Captains Martin and Cregg arrange their men to defend the newly conquered town. Armst, Magnus, Elroy Wick, and Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn wander North Point, finding their homes utterly ruined, the Main Hall sundered, all shops and haunts from their youth burned and empty. Cleric John has no connection to this place, but he is not immune to the sense that what was once a vibrant community will never be the same.
It is a bitter cold night. Shaking off their fog of nostalgia, the party gets back to business. Bard Wick and Cleric John command the stockpile of Orckish Draughts and healing potions looted from the dead Orc defenders; these they dispense to wounded mercenaries. Magnus returns to the wall. The Fighter suspects the Orcs who escaped North Point have headed for the former village of Red Fjord. He does not discount the possibility of their return this night. Neither does Armst; the Warmage and Jonas organize mercenaries to build bonfires in the fields outside the town. Besides illumination, the fires will serve as range-markers for their archers should anything advance from the forest.
Armst enjoys the work. He paces out an interval, marks the spot, and sends men to bring him wood from the forest. Like clockwork, mercenaries hike off and return bearing twigs, frosted branches, and soft rotted logs. He works for an hour, piling and igniting a dozen fires that shed brilliant yellow light across the dead white fields. So content with the routine is Armst that it takes him a while (WIS check = 9) to notice that it is taking longer and longer for the mercenaries to return with fuel. At first he thinks this just the depletion of close, easy kindling. But then the Warmage realizes there are some familiar faces among the workers that he has not seen in a far too long.
Monitoring the surroundings from the town’s stacked-stone wall, fatigued Fighter Magnus (Spot = 30) notices Armst leave the pile he is building and slowly walk towards the forest edge.
The Warmage hesitates at the treeline. The fires behind him cast flickering light against the rough bark of evergreens and their frozen, twisted boughs. A path has been churned in the snow and underbrush by the busy woodsmen, leading into the wavering shadows. As Armst listens to the forest he can hear mercenaries foraging off in a few different directions. He cannot shake a growing sense of unease.
Carefully, Armst steps into the twilight behind the first few rows of trees. Several spells come to mind, ready for use against any horror that leaps from the blackness. There is an oppressive stillness to the woods; Armst (with a natural 20 rolled for Spot for a total skill check of 22) sees footprints splitting off into the darkness, disturbances in the snow where deadfall has been raided for wood, and the occasional blink of a forager’s torch between the trees. What he doesn’t see, but certainly feels, is something else in the forest with them.
Armst works up the courage to call out into the frigid woods and order the mercenaries back to town. No fear or panic comes through in his voice, despite being convinced something lurks where firelight cannot expose it. The Warmage frequently checks over his shoulder as he follows the last of the foragers back across the fields and into the safety of North Point.
Magnus and Captain Martin confront the workers, aware that only half the range fires have been lit. Armst is explaining his experience when the chilling howls of wolves echo out of the forest. Everyone falls silent. Someone does a quick head-count – seven of the mercenaries who went out on fire detail did not return.
Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn quickly cinches up his chimera-hide armor and checks his weapons. The Druidbarian of Many Forms is not about to let mercenary allies perish out there. Then comes another burst of wolf-call, and Magnus knows it even if Øskur will not resign himself to the fact – the missing are certainly already dead.
Captain Cregg wants to ride the cavalry out and engage. Magnus turns him down. Rogue Goa is unavailable so Cleric John steps up and offers to cook dinner for everyone. Fighter Magnus hasn’t a clue how that relates to the matter at hand. But he does agree with Armst’s idea to take larger, more concentrated, armed groups of foragers to finish bonfires in the remaining unlit quadrants.
Armst and his teams complete the task before midnight, and without losses or even sighting an enemy. The bonfires burn to ashes by dawn. It is a relief to the party and Captains that Orcs did not attack in the night, but it is also a concern that the main force of Orcs did not arrive.
The indispensable Druidbarian of Many Forms will get some answers. He shifts into the form of an eagle and soars above the grey-white world, interested first in the missing woodsmen. His sharp eyes (Spot = 25) easily note large crimson stains on snow drifts inside the forest. Among the gruesome remains are weapons and armor; these are the missing mercenaries. Alighting on a branch at one site, Øskur (Survival = 37) effortlessly locates the tracks of a Medium-sized, four-legged animal – either a Worg or a wolf. Casting Embrace The Wild and choosing the Scent ability, the Druidbarian of Many Forms immediately knows it was Worgs. The overwhelming stink of Goblin is all over the killer beasts. He finds no other remains in the area (Search = 19).
Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn takes off in the direction of Gold Mountain. Familiar forest groves and open hills are stark winter wastelands far below him. An hour into his flight, a dark mass (Spot = 24) catches his attention. It is the main Orc army, several hundred strong, a mix of Orc, Goblin, Ogre, perhaps some Kobolds and Hobgoblins. Like a dirty stain, they camp on a snowy tract near a forest, with defenses set along their perimeter. Interestingly, Øskur realizes (Spot = 21) that additional defenses face the opening to a narrow box canyon. This canyon cuts into the hills that rise up over several miles to become the mountain barrier whose glaciers the party traversed.
There must be something in the canyon. The Druidbarian of Many Forms banks in that direction, aware but unconcerned that he has probably been detected by the enemy below. Orc scouts become visible (Spot = 24), creeping the hills on either side of the canyon, looking for some way in.
From his bird’s-eye view directly over the gorge, Øskur sees what the scouts are after. The floor of the canyon is active with Humans and Dwarfs in armor, all well-armed. He is sure before he nosedives into the canyon – this is the army from Gold Mountain.
The leadership council is startled, but not alarmed, when a sleek eagle lands in their midst, ruffles its feathers in a respectable fashion, and glances at each of them. Remembering his manners, Øskur reverts to human form. He first greets bright-eyed Ilva, in Druidic. This was always their custom; the Druidbarian of Many Forms is pleased when Ilva warmly answers in the secret language.
Alfred the Wizard, Corun Dum’man’s mentor, is present. Also Alexandra, Boris, and the renowned Dwarf military commander NEDSANÖM, most commonly known as Ned. They exchange salutations with the new arrival. It would be the complete package of settlement elders, but for Governor Rolofson and Chief Samuel, both of whom are absent.
Ilva explains the situation to Øskur in the Common language. Gold Mountain’s forces took shelter in this canyon when the Orc army blocked any clear route to North Point. The consolidated enemy force is bigger than expected – there are at least six hundred enemy warriors, but thankfully no Frost Giants. Those towering menaces quit the campaign shortly after North Point fell, and have not been back since.
The Arch-Druid admits that her plan with Magnus to pin the Orc army between her forces and North Point’s defenders cannot come to pass. Instead, she recommends the Druidbarian of Many Forms bring the mercenaries to assault the Orc camp and drive the enemy forces into the canyon, where the human and dwarf soldiers have the advantage. And to do so quickly; this canyon can be held, but not indefinitely. Ilva is aware of the Orc scouts hunting for another way in.
Røgnvaldurarsøn sees few barbarians among the forces in the canyon. Looks are exchanged between council members when Ilva answers that Chief Samuel and three-quarters of his barbarian followers are not here. They are out in the wild somewhere. No-one knows how, or if, they intend to help.
Øskur will immediate return to North Point and put the mercenaries on the march. Alfred and his cohorts wish luck; Ilva invokes a sacred Druidic blessing for speed and strength. Again an eagle, Øskur bolts up to the clouds and races toward North Point.
Estimating overland travel relative to his flight time, and the position of the sun and weather conditions, the Druidbarian of Many Forms realizes that if the mercenary army leaves within an hour of his arrival back in town, they can engage the Orc forces before sundown, today. Øskur hopes Fharlanghn will see fit to grant swift passage.
(end of the session)