The Quest

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Chapter 2

Upon the dawn the Portogan castle bustled with activity. Smiths hammered strips of iron to repair the portcullis. Cooks prepared meals for the considerable population of Dweomers encamped in the courtyard. Minstrels and troubadours kept the children entertained with lutes and marionettes.

Hedrick and Ram bade farewell to their many Dweomer friends. Lady Rosalia did the same with her Portogan subjects. All of the travelers mounted horses and exited the castle with the escort of knights Aquiline had selected. By midday they had passed beyond the farmland and entered the wild lands that preceded the Ashgar Forest.

“We should take the southern road,” Xander declared. “It is the fastest way into Obelix although it does cut through the forest primeval.”

“That is a risk we must take, my friend,” replied Archon. “Gor's forces are already on the move and we have little time before other settlements are attacked.”

“Very well,” said Xander. “Follow me.”

The green-cloaked Dweomer pushed his horse into a trot and led the adventurers along the earthen trail. They headed south and east.

As twilight fell the tall pines and oaks of Ashgar Forest rose on the horizon. The calls of owls and badgers reverberated over the looming canopy. Rather than set up camp the journeying fighters and magic users pushed on through the virtual tunnel formed by the southern road as it cut through the thick brush and trunks of the old-growth forest.

“These trees are ominous,” observed Lady Rosalia. “Archon, is there any way you can provide greater illumination for our horses? Our torches are not sufficient.”

The older seer pulled a gnarled staff from its housing alongside his saddle.

“By all means, my Lady,” Archon answered.

He enchanted a light spell.

“Luzus!”

The tip of the mage's staff acquired a ring of bright, golden light. This shone some distance around the band of travelers, providing substantial detail for the horses to discern the road ahead. The light also afforded the Portogan knights a greater degree of warning should some adversary emerge.

Hedrick saw unusual shapes, stationary and some distance apart, along the roadside.

“Uncle Ram, what are those forms? They look foreboding.”

“I'm not sure, nephew. Show me,” the tinker responded.

The middle-aged dabbler in metallurgy donned a set of spectacles as they neared one of the mysterious figures.

“Ah!” he cried. “That is a sigil. It was carved from stone, long ago, before the War of the Ancients. Those etchings are runes.”

“Can you read them, uncle? What does this sigil say?” Hedrick asked.

“Hmm...it documents an ancient battle. It transpired in these woods centuries ago. This stone is a memorial of sorts, dedicated to the wood elves that fell in the conflict. They fought to repel a mass of goblin-men intent on destroying this forest.”

Archon rode up to look at the sigil. He inspected the carved stone from his horse.

“There is magic that remains in that stone, my friends. It is dormant, now, but I would feign to bring harm to these trees and awaken it. We are not alone. I sense watchful eyes upon us from afar. Let us be about our business. The wood elves, said to protect this forest, are reclusive and xenophobic. They trust few outsiders. If they choose to appear we must be on our guard. Our trek to Obelix must not stop.”

The band moved on, along the southern forest road, without interruption, for several hours. The sun began to set and the journeyers set camp for the night. The Portogan knights built a modest cook-fire and fed the horses grain and water.

It was then that a scraggly voice wafted from the neighboring trees.

“Tee hee! I am the spirit of the Ashgar Forest! You must relinquish your weapons and goods to me if you wish to exit here alive! Act now or rest in peace, forever!”

“We will not do that, Ashgar spirit, if that's who you claim to be,” bellowed Archon. “We are here on legitimate business and will not be hindered by this foolishness.”

The Portogan soldiers began to draw their swords when Archon signaled them to desist.

“Very well. You'll be sorry!” yelled the voice.

Everyone present heard a tumultuous rustling deep in the underbrush. This quickly faded and became more distant.

“Never mind him,” grumbled Archon. “I expect our new-found friend will show himself when the time is right. Get some rest, all of you. We have a long way to go and little time to do it.”

The night passed without event and the band returned to the earthen path at the dawn.

Archon continued to employ his spell of illumination to light the way in the shadowy forest. The road twisted and turned through the ancient trees and was still marked by the occasional sigil.

The group continued on for some miles when they were halted by a sizable military force. They were an outfit of wood elves. The secretive humanoids were tall and thin and wore tight-fitting leather clothing. Each of them had pointed ears and angular eyes, similar to the more compact physiognomy of the Dweomers. Their skin was a dark olive and kept them hidden and camouflaged in the green and brown of the deep forest.

Some of the elves wielded curved swords and daggers while many of their group opted to train bows and arrows at the journeyers.

An elder elf, dressed in belted robes, stepped forward to address Archon and his companions.

“Welcome, foreigners! You have succeeded on impinging on our territory. I am Sindariel. I'm afraid we must ask you to accompany us to our citadel. Our leader, Vertix, wishes to meet with you promptly.

“Our spies have sent word of your approach for some days, now. You may keep your weapons. We know that you will not attempt to use them against us. Besides, this road only leads to our ambush. It is quite ingenious in its construction and you would surely meet your demise there if you were to continue on this route,” Sindariel chuckled.

“So be it, elf leader,” answered Archon. “Thank you for your warning. We will heed its message. I look forward to meeting with Vertix. I have questions of my own that he may be able to answer.”

“As do I,” added Xander. “The Hand has long studied artifacts and arcana rumored to have come from this place. Of late a certain talisman, laden with a Dweomer spirit, has arisen in concern by a number of races in the Fae Realm. It would be wise to bring this item to your leader's attention and request what information he may possess in regard to its formation and whereabouts.”

“By all means, adamant travelers,” replied Sindariel. “Let us be on our way. My elf scouts will show you the safe path.”

As they traveled through the seemingly unmarked trail, under the guidance of the wood elves, one of the scouts commented on the features of the Dweomers in the group.

“We are cousins. You are Dweomers from the northern woods. We were formed by like magics long ago. These trees are powerful beyond words, if you take time to hearken them, that is.”

“I am Hedrick,” replied the Dweomer. “My kindred here are Ram, Xander and Archon. My people were forced to flee our village due to a troglodyte attack and thus sought the protection of the neighboring Portogan Lord whose Lady and knights now accompany us on our quest.”

“It's nice to meet you, cousin,” answered the wood elf. “I am Bluefox.”

The citadel of the wood elves was immense yet had been built to meld with the treeline of the old-growth forest. Generations of elves had collaborated to construct a series of gradated platforms around the trees themselves.

A network of suspension bridges connected the platforms which, in turn, supported structures ranging from modest longhouses to temples and libraries. A pair of rivers flowed through the trees nearby, providing the aged citadel with yet a greater degree of security.

Upon the recommendation of Sindariel the traveling party dismounted after fording the shallows of the nearest river. They guided their loyal steeds and pack-horses to a set of large elevators. These the wood elves lifted to high stables using the leverage of a complex series of gears, pulleys and counterweights.

Ram marveled at the feat of engineering and complimented Sindariel.

“Your architecture and mechanics incorporated within are astounding. If I live to see Dweomer Village rebuilt I will certainly author blueprints inspired by this place.”

“Thank you, Dweomer cousin,” said the elf commander. “I'm sure you'll enjoy perusing our extensive library and the opportunity to compare notes with Vertix, personally.”

The collection of travelers ascended into the network of buildings assembled among the canopy of giant oaks and pines. Under the guidance of Sindariel they crossed a number of guarded bridges and platforms to the principle temple of the wood elves.

It was a magnificent edifice. The place of contemplation and healing was the tallest structure in the citadel. It possessed several observation towers, topped with minarets.

Hedrick was again astonished by the design of the strange place. He looked up at the parapets and pointed, Gothic pinnacles in wonder.

A pair of robed wood elves withdrew their sabers and permitted Sindariel and the gathering of visitors to enter. The temple ceiling was arched and vaulted several hundred feet above the pews and council forums.

Vertix sat at the center of a crescent-shaped table which was occupied by over a dozen, male and female wood elves. They were clearly the elders of the community, for although known for their longevity, their faces were creased with age and hair lined with gray.

“Greetings, I am Vertix. Welcome to our humble citadel.”

He rose from his seat and came around the crescent table to greet the visitors personally. The leader of the wood elves was dressed in flowing, silver and green robes, stitched with runes. He had long, graying auburn hair and his angular eyes were marked with crow's feet.

“We have received word of your approach for some time. There is indeed some malicious work afoot. I see that you have a Portogan Lady in your midst. I take it that you have allied yourselves with the Portogans in your imminent quest.”

“That is the case, Vertix,” answered Archon. “What's more my people, the residents of Dweomer Village, were forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in Lord Aquiline's castle. Aquiline's spouse, the Lady Rosalia, has journeyed with us and represents the interests of her people, as does her formidable escort.”

“That is good,” answered Vertix. “You and your soldiers are welcome, Lady Rosalia. It is beneficial to have contact with the Portogans once again. We will document this meeting in our historical tomes.”

“Thank you, kind Vertix,” replied Lady Rosalia.

Xander next spoke to the council of wood elves.

“My name is Xander. I am a member of the clandestine guild of mages known as The Hand. I have been directed to seek an amulet. It is rumored to contain a Dweomer spirit and is quite powerful.

“I suspect it was taken by a malevolent entity, Gor, some years ago and that he has been harnessing it to drive troglodytes and other arcane beasts against the gentle people of the Fae Realm.”

“I see, Xander,” Vertix answered. “I have heard of The Hand. It is an ambitious guild and has agents in many of the great cities of our realm. To quell your curiosity, the Ashgar talisman indeed possesses a Dweomer spirit. I put it there.

“It was the dawn of what would come to be known as the War of the Ancients. We elves were united with other races to repel a variety of evil forces over the course of several campaigns. Dragons rose from the earth and descended from the sky. Magic of various persuasions was abounding. We were in desperate need to turn the denizens of the nether gods.

Vertix next addressed Hedrick.

“Protos, a young Dweomer, like you, Hedrick, volunteered to have me place his spirit in a ruby talisman. It was to be used to power a daemon sword, Tarus. The hostile daemons and dragons roamed uninhibited across the land. It was the least I could do to transmute Protos' spirit into the hilt of the sword.

“Your father, Lord Harold took Tarsus into his employ over several campaigns, using it to eliminate tyrannical daemons and creatures of equally unsavory alignment. Your mother, Lady Hathaway was given an enchanted bow and quiver assembled here in this citadel. She, too, used it to enforce lawful tenets among the chaotic entities flooding from the depths of the earth.

“At last your parents left this place to parts unknown to us. They sought Gor, a lingering daemon once held in favor by Daizan, a nether god. As far as I know they did not succeed in defeating Gor for they did not return to this place or the home of you Dweomers.

“Hence Tarsus is missing along with the Ashgar talisman it contains. I am sorry, visitors, that I do not know of it's or Gor's whereabouts. I would aid you on your quest, though.

“This council, under my recommendation, has chosen to send a pair of our wood elves to accompany you. You have already met. Their names are Sindariel and Bluefox. They are young, compared to we elders, but are experienced in the ways of combat and healing.

“Journey, under the guidance of these wood elves, beyond the Ashgar Forest. Seek intelligence from The Hand under Roland in Obelix. The agents of The Hand are known to be sharp witnesses and quick to distribute the latest information among their number. Roland knows much, I suspect. Go to him. We will await your eventual return and perhaps that of Tarsus as well. May the Fates be with you.”

“Thank you, Vertix,” Archon responded. “You are indeed wise and offer good counsel. We will gladly accept your two wood elves into our group. I'm sure that they will prove quite resourceful. This party will give its all to ensure their safety and bring them back to you healthy and spry once we have retrieved the Ashgar talisman. We will meet again.”

Archon embraced Vertix and shook hands with the members of the wood elf council. The band of travelers exited the elaborate temple and retraced their steps to the high stable where their steeds and pack-horses rested.

“Alas, I wish there were time to review the scrolls and records in the massive library of this citadel,” Ram sighed. “We must move on, however. Perhaps we will have the opportunity to visit this place in greater depth under different circumstances.”

The journeyers collected their horses and descended with them in the set of elevators to the forest floor. They were accompanied by Sindariel and Bluefox. Both of the elves appeared anxious to be on the road to the east and petition The Hand in Obelix.

The band of fighters followed a different, narrow path under the direction of Sindariel. The towers of the citadel were soon out of sight as the thick growth of the Ashgar Forest pushed in from all sides. One of the two rivers encountered at the stronghold of the wood elves remained in earshot. The sound of torrents moving over rocks emanated from the northern border of the trail.

As they ventured onward the group again heard a coarse voice as it spoke in a high pitch from the nearby underbrush.

“Tee hee! This is your last chance, reckless adventurers. Your weapons and armor are now the property of me, the spirit of the Ashgar Forest.”

“Ah, I see you've met The Rogue,” said Bluefox.

The wood elf spoke to Hedrick as he rode near.

“Don't worry, he's harmless.”

“Harmless? I am not. I am the custodian of these woods and all that is in it.”

A thin figure strode into view from the underbrush. He was the oldest Dweomer that Hedrick had seen. His head was bald except for a ring of long, white hair around the back. The Rogue's skin was wrinkled from ages of exposure to the elements. He was dressed in tattered leather and held a walking stick.

“Since your weapons and armor are already mine I will allow you to use them for now. Let us be on our way. The sun is soon to set,” said The Rogue.

“Now, hold on a minute,” grumbled Ram. “Who are you, aged one? Have we met?”

“Not in this lifetime, sir, but I am glad to make your acquaintance. Call me Rogue, if you will. I can prove quite useful on your quest to eliminate Gor and retrieve the Ashgar talisman.”

“How do you know that?” Xander demanded.

“That's simple. I overheard you speaking among yourselves as you passed through my woods.”

“Alright, Rogue,” interjected Sindariel. “I'll vouch for you. You have proven to be of salient reconnaissance to we wood elves in the past. We can use you as a scout. It has been a mystery why you choose not to live amid your Dweomer kindred but that is your choice. Let us dally here no longer. We have much ground to cover before nightfall.”

“It's nice to meet you, Rogue,” said Lady Rosalia.

She brought him a Portogan pony and extended the reins to his knobby hands.

The travelers moved on under the guidance of Archon's continuing enchantment of illumination. They passed several miles through the massive oaks and pines and set up camp as the old-growth flora began to thin.

The Portogan knights set a rotating watch around the cook-fire and the adventurers slept eagerly, spent by the events of the past day.

Upon the dawn the various members of the group downed a quick breakfast and set themselves again under Sindariel's guidance. The trees continued to thin and they soon exited from the forest primeval.

“These are the eastern foothills of Obelix,” declared Sindariel. “We are making good time.”

“Lord Aquiline's pigeons are sure to have brought word of the recent conflicts to the city by now,” observed Lady Rosalia. “I hope all fares well for my husband and people in our castle.”

“I'm sure they're fine, fair Lady,” replied Archon. “Aquiline is a resourceful and adept tactical commander and would feign to be taken by surprise by the troglodytes once more. He will be cautious and watchful and, I'm sure, continues to await your speedy return.”

“Thank you, Archon,” said Rosalia. “You are kind.”

The foothills of Obelix soon leveled and became farmland that was well maintained and irrigated. Cattle and horses grazed casually in pastures and farmers looked up at the motley group as they tended their crops and livestock.

“It is evident that Gor's forces have not yet infiltrated the land east of the Ashgar Forest,” Hedrick observed. “Perhaps this provides a clue to his location.”

“That is plausible, Hedrick,” answered Xander. “Before we delve into theories, let us consult with Roland. He is sure to possess word of our approach and would have us arrive as soon as we are able. I miss the company of my superior and fellow mages. It will be good to visit my headquarters once again.”

The party continued on and reached the outskirts of the great city of Obelix. It was populated by a variety of races ranging from Dweomers and Portogans to wood elves and anthromorphs.

A deep river flowed through the city. This allowed for additional trade and commerce with neighboring settlements.

Obelix had stood for centuries and had survived numerous sieges and occupations. The city's architecture reflected its colorful history and thus held structures built in greatly differing styles and motifs.

The travelers reached the city walls and passed through the bustling gates. Herdsmen pushed sheep and goats to the side of the narrow street so that the mounted adventurers could proceed to the center of the settlement.

Hedrick ogled various fountains built at the intersections of major avenues. Many included elaborate statues and sculptures that the young Dweomer found inspiring.

“As you know, my friends, I am familiar with this city,” said Xander. “Follow my lead and I will guide you to my headquarters.”

The journeyers complied and formed a queue behind Xander's mount. They rode for another mile, passing many vendors who marketed their wares ranging from fruits and vegetables to fine garments and weapons.

“Uncle Ram, are those people anthromorphs?” Hedrick queried. “I have not seen their kind before.”

The Dweomer directed his gaze at a family of wolf-folk who strode hastily across their path.

“Yes, Hedrick. There are quite a few of them here. The anthromorphs are the same as the rest of us. Many are lawful but a few are hostile. They have a haven here and have fit in to this community quite well.”

At last the band reached Xander's headquarters. It was a sturdy tavern with a sign that read, “The Howling Wolf.”

The structure was not ostentatious. Xander signaled his companions to dismount and they tethered their steeds to the hitching post before entering.

They walked into a large dining hall with a roaring fire in a ring of stones at the center. There were patrons of various races in attendance but all of them chatted quietly among themselves and did not pay the colorful group of arrivals much attention.

“Welcome, visitors,” declared the robust barkeep from the counter. “What'll you have?”

“Hello, Torrez. It's me, Xander. I've been away some months. Please bring a platter of meat and hearth bread for my companions. We have business with Roland.”

“Ah, Xander, I recognize you, now. Roland, you say? Hmm...he's not an easy one to find. Is your business urgent?”

“Yes, I'm afraid,” answered the agent of The Hand. “Who is in charge?”

“Cicatrix has been running things in Roland's absence. Perhaps you should meet with him. I'll bring your food to you, shortly. Have your friends enter the passage.”

“Please, my friends,” Torrez beckoned to the group of visitors. “Come this way. I know you're hungry. You'll have sustenance soon.”

The barkeep kicked a secret switch under his counter, causing a hidden door to open behind him. Xander entered the dark passage discretely as did the rest of the band. They all heard a loud click as Torrez locked the door behind them.

It was dark and Archon again enchanted his light spell.

“Luzus!”

Illumination flared from the top of his gnarled staff, bringing great detail to the wooden panels of the clandestine hall. The motley band marched on, cautiously, behind Xander.

At last they reached a double door, lit by flaming sconces. There were no guards and Xander knocked on the polished oak surface.

A gruff voice answered.

“Enter, Xander. We have been expecting you.”

The member of The Hand did as asked and turned the knob. He passed within and gestured for the group to follow.

The band of travelers found themselves in a spacious council chamber limned with torches and tapestries embroidered with the insignia of a red hand. The room was oval in shape and housed a large, ovoid, oak table surrounded by chairs. Most of the seats were empty but a pair of them at the table's head were occupied.

One member of Xander's organization was a large, lion anthromorph, whose face possessed a deep scar. His left eye had been wounded long ago and shone white in the light of the torches and Archon's staff. The other person in attendance was a female Dweomer, hooded and cloaked in burgundy. She was about the same age as Hedrick and stared at the group with curiosity.

“Hello, Cicatrix,” offered Xander. “It's been a long time since we last met. How fare things for The Hand?”

“As good as can be expected, Xander. Lord Aquiline's pigeons are fast. They sent word of your approach along with that of the Portogan Lady in our midst some days ago.

“Greetings, Rosalia. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. All is well with your castle, I assure you.”

“Thank you, Cicatrix,” answered the Portogan noble. “I appreciate that information.”

“Cicatrix, where is Roland? My friends and I are in dire need of his counsel.”

“I'm sorry, Xander. I don't know where Roland is. He departed from these headquarters some weeks ago in quite a hurry. As you know he is responsible for all the activities of The Hand and frequently vanishes without explanation.”

“I see,” replied the southern Dweomer. “Maybe you can help us. We seek the Daemon, Gor, a survivor of the War of the Ancients who has come to power of late. We believe he possesses an enchanted sword equipped with a potent talisman. This weapon, Tarsus, must be taken from him. If Gor is destroyed in the process that will be an added benefit. He is evil.”

“He killed my parents,” Hedrick interjected. “I seek retribution for this misdeed.”

“That is unfortunate, young Dweomer,” replied Cicatrix. “You have my sympathy.

“In answer to your question, Xander, I have heard of Tarsus. As you know, The Hand takes it upon itself to monitor the flux of magical forces and entities within the Fae Realm. Gor is known to us. His assertion of aggression is already documented in our extensive annals.

“The War of the Ancients is over and the dragons are gone. This does not mean that enmity and maliciousness have been eradicated. We must act to assist your cause. Gor has indeed gone too far. That is what Roland would want, I'm sure.

“The attack on Lord Aquiline's stronghold and Dweomer Village was unnecessary and excessive. I have researched this issue in expectation of your request.

“Seek Gor to the north. His fortress is hidden amid a wasteland of glaciers and ravines. There is no civilization there but his minions run rampant, training and building war machines in growing echelons. The area is known as The Desolation.”

“I have heard of that place,” answered Sindariel. “The elves battled many devious forces there in ancient times. It is a haven for untamed magic. It does not surprise me that Gor chose such a barren wilderness for his domain. No one in their right mind would venture there.”

“The Sea of Ice blocks the way as do the nations of Narzuk and Cantar,” grumbled The Rogue. “How will we negotiate passage through those wild and dangerous regions?”

“I don't know, Rogue,” replied Xander. “We must find a way, whatever the cost. The fate of our respective peoples depends on us. We are obligated to succeed.”

“Very well, Xander,” said Cicatrix. “I believe I have helped you as much as I am able. Don't give up on Roland. Our leader may appear at any time. Even I am amazed at his resourcefulness and subterfuge. He is an individual who can avoid detection like no other. That is, until he wishes otherwise.”

There was a knock on the door and Torrez entered with a large platter of steaming beef and hearth bread. The visitors dined quickly and thanked the tavern keeper for his hospitality.

Cicatrix again addressed the group.

“Go now and may the Fates be with you. My companion here is an adept apprentice of The Hand. Her name is Wren. She will guide you out of Obelix and assist you on your formidable quest.”

Cicatrix and Wren rose from their seats and shook hands with the visitors.

Wren greeted her traveling companions and directed them to an auxiliary passage. The hall was constructed of carved stone and the sound of running water was near as the band moved on.

In a matter of moments the group exited the hall and passed through a low door into a narrow alley. They retrieved their horses and entered the network of streets of Obelix.

Wren quickly demonstrated her knowledge of the city to the travelers. She showed them a fast, discrete path to the gates. Dusk was beginning to fall and the few city dwellers that remained outdoors took little notice of the departing group.

The journeyers were keen on generating distance between themselves and the substantial settlement. They rode some hours into the night before setting camp in a stretch of farmland laid fallow.

At last the Portogan soldiers set a small cook-fire and indulged in a modest repast. They were still quite full from Torrez' hearty lunch. After all had eaten and the horses tethered and groomed Archon and Xander began an ad hoc meeting.

“We have come far in a short amount of time, my friends,” declared the aged seer of Dweomer Village. “Now the moment has come for us to clarify our next course of action. We are open to all of your suggestions.”

Ram stood to address the seated group.

“Archon and Xander, we have learned much in regard to the location of Gor and the Ashgar talisman. Our quest has grown hard and foreboding. We are bound to be several months on the road and will surely encounter many perils along the way. It escapes me, at this time, how we will traverse the Sea of Ice although that is not an impossible objective.”

“I may be able to suggest a plan,” stated Lady Rosalia. “We Portogans are known seafarers. If correspondence is sent to Captain Jairo he can be notified of our predicament and set sail to rendezvous with us at the southern port on the Sea of Ice. To do this, of course, we will need to negotiate passage through Narzuk and Cantar, respectively. In a sense, this may prove beneficial for it will give Jairo time to navigate his ships to that port.”

“Your counsel is sound, Lady Rosalia,” answered Archon. “Let us act on your suggestion and send a message to your Captain Jairo via Lord Aquiline. We shall pen a letter and forward it at the next aviary. In the meantime let us all get some rest. We have a long journey ahead of us.”

The members of the group nodded their agreement with the plan and retired for the evening. They slept lightly in the middle of the field.

The night passed without event and the travelers continued on their way at the dawn. The trees grew sporadically and formed a staggered colonnade along the earthen path heading east into Narzuk.

Many residents of the nation lived in conjoined ranch houses and tight communities. They eyed the entourage of adventurers with concern and went about their business cautiously.

The group traversed the trail for some miles when Hedrick spotted a pillar of smoke on the horizon.

“Look, all of you!” he cried. “There is something afoot on the road ahead!”

“Aye, Hedrick,” answered a Portogan knight. “I fear who or what may be causing that amount of smoke.”

The mustached soldier drew his sword.

“Let us make haste to that place, my fellows. It seems there is a settlement in need of assistance.”

The group urged their steeds into a gallop and targeted the rising smoke over the cluster of trees before them.

Once within the grove of pines and oaks all was chaos and bedlam. A set of connected buildings, forming a ranch, was ablaze. It was the source of the smoke.

A sizable number of troglodytes and goblin-men was pillaging the Narzuk settlement. The hostile humanoids turned from their grisly project and stared at the charging band. They wielded their weapons against the Portogan vanguard but were no match for the tactical abilities of the elite soldiers.

Hedrick and Ram were quick to follow with Lady Rosalia and Wren. They wielded their respective weapons against a gathering of troglodytes. The defenses of the reptilian humanoids were quickly compromised by the slashing steel of the Dweomers and Portogan woman.

The Rogue stayed in the back with Bluefox, Sindariel and the wizards. They pelted the slavering goblin-men with arrows from their bows and fireballs from their staffs.

The Portogan knights had laid waste to the initial group they'd encountered and turned their horses for another pass. This time their adversaries were fully alert and had given up their attempt to destroy the settlement to a greater degree.

The sound of steel meeting steel echoed through the grove of trees and sparks flew between the clashing blades. At last the remainder of hostiles fell to the adept blades of the Portogan fighters. They were enraged and disgusted at the attack on the peaceful community and dealt with the brigands in due course.

Once the troglodytes and goblin-men were defeated The Rogue and wood elves rushed forward to triage the wounded Narzuk townsfolk. There was nothing to be done for the homes and barns consumed in flame.

Sindariel and Bluefox did well in healing the wounded. They were adept clerics and used their training to bring comfort to the survivors of the raid. Lady Rosalia and the other members of Hedrick's band helped the Narzuk villagers as best they could.

“It pains me to think that this could have happened to the people of our own settlement, Hedrick,” said Ram.

“Yes, uncle,” answered the Dweomer. “We were wise to flee the Ashgar Forest when we did.”

The journeyers stayed with the Narzuk villagers through the night. The flaming buildings were reduced to cinders and eventually extinguished themselves.

“Archon, what will become of these people?” The Rogue asked.

“I don't know, Rogue,” answered the aged wizard. “We will advise them that it is no longer safe in these hills but we are yet a long distance from the turbulent political setting of the principle city of Narzuk. Perhaps they will be better off on their own, as nomads.”

“The elves and I have tended to the injuries of the fallen,” said Wren. “Thank you for your help, Rogue.”

“You're welcome, Wren,” replied the aged scout.

Wren turned to address the leader of the Dweomers.

“Archon, we've done what we can for these people. I recommend we move on at the dawn. Our presence will only provoke future hostility against the Narzuk villagers.”

“I agree, Wren. We should make preparations to be on our way with the return of the sun.”

The Dweomer mage looked to the sky.

“The dawn fast approaches. We have little time.”

The other members of the band nodded their agreement and set themselves to the task of returning to the road.


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