They dragged the bodies into the bushes and headed east. They bypassed the village, leaving the orcs’ horses and camp untouched, and joined the road a few miles on. When they left the road just before dawn and returned to the hills, Clayton used “Pass Without Trace” to hide their tracks.
They could see a large orc encampment – maybe a raiding party of 30 Orcs, up ahead. Later they saw a Vee of giant crows heading west from the camp and along the road back to the west. They saw one crow flap down to meet and “talk” to an albino orc mounted on a huge white wolf. This orc was dragging a prisoner behind the wolf.
They recognised the albino as one of the “Favoured of Lillith” a mid-level priestess of the Queen of Winter. Clayton recognised the prisoner – it was his fellow-ranger, “Jock”. A big ginger-haired Kaledonian warrior, one of the men who brought them across the river.
While they hid in the hills, in what little shelter they could find from the heavy rain, the army of orcs moved out along the road, but the Albino, the wolf, one orc bodyguard and Jock, reached the empty camp and stopped.
There was much debate about what to do. Clayton was conflicted about saving his friend and sticking to the mission – eventually they decided that they had to either save or kill Jock to avoid the Orcs learning about the mission.
Mulan and Clayton were able to sneak up to the camp, staying down-wind from the orc. The others stayed back ready to gallop in if anything went wrong. The ranger and the rogue surprised the sleeping wolf and peppered it with arrows and bolts. Still it managed to leap to the attack, looming over Clayton (Mulan skulked back into the forest after every shot). The arrows and bolts had weakened it a lot, and finally Abraham and Gaston galloped in to hack it down and Davidian sent a powerful guiding bolt against the orc priestess when she emerged from the commander’s tent and she sent a powerful moonbeam spell to attack the Ranger. Despite the on-going damage from the moonbeam, they managed to hack down the orc bodyguard and send the priestess scampering back into the tent.
Out of spite, she tried to finish off Jock with a chromatic orb of cold, but Davidian and Abraham managed to heal him in the nick of time.
In the tent, Clayton and Gaston pressed the attack while the others attacked her from outside. Against the full fury of the heroes, she fell quickly. They took her distinctive ringmail armour, shield and spear and the hide armour of her bodyguard. Clayton helped Gaston skin the Winterwolf (very messy and bloody and smelly and then they moved on eastwards again.
Later that day, they were surprised as three giant crows flew low over the trees. Everyone managd to hide except Davidian, caught in the centre of a clearing. They had 10 foot wingspans and looked pretty terrifying as they swooped down, but the rest of the hidden heroes blew them to peces. The last surviving crow tried to fly off but was brought down by spells. The crows had panicked the horses but they managed to gather them back together again within an hour.
Abraham tried to pluck and de-bone one of the crows -hoping to use its skeleton to make an improved Skeletal Messenger, but it was too big and too messy. The trail of blood and gore is definitely getting more noticeable!
As dusk approached, they were looking for somewhere to camp and reached a long shelving hillside, strewn with the stumps of trees. From the crest of the hill a dark, foreboding line of trees remained. The rangers, Clayton and Jock, could tell there was something unnatural about the trees, something that said “keep away” to their experienced eyes. However, Davidian, the Priest of the Goddess, noticed tiny white star-shaped flowers – a clear indication of the presence of the “Song of the Goddess” in the area. He knew this meant there were Fae in the wood and decided to approach the tree-line warily to investigate. Speaking in the Fae tongue he greeted the forest and asked for parley.
A gnarled oak seemed to animate. An eye opened and a croaking ancient voice came from it.
It began by accusing Davidian of being an Orc. When he protested, it ordered him to approach and then grappeled him with a powerful root that tore out of the ground and hoisted him upside down. In the disturbed earth, the glint of hundreds of orc skulls could be seen.
The voice threatened and he was swung about menacingly, but kept his calm and spoke soothingly explaining they were the enemies of the Orcs and were on a mission to reach Shar Gazoth. The voice told him that the forest had once stretched all the way to the mountain but that the red orcs had come, Tangleheart had allowed them to cut trees at the fringes of the forest but they ad taken more and more, leading to all out war and centuries of aggression. The wood had become dark and dangerous.
Eventiually the tree-spirit, giving its name as Tangleheart, agreed to let Davidian and his allies and horses enter the forest for rest and fresh water and a meadow where the horses could graze. He made only one request “Cut no wood!”
They followed a floating light into a meadow by a lake and “rested”. Only Davidian and Clayton managed to relax. The floating light was an evil faerie – a Will o the Wisp, they knew its usual behaviour was to lead people into danger and feed on their souls! They also spotted hundreds of pairs of red eyes in the bushes around the meadow. These turned out to be hate-filled naked gnomes (lust-filled – when Mulan was getting ready for bed and almost went for a swim). One tried half-heartedly to trick Gaston into cutting some wood. With the eyes and the general sense of violence, the others did not get a peaceful sleep. At some point Mulan spotted that a small tiara of twisted vines and flowers had been left on the ground next to her. She decided not to pick it up.
Davidian and Clayton both felt magically invigorated when they rose (benefits of an Aid spell). The Wisp told them to follow and it would lead them to Tangleheart,
They don’t know what the ancient forest-spirit wants or how far away it might be, but nobody felt like arguing.