After defeating the vampire child, we were heavily wounded, our resources spent. Not sure if the horrible creature was truly dead, we decided to turn our camp into a pyre. We bound the vampire, and began chopping our lean-to into kindling and firewood. Streak rode off suddenly on his own to find his Storm Riders and warn them about the vampire. (I suspect the human may know more than he lets on about the rider with the broken cross on his shield.)
As we built the pyre, we heard shouting from the forest. Ravek and Xan stayed behind to burn the vampire, while Cob, Gravel and I went to investigate the shouting. The rider with the broken cross on his shield, whom we had felled in the snow, was gone. Gravel suddenly doubled over in pain, and claimed to hear a voice shouting “Carlyle”, as if calling someone’s name.
We followed the direction of the voice, and found the broken cross rider staggering through the forest, clutching a mortal wound in his chest. We called to him, told him we’d killed the child, but he didn’t answer us, only turned and stared. We then heard a band of riders approaching — orcs, according to Khan (Xan’s pet raven) — and the broken cross rider snapped to attention. We hid in the trees, bows readied, while Ravek and Xan rushed to join us.
The orcs approached at a leisurely pace, five on horseback — bearing a banner which Ravek recognized as that of the Slaver’s Ranch. The orcs halted a mere 30 yards from us and conferred with the wounded rider. They spoke to him with great deference, calling him a Knight of the Broken Altar. He told the orcs that “they” were coming, and warned the orcs to get as far from here as possible before “they” arrived. (By “they”, could he have been referring to the Dusk Raiders, or perhaps the notorious Priests?)
We took this time to assess our new potential enemy. The orcs’ leader wore drab-but-ornate robes, and called himself Li-kra, son of Morteg. Ravek told us quietly that Li-Kra, like his father, was a wielder of magic. Behind the leader was an adviser of sorts, with feathers and bones ornamenting its hair and clothing (probably a healer). The other three wore splint mail and javelins, crossbows hanging at their sides.
Likra told Ravek they wanted us to hand over Xan, to send him back to the Dusk Raiders. He offered Ravek land, wealth, weapons, slaves, and more. Ravek told them Xan wasn’t for sale. When the orcs persisted, we consulted privately and devised a plan: Knowing it would be suicide to attack them in our currently drained and wounded state, we would go along with them. After a day’s rest to regain our strength, we would ambush the orcs en route back to Byron’s Peak. After some back-and-forth negotiations, Likra declined our offer, hinting that he wanted to eat Xan’s heart to gain his magical power. Negotiations quickly crumbled, and we all attacked at once.
Before I could even fire a warning shot at Li-kra, he immediately shot a searing bolt of magical energy into my chest. The javelins closed on us and attacked, while their adviser stood back. With our resources low, having been heavily wounded in our fight with the vampire, we feared the worst. Cob and Ravek fought viciously, probably fueled by their resistance to the idea of returning to the Slaver’s Ranch.
Just as we thought all hope was lost, Xan conjured up a ghostly form, which terrified the orcs, causing them to falter. Following the Way of the Crooked Bow, I fired two arrows quickly Li-kra, knocking him off his horse. Felling their leader seemed to demoralize the raiders, but not before one of them knocked the light from my eyes. One of the javelins ran to Li-kra’s aid. We exchanged a few more blows, killed another of their numbers, and the remaining orcs rode away westbound.
Several of us had been knocked unconscious in the battle, including myself. Back at the camp, there was no sign of the vampire child, and no sign of the Broken Altar Knight. Fearing attacks from orcs, the vampire, and the Knight, we recovered our allies as quickly as possible, and fled. to the north, our aching bodies throbbing with each bump of our horses’ hooves.
After several hours’ ride, we found a Bear cave in the forest. Unwilling to challenge the bear to its home, we foraged for meager provisions, and camped in the open.
The next morning brought us new blessings from Torag. Rested and healed, we returned to the Bear cave. We killed and butchered the sleeping giant, drying its meat to carry as rations. The cave had some rubble, which led to a long underground tunnel. Drawn into the tunnel’s sweet-smelling earth, Brother Gravel and I found that the walls were covered with ancient paintings. From what we could discern, the cave drawings appeared to be ancient goblin artwork, but we did not spend the time to study them carefully.
Though the tunnel’s floor was worn, there were no signs of recent passage. The tunnel descended into the depths, but we did not linger there. We dwarves wanted to explore deeper into the tunnels, but we eventually agreed with the others on our best course of action: We would return to the Storm Riders and warn Streak’s people of the Knight of the Broken Altar and the vampire child.
It seems that the art of cartography has been lost among the surface races, and our astrologer spends most of his days muttering to his poltergeists. (According to their history, the elves taught humans to navigate by gazing at the stars.) I thus began making a rudimentary map of the surface lands today. Perhaps I can sell it if Torag’s will permits us to one day reach another dwarven city.
We rested in the bear cave and continued to dry our bear meat, while Xan skinned the bear to make armor. I presume he planned to sell it, for I don’t see how the elf’s frail frame could support an entire bear’s hide.
As Khan scouted the forest, he found a girl caged in a cave on a cliff wall. Khan told us a fantastic story that she had lived for as long as she could remember in this cage, hunted by a winged wolf. The girl, Luma, had trapped herself in this cage to protect herself from the winged wolf, while the forest animals brought her food. Others had tried to rescue her, but the wolf had easily killed any would-be heroes. We resolved to visit the girl the next day.
In the afternoon we feasted on fresh bear meat, and foraged feed for our horses. The meat was tasty and fresh, and I longed for a good cave-aged cheese and a stout keg. Even a pinch of salt would have remedied the sun-soaked meat, but still we feasted. Though we were well fed, our four-legged friends were beginning to show signs of the scarcity of grazing lands.
We headed northeast to rescue Luma. On the way to Luma’s cage, we thankfully found a field with tufts of grass fighting their way out of the snow. We took our time to allow the horses to graze, which revived them greatly.
Luma’s cage was in a cliff face surrounded by a copse of trees. When Khan flew to her, she tried to convince us to leave her alone, afraid for our safety. We positioned ourselves, and Xan failed his initial attempt to melt the cage with acid. Ravek approached the cage, trying to break it with his flail, and the wolf flew from out of knowhere, nearly tearing out the half-orc’s neck. It attacked us viciously, and we fought back bravely.
As the battle wore on, and the wolf’s wounds grew, the girl began to scream in pain. It seemed that the wolf shared its wounds with the girl; Ravek told me both pairs of eyes shared strange symbols, the likes of which he’d never seen.
We finally killed the wolf, and opened the girl’s cage. The girl was covered in bloody wounds — in exactly the places where the wolf had been struck! — and she was not moving. Having had bad experiences with previous rescue attempts, we bound the girl before we revived her, then returned to the bear cave.
According to Xan, the girl had summoned this wolf, but it had become an abomination to her, turning on her. She had barred herself in the cage to save herself, but the wolf had tormented her. With the strange events of the day behind us, our bear jerkey dried and cooked, we rested another night in the bear cave.