A Past Soon Forgotten

They Ought to Write a Song About This

The rest of the group just watched as Caim raced away towards the battle. Screams of the dying, both human and orc, could be heard plainly.

“This is folly, but I’ll be damned if I let him kill more than me!” Emerick yelled and leapt after him.

The rest hesitated for a moment, and then Vlad brandished his rapier. “Come on, what are we waiting for?” he said. “Let’s go kill us some orcs!” The group roared in agreement, unsheathing their weapons.

The group broke through the cover of the trees a few moments later, and what they saw was unnerving. A scorched earth, barren save for the scores of broken bodies and equipment strewn about. And yet many still lived. Across the battlefield stood what was left of the large fort, held by a pitiful few group of humans. On the ground before the fort came several dozen orcs… and an ogre. Human archers were attempting to harry the orcs, but it was useless. The orcs had taken cover behind several upended wagons, flighting their own arrows in return. The ogre roared and pounded against the door. By the look of things, the defenders had little time before the door would break and the fort would be flooded with the foul beasts.

“By the Gods…” Elkas gulped, staring at the ogre. “Never in my days would I have thought to see one of those.” He would have dropped his sword had Derek not placed his hand on it.

“Pull yourself together,” Derek said strongly. “Everyone, we need a plan.”

“Way ahead of you,” Vlad replied. “Everyone who’s got a bow; string it. Now.” He pulled his shortbow from his back and notched an arrow. “Everyone else, move up while we provide cover for you. We need to let our friends in the fort know we’ve come to help.”

Derek nodded. “Right. Elkas, Gali, Caim; you’re with me. Arily and Emerick; follow Vlad and hit them directly in their rear. If we do this right, hitting them from two sides should confuse them long enough for the defenders to regroup.”

“Not a bad plan,” Emerick said. “If we don’t die, they ought to write a song about this.”

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Smoke Signals

“What do you think it is?” Caim asked. “If someone is in danger, we should help.”

“And if it is a forest fire, we’ll be riding right into it,” Vlad replied.

“It’s no forest fire,” Arily spoke up, pointing. “Look, a spire, on the east side of the ridge there.”

“So what? Towers are hardly in short supply around here,” Emerick quipped.

“There’s no way of knowing what exactly it is without sending someone to investigate,” Vlad suggested.

The entire goup looked to Emerick. His mouth moved, but no words came out. “Fine,” he finally got out. “But you owe me.”

“Fire an arrow into the sky if we should follow,” Elkas said.

Ten minutes later an arrow erupted from the canopy.

“That’s our cue,” Caim said. “Let’s go.”

As the group got closer to Emerick’s location, the sounds of battle became distinct. A few moments later, they found Emerick, a cloth in his hand cleaning blood from his kukri. “Orcs,” he said, nodding his head in the direction of the body. A bloody leg poked out from under the bushes.

“How many?” Elkas asked immediatley, his traning kicked in.

“Dozens,” Emerick replied. “Arily, you were right, but it’s not just a tower. The orcs are attacking a fort.”

“And the defenders?” Derek asked.

“Humans mostly. Fewer and fewer by the minute by the look of it. The walls are crumbling and the main gate is about ready to fall over. Anything wooden has been set ablaze.”

“I’m going in,” Caim said, reaching for his spear.

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Continuing North

The party did not linger long in Crimmor. Fully rested, with full bellies and mounts beneath them, the group set off again. The going was easy, the hills rolling by, the road wide, but on the horizon loomed the Cloud Peaks.

Once some leagues on their way, Elkas rode up next to Derek. “What we did for the villagers; that was right,” Elkas began. “The money that we took from the mayor, though, I’m not so sure about.”

Derek eyed the young soldier up and down. He sighed. “True, that money could have been spent to help those villagers build new homes and purchase food and clothing. Our mission, however, dictates that we procure specific alchemical reagents and return to Amn in all due haste. I need not remind you if we fail, one hundred dispossessed villagers will be the least of our concerns. Stay focused on the mission. Helm will protect and guide.”

Elkas nodded and lowered his head, “You’re right. Thank you.”

Emerick sniggered. “Oh cheer up Elk. Be ’appy we got ourselves some mead.”

“But that’s the exact opposite of what we should do with this gold!” Elkas lamented.

“Hold!” came Arily’s voice from the front of the small column.

“What in the Nine Hells are those?” Vlad cursed.

Gali pointed at them and looked to Derek. “Gali says they were towers, destroyed some years ago,” Derek explained. “They once guarded the southern pass into and out of the Cloud Peaks. Come, we had best not linger. Gali says they contain dark magic.”

The group rode by, uneasily glancing left and right at the dark and desolate towers that bordered the road. As they passed the silent sentries, the the road began to slope upward. At the crest of a large hill, the party stopped. Before them lay a valley full of trees, the road, now no more than a trail, winding through it. That’s when they noticed the smoke.

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The Road to Crimmor

The night sky held no moon that night, casting the town in utter darkness. The wind was biting cold for such a warm time of year. The townspeople huddled in their homes, beneath furs and blankets. Yet the night was eerily uneventful.

“Perhaps there was no Undead menace,” Caim mused.

“Or they’re still gorging on their previous score,” Emerick replied.

Elkas flared. “How can you say that? They may yet still live.”

“It matters not,” Derek said. “We must still escort these people to Crimmor.”

Vlad was instructing one of the stable hands on how to properly saddle a horse in the style of Cormanthor. “Enough of this talk, daylight comes within the hour. We must be ready to leave at first light. Emerick, go wake the Mayor. The rest of us should start rounding up the peasants.”

By the time the rays of light could be seen playing across the bottom the sky, the caravan was on its way. Roughly one hundred men, women, and children set off down the road, a mixture of fear, sadness, and anger playing across their faces.

“It’s about time I travel in a way appropriate for someone of my status,” Vlad said, patting his horse. “It’s no Elven Courser, but it is adequate.”

“And what status is that, pray tell us?” Emerick asked.

“Why, I’ll have you know I am the son of Lord Vladimir the First; Watcher of the East, and Guardian of Elmwood.”

Arily spat. “A noble, is it? Where are your loyal retainers, your bodyguards, your personal army?”

Vlad ignored the contempt in Arily’s voice. “I was beget of a Human female. When the Humans invaded from Impiltur, public opinion deemed me a threat.” He sounded almost proud of this history. “I am here because I must, and the rest is of no concern to any of you.”

Emerick chuckled. “A lord’s bastard. Explains a lot.”

“And you are no one’s bastard,” Vlad shot back.

They made it to Crimmor with little daylight to spare.

“Here is your pay. These notes are worth two thousand gold pieces anywhere in Amn or Baldur’s Gate,” the Mayor explained. “Just go to any bank and they will exchange these for gold.”

“Thank you, sir,” Caim replied. “It was an honor to serve.”

Emerick snatched a note from Caim. “Who wants a drink?” Emerick said, waving the note in the air.

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Darkness Gathers

The group made good time. The remainder of the journey to Purskul was uneventful. When they finally arrived, however, the town was in an uproar. The streets were crowded. Townspeople milled about, filling wagons with everything they owned. One such wagon careened passed the group, a hurried fervor in the driver’s eyes.

“What is going on here?” Derek asked aloud.

“Don’t you worry your holy self,” Emerick replied. “Let me figure this out.” Emerick jogged away into the tumultous crowd.

A few minutes passed before Emerick returned. With him a large, sophistaced looking man in tow.

“This is the group of men you spoke of?” the man said, his brow furrowed.

“May I present to you my companions, Mayor Tristain,” Emerick bowed.

The group looked to each other, puzzled.

“Companions,” Emerick started. “Purskul has recently been plagued by Undead. Amn’s gates are closed and either cannot or will not send aid, and with the men of Purskul’s garrison disappearing night by night, they have but one choice: to reloacte to Crimmor. For a fee, we shall escort these townspeople to Crimmor.”

“How much?” Vlad said.

“You will each be given a horse,” the Mayor replied. “They are the only thing we have in surplus here anymore. And for every townsperson who makes it safely to Crimmor, you will be paid ten gold pieces.”

How many people will we be escorting?" Arily asked.

“One hundred, but some may leave before the rest are ready, so it is hard to tell,” the Mayor explained.

“There is not enough daylight to make it to Crimmor today,” Vlad retorted. “We’ll be slaughtered on the road. Make it twenty pieces and we’ll stand watch tonight, then leave first thing in the morning tomorrow.”

“Very well, but be on your guard. We have lost as many as a dozen people in a single night. Now, if you will excuse me, I have preperations to attend to.” The Mayor turned and waddled off as fast as his stubby legs could carry him.

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Plus One

“He could be spying on us,” Emerick mused aloud. “Raksha probably thinks we won’t be good on our Word, lest he has his lapdog follow us about.”

“It’s not like that, I swear,” Elkas responded. “Raksha knows nothing of my departure.” He looked down at his feet, arms crossed rubbing himself as if to keep a chill from his body. “You saved my family. There is no material object in all of Faerun worth enough to thank you for what you did, so I am here to serve you until my debt is paid.”

“My friend,” Caim approached him. “That is noble indeed, but we require no such sacrifice.”

“I should think we do,” Vlad stepped forward. “We risked life and limb for a couple of peasants,” he explained haughtily. “If you won’t take him as your servant, I certainly will.”

“Slave, you mean,” Derek corrected. “Nay, Elkas. You may join us of your own volition and you have my word we shall not stop you if you wish to leave.” He laid his hand on Elkas gently, as a father would a son. “Ain’t that right, lads?”

“Aye,” Caim said. Gali and Arily nodded agreement. Vlad’s hands curled upward, his face a mask of darkness. Derek and Vlad glared at one another, Vlad’s hand twitching an inch from the hilt of his rapier. Derek’s hands poised at his sides, ready to cast a spell.

“Well, that’s a loss of a good slave,” Emerick jested. The two men lowered their hands and gazed at Emerick, the tension dissapating.

“Elkas, have you provisions?” Arily asked.

“Yes, a gnome merchant supplied me on my way out of the city. They call him Shad’gril the Shady.” Derek and Gali eyed him suspicously. “Many of the merchants cannot trade openly with members of Freedom’s Legion, unless they want to be the next fighter in the pits. He was my only option,” he explained.

“Very well,” Arily responded. She shouldered her pack. “If we are done here, we should be off; the days are shortening and it is still a ways to Purskul. I would like a bed under me tonight.”

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The Road to Purskul

It was evening by the time the group was smuggled out of the city. With little daylight left, the group took to the march quickly, attempting to make as much distance as possible between Amn and themselves.

An hour or so into the march, Arily spotted a large outcropping of rocks some 100 feet from the road. It was deserted, but the smoldering ashes of a campfire suggested that whoever occupied this place last had left not long ago.

The group hunkered down and Caim began to set up camp. Emerick re lit the campfire and began to cook stew. Arily and Vlad stood watch. Derek and Gali sat in meditation, praying for a safe journey.

Hours later, Arily nudged Caim to wake. “Your watch,” she said.

Caim nodded solemnly and got up. He picked up his spear and walked to the edge of the camp. He stood still as a statue, his only movements were those from his eyes as he surveyed his surroundings. Every few minutes, he would move to another part of the perimeter, stop, and repeat.

An hour later, Caim caught sight of movement coming from the road. The shape was clearly humanoid, but very bulky. It was crouching, moving slowly, an arm out in front of itself. As the thing got closer, Caim leveled his spear at the intruder. “Halt,” Caim said in an unwavering voice.

It slowed, stood up, but did not stop. Wary of what this thing was doing, Caim sidestepped and brought his spear across the back of the thing’s legs. It yelped and crumpled to the ground with a muffled thwump. Caim brought his spear to hold inches away from the intruder’s neck. “I said halt.”

“C-Caim? Is that you?” the intruder said.

Caim realized in an instant. “Elkas,” Caim replied, pulling away his spear and offering the downed man his hand. “Please accept my apology for nearly killing you.”

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Overstayed Welcome

“Are you all bloody fools?!” Raksha yelled at them, an incredulous look on his face. “I risked much and more breaking you out of that dungeon and you repay me with painting a target on my back from a nest of bandits! I already have the Coliseum guards and the City Watch dogging my heels.” He stopped his rant abruptly and began to pace around the room, looking at each individual of the group one by one. “I will have someone escort you out of the city immediately. You will brook no argument on this, lest you want me to return you to to previous predicament that I found you in.”

The group stayed silent. Derek looked at his feet and Caim was as red-faced as Emerick.

“Good,” Raksha said. “Remember, you have one month to retrieve my materials. Your equipment has already been packed. Farewell.”

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Blooded II

By the time Derek and Emerick entered, weapons were drawn and readied all around. Vlad and Caim were backed into a corner by several of the men. One of the ruffians held a girl with one meaty paw; the other a dagger to her throat. Her eyes were wide with fear. By the look in Elkas’ eyes, Derek deduced this must be the boy’s sister.

“Stay where you are!” one of the men started, clearly the leader. “Move, and Grease here will gut her like a pig, mark my words.” He turned to Elkas’ father, an old and thin man. "Tell me, old man, what’s more important to you: gold or life?”

“P-p-please,” he begged, dropping to his knees, his arms outstretched, beseeching. “Don’t hurt her.”

“Then give me the gold, old man.”

“I-I don’t have it,” he said, terrified. “Not all of it, at least.”

“A pity. Grease,” he turned, calling to the man holding Elkas’ sister, “what do you want?”

“Oh, I’d been itchin’ for an ear, I have. Want the other, Arkady?” The woman moaned in dismay and Grease tightened his hold to shut her up.

“Don’t you touch her!” Elkas screamed.

“Or what?” Arkady mockingly called back. “You and your pretty band goin’ to fight us? We got you outnumbered and outmaneuvered. I suggest you all run along now before somebody gets hurt.”

“Not so,” Derek says, firm as stone. “Men, shield!” he called out as he raised his holy symbol high in the air. A bright light ripped through the room, blinding and disorienting anyone without the sense to cover their eyes. Several of the men fell to their knees, clutching their eyes and screaming. “Strike!” Derek yelled, as he brought his mace down onto the nearest foe. A sickening crunch made him smile grimly despite himself. Killing, even when righteous, was such a horrid ordeal.

Vlad and Caim bounded forward to meet the dazed men, slashing and thrusting furiously. Emerick flitted back and forth, jabbing with his short sword.

The man called Grease dropped his dagger and the girl broke away, running for the back of the little shop. Blind, Grease fell to all fours, fumbling to find his weapon. Elkas, rage pumping through his veins, roared and charged the helpless man. Grease probably didn’t feel a thing; the savage swing of the broadsword had cut him in two from neck to navel in a fraction of a second.

Alone in shielding his eyes from Derek’s spell, Arkady smacked the old man with the flat of his sword, sending the old man reeling across the floor. Turning quickly, his sword crossed with Derek’s mace, and then again with Emerick’s sword. He backed away, making for the door. He got no further than a few steps before Vlad’s rapier found the small of his back. He looks down, seeing the point protruding out in front of him. “So much for parley, eh?” Vlad whispers into Arkady’s ear as the bandit’s life trickled out onto the floor.

As the last body was silenced, Elkas rushed to embrace his father and sister. “Thank you,” the old man said to the group. “I am Teron Brevyre, Elkas’ father, and this is my daughter, Elenie. You have saved us. Is there any way I can repay you?”

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Blooded

Dawn broke as the party broke their fast. Caim moved his food around his plate, deep in thought. Emerick and Vladimir traded insults across the table as they stuffed themselves full. Derek and Gali entered late, fresh from their morning prayers. Arily was nowhere to be seen, having come and gone, taking her plate of food with her.

“May Helm guide us,” Derek said as he and Gali took seats beside Caim. He looks at Caim, the latter listless. “Brother, our cause is righteous and yet you brood?”

“Tell me, Cleric,” Caim said, a hint of reproach in his voice. “What is so righteous in taking a life?”

“If we arrive with Elkas before these ruffians, it may never come to blows. Vladimir may be a scoundrel, but the lad has a silver tongue. We will give them the option to lay down their arms and forfeit,” Derek said, more to Vladimir than Caim. Vladimir looked up but made no move at a reply, preferring a sly smile in response. “If they do not yield, our job is to defend the weak and that is what I intend to do. Men who prey on the weak are evil and I will not let evil go unpunished.” Emerick snorted at the comment.

“Very well,” Caim responded. “Let’s get this over with.”

Elkas led them to the establishment through alleys and back streets. “You’re still wanted men, you know. Stay hidden and we shan’t have a problem.” He was wearing a mail hauberk, a broadsword at his hip and a large steel shield strapped on his back. He flexed his fingers when they arrived on the street of his father’s shop. “We can’t all go in at once. Vladimir and Caim, you go in first. We’ll follow shortly. Don’t do anything ridiculous, just pretend you’re there to buy something.”

Vladimir got up immediately and made for the door. Caim hesitated a moment and then followed. No more than a few minutes passed than a group of six men all wearing studded leather, red cloth, and weapons entered through the same door. They wore an emblem emblazoned high on their chest, but they were too far away for the party to discern what sort symbol it was.

Elkas gripped his sword. “We must go in and help them,” Elkas said at once. “My family, they could be dead in minutes.”

“And minutes we must wait,” Derek replied as calmly as possible. “If we go in now, they will know it’s a trap. It’ll be a bloodbath. Patience.”

The group heard a scream from within.

“Sister!” Elkas yelled, dashing toward the door.

“Stop, you fool!” Emerick called, chasing after him. But it was too late; Elkas barged through the door, shield in hand and his broadsword brandished menacingly. “Derek,” Emerick looked back at him.

“I know,” Derek said, unsheathing his weapon.

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