|Tanith 'Kordson' Creed|
Tanith is nonplussed about being the youngest soldier in the militia and takes the ribbing in stride, often firing back with quips of his own about how he'll comfort the soldiers's wives when they're too old to tend to their duties in the bedroom.
He finds the months of guard duty, drills, and training numbing but does his best to make the most of the time. The young soldier passes the time and blunts his restlessness by befriending the frightened children of Fitela. He forms a particularly close bond with two of the village's older children (although not quite old enough to serve in the militia themselves), Leon and Katherine. Tanith catches the eye of the girl in particular during many of his regular drills.
His heart soared when the elf, Solaufyn, arrived with word of coming war on his lips but it's a hope that's short lived as the blizzard arrives trapping him and most of the town indoors. As the hours and then days pass, the young Suel finds the waiting maddening.
How could he be asked to sit in the dark while the enemy was so near? But, was it mortal conflict with the enemy he wanted or something else?
Finally unable to bear the anxiety anymore, Tanith spoke up demanding action be taken. The militia sergeant was annoyed at the brash suggestion, but with hundreds of eyes backing the hotheaded young soldier, he had little choice but to do something. A scouting party wouldn't be out of the question...
Without skipping a beat, Tanith is the first to volunteer - eagerly grabbing up his halberd and a pile of furs.
I'm going to hold off on posting more until you guys have a chance to catch up.
Things could be worse for Flynt. His living as a trapper, while not a luxurious one is sufficient. Having Tobias' eyes and speed help with that of course. The people of Sterich seem to lack the prejudice that he was used to in Nyrond. He mostly keeps to himself, avoiding the eyes of the militia out of habit.
However, the terrible snow-storm puts a stop to his livelyhood. It also forced him to stay in the town-hall with the rest. Being cooped up was one of the worst feelings in the world for the young Rhenee. It certainly didn't sit well with a certain red-tailed hawk, relegated to perching up in the rafters of the building.
There is talk about a mass exodus to Godakin Keep, but the elder's want to hear word from Istivin before making a decision. Flynt keeps his eyes and ears on the militia. He sees them talking to some elf and hears word of a war coming. He was filled with dread as he realized he could not get away from it. He considered slipping out right then and there to find a new home. But the ice and snow would stop him before he got more than a few feet away from the village. Then he hears talk of a scouting party and he looks up to see his best friend looking back. As if the bird understood the situation and expected him to do something. Well, his skills would be useful in a scouting mission and he felt like it is the least he could do for the village who welcomed him. And it is a one time thing, right?
It had already been four months since Mortifice went under cover to infiltrate the orcish warbands and discover their secrets. Ordinarily this sort of espionage wasn't his style, but being the only half-orc with the appropriate skills meant he was the only one for the job.
"Dirty, smelly, mangy orcs," Mortifice thought to himself as he roved around the warband, tending to the wounds of those he'd rather let slip away. In fact, at least a dozen or so injured orcs did die "accidentally" under his care, but he knew not to let too many of them go or his usefulness as a healer would come into question.
Mortifice took solace in his duties the only way he could find; as a healer, he wasn't asked to go into combat and slaughter the innocents he meant to truly help. He was at least able to sleep knowing that those poor dwarves didn't die by his own hand, and that his efforts would one day pay off. One day soon, he hoped.
Even as the weather continued to worsen, Mortigfice vigilantly continued to gather information and wait for the proper moment to strike back against these savages. He learned of a plot to attack the nearby town of Fitella, a small village barely capable of feeding itself, let alone defending itself, and he knew that he would have to do something to try to stop it. If only he could think of some way to warn the town...
|Tanith 'Kordson' Creed|
Tanith smiled as one more volunteered for the scouting party, Solaufyn, the elf that had come to warn the village. The young warrior noticed increased concern on many faces in the crowd as the elf stepped forward, apparently he had become a comfort to them in his short time among the people of Fitela. As final preparations are made the trio pass formal introductions.
Flynt was a bit of an outsider but he'd never made any trouble that Tanith knew about. His bow was unlikely to be much use in the whiteout but his outdoorsman skills would be crucial to keeping them on track. Tanith knew he had a raptor he'd take with him on his trips outside the town from time to time, he silently wished he had such a talent with animals.
Solaufyn was a curious one. He was slight of frame and had uncommonly fine features but was somehow resilient enough to survival the trek all the way out to Fitela with bands of rampaging giants, orcs, and goblins roaming the countryside. Tanith hadn't been close enough to the elf in the few days he'd been in town to know for certain, but he assumed him a mage.
The group makes their way into violent snowstorm, only barely keeping their bearings by the trapper's expert skill. Tanith is both surprised and disappointed when the group runs headlong into a group of dwarven miners, most wounded. After hearing of their encounter with orcs and bugbears, Tanith's heart pounds in his chest again. The enemy was near.
The young soldier watches as the elf's honeyed words convince the strongest of the dwarves to accompany the group on their scouting while the rest head towards Fitella.
With their numbers strengthened the group backtracked the trail the dwarves had been following and, to Tanith's pleasure, encountered a group of scouting Orcs. With the aid of the dwarven miners, some of which were seasoned soldiers themselves, the group easily dispatched their foes. As the pounding in his ears dies down, Tanith reflects on his blooded weapon.
He'd never taken a life before.
Flynt leads the small group, keeping Tobias near. He keeps his bow strapped to his back, for it was useless in this storm. He is surprised to find the group of dwarven miners still alive.
Especially after they recount their fight with the orcs and bugbears. He feels apprehension at the thought of doing the same. His bow was mostly for shooting game to survive. He was not a trained soldier like Tanith was.
So when the group encountered the orc scouts, he hesitated. That was enough to let an orc get past him to injure one of the miners. Now, the hesitation was gone. He draws his sword and let them have it.
At the end, the young Rhenee spots the massive army led by the giant bugbear over the horizon. He tells everyone to get back to the village to evacuate them. He volunteers to stay behind to buy them time. He uses his last bear traps in strategic places as to distract them. He plants a few snare traps for any other scouts before heading back himself.
|Tanith 'Kordson' Creed|
What was it about the battle that had satisfied him? It wasn't the killing, that was necessary but he'd found no pleasure in it. Some element of the skirmish with the orc scouts had stirred something in his spirit that he'd never felt before - something... right.
Tanith was reluctant to leave Flynt behind but it had to be done. Fitella had to be warned/evacuated and would need all the able soldiers they could get.
Retreating, quicker now that the weather was clearer, the group arrived back at the village. The injured dwarves were being tended to and the militia sergeant happily greeted the able-bodied miners while grilling Solaufyn and Tanith for a report.
Evacuation across the Davish began quickly but due to the number of evacuees involved was a slow process. Tanith, personally, made sure Leon and Katherine were onboard and on their way to safety. The bulk of the woman, children, and injured were across when Flynt arrived, winded, but alive. On his tail, a half a mile away, a small army of savage humanoids lead be a massive beast of a bugbear stood ready for battle.
Knowing there wasn't enough time to get the militia and remaining villagers across the river in time, the sergeant ordered the men to form ranks. They faced a foe they stood no chance against, but the people of Sterich would not die without a fight.
As his whole body shook with barely contained energy, Tanith readied his halberd and joined them.
Solaufyn had never experienced such harsh weather before. The Faerie Kingdom of Celene had its seasons, of course, but they were different than the ones felt outside its borders. The changing of the seasons in Celene would bring changes in the appearance of trees, or the blooming of flowers, or the ground would cover itself in a blanket of gentle snow. Solaufyn could see his breath as a mist in the air while walking through the snow with an elf-girl from the village, and he remembered being hit by snowballs and how the snow would burst into flakes which would stick against his clothes and hair, but he never felt wet afterwards. In Fitela, though, the snow would get in his clothes and boots and then make him feel so cold that he wondered if death felt that cold.
But he didn't leave. Instead, he stayed in the common room of Fitela's tavern for what felt like days, by its warm fire, piecing together a spell which would remove that winter suffering. He had done his best to warn the town elders of what the Oytwood elves had divined, but it seemed that they placed more trust in Istivin than in the words of foreign elves. By the time he had finished researching and scribing the spell, it had been ten days since the town had last received a rider bearing news from Istivin, and they were beginning to come around to Solaufyn's advice.
He learned of a scouting party being formed to investigate the southern foothills. Though he was terrible at swordsmanship, and his longbow would be of little use in the heavy snow, he realized that there was so much fear amongst the people of Fitela, especially in the scouts, that going with them was the right thing to do. He felt that he could help them, now that he wouldn't freeze to death, and so going along was the best thing he could do for them. A local trapper and a young militiaman were the only other volunteers, a perfect number, once Solaufyn realized that he could magically shield all three of them from the cold as they traveled.
There was little he could do for the expedition once in the snowstorm, beyond keeping them magically comfortable. He kept his bow close at hand, even though visibility was quite impaired. They encountered a group of dwarves, who were happy to tell them about a force of orcs and bugbears who tried to trap them in their own mines. After showing them the trail to Fitela, where they could rest safely for the time being, it took a bit of convincing to encourage some of them to join the scouts. The dwarves had nowhere to go beyond Fitela, and the scouts were ensuring the survival of Fitela, thus Solaufyn swayed them with the logic that they were all a part of this together.
A group of orcs ambushed the now-larger scouting party as they were ascending a hill, and though Solaufyn had much trouble with placing any meaningful shots with his longbow, his elven hymn about the clumsy spriggans of the fabled Pits of Sharpest Frost helped inspire the group to hold together and pick off the orcs who were too stubborn to flee into the storm. He had no qualms about participating in their deaths, as the orcs were like vermin to the elf.
Upon cresting the hill, a break in the storm allowed them to see where the orcs had come from. A large warband was waiting out the storm, their trail putting them headed in the direction of Fitela. They spotted a huge thug of a bugbear confering briefly with an orcish priest of some sort, then shouting what appeared to be orders, at least that's what the dwarves could understand. The scouts turned around and immediately left for Fitela as soon as they confirmed the warband's path.
Between the appearance of the dwarves, and the news of the warband, the village elders wasted no time with declaring the evacuation to Godakin Keep. It was still very cold outside, and there were many of them to prepare, meaning that the entirety of the village would move slower than the fierce warband, even with Flynt's traps slowing them a bit. There was no other choice than to hold them as best they could.
Solaufyn realized that a spell his mother taught him would be useful for assisting the defense. Since he assumed that the warband had never seen Fitula before, he could bend their perceptions of it. By creating an illusion of a frozen pond, the warband would likely go around it, not wanting to risk the pond's surface breaking. When fooling the orcs in this way, his spell would be as strong as a city wall, and the militia could defend a narrower path to the city. He was sure it would work, as his father had told him that orcs were stupid creatures who were easily tricked into anything.
So he climbed up to the roof of the town's inn and watched for the warband as best he could, all the while keeping his mind focused on maintaining the illusory pond.
"Get up you scum!" Mortifice hated waking up this way, getting kicked in the side by an ornery orc commander. What he wouldn't give to finally be rid of their menace.
Today was the day the horde would attack Fitella. This time, everyone expected to participate, even the healers. Nobody would be allowed to escape the slaughter.
Mortifice knew it was his last chance to think of something. Just when he was feeling most desperate, he heard the voice of his goddess whispering to him: "Single combat is the only way."
He always wished that deities would elaborate on their cryptic messages, but even the slightest contact from his goddess left him with a shining ray of hope. He still wasn't sure what he was going to do, but at least now he had an idea of what to look for.
The weather had cleared up somewhat by the time the raiding party was ready. It was still bitterly cold, but thankfully Mayaheine granted him a spell to ease the chill.
Mortifice walked near the hulking, stinking bugbear commander as the orcs marched toward Fitella. As they drew near, the advance party spotted a frozen lake which their scouts had not encountered before. They came back to inform their leader that it would take at least another hour to march the party around it, and sure as an orc is stupid the commander was not pleased to hear this.
To demonstrate his anger, he called forth the scouting party that was supposed to have reported back about the terrain. When none of them could answer for its existence, he "made an example" of two of them with a single blow of his mighty falchion. As some of their blood trickled onto the lake, Mortifice got the impression that what they were seeing may not be real after all. Thank Pelor none of the orcs seemed to notice.
The orcs trudged around the lake until finally they found a narrow path that would let them continue forward to Fitella. Along the route, Mortifice had an idea.
"Fearless leader," he said to the bugbear. "We will crush these cowards with little but a drop of sweat if we should fall upon them with our current numbers. I fear there is no glory in crushing bugs beneath our boots, don't you agree?
The commander snorted, but then paused to consider his words. Mortifice did have a way of being convincing.
"What do you suggest, little maggot?
"Challenge their champion to single combat. Show them the might of a true leader. Take the glory for yourself, then let the hordes have their way with the rest."
"I know what I'll do, I will challenge their champion to single combat and show them the might of a true leader," said the bugbear, as if the idea were his own.
"Very wise of you, commander." Mortifice said, rolling his eyes.
|Tanith 'Kordson' Creed|
The assembled militia watched and listened in confusion as the massive bugbear chieftain bellowed his challenge.
The anxious soldiers looked to each other hoping for one among them to answer the challenge. The sergeant quickly put a stop to the inquiries. They would fight and die together. At least that way they would take some of the monsters down with them.
Without asking permission, Tanith stepped forward and shouted back declaring himself the champion of Fitela. He would fight for their lives.
The sergeant growled at the boy's foolishness. The beast would crush him. Tanith nodded in understanding but this was something he knew he needed even if it meant his death.
The bugbear commander couldn't help but bellow his laughter as he looked upon the supposed "champion" of the maggots of Fitella.
"I don't see how there could be much honor in me crushing such a worm!" he shouted over the din of voices. "But come fight me anyway, you puke!"
"My leader," remarked Mortifice. "Perhaps there would be more honor in killing this worthless human if you did so with no weapons. Strangle him with your bare hands and prove your might to all who look upon you."
The bugbear chortled, then tossed his falchion into the snow. "I shall kill you with my bare hands, retched human. Face me as you will."
|Tanith 'Kordson' Creed|
Tanith approached his behemoth opponent with his halberd at the ready. He found himself surprisingly calm about the fact that he was about to die. He wondered for a moment if he was mad.
When the chieftain cast away his brutal curved blade and Tanith's eyes went wide with excitement. It took every ounce of willpower for the young Suel to not do the same.
The duel began and the massive bugbear immediately went on the offensive. With his beastly strength and height the bugbear delivered several crushing blows but the foolish human somehow kept on his feet. The young soldier fought with a strength and ferocity far beyond his frame, and with the reach advantage he had over his unarmed opponent he delivered several mighty blows.
After one overextending swing, the chieftain caught Tanith's weapon in his grip and shattered its haft with his bare hands.
The huge bugbear roared with laughter and pulled Tanith close intent on crushing him and ending this farce, but weakened by so much blood loss, he could not easily overpower the young soldier. The pair wrestled and the savage humanoid grew even more sluggish until Tanith spotted an opening and, with a fearsome shout, drove the splintered haft of his weapon through his opponent's skull.
The horde grew silent as the chieftain crumbled to the ground. As exhaustion and his injuries got the best of him, Tanith did the same.
An orc called out from the horde claiming leadership. Another voice called out refusing to take orders from an orc. Soon the horde had collapsed on itself fighting over who would lead them in slaughtering the humans huddled on the beach of the Davish.
Tanith finished undoing the clasp on the fallen chieftain's wide fighting girdle just as a few members of the militia came to drag him toward the waiting river barge.
Flynt scowls as Tanith volunteers himself as the village's champion. The Suel was going to get himself killed. Then suddenly, it was over. Tanith found a way to win. It was like he was a man of steel, taking a beating that would have certainly killed a normal human. As the horde started their infighting, Flynt ran over and dragged the unconscious glory hound Tanith away to safety on the barge. The Suel had single-handedly ended the encounter. He deserved a rest.
Taking advantage of the chaos, Mortifice slipped away from the orcs and made his way toward the militia. He realized he was still in disguise just as an arrow flew past his ear, and he quickly threw off his cloak to reveal the trappings of Mayaheine and Pelor underneath.
"Don't shoot!" yelled Mortifice, holding up the universally-recognized holy symbol of Pelor. "I can heal him!"
The archer relaxed his bow slightly, but had another arrow drawn and trained on Mortifice, not sure of what to think.
"And I can explain everything! Just don't shoot!"
Moments later he was making his way toward the fallen champion. With the touch of his hand and a few holy words, the man's wounds began to heal.
"I am Mortifice, priest of Mayaheine. And I can tell you all about their weaknesses. We must act quickly while they are still in chaos!"
"How can we trust you? This could be a trap." Flynt continues to aim his bow at Mortifice. He tightens his grip as the priest goes to work on Tanith. As the Suel wakes up, Flynt notices some of the horde stopping their fighting and advancing on them.
"Rise and shine. Time to move." He helps Tanith to his feet and they all escape to the barge. The priest is slowed by his armor and almost doesn't make it, barely gripping the edge of the boat as it shoves off. The young Rhenee considers shooting his fingers, but instead puts his bow down and helps him up. "I still don't trust you."
The barge escapes the horde as they see an explosion go off, knocking some orcs and bugbears off their feet. A nice trap made from a bear trap, some vials of alchemist's fire, and some tinder twig. Flynt just smiles as he waves goodbye.
|Tanith 'Kordson' Creed|
Tanith awakened on the other side of the Davish, alive, but still incredibly sore. The greatest of his injuries had been magically mended and what remained were flesh wounds at worst.
The young Suel was surprised to meet Mortifice but was impressed when he hears of the noble orc's mission and the dangers he undertook in the name of the people of Sterich.
Later, when camps are made and discussion is had about the safest place for the former residents of Fitella to flee to, Tanith retrieves the wide belt he took from the fallen bugbear and reflects on his brush with death. He'd never felt more alive - more right than during that battle. In fact, he wished he'd had the courage to discard his weapon and fight the beast unarmed as it had been doing.
In the days that followed the young Suel spent a lot of time getting to know the others that had been so instrumental in saving the people of Fitella.
The trapper, despite appearing a disinterested loner, was courageous; He'd stayed behind, risking certain death at the hands of the horde to buy the evacuation time with his traps.
The elf was clever and personable and even though he was an outsider, the people of Fitella found comfort in his presence and his music. His magic had kept them alive in the cold and saved dozens during the evactuation.
The orc was pious and stoic. Tanith found he had a harder time building a rapport with him but he trusted his sword and the blessings of his goddess no less. Without his help, Tanith knew he'd certainly have been killed along with the whole of the militia.
The militia sergeant continued to drill his men as the refugees marched. He'd expanded these times to include women, children, and anyone with the strength and will to bear a weapon. Tanith was without a weapon but rather than scavenge a new one from the refugee's supplies he'd spend his time during these drills training with one of the dwarves, Ogryn.
The dwarf was getting on in years but was still strong and in his youth had been an accomplished wrestler. The dwarf claimed the young soldier was a natural and learned quickly. Tanith trained hard hoping the next time a foe offered to meet him unarmed he would be strong enough to accept the challenge.
Solaufyn was unsure of what he could do to help the young militiaman in his duel, as he took his mental focus to maintain the illusory body of water. He was glad that Tanith did not toss away his weapon, though. His father had said that it was foolish to fight orcs on their terms, where their raw numbers and brute strength ruled. The Hateful Wars, which drove the savage humanoids from their lairs in the Lortmils, were won with superior skill, experience, and magic. A skilled elven warrior was greater than a dozen clumsy orcs; a skilled elven mage could be greater than hundreds, thousands even.
He was relieved that Tanith survived the fight. A halberd could be replaced, a life was much more difficult, the domain of powerful priests. As the orcs argued, and their impatience began to boil, he ceased maintenance of the illusion and hopped down from the roof of the inn, placing more illusions over the most dangerous of Flynt's traps as he fled, so as to hide their presence entirely. He had not imagined using the spells his mother taught him for the purpose of slaying orcs.
One of them, a priest apparently, had managed to join the retreating village. Half-orcs were an enigma, he thought to himself. They were most often savage beasts who could barely pass for civilized people, his brief experiences had shown. He did know of the legend of Mayaheine, the Shield Maiden, though, so he thought that if Mayaheine had accepted this Mortifice as one of her priests, then he must have proven himself to be more than savage.
With his spells to keep himself and a few others warm, Solaufyn spent most of the journey helping the least confident of the villagers along, with a spell or a song to inspire them to carry on.
From what little Flynt knew of the region, he surmised it would take about a fortnight to get to Godakin keep. With the villagers in tow, it was going to be the longest two weeks of his life. It was relatively safe during the first few days.
However eventually their luck would run out. One morning, while they were packing up camp, they were set upon by what looked like a horribly disfigured man. He spouted vile words filled with hate, demeaning all at the camp. Before anyone could pick up their weapons however, he summoned 4 small elementals made of ice. From his clothes and his speech, Solaufyn figured out that he was a priest of the Prince of Wrath. A being so filled with hate for everyone and everything.
The villagers unable to fight ran and hid. One of the elementals charged Tanith and swung its icy mass down. Tanith was barely able to dodge and pick up his weapon. He then leaped and swung his sword, slicing right through it, making it dissolve into nothingness. He landed on one knee and looked for the next one to fight, the blood rushing in his veins.
Two of the remaining elementals went after the running villagers, tearing through the campsite. Luckily that was enough time for Flynt to get his bow and start firing. He started by firing a volley of arrows into the closest one. It only served to make it angry. It charged back at the Rhenee, however he was intercepted by Tobias as he charged it from the sky. Flynt gave thanks to his friend as if the bird could understand.
The other elemental also decided to charge the archer, just intelligent enough to understand a threat. But he was delayed by Mortifice who hacked at it with his goddess' weapon, the bastard sword. They swung back and forth at each other, but the priest won the exchange and made it dissipate like the other two. "I'm glad I didn't shoot you." He says smirking.
The last one went straight for Solaufyn. The elf was unsure of what to do, never being in real danger before. He sang a song to encourage his allies to fight harder and he ran for cover. The magical song was enough to enable Tanith to cut through the icy skin of the last elemental.
And then there was one. Mortifice, Tanith, and Flynt advanced on cleric. His only response was spewing words about how the Wrathful one will destroy them and channeled the wrath of his god, the dark energy pulsing through them. It felt like their souls were being ripped from them. Flynt recovered from the pain and shot him in the knee, crippling him. Tanith closed the gap and raised his sword to finish him. Part of Flynt wanted to stop him, but alas he didn't. Suddenly there was one less follower of Kostchtchie.
|Tanith 'Kordson' Creed|
Although he still reeled from the foul magic the mad priest had wielded against them, Tanith wondered who this Kostchtchie was and why his servant would attack a group of refugees. Was he in league with the giants? Later, after the villagers were gathered and travel resumed, he asked the orc what he knew about this Prince of Hate.
As the group traveled, Tanith would stare off in the direction of Istiven. He wondered how the city fared but the refugees needed him more. The militia sergeant assured the young Suel that the capitol's walls were strong and would hold - even against the fury of the giants.
The rest of the trek passed without major incident, the group seeing little of their pursuers or any other allies of the giants.
When the refugees arrive at Godakin, Tanith is staggered by what he sees - so many lost and homeless. These people needed a worthy leader with the strength to defend them from the giants and the will to lead but none was seen.
When word of what happened at Istiven reached the young soldier's ears it drove him into a rage. Istiven may not have held many happy memories for the young Suel but it was still home and a few people he cared for lived there. The idea that the Earl had abandoned it was unforgivable. Cowardice is the greatest weakness.
Tanith stayed in that state for days, at times nearly bringing him to blows when the more jaded Keoland soldiers were less than sympathetic towards the Fitellan refugees.
Solaufyn had never seen so many people in such cramped quarters. The constant noise, the stench of so many bodies, and all the pushing to get through them was enough to give him a headache, draining his mental energy. For days, he had difficulty with just functioning, as he was unable to escape the endless overcrowding, even for an hour. He could barely relax himself enough to enter his trance, and when he did, it was out of exhaustion, and it left him unable to refocus his mind long enough to prepare from his spellbook.
In his fatigue, though, he started to notice something. The people were suffering, and it was getting worse. The begging and wailing were increasing, and they started fighting over food, shelter space, and as time went on, smaller things like who was next to draw from the well or ownership of a pair of dice. Solaufyn was unsure of when, in his fatigued daze, it happened, but he just found himself doing things to help. The people seemed eager to do things to better their situation, and without trouble, as if they just needed someone to encourage them to work together. Within a few hours of Solaufyn involving himself, the refugees around him went from accepting his helping hands to asking him what they could do.
Soon after that, he had a small community forming in the refugee camp. The people were spending less of their time and energy fighting and instead of were working together to keep everyone clothed, fed, and sheltered as efficiently as Solaufyn could organize them to do. Though he felt awkward doing it, he reached out to the half-orc priest Mortifice, in order to manage a medical tent and some form of religious services. As knowledgeable as Solaufyn was about religions, and as inspirational as he was to others, he did not see himself as able to lead services to a god he had only read of once in a book. Hanali Celanil may have inspired his caring for the refugees, but the teachings of an elven goddess was unlikely to fulfill them spiritually.
The palpable despair of the people reminded Mortifice of his early days at the orphanage. He realized that what these people needed was hope, and he wanted to bring them that hope the best way he knew how -- through the religious teachings of the Shining One.
Unfortunately the people did not take kindly to him at first. He could understand their distrust of orcs, since it was largely those beasts which drove the people to this place to begin with, but with Sol's assistance he was able to make the people see that at least one half-orc was different than all the others.
In time, Mortifice was able to set up a medical tent and morning services to the Sun God. He also made sure to speak of his own patron, the Shield Maiden, and how her protection and power could aid the people in this time of need. Even as he drove the general masses to sing the priases of Pelor and raise their hopeful spirits, he rallied several men and women who wished to do something to help defend the weak and to fight back.
He knew that there were many demi-humans in the surrounding area whose assistance could come in handy in the coming months, but he was still unsure if he was the right person to convince anyone to join the cause. Perhaps if he could get on the good side of the people's new champion, Tanith, the two could aid one another in rallying forces.
|Tanith 'Kordson' Creed|
Unable to bear the frustration he felt from seeing people suffer while men slept soundly behind the walls of Godakin Keep any longer, Tanith began to reach out to the other disparate groups camped along its walls. What he found was not battered and broken refugees but survivors with the strength and will to fight but little leadership. Gathering a group of displaced knights, masterless sellswords, and hotheaded bravos, Tanith (and whoever else wanted to come along) lead a team to survey the lands south of the river to see how far the enemy had pushed on the southern front.
The group did not find giants, orcs, or bugbears but a large number of bull-headed minotaurs. The groups squared off but were kept from engaging when the largest of the minotaur's called out in broken common, claiming that they were not enemies. Tanith's blood sang, calling him to action. To test his strength against such powerful beasts was a challenge his spirit begged for, but the rational part of the young Suel prevailed. After a very long and tense moment, the call was given to stand down and parlay was had.
The minotaur leader explained that his tribe had called a stretch of caverns within the Jotun home but had been driven out by their ancestral enemies, a nearby tribe of gnolls. The minotaurs had maintained enough strength to keep their rivals at bay for generations but recently had been overwhelmed by their new allies, the giants. With nowhere to go, the tribe of bull-men had fled north hoping to skirt the most densely populated areas of human occupation and find a new lair.
Seeing the opportunity for new allies, Tanith made a suggestion. He would arrange for the bull-men to lair in the hills east of Godakin and get them the food and supplies they needed. In exchange they would share what they knew about the northernmost Jotun caverns and, when the time came, lend their strength to Godakin's defense.
The minotaur leader looked to his people and after a moment, nodded in agreement.
Tanith knew he didn't have to authority to form such an alliance and didn't know if he could actually deliver enough food to support the massive beasts but desperate times had called for desperate measures. He was certain that Sol could help him convince the quartermasters of the importance of this alliance and the value the minotaurs would have. He only hoped the beastmen's hatred for the spawn of Yeenoghu would be enough to make them abide by the agreement.
Upon arriving back at the keep, Tanith began wondering how he was going to find food and space for his beastly new allies. The pieces all begin to fall into place when he was approached by Mort, the noble orc, who explained the possibility of other allies in the nearby hills. Agreeing that Godakin's best chance for survival lay with these alliances, the young soldier prepared to head out again.
Though he still was feeling fatigued most days, his tiredness had shifted towards a better variety, one where he mentally taxed because of all he was doing for the refugees instead of exhausted from experiencing their suffering. He had even managed to return to relaxed trancing, which left his mind more coherent and better able to prepare from his spellbook. The community spirit was spreading though the camps, and others were adopting on their own some of what Solaufyn had advised at first, little things like how they allocated water or arranged their tents. Instead of spiraling towards self-destruction, the refugees were starting to hang on.
The arrival of a group of minotaurs had surprised him. He couldn't see how the refugees could divert enough of their food supplies without endangering their efforts, so he and Tanith had to pay a visit to the keep's quartermasters. They were of course unwilling to be charitable to beasts. Solaufyn came up with an effective compromise, though. The keep's guard were clearly overworked and tired, stretched too thin to last much longer before morale would wane. So he suggested that in exchange for some food, the minotaurs would assist in night patrols, giving the keep's guard some relief for awhile. It was a tenuous compromise, and it relied on minotaurs to do some honest work, but it was worth a try.
|Tanith 'Kordson' Creed|
Tanith and Mort were departing for the eastern hills as Sol was leaving for his meeting with the quartermasters.
Travel through the region was peaceful, a welcome departure from the desperation of the refugee camps and the smoke-stained horizon of the giant-conquered west. It did not take long to encounter the residents of the Good Hills. Although none too happy about armed and armored big people marching through their lands, word of the war in Sterich had reached them and, at Mort's request, a summit was called. Over the course of a four days, the leaders of the biggest halfling communities were summoned and together they would determine what, if anything, the peoples of the Good Hills would do about the war growing in the West.
Mortifice and the young Suel plead their cases and the little people's leaders listened. After a short deliberation, accompanied by tea and sweet pies, a decision was made. They would help, but the peoples of the Good Hills were not warriors; They had no armies to call to arms. What they did have in amply supply was food, magical components, and able scouts.
Tanith and Mortifice thanked their hosts graciously and asked of them one more boon - a place in the hills for their other new allies, the savage minotaurs, to den in.
At first the little folk were none too pleased at the idea of having minotaur so close by, but eventually the bull-folk proved their worth when they stopped a small scouting party of gnolls from entering the Good Hills. The relationship remained uneasy, but the minotaurs were fed and keeping up with their end of the bargain, at least for now.
Mortifice was pleased by the progress he and Tanith had made in mustering forces, but he still felt it his duty to ensure that relationships remained positive. He spent the next few weeks travelling between the Keep and the Good Hills to keep up on relations. He was surprised at how much he took to emissary duties when since he was more martially trained.
One day, a halfling scout reported to Mortifice that he spotted the baron's seneschal speaking with an outsider. The small one couldn't make out what they were saying, but it seemed fishy and he thought Mortifice should look into it.
Remembering the trapper Flynt, Mortifice approached him and asked him if he could shadow the seneschal and find out what he might be up to. Chances were good that it was just a harmless connection, but in war time he knew that they couldn't take any chances.
Flynt was a bit perplexed when Mortifice asked him to shadow the seneschal. He seemed like a good man, but appearances can be deceiving. So he agreed. He decided to follow him after a meeting. He trailed him from a good distance, as his eyes were better than the seneschal. It took the better part of an hour for the man to arrive at his destination. It was a seemingly abandoned house in the bogs.
Flynt hid under a fallen log as the senschal went to the door. He knocked three times and the door opened to reveal a large orc in an obvious reconnaissance outfit. The seneschal pulled some papers from his robes and handed them to the orc. The only words Flynt heard were. "You have served the Lord well." After which, the seneschal left while Flynt stayed behind.
After he was sure he was alone, he made his way to the house. He crept up to a window to get a better look. Maybe it looked worse than it was. It turned out to be worse than that. Inside were a whole group of fully equipped orcs. He heard the words Turrosh Mak a few times. Must be the name of their leader.
Flynt made his way back to his allies. He told Mortifice what he saw. He in turn told Tanith and Sol. As a group they decided to first clear the cell out and gather evidence.
|Tanith 'Kordson' Creed|
Tanith reeled at Flynt's report of the seneschal's odd behavior. After thinking about the past few weeks he did recall a pattern that seemed strange. Tanith's training partners (some of the most veteran men in Godakin), had been disappearing - sent on long distance scouting missions into territory still far beyond the giant's grasp. At the time the young Suel hadn't thought much about it, but after hearing the trapper's concerns, Tanith also remembered seeing the order for these long-distance missions as signed by men under the direct supervision of the seneschal. It was almost as if they wanted to leave Godakin as vulnerable as possible.
He didn't know who this Turrosh Mak was or what his connection was to the orcs, but Tanith nodded in agreement that the answers they were after would be with those orcs in the bog.
The party followed the path set by the trapper but as a group they were not as stealthy as Flynt has been alone. An orc patrolling outside detected them and the alarm was sounded. A dozen green-skinned brutes poured out of the building or appeared from the nearby bog and a fierce battle began.
The orcs were dangerous foes but between Tanith and Mortifice's combat prowess, Flynt's bow, and Sol's magic, they were defeated. As Mortifice and the young Suel searched the dead, Flynt and Sol let themselves into the orc's hideout to see what they were guarding. They were all surprised at what was found.
Trouble had occurred in the refugee camp while the others were away. A pair of minotaurs had angered a small group of refugees, or maybe it was the other way around, and the keep's guard were called in to break up the violence. Solaufyn arrived while the situation was heated, and it took some shouting before his soothing words could be heard. But one of the minotaur's blood had already boiled over, and it reacted to Solaufyn's call of peace by goring two of the argumentative refugees. A panic erupted as refugees screamed and ran in all directions, summoning every keep's guard within earshot.
Solaufyn tried his best to get to it and calm it down before anyone else got killed, but the minotaur reacted by charging straight for him. Facing certain harm, he held his open palm towards it, and a spray of vibrantly-colored lights extended from his hand, stunning the minotaur. One of the keep's guard rushed at it, knocking it over with his halberd. Other guards joined in, and the minotaur was dead before it could get up. The other minotaur, who had been willing to let the initial slight go, roared with vengeance for its fallen friend, raised the axe it had been carrying on patrols, and put the blade right through the heads of two of the keep's guard.
Solaufyn gasped at the sight, and stepped away from the thick of the battle. He waited for a cleared area near the minotaur's head, then cast another spell, conjuring a shower of sparkling dust to explode from a point in front of the minotaur's face, blinding it. The opening gave two of the keep's guard an opportunity to stab its torso, but it reacted by swinging wildly at whatever was in front of him, landing a lethal blow as its axe split open the chest of one of the guards. In the moment when the axe was still, while the minotaur was recovering it from the body, Solaufyn finished another spell, which created a layer of goose fat on the axe. The blinded minotaur struggled to hold onto its weapon, and failed to connect as the more-cautious keep's guards surrounded it and placed wounds on its legs to bring it to the ground. Another guard swiftly brought his halberd down on its exposed torso before it could recover, ending its life.
With two of the refugees dead, as well as three of the keep's guard, the agreement with the minotaurs came to a swift end. The keep's seneschal personally ordered that the rest of them be scattered to the hills.
Solaufyn recalled the seneschal's orders when he was told of what Flynt saw. The possibility that the seneschal was more than he seemed led Solaufyn to wonder just how that pair of minotaurs found their way, on patrol, weapons in-hand, in conflict with the sensitive group of refugees. Weren't they supposed to be patrolling the wilderness, away from the camp? His suspicions, compounded with the other coincidences, led him to believe that an investigation was warranted.
The mention of Turrosh Mak, though, left him alarmed. The Despot of the Pomarj was the ruler of the savage tribes which Celene cleared out of the Lortmils many years ago, and it was widely known that he was the sworn enemy of his people. To learn of Turrosh Mak even having agents in foreign lands, and that they were conspiring with the giants, startled him. Solaufyn believed that goodness would always win over evil because the forces of good could always work together, while the forces of evil, defined by their selfishness and greed, could never work together effectively. To him, this meant that if these two evil forces were attempting to work together, the union would have to be broken apart, to keep evil fragmented and weaker. He would have to get word of this finding to the Knights of Luna, led by one Prince Melf Brightflame, as soon as he could, as it indicated that the Pomarj was more organized than he had known, and that the Mak had ambitions for the war with the giants. The elves of the Oytwood foresaw a great war coming, which Solaufyn had interpreted as the invasion of the giants; if Turrosh Mak were involved, that great war concerned Celene itself. The alliance with the Pomarj had to be stopped.
|Tanith 'Kordson' Creed|
Tanith's heart sank when news of the situation with the minotaurs reached him. He personally led the unit tasked with escorting the bull-men away from Godakin Keep. The young Suel hated to see such mighty allies driven off when they were so sorely needed but seneschal's orders were clear - the refugees had enough to worry about without fearing that their monstrous allies would turn on them again.
Returning to the keep, Tanith gathered the others: Solaufyn, Flynt, and Mortifice. He knew that they had to get into keep and confront the seneschal about the actions he was taking to weaken Godakin and the disturbing correspondence they had recovered from the orcs in the bog.
The guards at the gate were initially reluctant to allow the group entrance, but by this point they had become heroes among the refugees and local soldiers. Trusting their instincts, the guards allowed the group entrance. Armed with conviction and the evidence they had recovered, Tanith, Solaufyn, Flynt, and Mortifice marched into the keep's grand hall where the seneschal was holding court.
The four heroes marched into the grand hall with righteous fury. The seneschal looked up in feigned surprise demanding a reason for the inappropriate intrusion. Before the assembled court, the group explained what the seneschal had been up to - the deliberate weakening of Godakin's forces and the secret rendezvouses with agents of a Pomarj warlord with the intent to hand over the city.
The court gasped at the revelation and most quickly fled the room, fearing the coming conflict. The seneschal's face turned to a scowl.
"So you've figured it out?" he asked rhetorically.
"Yes, but what we don't understand is why. Why? Enlighten us as to why you would betray Godakin and all of Sterich?", Flynt demanded.
"The answer is simple. Turrosh Mak and his allies have already won. They are our the future and I intend to be on the winning side", he explained. "Speaking of winning...", he said as several orcs entered the hall.
The brutish orcs rushed the party from all sides, but with a mix of steel and magic, they were soundly defeated. The seneschal stared in disbelief at the heroes' prowess and began to seethe with anger.
"Why do you fight my efforts?!"
The seneschal tore off his courtly vestments revealing dark leathers woven with thorny vines and small animal skulls.
"The kingdom will obey nature's one law; Only the strongest survive!"
His form suddenly swelled with bulk, thick fur grew from his skin, and claws extend from his hands. Soon the transformation was complete and where the statesman once stood a giant angry bear had taken his place.
He leaped at the heroes and swung a massive paw at Sol's throat but was interrupted as Tanith rammed him with a shoulder knocking the beast away from the elf. As the ursine struggled to regain its footing the young soldier grabbed it around the neck. Fynt leveled his bow and rapidly fired a pair of arrows catching the druid in the shoulder, and while the beast was distracted, Mortifice rushed in and drove his bastard sword deep, slaying it.
"The people of Sterich trusted him and he betrayed them", the archer laments.
Tanith nods, "Another coward too willing to surrender before the battle had even started."
Mortifice gave his blade a good twist before pulling it from the seneschal's corpse.
"I'm glad that's over," said Mortifice. "But we need to be cautious. There are many in this world who would have acted just as the seneschal did."
He knew there would be more explaining to do and that the peoples' morale would certainly be lowered by this turn of events. For now, he resolved to task himself with bolstering the masses through prayer and training. He knew that only through being disciplined of both body and spirit would they be able to defeat the evil that has been swelling in the land.
|Tanith 'Kordson' Creed|
In the days that followed, the full extent of the the seneschal's treachery came to light and the others within the keep that were in league with the traitor were rounded up and summarily dealt with. Tanith was uncharacteristically quiet throughout these proceedings, as the events that had prompted the investigation weighed heavily on him.
He and his companions had fought and bled to defend this land and its people but on every front, those in power just wanted to surrender. First the Earl and now the seneschal - what was the point?
Disgusted with the whole thing Tanith packed his belongings, bid farewell to those closest to him, and left. He headed east, away from the war, and deeper into Keoland.
It was peculiar, how naturally humans seemed to turn on each other. The seneschal's unveiling of his own selfish motives, masquerading as the laws of nature, made sense to him once it was over. It must have taken him layers of excuses for him to justify aligning with orcs, the very antithesis to the natural world he claimed to worship.
At the same time, he thought it important that the Pomarj's involvement was found out, not just for Sterich's sake, but for Celene's. So in the days that followed the defeat of the seneschal, Solaufyn ensured that the refugee community would get along fine without him to advise them, and when he felt they were ready, he gathered all the information on the Pomarj's involvement as he could, said his farewells to Tanith, Flynt, and Mortifice, then conjured a magical steed and rode east, to bring the news to the Knights of Luna.
Flynt said his goodbyes as both Tanith and Sol decided to go their separate ways. With the seneschal's betrayal still fresh in his thoughts, Flynt wanted nothing more than to leave and spend some time alone himself but, shaken by the betrayal they had just experienced, he knew the people needed heroes now more than ever.
He stayed to aid the people of Godakin Keep, helping to keep the soldier's training fresh and keeping areas likely to be used by enemy scout well trapped. Besides, he couldn't leave, Tobias had just gotten used to hunting in the area.
|Tanith 'Kordson' Creed|
Tanith traveled through southern Keoland for a time, finding work and lodging where he could. To pay for food and supplies he sold almost all of the things he'd taken with him from Godakin keep, all but the thick fighting girdle he'd taken from the bugbear champion. His travels lead to him gathering a new collection of equipment including a set of fine plated armor and a grand two-handed sword, a weapon he found suited him well.
Eventually his travels lead him to learn of a mighty structure, part athletic arena, part gymnasium, part temple dedicated to Kord. Remembering the priest and the words that had sent him on his quest to begin with, Tanith set off to find this temple and learn what he could about its faith.
When Tanith arrived at the arena/temple he was greeted by a curious sight. It was not a demure cathedral of quiet bowing figures but a sprawling open air coliseum. He watched as several men and women were involved in various forms of physical activity, from wrestling, to boxing, to bare-footed races, to simply training their bodies with blackened iron weights.
Most were dressed simply, wearing little more than tunics and breech-clothes. Some nude clothed in nothing more than the clear sky and sun's rays.
Tanith was greeted by a towering Suel man. The young soldier was not accustomed to meeting people taller than himself but the bare-chested woshipper dwarfed him by a head. The giant Suel grinned, greeted Tanith warmly with a handshake, and followed with a crushing hug.
The mountain of a man was named Bogoris, or Boris as the temple regulars knew him, and was a high priest of Kord. He explained that the Brawler's home was a haven to any that sought strength and welcomed Tanith to stay as long as he wished. The young soldier still wasn't sure to make of the place but knew he belonged there.
As the year passed, Mortifice spent his time bolstering the public's faith and training any sturdy man or woman who would be brave enough to pick up a sword in defense of his country. At one point a lad of a mere 12 years came to Mort to offer his services. Though the half-orc knew he could not send such a young child to battle, he nevertheless allowed the boy to practice with a training sword and taught him how to defend his sister should ever the need arise. His sister, meanwhile, began to study in the ways of the Shining One and took kindly to the healing arts. Mortifice felt that he would hear great things from this family in the years ahead.
Eventually Mortifice was tasked with leading a group against a gnoll raiding party that had been picking off scouts and other small troops of soldiers. He led several successful small skirmishes before uncovering the gnoll's hideout near the Ruins of Soraoh in the Stark mounds.
After a bloody battle, Mortifice and the remainder of his troops were forced to retreat from the site. The gnoll's leader, a flind of some terrible evil and might, proved to be too much for Mortifice and his troops to take on.
Oh, how he wished to see the others again. They proved to be a mighty team.
|Tanith 'Kordson' Creed|
For almost a year Tanith called the temple his home and its people his family. He trained his body, learning which exercises and weights were used to strength each part of his body; He trained his skills, practicing his skill at arms with the temple's more martially-inclined worshipers and further honed his wrestling - something that was more worship than sport with the members of the temple; And he trained his mind, learning mighty Kord's holy doctrine and the words of his prayers.
Tanith was a natural for the training - his awkward frame began to fill with layers of muscle and his prayers were answered by Kord himself in the form of minor miracles. The young Suel shrugged off the magic, Solaufyn had always made it look so easy, but many of his brothers and sisters at the temple saw it as a sign that he was favored by the Brawler and began to call him "Kordson".
One day, months later, Tanith watched as Bogoris personally attended to a pair of local farmers and their son. The boy was pale and sickly, it was a wonder he'd lived to see the dozen years he had lived but all the same he and has parents had come once every two weeks to worship and train.
After the family had departed Tanith asked the high priest about the boy, why waste so much time on one so weak?
The huge Suel laughed and shook his unbound mane. He explained that though some will never have strength, it was for the followers of Kord to show them how to be strong. It was the duty of the strong to lead the weak.
Tanith reflected on this lesson and realized he'd made a terrible mistake. He was suddenly reminded of his companions, the trapper, the elf, and the orc and the war he'd left behind.
He packed his things and bid farewell to his new friends. The high priest did not know where the young Suel was headed but wished him well. Tanith promised to return but knew he had to finish what he started in Sterich.
Flynt was often restless as he was not used to staying in one place. His people were wanderers by nature. But he kept his skills sharp by hunting every day. Tobias was getting stronger by the day as well. While still small, the red-tailed hawk grew powerful, almost as strong Flynt himself. He often jokingly threatened the children at the keep that they would be carried off by Tobias if they didn't behave.
He went along with Mortifice on that fateful mission against the gnolls. The skirmishes went fine. But the final battle, they were overwhelmed. The leader was unstoppable and almost wiped them all out. So to Flynt's dismay, they were forced to retreat. He didn't like it. Once you start running, you'll never stop as far as he was concerned. But it had to be done.
Solaufyn's journey took him east, across the Kingdom of Keoland, where the closer he got to the capital of Niole Dra, the less the people seemed to concern themselves with the carnage their western neighbors were experiencing. That all changed while he stayed briefly in the capital, in order to replenish his supplies of food and spell components. The criers were announcing that Earl Querchard had been named the Marquis of Sterich, and that the Keoish would be heading to war with the giants.
When he was resupplied, he continued east, taking the road through the Duchy of Ulek, towards the city of Kewlbanks, on the border of the County of Ulek. As he crossed into the city, he learned that war was not confined to the western portion of the Sheldomar. While he was away, with the elves of the Oytwood and then the people of Sterich, the half-orc warlord Turrosh Mak had attacked the dwarven-ruled Principality of Ulek. Perhaps fitting with the information Solaufyn wished to deliver, the orcs attacked from the east at about the same time they marched on Fitela.
With this news, Solaufyn rushed to the city of Havenhill, where the forces of Ulek and the Knights of Luna were gathering for a counterattack. Along the way, he heard news that Prince Melf himself would take to the battlefield alongside the dwarves of Ulek. He arrived weeks before the battle was to take place, and had trouble with getting access to the allied encampment. Fortunately, he was recognized by one of the Knights of Luna, or rather, his name was. The elf was a friend of Solaufyn's father Maeglin, as they had fought together in the Hateful Wars. Though Solaufyn had never met his father's comrades in war, the one he had just met vouched for him. It seemed that after the Hateful Wars were finished, Maeglin was uninterested in continuing the arts of war by joining the Knights of Luna, instead entirely content to remain at home with his wife and children.
The Knights were impressed by the information the group of four adventurers had gathered from the farmhouse, as it gave them important knowledge about the inner workings of the Mak's forces, which would be useful in the times ahead. Though Solaufyn had never seen himself as a warrior, his heart was telling him that helping the Knights was the right thing to do in the moment. So he volunteered. He put himself to work with the arcanists, crafting magical items for as many elves as he could. In the weeks that followed, he learned much about the varieties of magic he was unversed in, like destructive evocation magic and life-manipulating necromancy. Where before the conflict, he had been content to ignore the magics of war, now he found himself glad to be learning them.
As the allied push began, Solaufyn was asked to accompany a small group of elven warriors, led by Vardamir, the friend of Solaufyn's father from the Hateful Wars. Before the fighting started, he learned spells which proved quite useful to the group, such as a spell which made the group move and strike more quickly, a spell which created a hemispherical screen which obscured vision into it, and a spell which conjured a tiny bead that flew, unerringly, hundreds of feet before it exploded in a burst of flames. Over some objection by Vardamir, Solaufyn had figured out how to make his offensive spells exhaust rather than kill, which he used to great effect in several battles. Had his fire spell killed those caught in the blast, he would have risked killing an elf several times, but with his exhausting version of the spell, he could knock out a whole pack of orcs without dealing permanent harm to any surrounded elves. In addition, he discovered that orcs would keep fighting when on the brink of death, but they had no resilience to being knocked out from his exhausting spells.
The combined effort of the Knights of Luna and the dwarves of the Principality were enough to swiftly reclaim some of the dwarven prince's lands, breaking any momentum the Pomarj had produced in their invasion. After the push had ceased, and there was to be a lull in the war, Solaufyn was approached by Vardamir, who offered to sponsor him to be a squire to a more experienced arcanist. For days, he thought about the possibility of becoming a Knight of Luna, dedicating sword and spell to Prince Melf. His heart would not allow it. Solaufyn's father had fought in the Hateful Wars out of loyalty to Queen Yolande, a loyalty his son shared. By extension, he believed that loyalty to the Queen meant loyalty to her wishes, and the Knights of Luna were publicly disobeying her wishes by leading an organized force of elves into war. When Solaufyn explained his logic, Vardamir countered by showing that if the Knights were disobeying her wishes, so was he.
Vardamir's words stayed with him as he traveled across the Sheldomar, making his way to the Oytwood on a horse made of black smoke. By following his heart, was Solaufyn being disloyal to his Queen?
|Tanith 'Kordson' Creed|
Tanith's trek into Sterich had been a dangerous one. The giants and their allies now controlled the whole region and even traveling north along the Javan, he skirted perilously close to several camps of orcs and bugbears. His destination was the Stark Mounds. Refugees at Godakin had told him that Flynt and Mortifice were last seen taking a unit of soldiers in that direction. He decided to go north, all the way into the Oytwood and loop around after he spotted a small army of hill giants camped along the border of the hills.
The Kordite had been traveling for a day and a half, when he was beset by orcs pouring out of the woods around him. The savages were uncoordinated and hasty but their brute strength and numbers were quickly overwhelming him and Tanith had no choice but to turn the fight into a running battle headed towards the heart of the woods.
Charging through a patch of particularly dense foliage, Tanith was surprised when he ran into Sol and a troop of elven scouts. The elf and the Suel greeted each other with a gaze for a moment but the reunion was short-lived as the mage redirected his concentration to call forth a spell that would keep more orcs from flanking himself and his scouts. Tanith turned just in time to defend himself from more orcs charging from the rear.
Solaufyn applied another layer enhancing magic and, joined with Tanith's strength, the tide began to turn. It was a long and taxing battle but soon the bulk of the orcs had broken. It was then that the brute's leaders made their appearance, a trio of old gnarled orcs with bones and other fetishes piercing their flesh and words of dark power tattooed across their hide.
The acolytes held up their unholy foci and issued wave after wave of foul corrupting energy and the elven scouts, though brave, were no match. Most wilted under the dark power and the rest broke looking to Sol and Tanith for guidance.
The two heroes tried to slow the three acolytes down with spell and blade but Sol's spells were stifled as the three wove their magic to counter his and their waves of foul power kept Tanith at bay. Faced with certain defeat, the surviving scouts fled south with Tanith and Sol following closely behind them, working to cover their retreat.
Suddenly a Mortifice and Flynt came bursting into the area with a handful of wounded halberdiers. On their heels was a massive demonic flind wielding a wicked flail and infused with a visible aura of unholy power.
Mortifice was surprised to see Sol and Tanith in such a place. The last he knew they weren't even in the area, but there they were -- in the same fighting retreat he and Flynt were in.
He didn't question the will of Pelor though, and his resolve immediately steadied. It looked like the odds were against them, but these four seemed to have a way of dealing with things as a team that he knew the orcs and gnolls couldn't match.
To buy some time, Mortifice conjured up a dense cloud of fog between the party and the orc shamans that had been pursuing his friends. As the shamans attempted to fight their way through the fog, Sol was able to cast a spell that made the whole group seem to react at unearthly speeds.
Flynt took the opportunity to fire a volley of arrows at the terrible flind that had been following them. The first seemed to ping off his armor as if it were a practice arrow, but the second and third struck true and visibly slowed the brute.
Seeing an opening, Tanith sprung toward the flind with a strength that Mort had not witnessed before. He was impressed by how much the Kordite had grown in only a year's time. Tanith drove the flind into the ground, and Tobias the hawk swooped in from above and tore at its throat, delivering the final blow.
Relieved to have that monster out of the way, Mortifice and the others turned their attentions back to the parting fog cloud and the orcs that struggled within. Sol took the opportunity to hit them with a sphere that looked like fire but didn't burn the flesh or the fog; the orcs within dropped unconscious.
Seizing the moment, the remaining elves trudged into the fog cloud and and finished off the unconscious orcs so that they may never live to harm another soul.
And like that, the two-fronted battle had come to an end. What once seemed like overwhelming odds had been turned into a trifle skirmish in mere seconds.
Turning to his friends, Mortifice couldn't help but give them a shining smile.
"Well," he said. "It sure is good to see *you two*."
|Tanith 'Kordson' Creed|
Tanith shouted in victory and greeted each of the heroes with a crushing embrace. The young Suel was changed by his year apart from his friends, more than just physically. He took a break from his revelry and the reunion to address the elves grieving their lost comrades. His words did little to lessen their sorrow but a brief prayer to mighty Kord, asking for the strength to continue the battle brought forth a wave of renewing energy that everyone sorely needed.
The four heroes traded stories, what they'd accomplished over the past year, and news of the war effort. Eventually Solaufyn explained his purpose for being present with the elves - they were seeking an alliance with a dragon to aid in the war. Happy to be working together again, and finish catching up, the four lead the remaining scouts and soldiers across the Ruins of Soraoh towards the mounds where the dragon was rumored to nest.
As the party exited the Oytwood Tanith caught sight of a giant grizzly bear dragging a struggling orc deeper into the forest. He smiled to himself, it appeared they weren't the only ones defending Sterich in the forest.
Flynt was surprised to see Tanith and Sol again. He was more surprised to see who was following them. The young Rhenee sighed. This was the last thing he needed, especially with the flind following them.
After the battle, Flynt tried to not groan as his ribs were crushed by the giant Suel youth. He almost felt bad as his stories were not nearly as exciting as the others were. Alliance with a dragon? He'd only heard of them from tales told at bedtime or from his friends, such as the green dragon Sassy that seemed hungry for affection. But he was going to meet one in real life? Effort went into remaining calm and collected as they traveled across the Ruins of Soraoh.
Sol lead the group through the ruins sharing what he knew about the ruin's history when Tanith was suddenly and violently hurled by some unseen force into a wall. Mortifice also found himself set upon by an unseen attacker and found himself quickly growing weaker as if drained of his very life force.
It was then they appeared, spectral horrors bearing the resemblance of ancient soldiers. Reflexively Flynt fired two shots at them, or rather through them. His eyes widened in as he realized his bow was ineffective against them. Sol identified their attackers as swordwraiths, undead remnants of Keoish soldiers fallen during the Battle of Gorna.
He also deduced that they were a greater danger than the party was prepared to face. He called for his companions to retreat, or in his words a "tactical withdrawal". The group eagerly followed. Fortunately, their incorporeal foes declined to follow.
Later, while recovering from their supernatural injuries, Sol explained the origins of the Keolish swordwraiths: The forces of Keoland lost the Battle of Gorna in year 450, their armies slain by dread Ur-Flan magic and in the process kept from eternal rest as a side effect. To this day, it was believed that they protected the ruins to make up for their failing.
The rest of the group grumbled. Why hadn't Sol said something sooner? The elf explained that he was getting to that part when they were attacked. Sol theorized that they undead might be convinced to help if a way was found to free their souls. However, such a thing would require more time for research than they had.
|Tanith 'Kordson' Creed|
The rest of the trip through the ruins was slow going as the group actively worked to avoid another harrowing encounter with the undead soldiers.
Eventually the ruins became sparse and the foreboding sense of being watched by the wraiths faded. The party found themselves in a clearing with the only structure being a tall ruined tower. At the base of the tower a stunning elven maiden with long copper hair and a silver gossamer gown was enjoying the scent of flowers growing from the ruined structure. She turned and smiled coyly as the group approached.
Tanith was immediately smitten and straightened his stance. He started adjusting his travel-weary equipment when Solaufyn stepped in front and warned the young soldier to hold his advances. This was no elven maid.
The dragon harrumphed at her ruined dalliance and dispelled her transformation revealing her true draconic nature. Tanith gasped and reached for his weapon but Mortifice stepped forward to ease over the situation.
He told her of the war to the South and the nature of their visit. Sterich was in peril and needed all those that called it home to come to its aid. The orc spoke eloquently but the huge copper-scaled beast seemed unmoved. Wars between mortals and giants were not her concern.
The heroes looked to each other, unsure of exactly how far to push negotiations with a dragon.
It was then that Flynt spoke up. What would she do if King Galmoor solidified his rule of the region and reduced her tower to dust.
The dragon cocked her head dismissively at first as the trapper spoke but turned in interest as the name of the giant's leader was spoken. Fury burned in her giant serpentine eyes and the full measure of her presence washed over the party. Some of the elves and soldiers watching from the distance broke and ran. The heroes considered doing the same.
She spoke in a barely feminine growl that only hinted at the full depth of her rage. She would help in the heroes' silly war but only in the interest of seeing her former lover's armies burned to ash.
Solaufyn thanked the lady dragon for her assistance, and gently informed her of the tactical situation. He also advised her to not eat any small birds which would arrive at her tower in the coming weeks, at least not before checking for carried messages.
Now that the elves and the forces outside the Oytwood could communicate, a coalition of the races began to form. Joining the humans and the Oytwood elves were dwarves serving under Kurgi Hammerhand, a group of gnomes native to the Stark Mounds serving under Jorgen Wallur, a group of displaced human soldiers from the fallen Geoff capital of Gorna, and even a band of harpies calling themselves the Sisters of Righteous Vengeance, so named for their desire to repay the giants for betrayal.
With the four heroes playing the role of ambassadors, they managed to secure an alliance of necessity among the groups. They gathered in the elven villages of the Oytwood, in order to plan their next move. The elven diviners and scouts laid out the Oytwood situation for them. The giants held both Gorna and Oytpass Keep, and were having difficulty with securing the entirety of the Stark Mounds between the forest and the keep, what with the swordwraiths effectively preventing any mass troop movements through the Mounds. Instead, as far as it seemed to the group, the giants were becoming more and more reliant on a hag coven to keep the Oytwood pacified through their magics.
This reliance could be used to the coalition's advantage. They already knew about the swordwraiths and how to avoid them by moving quickly through the Mounds by day. Thanks to the native gnomes, they knew of a few safe havens in Roothome that they could rest in. All that was left was to deal with the hag coven. The four heroes, along with several elves and the help of the harpies, would hunt down the hag coven, dealing with them individually if they could. Then, once their control of the Oytwood was broken, they would send a message to the gathered forces, who would immediately depart for the keep, traveling as quickly as they could through the Stark Mounds by taking the Oytwood Trail and resupplying at Roothome. Then, they would attack the keep, with the help of the dragon to turn their siege weaponry against them. If the giants were as reliant on the hags as they believed, the giants would be entirely unprepared for a coordinated assault from the Oytwood.
After days of planning and scrying on the hag coven in the forest, the heroes and a small contingent of elves marched off to strike.
Along the way, Sol told stories of hags and how they often took the guise of beautiful young maidens in an attempt to lure men away from their groups and to certain peril. That's why only the elves accompanied the heroes -- their ability to resist the charms of the evil hags would prove vital.
Through the forest the heroes marched, searching all the while for signs of the creatures. Every so often someone would hear a noise or spot something out of the corner of their eye that put teh whole party on edge. It was as if the forest itself was trying to drive them mad.
Just as night was beginning to fall upon the forest, one of the elves at the back of the group spotted a young woman, crying and alone. She was gorgeous and desperate. A weaker man would have easily succombed to her charms and gone off to help her, but instead the elf -- aware of the hags' evil schemes -- instead informed the party.
Frustrated, the young woman fled into the forest. She was no match for the skills of Flynt though, who tracked her down led the entire party to a small clearing wherein the woman and her two sisters dwelled.
"There they are!" said the young maiden to her sisters, an accusing finger pointed at the party. "Those are the mean men who refused to help me!"
All three of the women turned to face the party. It was everything the men could do to resist their wiles, but after a few frustrating moments of conversing with the hags, who insisted that the men were all just being rude and unhelpful, they finally revealed their true identities.
Mortifice, acting swiftly as ever, conjured a cloud of dnse fog to prevent the hags' frightful gaze from affecting the troops. Sol hastened the party's actions with a spell, and the entire troop of elves launched vollies of arrows into the fog, hoping to hit anything inside.
Flynt crept around the outside of the fog cloud and laid a clever trap, which one hag sprung just as she managed to clear the edge of cloud. The trap snapped her leg in two and caused her to become paralyzed with pain, even as Tobias swooped down to finish her off.
Releived that there were only two hags left, their plan to separate the coven proving successful, the archers launched yet another volley into the fog and Sol followed with a sphere of exhaustive energy.
As another clawed her way free from the dense mists, Tanith was ready to pounce upon her and tackled her to the ground. Within moments she was unconscious, overpowered by the suel.
The remaining hag attempted to flee in the opposite direction, heading out of the fog away from the party. Thankfully Tobias was flying overhead and managed to follow the hag and provide a beacon for the others to track her and catch up.
In minutes, the party had caught up to the final creature and overpowered her with spell and sword. It was finally over; the woods were freed from the vile influence of the hag coven.
Now, with their defenses down, it was up to the party to attack the keep as swiftly as possible.
|Tanith 'Kordson' Creed|
With the forest under their control, the heroes were able to assemble their motley forces and prepare the siege. Their scouts reported that the plan had been a success, the forces holding Otywood keep were still spread out and unprepared for a coordinated assault.
It was dawn when the attack began, a volley of arrows accompanying the breaking light of the sun. The shots struck true and one of the giants on guard outside the keep was quickly felled. Flynt shouted commands, his words punctuated by Tobias's raptor call, as the young Rhenee directed the assembled archers towards their next target.
An alarm rang from within the keep's walls but it was already too late. Tanith, Mortifice, and an army of humans, elves, and gnomes charged the keep's gates. Mortifice covered the army's approach with more clouds of magical fog and Tanith held his greatsword high and shouting a battle cry, calling mighty Kord to watch the glorious battle about to unfold.
The giants outside the walls moved to flank the attackers but instead broke off to engage a unit of heavy cavalry that had appeared on the northern front - phantasms directed by Sol. The elven mage silently congratulated himself on how lifelike the illusion's movements and sounds were, a natural evolution of the spell his mother had taught him.
Ranged enemies began to man the walls of the keep, gnoll marksmen pulling huge composite bows and giants with satchels of deadly boulders but before they could open fire they were set upon by screeching Sisters of Vengeance. The Sister were scattered quickly but not before Flynt could direct the archers to keep the ranged enemy forces pinned down.
The ground troops were only another breath's distance from the gates when a massive stone, launched by a catapult on the walls, crashed in front of them barring their path. Tanith and Mort were able to roll the obstruction aside but the damage was done. In the the few seconds they had been delayed the gnolls on the other side had closed and sealed the heavy gate. The demonic cackles of the gnolls echoed from behind the keep walls.
Accompanied by the smell of rotten meat, horrible creatures began to appear among Flynt and his archers. They were tortured things made of rolling waves of fatty flesh and though they were not terribly strong, their claws were sharp and their numbers were overwhelming.
No longer pinned down, the archers and rock hurling giants on the walls began to tear into the ground forces trapped in front of the keep's gates. Mort summoned another cloud of fog but with nowhere to go the enemies' shots were effective, even blind. Tanith and those at the front of the formation pounded and hacked at the gates but progress was slow. Up above on the walls, the catapult was loaded and prepared to fire again.
Suddenly, a great bellowing cry sounded from behind the allied forces. Tanith and Mort peered through the fog but could not see or hear anything beyond large figures charging through the mist and cries of panic. Instinctively, they dodged out of the way and to their surprise it was minotaurs! One after another the hulking bull-men slammed into the gates with titanic impact, each blow causing splinters to fall and the hinges to creak in pain. Under such pressure they did not last long and a moment later the gates fell, half-bursting half-broken at the hinges.
The allied forces cheered and forced their way through the ruined gates just as Flynt coordinated his archers and slayed the attacking flesh-demons. Seeing that the battle had moved inside the keep, Sol dismissed his illusion and made his way to Flynt. He grasped the trapper's shoulder and, after speaking a few arcane syllables, magically teleported the two of them into the heart of the fight.
The catapult's operator opened his mouth to issue the order to fire but all that came out was a scream of pain and he and the whole machine of war were engulfed in dragonfire. The she-dragon laughed at the destruction she had wrought and wheeled for another pass.
Tanith slowed down when he caught sight of the minotaur tribe's leader. The battle called to him but he had to know why bull-men had to come to help, especially after those at Godakin had dissolved their treaty. Catching up with the giant bull, the young Suel asked.
The great beast laughed and shook his gore-caked horns. The agreement the minotaur had made was with Tanith, not the Seneschal - some coward human hiding behind stone walls. Besides, the minotaurs of the Jotun would not sit idly by while there was spawn of Yeenoghu to be slaughtered. Tanith grinned and whipped his blade around for another charge.
Flynt took a moment to get his bearings as he found himself in the middle of the fray - admittedly where he was most comfortable. He hated being so far when he was leading the archers; He preferred to be close, better to pick and choose the best targets.
He was decidedly, not uncomfortable at being so close to the pair of half-giant half-boars bearing down on his position. Sol noted the closing beasts but was occupied with tossing a spell to help out on another front, he mentioned that those were wereboars of the Tuskbreaker tribe - creatures unruly to the point of being nearly feral. That tidbit gave the archer an idea.
He dodged between the pair and whistled directing Tobias to weave between the bestial giants. The red-tailed hawk harried one giant enraging it and causing it to swing blindly. One of its errant blows clipped his companion and the pair began bickering.
Flynt used the moment of respite to fire at a gnoll acolyte just in dark to break its concentration on some foul spell. He barked orders to the two giants in an infernal tongue, but his intent was clear - kill Flynt. However, the wereboars were not happy about being commanded by the gnoll and they stopped bickering with each other long enough to direct their ire at the acolyte. In the moment they were distracted, Flynt fired a volley of arrows into the back of one of the boar-giants, slaying it. The other wereboar turned back around, but Tobias was literally in his face before he could react. As the giant tried to drive the surprisingly strong bird away, Flynt dropped his bow, scaled the giant's side while drawing his sword, and sliced his throat open