Report of Sgt. R. Hawksclaw
There is much to tell, of our journey through The Forrest. I will begin here.
Festival Moons 4th
We arrived and disembarked from the Shadow.
Aradove and I secured a lease on two large wagons for our overland trek. The Col. Went to the Ranger outpost to check for any communicades which might have arrived. Upon his return, the look of consternation was painted across his brow. Longtail and I moved towards him, and he immediately pulled me aside to speak privily.
“I have received orders”, he began ominously. He went on to explain that he was to report to a city near Thules, to aid the army in its campaign against the Prelacy. His orders were post dated, and he was to comply immediately. I expressed my concern that, with the wagons, his trip would be delayed. “That is why I must go alone” he said. I nodded, understanding his meaning. “What are your orders?” I asked.
Right there on the wharf, he placed me in command of the expedition. He turned to the steerage, and retrieved a parchment and another small object. “Sign this” he said, and handed me the parchment. “I’m sorry Olgor isn’t here, but I hereby promote you from corporal to Sargent.”
My jaw slackened, and I let his words sink as I signed the paper. Then he handed me the other object. “This ring signifies your post, and will serve as the badge of your rank.” I slipped it on, and it felt heavy. Ever so heavy.
With all eyes on him, he mounted his horse, gave us final instruction, and turned to ride. Everyone, then, turned to me. “Well, congratulations.” Aradove said. I laughed, to clear my tension, and immediately ordered our Camonese to retrieve the wagons.
When they arrived, I placed Eris in the rear wagon and ordered Aradove to her side. We then, with the help of the Avakar, loaded our goods. As soon as all was stowed, we moved out.
Presently, we arrived at the Elven border, and showed our papers. Once cleared, we did not tarry. Immediately, we were engulfed in the Forest. I must admit, I quite enjoyed the first leg of the trip.
I placed my Rangers, as follows: Alfred and myself riding near the front, Jeandarr’s men on the wagon seats, Jeandarr on the flank, Aradove and Eris in the rear wagon, and our new companion, Saron, giving us an aerial view. We traveled this way for nearly nine days. On the 2nd night (6th Festival Moons), we spotted a camp ahead. I sent Aradove and Alfred ahead to scout it. They reported that it was a Brenchee caravan, and that they were friendly. We pulled into the circle, and made our camp.
That night, we dined with the leader, a Brenchee of venerable age, and his protector. She was a large, predatory individual whose size was unlike any Brenchee I’d ever met. In his native tongue, and with her translation, (I’d never thought about it, but I found it odd that Aradove did not understand him.) he gave us a warning. He told us of a growing evil in the forest. Something, unlike, anything before witnessed. We listened intently, and he described a plague. He told of scouts who disappeared in the night, only to return changed. They would come back savage, and out for blood. “Watch for the black blood” he kept repeating. I was concerned, but I had to focus. “Mission first, then the mystery.” I’d kept telling myself. Dinner was concluded, and we thanked them. On our return, Aradove looked downtrodden. I wonder if it had to do with her meeting so many of her own kind. I do not know.
We passed the night well enough, and in the morning we continued north. We passed near Syvian, and I’d wished we could’ve stopped. I’ve always wanted to see the place where my father fought his last battle, but like him, I have a mission to complete. He would understand.
Festival Moons 14th
We neared Eldara, and things began to look very familiar. I knew where we could pass the night. We pulled the wagons in front of my home. I was surprised when we encountered Grek, Tiny, and the other two goats standing at my gate. The reason would explain itself, and soon. I left the others setting camp, and ascended the steps.
I had just eased the door open, when I was hit square in the abdomen by a screaming white bolt of pure energy. I was nearly blown off of the landing, and had to brace myself from the impact. Shakily, I reached down, embraced my little sister, and laughed.
I hoisted her, and went inside to greet my mother. I was shocked to find, not only her, but Kellebor. He was sitting, and smoking his pipe. I looked confused, and he greeted me with a nod. Before I could speak, I was beset on both sides by my family. Under their relentless barrage, I hadn’t the wind or resolve to ask any of my own questions. Mother went to prepare a meal and I, in a state of confusion, returned to gather my compatriots.
The evening was delightful. Food was ample, my friends were comfortable, and I was home. My mother fussed over every detail that she wrung out of me, and I tried to dispel her concerns. Saron was at the mercy of my sister, who told him every detail about her day, and Aradove remained introspective. I worry for her.
After dinner, Ella, mother, and I sat for a while and talked. Then I spoke with Kellebor in regards to the illicit logging operations on the border. He promised to find out where the loggers were at, and relay the information to me. I thanked him, whereupon he made his exit. I hugged my sister, and bid goodnight to mother.
Leaving Ella to sleep inside, I returned to to the wagons. I asked Aradove to remain with Ella, and she returned inside. I must say that sleeping in ones own yard is an odd feeling. However, leaving my party was out of the question.
Festival Moons 15th
The morning came, and with it our departure. We loaded up, and resumed our posts. I bid my family farewell, and after being plied with obscene amounts of food, took our leave. I have found that when a Ranger leaves their home, they cast a long glance back. Ones who face an uncertain future, often do.
Festival Moons 18th
We traveled on, for three days, and on the third night stopped to make camp. Alfred and one of Jeandarr’s men had first watch. Before I fell asleep, I thought of the Colonel, of home, of Longtail’s sadness, and of Ella.
Past midnight, I was awaken by the sound of nothing at all. I opened my eyes, and realized that the watch hadn’t been relieved. Cautiously, I rose and moved to where Alfred sat. “The little bugger is asleep! Dammit!” I thought. I grabbed at him, and felt warmth run through my fingers. I started, and was taken aback. His side was weeping, as his life’s blood pooled beneath him. I shouted to the others to arise, as I channeled life into Alfred’s limp form. Jeandarr’s man was in the same fashion. “Damn.” I uttered. “Give me a head count!” I shouted.
My heart sank when we realized that she was missing. “Eris…” I thought. Without warning, we were all recoiled by a primal scream which pierced our consciousness. The horror that I felt was, until now, unimaginable. “It’s my fault.” I muttered, as I scoured the aria for a trail. We found one. Leaving two Camonese with the injured, we set into the forest. Aradove ranged just ahead, and we followed quietly. It didn’t take long.
Ahead, in a clearing, we saw her. Eris was laid across a stone, and above her stood an Elven woman. The woman was dressed in rags that, once, were the robes of a Druid. In her hand was a knife. She was babbling in Elven and I herd, “Blood… Blood… Blood for the Blood Queen…” Mortified, I indicated for Longtail to remain and the others to hook right. We needed to move, quickly. Once they’d reached their position, we advanced as one. We did not make it far.
As I stalked forward, I paused. I drew back an arrow. At once, a large presence moved to my right, and as I turned, an ancient tree stretched down it’s branches and engulfed me.
I writhed against its force, but to no avail. My mind raced, as it’s branches began to constrict my body.
Aradove was, from her left, assailed by two individuals. Jeandarr, his man, and Saron were set upon, as well. The Avakar took flight, and began to pray, as he drew his bow. We were, then, committed to the fight.
I felt the ancient tree tighten around me and I squirmed, powerless to move. The black ichor oozed around me. The corrupted Druedess carried the knife aloft, and steeped in her blood rage, she kept screaming “Blood for the Blood Queen!”…
I felt the blood vessels in my eyes begin to burst, and herd the sickening crack of one of my ribs. I looked back at Eris, then at my friends. “No. Not like this…” I thought.
Then, with the last air I could gulp, I called upon Leandra. I pressed my palms forward, and a jet of energy fired into the heart of the tree. It was wreathed in green flame, and in its pain dropped me. It was not finished, though.
From the woods came a slow scraping of leaves and shambling of feet. I remembered what the old Brenchee had said. The plague.
I found my bow, and took aim at the Druid, as Aradove cut one of her assailants down. I fired, and my arrow glanced off of an invisible field that surrounded the Druid. Then I was attacked again by the tree. I managed to evade it, but soon, the creatures burst from the underbrush. They were horrifying.
The creatures had once been men, I was sure, but now… Their arms were outstretched, the heads lolled about, and the black blood seeped from their glazed eyes.
I fired, once, at the thing attacking Longtail, and put it off balance. Quickly, she sprang into motion, and slashed it. It’s momentum wavered, and she dashed past, toward Eris. I turned to face my newest threat, but they were upon me. One slashed toward me, and drove me to my knees. I did see the Avakar manage to take flight over the ones attacking them. He pressed on, firing at the Druid, as Aradove charged. Longtail reached Eris as the Druid brought the knife down toward Eris’s neck. She snatched her off of the stone, as the knife opened a small wound on her throat. She’d made it. With that, she ran and the Druid shrieked.
At the same time, Flit came to try and aid me. She touched me, and my vision began to focus. That was when I saw the Druid point her knife at the fleeing pair. Again, she raged, and from beneath Longtail, vines snarled around her ankles sending her crashing down.
The fall threw Eris forward, and with her bound hands, she pushed herself upright. “Run!” I thought. But she didn’t. I could see her face, and the blood running down her neck. Her face contorted, and her eyes burned beneath their wrappings. I knew that she could, possibly, affect the Druid’s mind. That gave me hope, that is, until I looked back.
I watched the Druid take her knife, blackened with the blood of her own victims, and slide it into her own throat. Her eyes went wide as she drew the blade outward and across. I watched her blood spray over the stone, as she sank to her knees. Eris sobbed once, convulsed, and collapsed.
The vines entangling Aradove withered, as did the grotesque figures attacking us. The tree, however, did not. It continued swatting at Saron, as he nimbly dodged.
I looked at Eris, crumpled in the dirt, and felt hot tears begin to well up. “Get her, and get back to the wagons!” I ordered. I rose and realized that the tree was once a sacred entity. A spirit creature. I could feel my anger, and my hatred for whatever did this, rising inside me. “I’m sorry.” I said, as I turned to run.
I made it back to the edge of camp, behind the others, as the wagons were being loaded. “Here it comes!” Someone shouted. I turned, and again, felt the same despair. We wouldn’t make it. I had to make a choice. To kill an, otherwise innocent, spirit creature, that had been corrupted by some twisted fiend. Or risk loosing one of my friends…
“You don’t deserve this.” I whispered. The time drew short. I had to act. My spirit had been tapped by my earlier encounter, yet I knew she would answer me. “Leandra. Hear me.” I pleaded.
Using a force, which I did not know I possessed, I turned my power inward, and toward my very soul. I felt it amplify, within me, and it felt as if I would burn myself alive. At once, it was if Leandra, herself, had loosed her power from my body.
The ancient tree seemed to radiate a green aura. Branches and vines from nearby trees thrust toward it, and the forest seemed to bind it into place. When I regained my vision, I saw that it had stopped moving. It still bore it’s damage, but it had cast it’s roots back into the soil, and the forest had grown silent again. The black ichor seemed to’ve burned away, cleansed by leandra’s power.
I turned, and was overcome with emotions. My friends, my Rangers, were alive. All of us were hurt, but we were alive. Now I worry for them.
How does one rectify sending their friends to their possible demise? How do you order Rangers to stand, even if it means that they may not survive? I do not, yet, know. We need one another. Aradove saved Eris’s life, and in turn, Eris saved mine. We have sway over our friends very lives. It is a hard thing to contemplate. Longtail is still downcast. Alfred is wounded. (Thankfully, Saron has been seeing to him.) I haven’t herd Eris’s voice in some time. It was hard to get used to, but now I feel the void left by her silence… She was in the woman’s mind when it died. She felt her death. I pray she recovers. I pray they all do.
Sgt. R.S. Hawksclaw
(Arrive in Erda’Meias Festival Moons 24th)