The group settled down for the night, wearied by the long battle against the orkish foes. Gingerly climbing out of the dungeon, they avoided the traps found by Jin, the human thief. Osbourne Greenbottle, the Halfling paladin and leader of the group, wearily looked over his comrades. All had taken wounds in the fight with the orkish warparty below ground, but he considered each of them a close friend. Eledhwen, the lady ranger, sat comforting the one slave they had managed to save from the dungeon. Quarrion, the stalwart mage limped from the wounds he had taken, as well as favoring the side where he had taken damage from a fire trap. Geurk and Torek, the two dwarves followed up at the rear of the party.
“That spell should keep them holed up for most of the night, and any who don’t die will be weakened- we can finish the rest of them in the morning,” Geurk, the gruffer of the two dwarves said. He straightened his holy symbol, a tribute to his God, Moradin. Geurk was a priest, although what Osbourne had heard of Dwarven drinking had not been reflected in the actions of this curt dwarf. His ally, Torek, had held up to more of what Osbourne had heard of dwarves from the elven traders who came to the monastery. He was outspoken, almost to the point of rudeness, and he was able to drink like a squat stone fish.
Quarrion collapsed on his bedroll, his tent set up near the fire outside the dungeon. “I fear that I have exhausted my body as well as my magical energies,” he said in his elven accent, but that was his way of saying that he wouldn’t be cooking or taking his turn at guard tonight. Osbourne didn’t care if the slim elven man ever took his turn at night- his spells were an invaluable addition to the team. Eledhwen took a break from comforting the woman to grab some food from the fire. Osbourne flinched, remembering the horrors that had occurred when she took her turn cooking- they now let her take her watch, and not much else. Smacking his mouth, he remembered the salt she had lathered on the rabbit he had eaten. She was good at taking her watch, though, and an accomplished fighter.
Jin, the odd human thief, although he referred to himself as an “explorer,” had not been much of a help to the party in the dungeon. He had stumbled across the traps at the opening into the dungeon, unable to disable them for the party members who followed, and had not been much help in the battle with the orks underground. Still, he was a loyal companion, and had managed to defend the wizard and priest as the rest of the group fought. Jin was a quiet one, often not saying a word for days on end, only to pop into the conversation for a few minutes before continuing his unspoken vow of silence. Jin moodily stared into the fire, nursing cuts and bruises from the traps. He turned the roasting rabbit over the fire, trying to keep any part of it from burning.
Osbourne stared at the fire, favoring his shoulder where the huge orkish warchief had hit him with that greataxe, scoring along the shoulder of his armor, a split that would need to be repaired before too long. Taking watch meant walking around the camp every few minutes, watching for shapes within the woods as well as listening for anything out of the ordinary. He watched for his set time, and then woke Jin gently before stripping out of his armor and falling asleep near the fire.
Suddenly, Osbourne awoke. There was a tingling down his spine, a sign he had been given by his God to warn him of evil and danger. Bolting up, he grabbed his sword, a long blade that should have been too large for him to handle, but he had been trained with the blade since he was strong enough to hold it, and he was as good with it as he was fighting with his own hands. He shouted for Quarrion, hoping to wake the caster and allow him to loose some of his frightening magic. He saw the shape he knew was Eledhwen, rousing from her sleep, and grabbing her weapon. Osbourne charged toward the forms among the tents, crying his God’s name, when he tripped, falling face-down. Shocked, he looked around, fearing that he had been caught off-guard. To his horror, he saw Jin’s face, his eyes unmoving and his face covered in dust. His throat has been messily cut, and the surprise on his face was evident. “Goodbye, friend,” Osbourne whispered, his voice cold and harsh. These invaders would die for their crimes, as was just, but Osbourne felt some satisfaction that he would be able to deal justice to them himself.
Rising to his feet, Osbourne again shouted for his friends to awake. Eledhwen was facing off against two orks, each of them carrying a large-bladed sword that would have fit a giant. Osbourne moved through the camp to Quarrion’s tent, pushing aside the ork who fought to enter it before him. Quarrion had roused himself, but clutching his spellbook, he breathed a sigh of relief when he saw his friend, the paladin.
“I feared when your battle cry cut off suddenly that something had happened to you,” Quarrion whispered, hunched over his spellbook, “I am forever pleased to see that you are intact.”
Osbourne turned from his friend, attacking the ork he had pushed aside. The ork was not prepared for battle, for it seemed they had planned a messy cut for each of the sleeping heroes. Only a few blows of Osbourne’s sword were required to fell him. Over his shoulder, he said in a voice that felt as cold as he did, “They killed Jin. Slit his throat.” He could think of nothing else to say- nothing to follow that statement. Osbourne had been dead once. He knew the joy of meeting old relatives and dead friends, but he knew how it was to lose your life, the moments of uncertainty, the darkness before the light, sadness at the parts of your life that were missing, especially missing those who had been close to you.
Pushing out of the tent, Osbourne saw Geurk and Torek fighting several orks alone. Osbourne hung back, protecting Quarrion, but moved toward the group, attacking those disgusting bandits. Geurk shouted- a shout that faded to a gurgle, as Osbourne saw that one of the orks had shoved that large sword into the dwarven priest’s chest. Torek shouted a wordless roar, a hatred for orks and goblin-kind, and rage at the attack on his friend. Wielding his dwarven axe with the skill of a master warrior, Torek spun, swinging his axe in an arc that ended in the chest of the ork facing him. Two others closed behind him, and for a moment Osbourne feared that they were lost. Eledhwen suddenly appeared from the darkness, her bow singing as it fired shaft after shaft into the orkish bandits. As one approached her, she switched weapons to her small blade, dispatching them quickly, and then re-drawing an arrow to her bow. One of the orks broke away from what was quickly becoming a slaughter, raising a horn to his lips and blowing one it. The note sounded, rough and deep, as Osbourne dispatched them from behind.
“That will mean that more will be on the way,” Torek said in his gravely voice. One of the swordblows had caught him across the face. His helm had taken the blunt of the blow, but the edge had caught part of his chin and nicked the front of his throat. Osbourne sighed, glad that he had not seen any more friends depart this life tonight.
“More of them?” Quarrion’s voice shook as he asked. The wizard had never been one who enjoyed the sight of blood. Off in the distance, three more horns sounded.
“More, and quickly. We need to go,” Eledhwen’s voice cut into Osbourne’s sadness. Eledhwen was an experienced fighter, and Osbourne appreciated her skills. She was right, after all. Many more orks would be here soon, and in order to survive, this small group of adventurers would have to flee.
Osbourne turned to gather his things- they would have to leave behind much of the supplies, but he wanted to make sure that he had enough food to feed himself and his companions. He quickly wrapped Jin’s body, closing his friends’ eyes, and was surprised when he turned to see Eledhwen doing the same for Geurk. The two had never been overly close, being elf and dwarf, but Eledhwen nodded when she saw that Osbourne had cared for Jin. Torek took the litter that carried the body of his friend, and Osbourne pulled the litter that carried Jin. Eledhwen dressed the corpse of the woman they had rescued, dragging the litter behind her. Quarrion packed as much of his equipment as he had time for, and the group set out through the night.
It was a hurried and exhausted trek through the night, heading north to avoid the sounded horns, hurrying when the horn apparently stumbled on their camp for the night, staccato bursts almost hounding their steps. They moved through the forest all night, only resting when the sun rose- Orks had a hatred for sunlight, and it would keep them safe. They rested for a few hours, stopping to eat, and then turned their journey south, heading toward the tiny village of Kylien, where they had friends waiting. About three hours after starting again, Eledhwen spotted smoke to the south- in the direction of the village. She pointed it out to Osbourne without elaborating as to what it might mean, but the blood drained from Quarrion’s face. They all knew that friends waited in Kylien, and smoke meant that something was wrong.
“Marrik is a decent fighter… he probably held them off…” Quarrion said, trailing off. They knew that Marrik was overmatched, especially if all three warbands had converged on the tiny village. The rest of the journey was at a near-run, as fast as they could travel with the litters. The sight that greeted them was as bad as any of them feared.
The village of Kylien was in ruins. The smoke had risen from Marrik’s inn, where the adventurers had enjoyed many a brew. The ashes of what was let was not enough to say whether Marrik had been inside or not. The horses that had lived in Marrik’s stables lay slaughtered in the street in front of the ruins, corpses bloated and flies feasting on the remains. The blacksmith’s home and the merchant’s store had been burned as well, but the forge had been stone, so those ruins stood alone. The orks had even desecrated the church that stood in the town, digging up the graveyard and leaving rotted remains in the center of town. Osbourne noticed with half a mind that they had toppled a small crypt- the crypt he had once been laid in. He dropped his litter, rushing toward the church where he hoped, in vain hope, that Brother Rule was still alive.
The sight that greeted his eyes inside the small church turned his stomach. Brother Rule was there, lying dead near his altar. The child he had been training to replace him was gone, but that was not what held his attention. Behind the altar, someone had used Brother Rule’s blood to paint a message on the wall behind the altar. Dropping to his knees, Osbourne prayed silently for Brother Rule’s soul. The man had worshipped Pelor in a most fitting manner- an entire lifetime of service and love. Osbourne hoped that he had not suffered long before passing.
Behind him, Osbourne heard footsteps. Not turning to see who it was, Osbourne stared at the blood on the wall, letting fury for justice build within him. He heard Torek’s rough voice from near the door. “Eledhwen said there’s adventurers approaching- others who saw the smoke.”
Osbourne made no reply, for he had none. After a moment of silence, Torek said in that same emotionless, gruff voice, “It says, ’This is what come to those who go against Prince Kiran,’ with some swearing, insults, and a mark that means ‘Well of Souls.’ Those bloody orks chasing us came here.”