day of Summer, Grel said he could hardly sense Tangadorin. I felt an unease, a tension as if the world were teetering on the brink. Boraen sensed a hush over the world, and Talvi was unsettled. Chaos was increasing. If we were to make it to Irecia in time to make a difference, we decided, we needed to gallop through any goblin pinpricks, save our strength for the entry into the city. And we were ambushed and I take a palpable hit, but we kept riding on through the arrow-storm. Fergus, too, was injured. Grel healed me, I healed Fergus and we went on.
Midday, we spied a village a little off the road, and we rode up to check it out. Fat heads of wheat were ripening in the fields around the village, but we also saw a crude wooden platform guarding the lane, and orc soldiers saw us and began mustering. We turned back to the Irecian Way.
Eventually, we came upon the burned-out ruins of a Wayfarer’s Inn at a crossroads. According to a sign in the ditch, the village of Culwyth was to the Northeast – and from that direction, Fergus spotted a wagon with four horses, driven by an orc, and with humans running alongside, chained to the wagon. They fled before us, and I made a difficult sling to stun the driver. Belaldur made a somewhat easier shot with his bow and finished him. The horses slowed, and we caught up to the wagon. Fergus grabbed the reins and stopped the wagon before turning to slay the next enemy. Grel killed one orc himself and helped Pyrea dispatch another – but Grel is an erratic shot at best. Boraen took out three orcs before he was knocked out, weakened by Grel’s arrow in his ass. Talvi and Belaldur killed the last. Talvi then went to Boraen, glaring at Grel. Both Joffrey and I worked to heal Boraen.
We freed the slaves from their shackles, but they told us we must allow them to go back to Culwyth. Their families are hostage, held to ensure their return. We entertained a notion of riding in and liberating the village, but realized there will be guards on the road, and the Culwythians tell us 200 orcs live in their village. We are forced to let the humans go back to slavery, with the orcs’ armor and weapons, and even the cargo of weapons forged in the village south of the Irecian Way. We did make arrangements to come back and free the village at some point in the future, but this is the Time of the Orcs – they have overrun the Irecian Plains.
Boraen awakened with a headache that did nothing to improve his mood. We could not continue to Irecia through an orc-infested country, so we began to make our way back towards Enonia. The dawn of the next day, though, we were awakened by a loud bang and a brilliant flash of purple light to the East – and we saw a roiling mass of clouds and chaos lightning over Irecia. A smaller cloud appeared a little to the south of the road at the edge of the forest. Grel and Joffrey – and as it happened, all clerics of the Light – lost their powers and spells, and those two wailed that Tangdorin could not be felt. I could feel a great disturbance, felt that chaos was rising, that a shift had occurred. I tried to hold the center, but as they day went by, I was exhausted from the effort.