Intersecting Interests – The Journey Begins
The characters begin as traveling companions in a larger merchant caravan; three horse-drawn covered wagons carrying silk and tapestries, as well as decent store of provisions and the merchant’s personal effects. It’s been almost three week’s travel east from the coastal city of Al’Shaniir with little interruption, save to camp and water the caravan’s horses. The caravan has a small contingent of guards contracted by the merchant from the city of Al’Shaniir, as well as a few mercenaries; a rough-hewn cleric who goes by the name Breager (Aryl), his fighter companion (a tall gravelly-voiced man named Tolz) and a half-elven ranger named Eryyn (Sal’Thraen) who seems to act as a scout of sorts, disappearing for hours at a time somewhere ahead of the caravan.
At the intersection of the road north to mountains, the caravan encounters a number of travelers, some of whom decide to travel east with the caravan, offering mutual protection in exchange for a reasonable sum should the companions encounter danger. These travelers include an ogrillon (half-ogre) name Grond and his dark elf companion Calyndra, both of whom traveled for leagues across the wide expanse of plains from the jagged Talem’Shae (Elfish for ‘Misty Blue’) Mountains (common folk often refer to them simply as the Blue Mountains), far from their homes in search of better fortunes in Highwatch, to the east. Despite some protest from the Al’Shaniir guards hired to escort the caravan, the brutish-looking, axe-wielding warrior has a way with words, and so the merchant Corbyn has agreed to allow them to maintain pace with his caravan and to share camp, and has agreed to pay them should they assist in the defense of the caravan, should it be attacked.
The third to join the group- a quiet, contemplative monk, calling herself Kite has also arrived on the main road leading north to Athrakuul, a monastery complex of secretive nature, nestled deep in the tallest peaks of the Talem’Shae.
And the fourth companion- a necromancer, remains a bit of a mystery. He’s kept to himself quite a bit since joining the caravan. His garb would indicate a mage of sorts, but there is little to his exterior to indicate a deeper fascination with death. He doesn’t appear outright evil, but his pallid complexion and brooding demeanor is slightly unnerving.
Conversation has been minimal among caravan travelers, save for the ever-present bragging and complaining of their haughty merchant benefactor. A couple of days travel east beyond the intersection leads the caravan beyond the wide-open plains and closer to the mountains, and into large swath of thick forest. The wide road cuts into the thick woods and begins to thin slightly as if being swallowed.
The previous night’s rabbit stew, prepared with enthusiasm by Corbyn’s attendant, and shared by the majority of camp, seems to have been a bit ‘off’, and several of the caravan guard, the ranger, as well as the necromancer and Kite, have been more than a little nauseous for hours. Three of the guard’s march with labored steps, stopping frequently to relieve themselves or lean on a tree and vomit. Tonight’s meal would be fire-roasted mutton and fried vegetables, and the likelihood of seeing rabbit in the menu seemed more distant by the minute.
The caravan continued for some time, with many of the group simply enraptured by the beautiful, lush scenery. This forest is ancient, massive and alive. Birdsong filled the air and insects flitted among the tall grasses and flowers lining the road. The fragrant smell of springtime in full blossom, radiated from all around and a general sense of calm lay upon the area. From time to time, the caravan would pause at a roadside stream to water the horses, and to admire the scenery and soak in a minute or two of serenity. The monk and the mage spent the night sweating and praying for reprieve from the nausea in the back of separate wagons, both adventurers having fell more ill than most. With the arrival of morning and feeling the cool, fragrant breeze wafting through the gap in the back of the wagon, Kite began a labored crawl to the back and eased herself over the side and onto the ground. The pace of the caravan was steady, but not fast since Corbyn had insisted on smoother travel versus a timely arrival, and the monk kept up with relative ease, feeling a renewed energy and still marveling at the surrounding beauty.
Kite deftly climbs up to the top of the second wagon, her light frame barely creating a dimple in the taught canvas covering. She lays back, relaxing in the sights and sounds of this new and incredibly fascinating place.
Grond and Calyndra stuck together, and mostly to themselves. The ogre tended to be a bit more talkative, and much to Calyndra’s chagrin would attempt to engage a guard or one of the three mercenaries in conversation, with mixed results. Overall however, the mood of the caravan was light, and most of the conversation flowed from Breager and Tolz at the front of the caravan, as they exchanged constant banter about wars fought and lost. They seemed to enjoy the audience, and both spoke loudly as if narrating stories for everyone’s listening pleasure. Most of the traveling companions were happy to avoid Corbyn’s consistently self-important narrative anyhow, and the stories offered some measure of ease to the general nervousness of the guards accompanying the caravan. The unseasoned and lightly armored men looked agitated and suspicious at the best of times, and Corbyn’s decision to pick up a half-ogre, a dark-elf, a strange monk and a human clearly obsessed with death at the last fork in the road did little to mute their concern.
In places, the forest would break revealing swamp, or plains of vibrant green grass that stretched to the north or the south, sometimes leagues beyond view. Great jagged mountain ranges loomed in the distance to either direction, broken only by thick forest and a thin mist on the horizon. Despite the lighter misty rain of the morning, the sunshine kept the warmth and eventually the overcast skies dissipated, giving way to the vibrant blues of the afternoon.
The day continued to pass rather uneventfully, and the party resigned themselves to an early camp shortly before sundown. Most were feeling a bit depleted and very hungry after marching nauseous for several hours. Since the road itself provided little in the way of flat ground, the caravan opted to make camp in the thin patch of grass to either side of the road, under the shade of the dense forest canopy.
The second wagon in the caravan was set up as a ramshackle kitchen of sorts, and Corbyn’s young assistant hurriedly prepared the evenings meal, running back and forth between the covered wagon containing the food stores, casks of oil, water and ale, and the fire built between it and the last wagon. Calyndra ate quickly before climbing a nearby tree. From her position she could see the ranger, perched high upon a moss-covered crag in the steep hill opposite, scouting- same as her, she assumed, but some small part of her mind wondered if there was more to this human than meets the eye. The six Al’Shaniir guards assumed their posts around the third wagon, full of rolled silk and tapestries, and ate slowly from rough wooden bowls. Not much was said, with everyone grateful to be resting, with bellies full of better food.
Corbyn and Breager’s loud, forceful calls to break camp broke the cacophony of birdsong filling the morning skies with the onset of sunset, and after a short time loading up the wagons and feeding the horses, the caravan once again set forth on the long road ahead.
A light mist hung close to the ground before the first blades of sunlight found purchase through the forest canopy, making the ground slightly soft and thin cracks of eroded runoff streams broke the road every now and again. Hours pass, and with the noon sun high in the sky, the road dried up, making for a faster and less irritating pace, and less grumbling from the members of the caravan. Grong, Tolz and several of the guards fully intending to maintain a steadfast eye on their surroundings seemed more enthralled with the ancient forest itself than detecting any danger lurking within, save for the keen ears of the dark elf.
Calyndra is the only one to notice that constant din of insect and bird song had suddenly ceased to be, and that the area had fallen deathly silent. She turned to warn her companion, who’s loud voice shattered the silence with inquisitive surprise. “What birds!?”, Grond bellowed.
A whisper on the wind ends with a resounding ‘Thock!’ and the merchant’s assistant slumps over dead, a thick crude arrow protruding from his neck. Corbyn, screams and the merchant’s wail of terror is drowned out by a loud ‘CRACK!’ as a tree on the south side of the road folds in half, pushed aside by the massive hand of a pureblood ogre leading the charge through the underbrush and towards the caravan. The enormous creature bellows and- armed with a gnarled half-tree club, narrows its eyes on the nearby necromancer and moves in for the kill. In that same moment, several orcs flood into view, surrounding the wagons and the party, and wasting no time in setting upon them with incredible ferocity. Breager cuts the line on the lead horses, smacking the first in the hind-quarters and sending the pair running headlong down the road and out of the battle, only seconds before an orc swings wide with a dirty and chipped cutlass, narrowly missing the cleric’s shield arm.
With a roar second only in ferocity to the ogre itself, Grond moves with surprising speed, leaping the shaft between the second wagon and the horses and placing himself square between the human wizard and the raging ogre bearing down fast upon him. The two warriors become locked in combat, Grond landing an immediate and deeply satisfying blow with one of his axes, then another, and the ogre’s anger intensified. The creature grimaced in pain before roaring in Grond’s face and smashing a table-sized fist- knuckles wrapped in a set of crude iron knuckle-dusters- into the half-ogre’s ribs with a dull thump.
Several of the unfortunate guards are caught by surprise during the initial rush, and the orcs close ranks with the rear wagon faster than expected slaying one of the humans instantly, and badly wounding another. Breager and the Tolz at the front of the caravan split their attention on the orc to the northeast and southeast respectively, rushing to meet their opponents. The ranger Eryyn, loses her footing in the rush of battle and lands flat on her back between the second wagon and the terrified wizard, a mere stone’s throw from two brutish ogre-types locked in mortal combat.
The monk quickly leaps into battle, driving her sword deep into one of the closest orcs. The creature merely grins at her, its mouth half-hanging open with spittle running down across its chin through gaps in its sharp tooth filled maw. It lunges for her, a move met with air as the nimble monk deftly sidesteps the orc’s savage blade.
An orc falls screaming, and another. Then another guard falls, and another screams in pain from somewhere in the fray as the tide of battle begins to become more questionable. Eryyn finally regains her footing on the dew-slicked grass but eventually regains her footing, and the necromancer gestures towards an orc to the north and a glowing ghastly blue vaporous hand streaks across the side of the road towards its intended victim. For a moment the orc feels the cold approaching, but the effect dissipates on contact under the weakened concentration of the young wizard and the creature resumes its attack on one of the guards near the front of the caravan.