Dear Diary…a “bunny” trail

It took a week before everyone was back on their feet. At first, Raven and Mikael didn’t want the town to know what defeated us…but I think whoever cared to know figured it out.

I’ve been practicing in the yard out back, throwing a big net I found. Ezekiel says I’m more likely to rope myself or one of the others than trip up an enemy in it, but that’s why I’m practicing.

After all, it might not be ravens next time…it might be wolves, or huge rats, or something else we’d rather not have attack us all at once.

Oh, yes, something interesting happened this morning, while we were all having breakfast together.

A merchant caravan came in last night, and two men approached us with leather bags…they represented Anthrax and Zorbin, the two merchants we rescued from the Moat-house, who each sent a present as thanks.

We said that was very nice of them, and then one of the messengers asked to speak with us about something else.

He says his name is Eskin Kolnet, and he and his brother Kallan run a small merchant operation, mostly dealing in spices, and based in Celene (no, he’s not an elf – we all looked closer to see).

But he says lately their shipments have disappeared en route – the caravans have been attacked and burned, and the escorts killed. But this hasn’t happened to other merchant families he knows. (I forgot to ask him about the time-frame for all this.)

Well, not long ago Eskin’s nephew (Kallan’s son) Brannod went on a hunting trip with Vasl Valenta – who’s from another merchant family.

Valenta came back alone, saying the party had been buried by a rockslide, and only he escaped because he was riding a little ahead of the company.

Eskin Kolnet and his people went to investigate the site, and sure enough they found the rockslide, and the remains of their retainers under it…but they didn’t find any sign of Brannod Kolnet.

Well, after that, they got a letter from one of the escort who escaped…and he said the party was actually attacked by orcs, who captured Brannod (the retainer says he broke his ankle, so played dead after that and wasn’t finished off).

He says there was a man somehow connected with the rockslide, and that he’s currently stranded in a small village in the mountains near where this all happened.

Master Kolnet has heard of our adventure against the cult of Explictika Defilas, so asked if we would be willing to help out. He and his brother would prefer to have their nephew/son back alive, but they’d also like some kind of proof of what happened to him.

Apparently this Vasl Valenta guy seemed on good terms with the orcs – and with the stranger who ordered them around. He must have been, to escape alive…and to then lie about what happened.

Ezekiel thinks we should check this out before we investigate the Temple further, and it makes sense. After all, this poor young man might be strung up somewhere, a prisoner of orcs. The Temple can wait.

Master Kolnet gave us a map of the area in question…looks like it’s about 40 leagues from Homlette, so it won’t be a quick trip.

Well, he had barely left when this absolutely stunning young man came over to talk to us. Lydia batted her eyelashes at him (which, she does that with everyone) but really…this guy was something else.

He said he couldn’t help overhearing that we were heading out to fight orcs. He’s from the March of Bissell, and came along with the merchant caravan because he wants to fight evil.

He’s a Paladin of Ulaa, so Ezekiel trusted him immediately. Well…at any rate, if he tries to pull something, I guess all the rest of us can take care of it. A Paladin isn’t going to have a “Sleep” spell, if you know what I mean.

Gotta pack enough rations for two weeks, just in case. Glad we don’t have to count Corbi for rations, since she can hunt for herself.

Yeti (the Paladin) has a horse, so we’re going to keep the other two horses for now (Ezekiel really needs one to move at a reasonable pace). Still arguing with Lydia about what their names should be.

****

Reached Gurdikar in four days, which is the town the Kolnets and Valentas operate from. Celene pretty friendly so far.

Decided as a group that we’d go faster if more of us were mounted, so Mikael went and bought two more horses (very nice of him!).

Lydia promptly claimed one and named it Ralishaz…I guess she is a girl, after all.

She’s glaring at me now.

Feels like we’re real adventurers now! We’re all mounted except Raven, who of course has those boots that make him just as fast as a horse anyway.

I remember I always wanted my own horse when I was little, but of course that wasn’t practical. I wanted to be a Paladin back then, too, just like Father and Alpheus…but some of us just aren’t built for that.

Archy and Clarence might have some firm ideas about that, but the older I get the less I care what they think.

Should have time to practice in the target yard before bed.

****

We got a good start from Gurdikar, and reached the little village in the mountains after just a couple hours.

We asked at the inn for the Kolnets’ man at arms, and found his room.

He backed up everything Master Eskin had said, and added that some of the company had surrendered to the orcs…only to have boulders thrown down on them to fake the rockslide.

He also gave some more details about the “man” he saw standing up on the hill right after the rock slide. He had a beard, a brown robe, and a two-handed sword – and V.V. called him “Bator” or something like that.

That certainly implies that this “Bator” guy and the Valentas had some kind of understanding or relationship…but it’s still only one testimony, not proof.

The man says there were about ten prisoners led away by the man and his orcs, so we all agreed to keep going for as long as we could.

Will grab quick lunch, and keep moving.

****

The map was a cinch to follow, and we easily found the valley that was partly blocked by a bad rockslide (I suggested we ride a few yards apart so they can’t try the same trick twice).

Ezekiel told me to investigate it at once, but it was starting to get dark, and I couldn’t see much except that a lot of orcs and animals had been everywhere at all kinds of times, and there were bones and armor remains buried under the boulders.

We made camp in a shelter of one of the hills. Five men with bows and spears came by from the south; they had a boar to take home.

When Ezekiel wished them well, they said “Earth Mother guard you.” That must be Beori.

Lydia cast Continual Light on Yeti’s shield.

****

Quiet night. Luna was full, and made the frost very pretty. Didn’t do anything to make it more comfortable, though.

Started out south, until the valley divided – east and west. I tried looking for prints, but given the rocky terrain and the time lapse, I could only say that orcs had been here…not how many, or how recently, or where they had gone from there.

I also found signs of human hunters, which makes sense – and a large bear.

We returned to the rockslide, where Raven and I climbed to the top and tried to find any clues to this man who led the orcs…but saw nothing, not even the distant smoke from a campfire.

Raven talked to some of the little birds there – even bribing them with some hard tack from his rations, but they apparently couldn’t tell him anything useful (and Corbi didn’t see anything useful, either).

We were just returning to the cross-roads when Raven pointed out a one-armed old man watching us through the trees up the hill.

We decided to say hello, but sent just Mikael, Yeti, and me to do it (after all, Yeti worships an earth goddess, and I figured if the man was a local, they might be able to connect over that).

We each kind of said a cautious “hello,” and when we asked him about orcs, he said the orcs knew better than to give him trouble…which of course showed what calibre he was.

Mikael started talking in a way where the words didn’t quite make sense, but the old man seemed to understand, and eventually invited us to “visit” him.

So Mikael sent Corbi to call the rest of our party to join us (she must be pretty smart, since he’s teaching her so much in such a short time).

He led us to a well-kept grove and introduced himself as Druid Kun-tworna…he lost his left arm while adventuring years ago, and retired to these mountains with his brown bear (Mikael was a little disappointed that the bear was already befriended).

(Apparently the master also has an understanding with the giant ants – some four-foot specimens wandered through, but he shooed them away.)

We explained our situation in more depth, and Master Kun-tworna told us we weren’t looking for orcs, but Gador – the one commanding them. (Made sense.)

He warned us that Gador was a Furbolg – a magical giant who wears human form. I saw the wheels turning in Ezekiel’s head as he tried to figure out how we would fight such a creature, but we sure weren’t backing down.

Master Kun-tworna told us where to find the Gador’s hall, and after Raven shared the rest of his ration with the bear (he said he was saving it for birds, anyway) we set out.

Found the place quite easily, after just a couple hours’ travel. It was getting closer to sunset, but Ezekiel insisted we keep moving while we could.

There’s a slight path that winds up from the main valley track, and reaches a huge stone building set into the side of the mountain.

A smaller building with two doors stood to the side, and when we checked that out, we found stables with warhorses, tack, and fodder.

We decided to hide our own horses there – they could snack on the fodder, and would be out of sight and the elements. Raven persuaded them to all be friends, and shared around some oats from a bag.

After Raven picked the lock on the double oak doors of the main house, Ezekiel led the way with Yeti.

Some kind of dining hall was directly inside, lit by oil lamps, and a fireplace complete with roasting meat.

The table had fifteen chairs, with the chief one being much larger than the rest.

We only saw two doors at first – to the south and east – but while Raven was checking them for traps, we heard a “click” in the opposite corner.

The wall slid back, and an orc entered from a secret passage in the north-west corner.

He didn’t really have a chance. Raven sprinted forward and hit him with that palm-punch of his, and then before the orc could move at all, Ezekiel charged across the room (you wouldn’t think he could move so fast) and clubbed him.

That won’t wash out easy.

Ezekiel checked him over, but his armor and weapon weren’t very interesting.

He and Yeti advanced into the secret passage, where a muffled voice yelled, “Invaders!”

Raven ran forward, and Mikael and I followed – he to throw Faery Fire over them, I to launch arrows.

Gotta start carrying more arrows.

Raven smacked one to the ground. Yeti swung his war-hammer, but the orc deflected it and it whacked Ezekiel (big surprise).

I kept firing arrows. Somewhere down the passage, a door opened, letting out more orcs – but they had trouble getting at us because of the narrowness of the passage.

In fact, Mikael and Lydia didn’t have much to do, since Yeti and Ezekiel were blocking the passage between them and the orcs. Corbi did finally figure out how to get off the ground in the narrow space, and made some vicious jabs at some of our enemies.

I am so…so…so happy I’ve been practicing. I did have to pause to grab my second bundle of arrows from my pack, but it was so satisfying to nail those ugly brutes.

The last orc threw his weapons down and wailed, “Mercy, mighty heroes!”

So Ezekiel took some of my rope and tied him up, asking where the prisoners were.

The orc said, “Around the corner – don’t hurt me!”

The down-side of hitting my target so often was that recovering arrows was a stickier job than usual…

To be continued…


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