The Chronicles of Etinerra

Grel's report

Jorann, I have much to tell you! This adventure is proving to be quite a learning experience. After the big battle with the were beast, it seems that Boraen was cursed with some strange anger issues. It is difficult to explain, but his reactions are stranger than ever. I tried to cure disease on him, which is how I know that it is a curse and not a disease. The reaction when I tried to cure him is of importance here as I myself was almost overcome by a divine force which seemed somehow familiar. When I had some time later, I prayed to Tangadorin for guidance. He revealed to me that this was a curse by a follower of the Dark God Mal???. He was an enemy of Tangadorin, and he warned me that if he learned of my existence, he would certainly destroy me.

We heard strange noises which turned out to be the cries of a caged Hippogriff. We fought the bandits who appeared about to do it harm, and freed it from the cage. Just then, a huge Wyrm crawled over the ridge and attacked us. It was a mighty battle, and Fergus gave it a mighty strike which killed the beast. Even the Hippogriff bowed to him before it flew off.

After we continued on our way, we met a group of men which escorted us to a camp. We were enjoying our rest when a group of froggers came to the leader and accused us of stealing their gold. Their leader asked us to answer these charges, whereupon we all claimed innocence. Their leader told us he would sleep on it and pass judgement in the morning.

Soon after a blind woman came stumbling into camp. She had been blinded and her ma had been taken. I summoned the power of Tangadorin to release her from this affliction. The guards and camp followers were greatly impressed with the power of Tangadorin, and the woman was overcome with emotion. I spent the remainder of the night telling her and anyone else who was interested about the glory and power of Tangadorin.

The camp leader was so impressed that he released us and gave Pyria a token to show that she had sworn that she was no enemy of the Southron Duchy.

We determined that the woman’s home was in the direction we were travelling and decided to accompany her home.

Destination Unknown VI: Wyrmslayer
Balto's Journal

I produced the receipt showing the amount of gold we’d spent for the soup and jerky, so Mosby paid up. The frog farmers were glad to have their loss recompensed and they went their way and we went ours after a pleasant shared breakfast. Our road took us west along the road, paralleling the river as it ran across the grasslands my folk once travelled in their hordes. We took our lunch in a pleasant grove of trees, one of many that dotted the plains as the woods to the north faded out.

Midafternoon, the sharper-eared of us heard an eagle’s cry, and we made our way north toward the sound. Nann and Talvi scouted ahead, the rest of us cautiously following. Halfway to the woods, Nann hobbled her horse and went ahead on foot. As we came up, we also dismounted and hobbled our horses.

Nann and Talvi came back to tell us that several bandits had a hippogriff caged and were trying to move that cage to a cart. Anguished cries from the hippogriff (answered by an unnerving low bass rumble) convinced us to charge in and free the noble beast – Wikton and I were particularly keen to do this, but everyone agreed. Tasso and Luna stayed back with the horses (and Hollin) as the rest of us made our move.

Nann and Beth drew first blood, but Beth was hit herself. I went to her side to aid her as Boraen jumped at the bandits. Talvi ran to join him. Pyrea put a stop to the battle when she cast sleep on all the surviving bandits. Wikton began battering at the lock; Boraen tried to bend the bars of the cage to free the hippogriff. I helped Beth to her feet.

But then, clambering over the slope came a great green scaled beast. This was a fearsome beast, easily 50 feet long if it were an inch! Boaraen and the wyrm charged at each other, and the wyrm belched out a sickening green gas cloud. Boraen went down, and Grel and Wikton – who’d just smashed off the cage’s lock- reeled, retching. I cast faerie fire on the beast and prepared to charge in with my cudgel.And Fergus coolly stepped forward and shot an arrow into the wyrm’s craw, and straight through to its brain. The beast convulsed and rolled and perished. Boraen was too hurt to skin it.

This was an older wyrm, clearly, from its size, and the choking gas it blew out at its enemies over time weakened the bone structure around its nasal gas chamber. A well-placed arrow or spear could pierce the roof of the mouth and push through the cavity to paralyze or kill. Fergus’ arrow had hit perfectly. Even the hippogriff flew back to honor Fergus, wyrmslayer, before launching off with a screech to meet her mate.

As Wikton and Grel and Boraen got their strength back (with the help of some potent potables), Tasso, Luna and I took the arms, armor, outerwear, and scant treasure of the magically sleeping guards. Pyrea indicated they’d sleep until awakened, so Josef and Willie carefully carried them into the cage and locked them in. Josef, Willie, Luna, Tasso, and Hollin began to set up camp for the night.

And then it was time to investigate the lair. We found several gems, an ivory scroll case, a leather scroll case, a small gurgling flask, a headband, a gold seal, a primitive gold idol, a chain, and a chalice, as well as a great hoard of gold and silver. Perhaps a third of the gold pieces were from many centuries past, and it took us more than two hours to get the treasure out of the lair and up the narrow, stinking passage to the camp above.

Grel opened the leather scroll case to find a map, showing Southbridge and a set of ruins to the northeast. These ruins, a note said, contained the fabled Black Giant’s Eye. Wikton suggested that the idol may be bestial-made, possibly of an evil god. Pyrea looked at the scroll in the ivory case and determined it was a spell of confusion, which she kept. The potion, though, she could not identify, other than to say it was an oil. Beth sipped from it and then nearly bit her tongue off, which allowed us to realize this was an oil of sharpening, and Fergus asked to have it as his prize.

As we were settled for the evening, over dinner we discussed the further division of our spoils. A full share of the wealth was 75 gold pieces, 128 silver pieces, and 8 royals. Tasso and Luna were not in line for shares, but I gave each 25 gold pieces. We divided the jewelry – headband to Boraen, idol to Wikton, chalice to Beth, the seal to Grel, and the chain to me, and each of us took a gem. I got a huge topaz.

The next day dawned bright and warm, though the bandits still slept in their smallclothes in the cage. We decided to camp a few days, though Hollin fretted, to heal up our wounded. Pyrea put Boraen to sleep so we could treat him without interference from his dark side. Grel was able to bring him some comfort. I tended to Wikton, laying my hands on him twice to bring him the healing powers of the land.

The 19th day of autumn, as I returned from my solitary meditation, Nann pointed out to me a great winged black panther. It seemed to smell the skin of its kind, and was growling. I offered it dried sausage but was rebuffed with a snarl. I summoned the power to talk with animals, and asked it to explain. Old, long-dead, smoky meat – it would only eat that if it was half dead from hunger. Which it was not, so it would hunt its own fresh kill.

The panther demanded to know why we had the skin of one of its kind, why would we take the pelt? I explained that we had no fur – to stay warm or keep off the sun or fend off insects, we needed to make clothes. It lost interest and turned to go, as it was summoned – but I forestalled it. “Why,” I asked, “do your kind answer the summoner?” It looked at me queerly and said, “She calls, and I respond,” and It flew off to the northwest. I picked up the sausage, dusted it off, and enjoyed the snack

Wikton, Grel, and I together worked to heal Boraen. I think my ministrations made the difference, and the next day I tended his wounds again. On the 21st day of autumn, we woke Boraen and broke camp.

Destination Unknown V: The Return of the Froggers
Balto's Journal

I could no longer hear the sounds of battle. Still webbed in among these odd birds, I resigned myself to the idea that Beth would loot the corpses. Only the Death Dealer seemed likely to have any treasure, at any rate. Luna and Tasso quickly dispatched the creatures in the web with me, then set to cutting me out.

Boraen was fairly torn up, but he was more concerned about his wolf. Talvi had mostly shaken off the poison from the blade, with some help from Nann and an antidote Boraen supplied.

Grel walked over and tried to cast remove curse on Boraen, who briefly looked enraged. Boraen told us there were two Boraens fighting in him, now, the result of the werewolf’s dying curse, and warned us to be wary casting healing spells upon him. As Boraen went to skin the winged panther, Grel confided to us that he had felt a dark force within Boraen.

I looked at the werewolf’s body as we stripped him of his arms, armor, clothes, and treasure. This man looked very like the ones Boraen had killed as they lay in magical sleep – and Nann recognized his tattoos and weapons as tribal-made. A symbol was carved into his chest, but wounds and bruises obscured its meaning.

On the road from the east then came a company of soldiers. We quickly slipped into our travelling alter-egos – Lady Arrington with her best friend Beth, me as her father’s trusted advisor Grigo, bodyguards and friends and fellow travelers. Grel was annoyed with the subterfuge, but he kept quiet as the force drew up ahead of us.

Their captain hailed us. We answered with our cover story, and Boraen spoke up to say we had been fighting wildmen and their pets. The captain came forward to see the bodies, and she recognized the creatures as from the mountains (save the birds – those she’d never seen) but shecould not explain why wildmen would be attacking us on the road, unless they were bandits.

Pyrea/Lady Arrington caught the leader’s eye, and the captain declared we must all go to see Lord Mosby, her liege. We’d run afoul of a new regulation – all elves needed a badge to prove their provenance. Apparently, elves had recently attacked the Southron Duchy! And while we’d come from the opposite direction as the attack, no one knew who those elves were or why they’d struck. Boraen was in such a weak state, though, that the troop elected to camp with us a few days as he regained strength.

And so we settled in, recuperating from the battle. I called up nature’s balm and soothed the injuries of my comrades. Boraen brooded as he recovered, cast aside his hammer and began to hone again his broadsword. We stayed in character the whole time and a couple of Mosby’s men came to be good friends of Fergus, Willie, and Josef. It had been many years since my people had come through here, so Tasso, Luna, and I were made much of, as well.

On the 16th day of Autumn, we pulled up stakes and proceeded east. Midday, we came to a small camp of perhaps three dozen soldiers, and a couple of more permanent structures going up. We dismounted and left our horses to be corralled and cared for, and Pyrea and Wikton walked with the captain to Lord Mosby’s tent.

Boraen asked about and found a spot on the camps outskirts to set up camp. Asking, too, about local legends of lycanthropy, he was referred to a priest – or possibly Lord Mosby. Pyrea, just out from her interview and in receipt of a wooden badge, went back to Mosby’s tent and learned that charms or potions could be used to invoke such a transformation. Wildmen, the Southron Duchy’s bulwark against the orcs, used tattoos and scars in rituals, some dating back to the time of the Dark Ones – and perhaps the scars on the Wildman we’d killed were some such symbol. Pyrea was told to seek the Wildmen leader Bearman for more information.

I asked Lord Mosby’s guards about security, acting concerned for the safety of Lady Arrington and of our horses and goods. I learned their patrol routes and schedules, some details about local hamlets, where to beware bandits. Wikton, meanwhile, helped out at the forge, but he made no converts.

Early evening, striding towards Mosby’s tent, came a couple of the froggers. Mosby emerged to talk with them, and then came to our cookfire with two guards. The frog farmers accused us of starting a brawl and, worse, of stealing all the camp’s money! Beth admitted she could not hold her liquor and apologized, but swore we did not steal the coins. Pyrea as Lady Arrington acted offended by the accusations; still Mosby persevered and asked each of us in turn about the accusation of theft.

I was the last to be questioned. I denied guilt and cast aspersions both on the bookkeeping and the security at the frogger camp. I pointed out that everyone had been watching the fight, if not trying to break it up. I asked why we littlelings were always the first suspects – there’d been other travelers, that night, too, but wasn’t it convenient to have the three of us to blame? A good bluff can pass for innocence, I thought, and really the evidence was purely circumstantial – I’d made sure of that!

Mosby sighed and said he would render a decision in the morning, and left the two guards to make sure we didn’t leave. We ate dinner and sat around the fire, as I tried to figure out a way to further cover my trail.

Early in the first watch, before I’d even fallen asleep, Fergus and Josef spied a young woman, clothes in tatters and apparently blind, stumbling along the road from the east. Fergus, Talvi, and one of our guards went out to meet her; Josef and the other guard woke the camp.

The woman – Hollin her name – sobbed out that she just wanted to go home, back to Kenneburton – a village some 5 days west. The last thing Hollin had seen was a beautiful dryad who had stolen her husband, Jacques. As she came into the camp and settled by our fire, Grel came up and offered to cure her blindness. The cure worked, and Hollin stuck close to Grel as she settled in for the night.

Early the next morning, I asked if I could leave the camp to meditate in nature. I was allowed, but warned to stay in plain sight. So much for my thought of burying the evidence – not a great plan, anyhow, as I’d have had to go back before we left to retrieve it. So I meditated by the woods, Wikton by the forge, and Grel prayed near our cookfire and wandered through the camp talking of Tangadorin (to no avail).

Mosby walked over to give his decision. We were clearly good folk, he said, as shown by our care for Hollin. Mosby would repay the frog farmers, if they could give a proper accounting of their loss, and we were free to go.

As Luna and Tasso prepared breakfast, Grel said Tangadorin had told him that another deity, Malachai, had cursed Boraen – and a level 5 cleric would be needed to lift the curse. Wikton told us of his meditation, in which he saw a cage and heard an eagle screech – and his god hates cages, so perhaps it was a sign to release captives. He also told us his offer to bless the forge was rebuffed. Fergus mused about the feathers we had seen, pulled his out to show some of the guards, who were astonished how long it was. One guard remembered stories of hippogriffs, with feathers this large, mating in the forest before flying back to the mountains, and shared a bit of folk wisdom– “if you hear the call of eagles, marriage is in the cards!”

Destination Unknown IV: Skirmish with a Spellslinger
Balto's Journal

A half hour’s ride south of the frog farmers, we set watches. I was more worried about them discovering they were missing a few coins than I was about the flaming arrows. Humans always look first to littlelings if they suspect theft, and three of us had been in their camp.

So I muddied the trail a bit more when I got up for second watch. I put 10 gold pieces in Beth’s pouch, for after all, I’d never have gotten to the coins had she not raised such a ruckus! I divided my gold between several pouches, burying the remaining Southron Duchy coins deep below some smoked fish.

Perhaps an hour into my watch, the sky turned a sullen purple and a hard rain began. This was the storm I’d been sensing, and it felt unnatural, and unnaturally long. It was a miserable night and following day – if you stood by a horse’s head, you could not see the tail! The ground we’d though fine for pitching tents turned soft, and the stakes pulled free. And when the storm had whipped past at dusk, insects swarmed in to plague us. We wrung ourselves out and rode south through the gathering dark.

After a few hours ride, we were beat – none more so than Wikton or Boraen, of course. Pyrea called to us that she was nearly falling from her steed in exhaustion. We’d passed the path of the storm and the ground was solid, so we made a hasty camp and rested.

Late in the third watch, Wikton noticed Tasso staring at him, but when Wikton moved to talk with him, Tasso scurried away. Wikton walked the perimeter, thought he saw movement to the northwest – and a flaming arrow flew up and hit him in the chest. Nann moved over by him, rousing me as she went. We saw the arrow, but Wikton insisted the it was but an illusion. Then came the familiar howl to wake the rest of the camp. If anyone slept through that, Boraen howled back. And there was another howl in reply! Boarean started walking to the northwest, Pyrea followed him.

I cast detect magic on the arrow to find it had clearly been ensorcelled – but it was a real arrow, so I told Wikton we were not fighting an illusionist, and I cured his very real wounds. Then came the full attack!

A small black winged cat dropped from the sky to attack Boraen. Pyrea saw this but also heard something big approaching. She called out a warning, and then another as a Death Dealer and a woman stepped out of the gloaming.

Boraen snapped the neck of the winged cat, dedicating its death to Meesha and his clan and tribe. But he gained a mortal enemy in the Death Dealer, whose brother the cat had been! The Death Dealer charged at Boraen, who leapt to meet him.

A huge stony-sided lizard came rushing out of the grass. Fergus, Wikton, Wilhelm, and Josef intercepted it, I think Fergus nicked it with his sword, but Wikton was thrown down. The beast was eventually overcome, but I didn’t see the fight, being otherwise occupied.

Tasso, Luna, and I charged at the woman, who snapped off a spell and Tasso and Luna dropped – just sleeping, but I didn’t know that at the time. I slung a rock at her; it hit as did an arrow from Nann’s bow. The spellcaster – perhaps the one who’d been such a thorn in the side of the Irecian forces? – chanted and waved, and 6 beakless birds with long spiky tails appeared and flew at me. Surrounded by the birds, I could not get another shot off at the woman. Soon, the birds covered me in sticky slime and I was completely out of the battle. Pyrea sent magic missiles at the woman, and was counterspelled, then turned to web all the birds together to end their attacks on me.

I could see Boraen exchanging blows with the Death Dealer. The Death Dealer’s skin rippled with every hit Boraen landed. Boraen struck the axe from the Death Dealer, knocked away his helmet, too, and I could see Boraen’s opponent shifting to wolf shape. Beth slipped in and slammed her dagger into the wolf’s neck, but not before Boraen had taken some bite wounds.

I saw Talvi running at the woman; from the screams, I think she bit the spellslinger. But Talvi yelped, too, slashed by a dagger. Talvi shook her head, unsteady, and vomited. The woman ran away, and Nann ran up to tend to Talvi.

Destination Unknown III: Meet the Froggers
Balto's Journal

Over breakfast on the twelfth day of Autumn, we talked about our best path through the Southron Duchy. Beyond a couple of game trails, we were in an untraveled area – I wondered if Ogre would be able to do much cargo ferrying. But the area along the riverbank was fairly clear so perhaps some enterprising folk might make use of him to avoid the toll bridges.

Still, the riverbank was steep enough to give us concern for the horses and ponies and wagon, and we knew we’d only a short way to go through the South Dale Woods to get to the road, then east to Fort Jaxon, so off through the forest we rode. Wikton grumbled that he’d had a poor rest; and Boraen, too, had tossed all night. Tasso – and Talvi, too! – stayed away from them both, no doubt figuring they were harsh enough at the best of times – without sleep, who knows what would make them snap!

The land became wetter – not quite a bog, but many small trickles and sloughs, leading to a small creek. Looking about, I could see this creek was flowing through a channel cut by a mighty river and I wondered how the river had dwindled so. Across the creek was a long stone bridge, with a collapsed building on the other side. There were well carved stone faces on the bridge supports, and as we came up on the building we saw it had been a small keep, with a single fallen tower towards the back. It had been long abandoned, but poking around, Beth and Fergus found a couple of huge feathers.

Pyrea felt we were being watched. We saw no one, but as we headed south again, I felt as if a storm was gathering to the northwest. Boaren suddenly burst out, “I angered Meesha! I must atone!” Wikton hurried over and as they conversed, it came out that his god also was angry with him. Without rest, neither would be able to replace the spells they used. Tasso, Luna, and I agreed that it was their guilty consciences keeping them from rest. But then, however they thought they got spells, losing two casters able to heal injured our party. Perhaps I could encourage them to meditate and gain back some peace – but then, I did not want them to repeat their brutality. A few sleepless nights might be just what they need.

Suddenly, we heard a great howl of rage from the northwest. Talvi whined and looked to Nan (not Boraen?); Lee cowered behind Beth. I suggested we make camp, cook our suppers, and prepare for an attack. Nan nodded at me, but said we should look for a more defensible spot. We found a hollow tucked into a hillside and set up camp there, with the slight cliff at our backs. Boggy ground to the south would also keep that flank secure against a charge. We made a fast meal, put away some of the food for later, and set watches.

On the third watch, a flaming arrow flew out of the darkness and buried itself in Beth’s back. Tasso quickly put out the flames as Wikton bellowed an alarm. Boraen and Pyrea leapt up – neither’d been sleeping well. Another howl ripped the dawn sky, chasing the laggards out of their bedrolls. But no enemies or other attacks came our way, so we made a quick breakfast. Beth and I climbed tall trees to see if the forest was coming to an end, but nothing but trees and migrating butterflies as far as we could see. Nann told us when we came down that the arrow was tribal-made but not quite of the style of her people.

To speed our way through the woods, we abandoned the wagon and split our supplies among our steeds. Gypsy gave me a long-suffering look when I loaded her up, but I fed her an apple and she soon accustomed herself to the added weight.

Midday, we came out into a small clearing – it was so peaceful, with birds singing and rabbits nibbling on the remains of a garden. In the middle of the glade stood a small cabin, a bit worse for wear. It looked a wonderful spot for lunch. Borean, Beth and Lee went up to the cabin to see if anyone was home- there was no smoke from the chimney, but then it was a warm day. Beth knocked and the door swung open. And two Damned came out of the house, and more rose out of the long grass around the building.

Our party leapt into action – Pyrea cast sleep to no effect. Boraen tried turning them, but they kept coming. Beth slashed around her with her daggers, but still was bitten and clawed. Tasso, Luna, and I slung stones and Nann shot arrows. Wikton hurled hammers. Some of the missiles hit, but there were so many of these unnatural creatures! I cast entangle on the surviving Damned and Pyrea followed up with a web. Beth lobbed a wicked pot of oil at the mass of them and smiled as they burned, then followed up with a pot of oil on the cabin.

Once the cabin had burned out, Josef poked around in the ashes and found a metal box. I opened it and showed everyone a ring with a small emerald, and Josef spotted a finely wrought chain with a pendant in the box as well. Seemed to me the chain and pendant were worth a bit, the ring not so much. Beth tried both on and rode off, but Boraen had a chat with her and Pyrea ended up with the pendant.

Wikton and Fergus felt something was pacing the party, and as dusk fell, we heard another howl of rage, from due north this time. We made camp and I made dinner. Pyrea cast identify on the chain and pendant, found nothing magical, so she put it away but declared it was treasure of the company.

Again we set watches, and again an attack came just before dawn. Nann was hit, and Tasso yelled to alert the camp as again he put out a flaming arrow. Beth had seen the weapon arc in from the west, and shouted this to me as she ran to defend Nann and Tasso. I cut to the northwest and Luna went southwest, thinking we might circle behind the archer, and I saw Fergus, Josef, and Wilhelm running naked but well-armed to the west. Another howl tore at our ears, and Boraen howled back, then walked to the west. None of us found a foe. Once everyone was back in camp, Beth shot the arrow back west – it was a beautiful shot, but a waste of an arrow.

Again Beth and I climbed trees, and we saw the end of the forest! Today’s ride would be take us out of the forest. We dropped from the trees and jubilantly shared this with the others over a hot meal. Wikton, Boraen, and Pyrea had had another bad night, and the news did not quite dispel their dourness. Wikton had spent a restless night asking his god for guidance; Boarean had talked at Meesha on how he would ask for nothing until he atoned and proved himself. Meesha, he indicated, was exasperated and disappointed in him for making this declaration. Maybe another day or so and I’ll teach them to meditate and clear their minds.

About midday, we came out of the woods. We headed east, skirting the edge of the woods, and shortly the ground became boggy and we had to pick our way carefully. Massive swarms of insects rose up and bothered us; Tasso, Luna, and I had the sense to put kerchiefs over our faces but our ponies still suffered, as did the horses and the rest of the party. We found soft but dry land to make camp and discussed our options; as evening came and the winds picked up, the insects went away.

We decided to head east one more day. We could not find dry wood anywhere so we made a cold supper and bedded down. Happily, this night passed without any attacks. In the morning, another cold meal, then we picked our way through the bog. The insects were back, but a light breeze made them less a nuisance than the day before. I felt we were being followed, but each time I looked back I saw nothing. The frogs were so loud, they would have drowned out any sound of pursuit!

In the afternoon, we saw smoke rising on the horizon, and we saw a camp of frog farmers a little before dusk. Racks of drying jerky to one side, sealed barrels stacked up on the other, and fires with great cauldrons of soup and sticks of seasoned frog kebabs in the middle. Behind the fires were rough tables and a sea of tents. We assumed our alter egos.

As we approached, the cooks waved. Out of the large tent in the middle came the campmaster, who introduced himself as Gerald. His wife, Shayna, came up from the cookfires, wiping her hands on an apron. Gerald quickly gives us directions to the road we sought, and Shayna promised us the soup was the best we would ever eat. We added some frog jerky to our supplies, then sat at the tables to sample the soup and kebabs. Beth tossed her money to Gerald and asked him to bring some drink.

The brandy was strong but sour. Beth didn’t mind – as most of us sipped, she drank deeply. And she turned out tobe a mean drunk. Beth sneered at Shayna, “Did you piss yourself, or is that just the smell of your soup?” Against the outraged murmur from the froggers, Beth drew herself up and challenged “ all you drunken bitches to fight!” Boraen reached for her, tried to pull her away from Shayna, but Beth slipped away and smacked Shayna. Insults and punches, Shayna gave back as much as she got. The whole camp rushed in, some to watch the fight, others to join in, and a few trying to break it up.

Well, I’d noted where the money was being kept: Three bags, one each of gold, silver, and copper, and a ledger on the side that tallied each day’s commerce. I emptied the bag of gold, and tossed my few silver and copper pieces into the appropriate bags. They’d have a very hard time making the books balance tonight!

I slipped back and saw the fight was over. Cooler heads had prevailed after Beth passed out. Pyrea suggested we leave; Gerald, sporting a bloody nose as he dragged Shayna away, angrily agreed. Certainly I was amenable, and so we rode away.

Destination Unknown II: Balto Finds His Purpose
Balto's Journal

The fourth day of Autumn dawned cloudy and cool. Shortly after we left Roehm’s men behind, a heavy rain started. We slogged forward through the mud. I heard a commotion from the rear guard, and turned to see that Fergus had been pulled from his saddle! Willie was throwing off a rope, and men popped up around us demanding we stop in the name of Dame Orielt.

We tried to talk our way through, but they would not let us pass without swearing service to their crusade. We’d a mission of our own, thank you very much, and tempers flared. One of their bowmen shot Willie as his horse shied, and that was all it took. In quick succession, Pyrea put the three in front to sleep, I entangled one off to the side, Talvi went on the hunt, Beth shot down one bowman that I had slowed for her. Wikton hammered away but kept calling on the foe to surrender.

And the battle was pretty much over. Boraen slit the throat of the three sleeping tribesmen, a bit profligate with his subjects if you ask me, and certainly ignoring the good advice of Marshall Roehm. Ah well, dead men cannot raise the hue and cry. As I saw Beth looting the man she’d killed with my help, I decided to show Tasso and Luna how to check the bodies of the slain for treasure.

As the entanglement subsided, the remaining tribesman tore free, only to stare down Wikton and his hammer. Wikton encouraged him with the help of some rope to stay and answer questions, commanding him in turn to talk (nothing useful) and to betray (which only confused the captive).

Boraen came over to help with the questioning. The man worked for Ulfamark, the Bearman. Ulfamark was determined to avenge himself on the corrupt and cruel tribesmen who had betrayed him in the rite of adulthood.
Determined to force more from the man, Wikton and Boraen began breaking limbs. Wikton chillingly promised to injure and heal until the man complied or went mad. This only increased his defiance – Boraen was unworthy to be king, but how like the others he was! Boraen’s face suffused in anger but he called on Meesha to heal this man. His heart wasn’t in it, though – the man was left with a broken foot. I looked back at him, thinking to heal him myself, but he’d already gotten one hand free enough to make rude gestures.

Tasso was appalled, as in truth so was I. Meditation might help my turmoil, but this trip was certainly not doing it! We had a long whispered talk. Tasso was distressed I had not stopped Boraen from killing the helpless, or torturing a bound prisoner. He knew of war – had fought at Yew, in fact, a battle I had missed. But there were right and wrong ways to fight. Far from fighting chaos, we were creating it! I confided I had the same thoughts, but was not sure how to stop the humans from their cruelty. And I had done a poor job protecting Tasso or Luna from their violence, as well. We pledged to keep each other honest, and I suggested his path may lead him to a druidic circle, not a thieve’s guild. I gave him 3 gold pieces to reward him for awakening me to my complacency and complicity.

We left the main road for a farm to market track a bit north of Steltin. As we headed west/southwest, we saw in the evening gloaming a wagon of travelers coming our way. It was a troupe of very bad musicians – so bad that it crossed my mind they might be spies or rogues. They gave no notice of my signs, though, as they chatted with us convivially about the lands around Steltin. Boraen and I sent them to plague Winright and they kept on up the road. Luna suggested that they were such bad musicians, maybe that was how they made a living, and her guess was confirmed by the innkeeper when we stopped for the night.

We’d disguised ourselves as travelling merchants. Pyrea became Lady Arrington, I her father’s most trusted business advisor, Sen Orgrego. The Sens were a large and prosperous clan, so my name would not cause suspicion. And of course merchants would need to know of troops or tolls ahead, so our questions would seem natural.

On the evening of the eighth day of autumn, we saw the Dale Woods in the distance. We’d skirted Riverton, certainly, but in so doing, had gotten turned around. The Dale woods were north, a small group of buildings to the south.
As we approached the buildings, a clamor of barking started. I cast speak to animals on myself, but what the two dogs were saying was, “They are going to kill us! Hey! Get away from here! Masters, make them leave!” I told them, we are merchants, no one is going to kill you!” Human heads peeped out at us, and a large man called off the dogs. “Yes, yes, you will not let them kill us,” barked the younger dog.

Ogre was the man’s name, and he had some wildmen in his family, it appeared. Pyrea assured him we were just merchants trying to get across the river, without having their horses or goods taken to support the war effort. We all decided to be civilized, and Ogre’s four sons, crossbows carried but uncocked.

We ask Ogre to build a raft to get us across. We’ll pay good money, and leave him with a ferry that could compete with the toll bridges. Meanwhile, I fish and forage with Tasso and Luna, who thaw slightly towards me. Beth gets on with the dogs famously, and goes out hunting with them. Nan, too hunts, and she brings down a deer.

And in the evening of the final day, I talk to the three other remaining members of the Enonia Falcons. We all were distressed by the torture – it reminded us of what orcs did. And Fergus had been troubled in his sleep for many nights after killing helpless captives in our fight against the Black Brotherhood. Here was his chance to make amends for that.

The Falcons would be a force that stood for something. We would protect the helpless, starting with our vow to prevent the slaughter or abuse of prisoners. The druid in me exulted in this –my mission is not the protection of the woods, but preserving the flock against predators.

And strategically, this made sense, too – everyone would be needed to drive back the orcs, and the more unity we could achieve, the stronger our forces would be. No need to make more enemies, we had enough!

The eleventh day of autumn, we rafted over to the Southron Duchy. This is the first time I have set foot outside the Duchy of Irecia, but any musings on that were interrupted by a bittersweet parting between mother and son: the younger dog, Lee, refused to leave Beth, and his dam was both wistful and eager to see him make his way in the world. Ogre might have raised a fuss, but, “His ma’s been mated with another fine watchdog. I’ll keep the best of the litter,” he confided to me.

Destination Unknown I: The Road to Winright's Tower
Balto's Journal

Tasso, Luna, and I came down from my room to find Fergus, Josef, and Willie already sitting at breakfast. The three humans had worked up almost as much an appetite as we three littlelings, so we took another table and called for our own food. Tasso and Luna aren’t as comfortable around humans as I am, so this helped them relax and enjoy the meal while still getting used to our companions. I mentioned to Luna that she’d have liked Belaldur – and it struck me, with Belaldur and Ja’Kar dead, there were only 4 of us Falcons left. Perhaps it was time to begin recruiting again – maybe that ranger, Harris, with whom I’d shared cider two days past? I’d have to remember to look him up once we returned from our journey.

After the rest of our company – Boraen, Nann, and Talvi; Beth, Pyrea, and Wikton— trooped down to the common room, Josef and Willie went to gather our horses and get the cart loaded. The rest of us reviewed again our goal.
The three swords of Boraen’s vision were spread out – some folk who’d adventured from here before had a broken sword, but it might be reforged. Another was somewhere in the city of Irecia. The last sword seemed to us likely to be in the mountains to the Southeast, where tribes known to Boraen dwelled. We’d gathered supplies and prepared to set on a great journey to see if these tribes would recognize his kingship and relinquish the sword. Not the same as the clans rolling across the plains of Irecia, but still it thrilled me – surely the open road would open my mind to possibility!

I felt ill at ease and hemmed in by the towns and the walls. I had wrested control of a druid’s circle from one who had allowed it to be twisted from its true course by a tricky, predatory plant. That felt good, but my obligations made me hand it back to members of that circle with admonitions to clean and reconsecrate the grove. Fighting the anti-life creatures of chaos also felt good – rescuing the goblyns with Ja’Kar’s help was the first time I’d really felt I’d made a difference! – and defending folk of all sizes from the depredations of the orders of orcs was even better. But with no real place or mission yet I felt a bit adrift.

Along the way South, Luna taught me more of her knotwork – and Tasso was a good sport at letting us bind him to a horse and then work his way out. I tried to teach them some simple skills of stealth – Luna took to this, but Tasso was almost as clumsy as a human. Maybe his strengths lie elsewhere. They certainly don’t lie with pickpocketing or diplomacy!

As we approached Lord Winwright’s land, I exchanged rueful glances with Wikton. Perhaps I had done him a disservice, handing him over to Winright’s justice. Surely we could have had a marvelous adventure, and Winright was practically a Lightbringer anyhow. A huge armed camp flew Marshall Roehm’s flags, byon either side of the road west of Winright’s tower. While most of us went to check the camp out and hoped to see the Marshall, Tasso stayed behind to tend the horses with Nann and Josef and Willie.

We spoke to Shelly, a captain guarding the entrance to the camp. Boraen introduced himself as our leader and declared we needed to ride south to save the land. All very grandiose, and as I exchanged glances with Fergus, he mouthed, “I thought we were more an autonomous collective.” Shelly welcomed us and told us we must speak to the Marshall Roehm. The rest of our party came up, and to my dismay, I saw Tasso knocked out and thrown over his saddle, nearly dead. Boarean quickly gave first aid. I hadn’t time to get to the bottom of this before Shelly returned to escort us to the tower.

Shelly took us past Mongo, the wildman guard of Lord Winwright. Mongo was bellowing at servants from the tower as they struggled to load up Winwright’s belongings onto a wagon. He took the time to greet Wikton, I saw.
In the Great Hall, Marshall Roehm stood before a table of maps with his new second, in a heated discussion with Lord Winright. Throwing his hands in the air, Winright walked over to a pile of boxes and chests, glowered at Wikton and glanced at me. He pointedly checked a few locks before storming out of the room.

Roehm was delighted to see us, and he greeted me with great courtesy. He looked with interest at our new companions, as we explained we needed to go South and East ton a mission to push back the chaos. We had found signs that the Lightbringers, the rebellion and invasion, the Black Riders, the orcs, the Master of Chaos, Irecia were interconnected.

Roehm’s troops held the road here, after havng their siege of Steltin broken by a force from the Southron Duchy – irregulars and tribesmen, as well as Kevlin’s men and the Lightbringers. Roehm didn’t want to storm and pillage Steltin. The town was part of the Duchy of Irecia, and he needed unity to push back the orcs.

The Southrons were all led by tribal chiefs from the mountains to which we were headed. Four captains, led by a short “Bearman.” Boraen explained that he, not the Bearman, was rightful king over these men and would command their obedience. Marshall Roehm raised an eyebrow at this but nodded politely, and went on.

The Southron forces had also brought a mage able to summon and control gorillas, flying cats, and stone golems. He knew a flaming brands spell, too. He and a guerilla force of Southron irregulars struck with no pattern Roehm could discern save that they stayed away from the main camps of the Southrons.

Winright then swept back into the room with servants and hubbub, removed the last of his chests and boxes. Wikton offered casually to remove Winright from the list of Marshall Roehm’s concerns. Roehm considered it, but ruefully declined. No, we must avoid spilling innocent blood. Even the Southrons, invaders though they were, would be needed if he was to drive out the orcs.

Tasso had come to by the time we got back to the horses. He was woozy and weak, and I performed a healing spell and asked what had happened. I got the story from Tasso, with Josef and Willie and Nann chipping in details.

Tasso had thought it would be wise to practice his pilfering on Josef – but Josef caught him at it and knocked Tasso out with a single blow. Nann stopped Josef from slitting Tasso’s throat, but it was a near thing nonetheless. I told Tasso to give one gold piece to Josef for attempting to lift his pouch – one doesn’t do that to a comrade-in-arms! – and one to Nann for saving his life. He complained but complied. I told Josef that Luna and Tasso were my charges, to leave discipline to me. Appeased by the gold piece, he agreed, and apologized for his temper.

Tasso was hurt and confused and quite distressed to lose so much money. I told him again to not steal from his companions, and explained how that sort of thing gave us a bad name among all the bigfolk. But I’d told him to practice his skills, he protested weakly, and these noisy, stupid humans were little better than thugs. Beth then leaned down and broke his nose, reminding him not to steal from the company, or assume littleling speech was unknown outside our race.

Humiliated and angry, Tasso spat out, “Now I see the violence inherent in the system! How can you be friends with this bunch?” It made for a cold night: Tasso slept next to Luna, both a bit away from me, as I lay awake, alone, and troubled.

All She Wants to Do Is Dance
Balto's Journal

The two littlelings from Carbaugh’s Keep are Tasso and Luna. They are very close and comfortable with each other but not, as I had first understood, brother and sister. They both are newly Followers of Orlando, and aspire to be warriors in that order. Carbaugh asked me to train and season them for a season or two before sending them back – but I wonder if he sent them because he sensed the great journey that lies ahead.

My friends – Boraen and Talvi and Einar, Fergus and Josef and Willie, Grel, and Wikton – rode up from Enonia on their way to see the Sisters. Tasso, Luna , and I had just finished lunch as the party came to Jakar’s Rest. Twyla, a dark and lovely dark human woman who’d been training me in dance fighting, asked to join us on the trip to Old Fawn. Twyla is an illusionist, just starting out and a bit naïve. If Belaldur still lives, surely her beauty and grace will draw him back.

In the waning days of Summer, then, we made our way to Old Fawn. Boraen greeted Nina and Grenwe, and he, Einar, Wikton, and Twyla went inside to inform them of Belaldur’s death, our quest, and our need for knowledge. Fergus, Josef, and Willie grazed the horses out front. We three littlelings went around back to view their garden, filled with unusual sculptures, to give them (and us) some privacy. Even though we’d shared my tent and bedroll on the way up, Tasso, Luna, and I had only just begun to get comfortable with each other. But over a jug of cider that afternoon, we made real progress!

Boarean and Twyla came out of the house, but Einar had stayed behind to learn from the Sisters. We’d need to wait in town for a few days to give Ninan and Grenwe the time to research the Dark Ones, the Swords, the letter and the Devils. Boraen allowed, too, that he was King of the Wolf Tribe, but he didn’t put on any airs.

We didn’t stay at the best inn – I’m wary of drawing too much attention. But the one we stayed at had a fine buffet for breakfast, free sandwiches for lunch, and a hearty dinner. We could make our other meals by snaring some rolls and fruit at breakfast, and sandwiches at lunch, so at least we would not go hungry on this silly human “three squares a day!”

Four days on, late in the afternoon, as I sat quietly drinking my cider and wondering what was in store for dinner, I heard a commotion in the street. I hopped from my booster seat – another reason to like this inn, booster seats! – and ran along the bench to the doorway, thinking there might be some opportunity in the confusion. And then I heard Twyla cry out in pain and alarm! Well, a new companion she might be, but still I would protect her!

Two men fought over Twyla, one snatching at her while the other cruelly gripped her arm. As I tried to slip through the crowd, I could see the malice in the eyes of both men. I remembered the pretty ladies who would come to my uncle’s shop, finding slightly frayed gowns and chipped jewels they could make into finery good enough to pass in the dim light of the evening. And the hard-faced pimps that would stop in the store, too, demanding their cut of the night’s take, scoffing at the bits of lace and velvet their girls were buying. And my uncle, oily and smarmy to the pimps and condescending to the ladies. Well, this was not going to be Twyla’s fate!

I leapt for the bully who held Twyla, figuring to distract him with a knife at his throat. And Wikton and Boraen, too, came to her aid. Wikton let his hammer fly and it smashed into the pimp’s skull just as my dagger touched his neck. The dagger slid between his sixth and seventh vertebrae – a mercy, really, as he’d have had a massive headache from the hammer. With one punch, Boraen had dispatched the other pimp. I checked their pouches for any signs of who these two were, then noticed a large ring on the finger of Twyla’s captor. The town guard showed up before I could cut it loose, though. Grel took Twyla back inside the inn; Wikton, Boraen, and I went to the town jail.

I shared out the sandwiches I had in my pouch, and Wikton amused us with tales of his earlier imprisonment and declared us to be comrades of the cellblock. The next morning, the town council fined us for the two murders, but set aside the fine to thank us for stopping Twyla’s kidnapping. Our companions welcomed us back, and we headed back to see the Sisters.

Ninan and Granwe told us of the Swords of Legend – one broken that needs special magic to repair, one lost in the Southron Duchy, one held in the Duchy of Elphast. These three swords must come together to defeat the Dark Ones. They told us, too, that the Demons and the Dark Ones are not the same – in fact, there are tales of demons helping a tribe break free from the domination of the Dark Ones, though this meant exchanging one set of masters for another. After much deliberation, our company decided to seek the sword in the Southron Duchy first , and we spent a day equipping ourselves as best we could. I found ponies for Tasso and Luna.

We reached Trubaugh the last day of Summer. This was where we’d rescued and restored some of the Damned, though there was still a field full of them, fenced in and the field abandoned. Mazlor had had some success curing the Damned here, and I’d thought his temple might have sent someone to continue his work. But not only are the Damned still afield, a new horror has blocked the villagers from tending their crops.

These beasts were like great leather bags, with a poisonous bite and claws. There were five, one much larger than the others. Grel called his magic steed to him, and rode high above the fields, looking for them. All five floated above the same field; as Grel hovered over them, the four smaller ones rose to meet him. Grel fired arrows at them but the wind kept him from hitting his targets. And they were on him!

Grel would have been in a bad state had he not turned to flee. As it is, one of the beasts ripped his shield off his back, and another bit his horse. Borean brought down the bag that had harried Grel’s horse; Luna and I bracketed the one gnashing on Grel’s shield. Beth took out another, and Josef and Fergus targeted the last of the small bags. Beth followed up with another arrow at long range, killing that final small monster.

Willie dropped his bow and scrambled for another weapon as he saw the boss bag burst from the wheat, scattering chaff and straw ahead of it. Josef went down with some in his eye. Twyla stepped forward then, and began undulating as she called forth dancing lights, in the form of a great glowing figure shaking its hips at the monster. The distraction worked – instead of attacking Willie and Josef, the great bag lunged for the illusion. I quickly cast entangle, tied it up in fast-growing wheat, and Wikton blinded the beast with a blast of light. A flurry of arrows and stones killed it quickly. Grel landed, and Boraen healed his horse.

The villagers were repulsed by the other-worldly creatures we had dispatched, and sang our praises as the conquerors of chaos. All a bit much, if you ask me, but they gleefully flung the carcasses into the field of the Damned, then prepared us a simple but filling dinner.

The first day of Autumn found us on the road again. In the afternoon, we passed by the ruined tower of Lady Emily, near Chendale, but we pressed on to reach the Abbey by evening. We called up to the Abbey, and Dame Heather sent us water and invited us to camp outside the Abbey walls.

We lunched at Ulichton the next day, and bought up what supplies we could. I picked up a couple of daggers, thinking to instruct Tasso and Luna in their use. We rode for Ennonia, and caught the tail end of the day’s market. We dropped quite a lot of coin there, and I made sure to get a good meal and a room for we three littlelings at the Militiaman and Bawd.

Riding out in the morning, we reached Draycott right at lunchtime and settled in to rest the horses before the long trek ahead. We had a good couple of meals and welcome. Willie and Josef’s kin made much of Fergus, and the talk of the town was how he’d made men out of a couple of ne’er-do-wells. I’ll get our tent set up, share out these berries I found in the bushes by the clearing, and go to bed with Tasso on one side and Luna on the other.

Songs of the Bards, 55th day of Summer, 59th Year After the Doom

The bards sign their songs and tell of news that they’ve heard from around the region and lands. This is what they’re singing of currently:

Littleling city of Cheddon experiences a Night of Terror

A horror has befallen the littleling city of Cheddon, which lies to the north of the Duchy of Irecia. Black Brotherhood troublemakers brought cages of Damned into the city in the dead of night to the city cemetery. They unleashed these horrors on an unsuspecting population and a Night of Terror broke out. Many littlelings succumbed to the affliction, and parts of the city were burned from the chaos. Indeed, far worse might have happened, had it not been for a brave band of adventurers who secured the docks from an attack of Crab-Men and fixed the water pumps so that fire crews could extinguish the flames. Many ships in the harbor were lost to the Crab-Men and town officials are worried that the Black Brotherhood may have stirred them up.

The Rebellion to the South Takes a Turn

The Duke of Irecia is facing rebellion and an outside threat! His commander, Marshal Roehm, marched a regiment of militia and mercenaries to the southern reaches of the Duchy, to confront the rebellious Dame Oriolt and Marshal Kevlin. Both fled to their respective demesnes and it looked as if a siege was to begin. The surprise came in the form of several regiments of partisan Southron soldiers!

It seems that the Duke-in-waiting Heber Felix (son of King Julian Felix, may the Light keep him safe) is angry at his father for having the Church of the Light annul his marriage to a common woman. Seeing the split between the Church and rebellious Lightbringers, Heber has sent men to support Oriolt and Kevlin! The Marshal has retreated to a line just north of Steltin and is said to be raising militias and calling for more mercenaries to launch a full scale war.

Marshal Ynivax has an old problem come anew to his fledgling holds. He has summoned militias and mercenaries to guard against Notchland Keep. It had been relatively deserted in the Spring and early Summer but in the past ten-days, Orcs have come there in force once again to fortify the old keep. So far, they have not attacked further, but Ynivax fears raids and a renewed assault.

Strange Creatures Arise

All across the lands and Duchies, strange creatures of myth and legend have suddenly appeared! Wyrms, Wyverns, strange monstrous things, Stirges, Winged creatures of great size and more have been seen, or have attacked! What were once safe roads and peaceful fields have become places of fear and worry. The nobles, clergy and rulers have been gathering in discussion with little to say. Elders and sages are wagging their tongues that this can’t be a coincidence when it has occurred right after the Day of Darkness.

Pagan Feast in Ulichton

The leader of a cult worshiping the pagan goddess known as Meesha has declared a day of celebration and feast on the 58th day of Summer, right before the Harvest Feast of the first day of Autumn. It will be held in the town of Steltin. It is said that Kjeld, the priest of the cult of Vanir will also be attending. There will be food, song, dancing and prayers to the pagan gods for help and protection from the strange things that have been happening recently.

The Master and his Creatures of Chaos
Balto's Journal

I met several of my fellow adventurers at the fort on the site of the ruined Wayfarer’s Inn. I was filled with foreboding – I never really had regained my strength since the day the chaos clouds welled up over Irecia and to the South. The woods to either side gave me solace, though I still grieved the scar in the Dark Woods made by the orcs.

Belaldur had been here before us, and he had ridden out to Irecia alone. Before he left, he instructed the captain of the guard to pass out his possessions to his friends. And here we were, most of us, and too late to save his bacon.

To me, he passed along his map to a trove we had discovered together and looted separately. Boraen, Fergus, Ragar, Pyrea all received bequests. Grel and Mazlor, too – as they were not with us, I offered to take theirs to them – but the captain said he had a solemn duty to place these items directly in the hands of Beladur’s heirs. Talvi looked sad; I thought we all feared we’d never see that seafarer again.

Those of us there – the above plus Boraen’s clansman Einar, Beth, Wikton, and Willie and Josef split up the spoils from our last outing over a fine dinner of stewed rat. I passed the gauntlets to Pyrea and told her I thought they would provide her some defense. The captain asked us to go south and investigate the noises that kept coming from that way: excavating or tunneling, occasionally explosions. We’d wanted to check out the chaos cloud from that direction, so readily assented. Beth and Wikton were outfitted with horses and gear.

We rode out of the woods along the Irecian Road, then cut S/SE on a direct approach to the pillar of purple smoke. Pyrea and I soon heard the sounds; to me, it was as though something was ripping out of the earth. In the distance, I saw bursts of rocks and dirt fountaining up.

We dismounted and Beth, Ragar, Boraen, Wikton and I scouted forward across the ground between pits. Ragar almost fell into a tunnel as the dirt gave way beneath her. Wikton was surprised by a weird creature, all tentacles and teeth – no doubt what had been tunneling here!

As Wikton scrambled back, bleeding, the rear guard moved in. Beth and Ragar shot at it, but the arrows glanced off the beast’s scaly hide. We charged, and tentacles around us. Borean and I did some damage; still Wikton and Ragar were the true heroes. Borean tried to pull the monster from the ground but only managed to rip its head off. The carcass was full of ichor, the whole body some odd fiber-and-flesh combination. Boraen used some of our oil to light the body on fire, and we saw wisps of smoke rise from the ground in a 30-yard circle. The smell was horrific.

We paused to bind wounds and heal up, then resumed our ride south – we had to get away from that stench, at least, before we could stomach second breakfast! By midday, we came across the bodies of all sorts of animals and birds, crushed and torn. And more of those pits. I could see purple and green lightning from the pillar of cloud to the south. And then Einar cried out – an animal appeared next to him and bleated. Ragar and Talvi shared an astonished look, and all our horses began bucking. We calmed them as the bleater moved away. Boraen tossed it a sausage and it blinked out and suddenly was right by Boraen, attacking. Waste of sausage, that!

I cast faerie fire, and Beth shot at the animal but nearly hit me. Her second shot was on the mark, though. Boraen and Einar hit the animal; before it could blink away again, Pyrea rocked it with magic missiles to finally put it down. Again, we did what we could to cure the wounds of our company. And again we rode on towards the pillar of chaos clouds.

As we came closer to the clouds, fog obscured our sight. Looming out of the mist were some ruined walls, surrounding a fog-shrouded hill. Lightning played across the hilltop. We left our horses with Willie; Boraen and Talvi and I took the lead as the rest of us moved towards the hill, where we could just make out the shape of a battered building.

As I passed the ruined walls, I felt observed and heard in my mind, “What have we here? A littling, a human, and friends behind?” Boraen must also have heard this, as he called out, “Who are you?”

The reply came: “Do you come to serve?” We both declared, “No!” The lightning crashed down as we heard an angry shrieking in our heads.

Talvi was sent back to guard the horses with Willie, and our party began to close up. The conversation continued, punctuated by lightning strikes: “Perhaps you are wise – but such a shame to be on the losing side. All of you (here I realized our discussion was heard by the whole party) can serve me now, or wait until later – but you will serve me.” I felt everyone recoil as unanimously we refused. “Such a waste,”it purred, “but I would expect this from the ‘Heroes of the Duchy.’”

A beast, many-eyed and with a huge mouth full of sharp teeth, charged out from the hillside. I tried to call lightning down on it – yet this was no natural storm, but one of chaos. I drop to my knees, head swimming, and pass out, feeling the Master’s amusement.

I woke in Josef’s arms – he had carried me from the battlefield. Someone had carried Einar off, too – but none of the party had perished, even though there had been at least three monsters and their Master directing them from the hillside. We rode hard for a couple hours, made camp and changed bandages.

On our way along the Irecian Road the next day, we heard an insistent cawing, and saw birds circling at a distance. They were nearer than I thought, though – their great size tricked me. We came upon a very large raven trapped in what looked like birdlime oozing from the carcass of a dead dog. Not birdlime, though – this was the same chaos ooze as at the monastery. Many ravens of the same size, and one larger, circled around overhead.
The largest bird, Shrea, asked us to help. “Walkers,” she said, “Something came out of this dog we hunted. It burns my wing. It has trapped my son.”

Boraen used his 10-foot pole to push the bird away from the goo, but it stretched and stayed with the bird. Boraen then tried to burn the ooze, but it will not ignite – and the ooze reached for him, pitted and spalls his armor. Finally, he used a troll hand, which spalled and healed a few times. The bird could not be saved and Shrea begged Boraen to put her son out of his misery. He did, and commended the raven’s soul to Meesha.

Boraen looked at the troll hand, very fragile it had become. Then he and Willie and Josef roped off the area around the ooze, set caution signs on it. Shrea told us her flock’s story, how the orcs and the clouds of chaos had driven them from their home in the mountains, and how scarce food was. They’d been reluctant to hunt the odd-acting dogs, but had had no food for days.

Einar’s horse was given to the flock to eat, but before she joined them, she conversed with Boraen and Fergus and Wikton. Vanir and Meesha and Almun and Tangadorin were all siblings, she said, and one other god, too. I am reluctant to indulge in religious frivolity = look how it has weakened the humans in this struggle – but Almun the wanderer was a great and wise man. If his family was as wise and powerful, well might humans have thought them divine. Humans are easy to fool.

Shrea also told Boraen to seek his people south of the river, where they have fled. Boraen told her of the settlement at Jakar’s Rest, and gave her a note and a bracelet to prove he has sent her. But Shrea could tell us little more – not on the dwarven mines, the elf with a sword that was broken, the Master, the Black Riders. A little more on Irecia – the clouds are darkest there.

We rode through to Ennonia, where I introduced Beth to Ward, and had a private chat with him about the treasure map. I went on to Jakar’s Rest, where the ravens had recently arrived. Turgon said Meesha’s name was on the wind, and three more of Boraen’s clan arrived to defend the village. Grim talk around the fire on our next steps, everyone is sure we have at most a year to push back the Master and his chaos.

I yearn for the orchard and inn and the simple days of my childhood, or even the rough and tumble time under my uncle’s roof. I would love to protect just my little patch of ground, my circle, my forest, against the encroaching war. But duty calls; I fear I have much more to defend.

On the plus side, I have two men-at-arms sent from Carbaugh’s Keep. Carbaugh asks me to train the two littlings, keep them from getting killed, send them back in a couple of seasons. I’ll meet them in the morning, see what they can do. But first some meditation, a bedtime snack, and some sleep.