Well, here I am again with the time to finally take up my pen and continue my chronicle. It’s been less than a week, and yet somehow it seems ages since I last had the opportunity to write. Of course, the days have been filled with many a task, and time does have a way of getting away from one and then piling up unexpectedly in such circumstances. But let me return to my recording of events lest I waste what little time I do have.
My last entry ended with us sheltering in the crumbling halls of a structure dedicated to the ancient Delian order, yet we wound up spending only a single night there. Thankful as we were for the shelter, we had much more desert to explore, and as it turned out, the next day was to bring us an unexpected meeting. We had been leaving careful signs of our progress, planning to meet up with Renbar and Vi with a fresh set of supplies, yet when we finally did catch sight of a supply caravan, we found it headed up by a lone Halfling instead.
The man introduced himself as Braddock Summerton, and explained that he had been sent on by our friends. They’d been held back, but had contracted his services to bring us the supplies, as well as to accompany us should he so choose. Given that he was about as familiar with the local area as one could be, he made a welcome addition to our band, and the fresh stock of food and water he brought was very much appreciated as well.
Thanks to all of this, we were able to uncover another unusual location in a mere four days’ time, twice as quickly as before. It was the presence of dew that drew our attention to the place, an odd abundance of moisture in a natural cave marked with ruins. Feeling curious, I took the first opportunity to examine this water, but could only conclude that it was naturally occurring.
In the meantime, the others had all advanced down into the cave, and as I came up to join them we discovered all at once that we were not, in fact, alone. From around a slight curve came the unmistakable glow of torchlight, and it was growing closer. Braddock seemed to catch on just a little after the rest of us, for he gave a sudden cry of surprise upon realizing there was another source of light, and it was that one unguarded moment that brought battle down upon us.
It seems we had managed to surprise a small band of orcs, and once our new friend had alerted them to our presence, they were all ready for battle. Durgash, sensing that conflict was in the air, and being a half orc himself, wasted no time in maneuvering his way first to the front of our group and then into the fray. Crying out in his own tongue, he advanced rapidly to face off against all three of our new foes. Whatever it was he said to them, though, this particular group seemed only amused.
The rest of us fell into our accustomed battle formations, holding our own against the carefully aimed arrows and well-placed spear thrusts of our opponents, but all the while it was hard to shake the feeling that there was something between the orcs and Durgash that we outsiders were not privy to. There was a thrill in the air, an effect only heightened by the odd words being thrown back and forth between Durgash and our assailants, as if some challenge had been issued on both sides.
Yet in the end this group learned it had been a mistake to focus so much of their enmity against only one of our number. For it was Meg who cut short the life of the first of our foes, I who felled the second with a blast of lightning, and Braddock who stove in the chest of the last with a single mighty blow. So, having fended off our unexpected attackers, we took a moment to gather ourselves and make some sense of the situation.
Speaking with Durgash, I learned that apparently these orcs belonged not to the Darkmoors, of which he himself is a member, but the Withered Heath. Apparently they had heard of Durgash before, and felt it would be a mighty deed to defeat him in combat. It seems even though he is a prince no more, his name still carries a great deal of weight.
Upon further inspection, we found that though this group of orcs did seem to belong to the Withered Heath, there was something odd about them. Their armor had all been inscribed with the words, “In service of the Crown”. Now, I am hardly an expert when it comes to orcs or their politics, but even I know that orcs don’t generally hold any reverence for some crown. They may have princes and chieftains, but actual crowns and kings are rare, and loyalty to anything other than the rule of might even rarer. Durgash informs me that even the word used in Orcish to convey this concept was an odd one.
Could some sort of magic have twisted them into this? It didn’t seem likely, but who could say? Magic in its very nature is a mysterious and powerful force. In any case, we seemed to have exhausted all existing avenues of information for the time being, and so decided to push on. We continued down into the cave for quite a ways, moving further and further away from the surface, until finally we found ourselves on the end of a great chasm.
On the opposite side we could see a drawbridge, held up by two sturdy-looking sets of ropes. At this point, Zahra stepped forward and, asking for a knife from Meg, leaped into the air. As she did so, she was able to skillfully manipulate the winds around her with magic, and began to fly across the open chasm. Truly, as much as I study the wonders of magic, it is always such a marvel to behold it in action.
Regrettably, just as Zahra began to reach the other side, there came a sudden flash of purple light, and she then began to plummet down towards the chasm below. Lillabelle, thinking quickly, stepped forward to grow a series of vines out of the side of the opposing cliff face, catching Zahra before she fell too far. From then on it was only a matter of time before Zahra found the confidence to fly again, settling down safely this time on the opposite side.
She then cut through the ropes to lower the drawbridge and allow us to pass. Sure enough, now that I was able to safely cross the bridge, I could see the etchings and signs of a set of spells embedded into the cavern walls meant to dispel magic. It seemed clear enough that whoever had set this up had done so specifically to prevent intrusion. It made me wonder again about those orcs we’d met earlier. Had they come from here and then had the bridge raised afterwards? Or had they simply found this place a little before us?
The answers, it seemed, could only be found by pushing onwards, and so that’s what we did. It was another long descent, with the temperature having grown quite cool now, before Meg called for us to stop. She’d seen more torchlight ahead, and this time was resolved to scout ahead quietly to see what might be waiting for us. She promptly seemed to vanish from sight, and it fell to us to wait and see what she could learn.
Such moments are always filled with tension, unsure of whether friend or foe is waiting ahead, and it seemed an eternity before Meg finally reappeared. She reported to us that she’d seen an orc encampment. Several of them were gathered around tents, with one seated atop a rude throne pieced together from hides. This one seemed to have something fashioned of metallic shards pointing up around his head, something that may have been the “Crown” we’d read of earlier.
Now, with the advantage of foreknowledge, we had time to discuss what our course of action would be. Most of us were resolved on some sort of battle, with Durgash particularly eager to take on this would-be orc king. Braddock seemed reluctant to simply charge in unprovoked, yet in the end, we decided that there would be no discovering the secrets of this place if we could not pass, and so we resolved ourselves for a confrontation with the orcs.