The party of three – The elf, the human, and the tiefling – emerged from the tunnel to find the streets of Crozier filled with the chaos of war. Small bands of dwarves tried desperately to hold their ground as rivers of orcs streamed down the streets towards them. The stockade gates went flying off their hinges and a huge ogre came stalking through the open portal, with a swarm of goblins rushing past its feet. Above the din code words were being yelled between the defenders, in hoarse, battle-weary voices. The code word for setting fire to the town could be heard, as could the code word for falling back to the Whistling Willow.
The two dwarves urged the party to hurry and ushered them towards the Whistling Willow. They dashed down Crozier lanes, making their way through the maze-like network of lanes between the Crozier buildings. Every now and then the dwarves gave the command to stop and the three adventurers kept watch while the dwarves paused to set alight some kindling prepared to get the houses burning as quickly as possible.
Every corner they dashed around, they were expecting to come face-to-face with a lane packed full of orcs, but so far they had been lucky.
As they ran towards an intersection with the howls of orcs filled with battle-lust coming from behind them, Brostin Orebelly stepped into the intersection, ushering the party to keep coming to him.
“We need to buy some time,” he yelled, half out of breathe.
“Behind you, you have a straight run to the willow. But this intersection is a funnel point. Hold this place for as long as you can, and then make a fighting retreat back to the Willow.
The sounds of orcs charging down laneways was getting louder.
“Archers in the Willow have this lane covered, so when you and the orcs get within range, their arrows should give you the chance to break free and get back to the Willow.”
“Now, give me a hand up here.”
The two dwarves boosted their commander so that he could grab the edge of the roof of a building. He deftly pulled himself onto the roof just as a throwing axe thudded into the wall where his legs had been dangling.
He popped his head over the roof to quickly say “Good luck” and then he was gone.
The party took a moment to glance around and they could see that they were in an intersection where three roads combined into one that led towards the center of town, and towards the Whistling Willow. The three roads were rapidly filling with orcs and the trio and the two dwarves unconsciously took a step backwards, taking them out of the intersection.
Given that Lythvard, the elven druid, could barely stand due to his injuries, he took the wise option and turned in a chimpanzee and made for the relative safety of the rooftops. Thybalt and the two dwarves stood their ground and met the orc charge head on, while Robbin disappeared into the shadows.
Serious damage was dealt by both sides in the initial clash, but first round honors went to Robbin, who dispatched two orcs in a flowing after emerging from the shadows. Enraged at the sight of their comrades dropping at Robbin’s blade, the orcs threw their arms angrily aside and began tearing their armor off in some kind of primal rage. Before the heroes knew what was going on, they found themselves being swamped by a wave of frenzied and feral orcs, thinking of nothing except biting and tearing them to shreds.
They fought a fighting retreat in the street between the wooden buildings, with each parry or thrust accompanied by a step or two backwards. Stray flaming spears set buildings alight. The retreat was made slightly easy by the orcs instinctive attraction towards a wounded foe. This instinct pulled them from the street and towards Lythvard. Lythvard was able to pick the orcs off with his flaming spear spells as they tried to climb up the buildings to get him.
Several savage attacks by the frenzied orcs brought Thybalt to within an inch of his life. He struggled to keep his feet and the orcs off him as he fought back towards the inn. One dwarf companion had been drawn out of their defensive line, and the last they saw of him was him standing with his back to a wooden wall, standing in a moment’s defiance before he was descended upon by a horde of orcs, ripping his body apart with their bare hands.
Just as all looked lost, a hail of arrows began thudding into the earth around them, and then into the orc bodies in front of them. The orcs had strayed into range of the archers in the Whistling Willow, and the barrage was enough to give the heroes the break they needed. They turned and ran past burning houses, the wounded helping the wounded in a mad desperate dash for the relative safety of the inn.
They crashed through the Willow’s doorway, to the cheers of the inn’s defenders. They immediately set about patching up Thybalt’s wounds, but it was too late for their one remaining dwarf ranger companion. His wounds were too grievous, and he spent his dying moments to entreat Lythvard to take the dwarf’s boots and use them in the service of the High Druid.
A glance out the windows of the inn showed that the orcs had the Whistling Willow completely surrounded, and mostly concealed by the thick black smoke that was covering the city. But through the gaps in the smoke, the defenders began to see something that their eyes had difficulty making sense of. When they first saw the orcs fighting each other, they thought the smoke was causing their eyes to play tricks on them. But the longer they looked, the less they could deny what their eyes were showing them. Outside the inn, the orcs were battling amongst themselves. Some were battling to the death, while others were surrendering to another orc faction.
Within a few minutes the fighting died down, as one of the orc factions seemed to accept the surrender of the other. Against a backdrop of smoke, flame, and orcs taking weapons away from their kneeling brethren, a wolf almost the size of a rhinoceros emerged out of the smoke, slowly approaching the inn. Astride the giant wolf was a giant orc, his straight posture and long, fur cape giving observers no doubt about his leadership status.
“People of Crozier,” he boomed in a deep, powerful voice. “There has been a terrible mistake. We mean you no more harm.”
Only a few of the inn’s defenders were brave enough to send a few sarcastic jeers towards this fearsome looking warrior.
Realizing that at times like this actions speak louder than words, the orc leader waived his arms and barked a few sharp commands, and the people in the inn watched as the orcs sheathed their weapons and set about trying to extinguish the fires around them, trying to save what was left of Crozier. They formed long daisy chains, stretching hundreds of meters from the river to various parts of the town, which they used to rapidly transport hundreds of buckets of water to fight the fires.
The orc leader tried to address the inn’s defenders again.
“My name is Sarfu.” As he talked, tusks the size of small bananas moved up and down. “I am commander of this orc horde. The cohort that attacked you did so against my orders. They will be punished.”
The discussions inside the inn that followed Sarfu’s declaration were short but intense. Of course they could not trust the orcs, but what choice did they have? If they fought, they would surely die.
The people of Crozier, and the Tameronian refugees, began to trickle out of the inn and help with the firefighting effort.
Sarfu summons a half-elf to his side, issues some short instructions to him, and then dismounts and walks towards the inn, overseeing the establishment of his headquarters in the inn.
The half-elf bows politely towards Sarfu, and then turns and approaches the three adventurers. Dressed in what once were the robes of the Church but are now ripped and soiled almost beyond recognition, the half-elf smiles politely as he bows and introduces himself. His name is Thomas Sterling, Emissary of Light, Vizantar of the Light Orchestra and, for today, Sarfu’s peace representative.
The introductions were cautious but civil, with Thybalt, Robbin and Lythvard curious as to why a half-elf representative of the Priestess’s Church would be travelling with a nomadic orc horde. Thomas explained that Sarfu has several such people travelling with him as guests. The orcs are trying to learn as much as they can about the civilized world. The Orc Lord dreams of bringing education to his people, to raise them out of the despotic miasma his brethren have wallowed in for centuries, to establish an orc civilization in the north. So Sarfu invited Thomas to travel with him, and Thomas spends his days teaching orcs about the Church and the Gods of Light.
Several hours later, after the flames had mostly been extinguished, most of Crozier’s homes burnt to the ground, and the Crozier roads a quagmire of ash-infused mud, Sarfu called a town meeting in the square in front of the Whispering Willow. The Crozier survivors gathered around a raised wooden dais, from which Sarfu addressed the crowd.
“We have captured the traitor who gave the order to attack your town.”
The crowd parted as a badly beaten orc was dragged through the mud to the dais.
“His name is Yamarz, but that name shall soon be removed from our collective orc memory.” Sarfu said with Yamarz on his knees on the dais, head bowed with his long top-knot half concealing his face.
“Yamarz,” Sarfu said as he pulled Yamarz’ top-knot, snapping the kneeling orc’s head back, allowing the crowd a good look at Yamarz’ face. “Tell them why you brutally attacked them!”
“My Commander, I did it for your honor!” Yamarz yelled proudly, one tusk wobbling loose in his jaw, suggesting the intensity of the beating he had received. “The deceitful dwarf rangers stole your Horde Baton. My Cohort skillfully herded them here, where I could strike them all at once, and return the Baton to you, where it rightfully belongs.”
Murmurs ran through the crowd. None could deny the accusations because all the dwarf rangers had been killed in the defence of Crozier.
“Is this true?!” Sarfu roared in anger. His question was met with a stunned silence from the crowd.
His voice returning to usual low rumble, he continued his public interrogation. “How do you know the dwarves took the Baton?”
“Yara, the elven shaman, told me she saw it in a vision.” There was a short pause before Yamarz added “Her visions have never been wrong before.”
Sarfu released his grip on Yamarz, allowing the orc to slump down again.
“So it appears,” Sarfu said as his eyes ran across the crowd, trying to make eye contact with as many people as possible, “that the dwarves also had their part to play in this tragedy that has befallen Crozier.”
“Nevertheless, this orc is a traitor, and a threat to peace in the north.” He breathed in some extra air to increase the volume of his voice for his next proclamation: “The this show you how seriously the Orc Lord takes peace!”
With that, his sword arm came down, removing Yamarz’ head from his body in a fluid motion. Yamarz’ head plopped into the grey-brown mud while Yamarz’ kneeling body teetered on the dais for a moment before another orc gave it a shove with his foot, sending the body to join its head in the mud.
“Where is my Baton?” Sarfu asked the crowd.
“Return it to me know!”
The onlookers from Crozier and Tameron exchanged a few confused and nervous glances with each other, but none dared speak.
“Very well.” Sarfu said with a sigh as he began cleaning the blood off his blade with a rag. “I told you I would not harm you and I still stand behind that promise.”
“But.” His word was punctuated by the sound of his sword snapping back into its scabbard. “None shall leave this town. None shall enter this town. Until my Baton is returned to me.”
The massive orc stepped off the wooden dais and stalked off angrily through the mud. Suddenly, the pouch that Lythvard was carrying, the one with the Horde Baton in it, began to feel very heavy indeed.