SUMMARY: Moira and Asger befriend halflings. They find a half-eaten elk and a strange rune carved in a tree. Tiaga and Zelu are half a day behind. There’s a second unnatural blizzard. After the storm, dark elf wardens tell the halfling band to leave as soon as able. A young halfling runs off and is caught by orcs. Moira and Asger kill the orcs. Asger succumbs to berserk rage and attacks Moira. Tiaga, Zelu, and dark elf wardens arrive and distract, then calm Asger.
Asger and Moira had been traveling for two days with the band of halflings and the old human merchant Master Rankins. Old Town, the halfling village, was still about four days away.
Asger quickly befriended Arzin, the leader of the halfling band. Arzin was a prominent farmer and was the one who suggested the trip to the Temple of the Winter Star to ask for help from the elves. Arzin was enthusiastic in his praise of Asger and Moira. He also liked to talk about his feud with Froni, another halfling farmer, who has been too “short-sighted” to back his plan.
The human merchant Master Rankins also befriended Asger, mainly through the generous distribution of candies. He smiled and laughed a little too often, sometimes at inappropriate times, but he seemed harmlessly and eccentric rather than unpleasant.
Moira also made a halfling friend—the young Pimtran (usually called Pim). Pim was charming and hyperactive. He was fascinated by the Queen’s Wood (and elves in general). When Moira practiced some simple folk magic cantrips she’d learned as an apprentice ranger, Pim coaxed her to teach him. The cantrips weren’t ranger secrets, so Moira agreed.
While practicing calling animals together, they noticed a rotten elk corpse in bushes just off the road. The elk had been half-eaten by humanoid mouths with sharp teeth. Asger came over as well. The two of them were both skilled in tracking and wilderness lore and they searched the area.
They found tracks of five humanoids wearing boots (clearly the ones who had ripped meat off the elk with their teeth). None of the civilized humanoid races had sharp teeth, but goblins and goblin-kin, such as orcs and hobgoblins did.
There was another set of tracks. These ones were huge. It was a single creature, bare-foot, probably between 12 to 15 feet tall. The tracks could belong to one of the smaller giants, such as a hill giant or ogre, or possibly to a troll.
Near the huge tracks some runes were carved into a tree at about nine feet above the ground. None of them recognized the language, but they did recognize the rune of Darkness at the center.
The tracks all lead deeper into the dark elf controlled woods. The group watched the woods more closely after that, but continued on towards Old Town.
Moira and her twin sister Tiaga had always shared a psychic link that let them talk mentally from a distance and to know each other’s location and state. So Moira knew the basics of what had happened when Tiaga and Zelu stayed behind to talk with Tiranna the priestess. She also knew they’d were following behind and would catch up with the halfling band some time either that night or the next morning.
While Moira and Asger had the company of the halflings and Master Rankins and so didn’t spend much time together, Tiaga and Zelu were traveling alone. Both were young and didn’t know each other well, so they talked a little to pass the time. One thing Tiaga asked Zelu about was his use of sorcery. She knew enough to know goblin sorcerers weren’t common (in fact, they were unheard of). Zelu told her he had learned from Katerina, an accomplished sorceress. Moira had only a rudimentary understanding of sorcery, and most of that was focused on high elven sorcery, so she didn’t recognize the name Katerina or that she was a respected and well-known sorceress.
Zelu didn’t elaborate that she hadn’t known he was learning sorcery or that he had stolen one of her spellbooks, nor did he mention that learning sorcery simply from a spellbook (basically a book of staggeringly complex formulas) without the aid of a teacher along with months or years of intense study of dozens of supporting tracts and books should have been impossible. (In truth, Zelu didn’t fully understand yet himself how exceptional his affinity for sorcery actually was.)
Then Tiaga noticed another storm on the northern horizon. She cast Witch Sight, a folk magic cantrip, like she had during the previous storm, and she saw that this storm was also clearly supernatural. Zelu cast Witch Sight on himself as well. Folk magic wasn’t powerful or sophisticated enough to let them tease out the nature of the magic, whether it was sorcery, a god’s intervention, or something else. But they could tell that the amount of power required to create that storm was staggering. Even more worrying is that the The Archmage’s wards should have made such a storm exponentially more difficult, above and beyond the raw power just to raise the storm. And of course, the previous storm had been less than a week before.
They were out in the open, so they needed to find cover quickly. Tiaga warned Moira about the storm through their link.
Moira and Asger weighed their options. The storm was approaching rapidly and would overcome the band in half an hour. This area of the Queen’s Wood was controlled by dark elves. Pim also let Moira know that he had been caught trespassing in these woods before and warned never to return.
They decide their options are limited and Moira and Asger start moving the band off the road. They use the trees for cover and circle the wagons. Moira casts an Alarm folk magic cantrip around the camp to detect any intruders. She and Asger remember the sword wind spirit that attacked during the last storm. Then they all gather inside the wagons and wait.
The storm hits with a roar. The temperature plummets instantly when the storm hits and freezing wind finds it’s way through every crevice and hole.
One of the wagons tips over within the first minute. Moira and Asger push out into the storm to help. Asger helps wedge the wagon up just enough for Moira and the halflings to pull stragglers out. He’s exhausted and battered by the end, but everyone is safe.
They all gather into the largest wagon to share warmth. Moira keeps a paranoid eye out for another spirit attack and tries to stay awake. Asger falls asleep quickly. Moira fades in and out of consciousness, tryign to stay awake to keep guard.
Then she snaps awake when her alarm spell is triggered.
Tiaga and Zelu rushed to catch up with the group, but the storm caught them while they were still an hour away. There was some limited cover possible from trees and small hills, but the two travelers were unprepared for the cold.
Zelu thought quickly and found a small hill. The hill wasn’t tall enough to shelter them, but that wasn’t what the little goblin had in mind. He moved to the leeward side of the hill and knelt down. He put his hands over the side of the hill and began Invoking a violent spell. He used his hands to Shape the spell to dig into the hill. The spell was made to wrack flesh and Zelu wasn’t sure it would do what he needed, but it was their best chance. The shadows under his hand darkened and spread, like veins into the hill, then with a loud explosion, dirt blasted out from the hill. He had carved out a narrow tunnel just deep and wide enough for both of them to fit inside. Loose dirt still filled half the tunnel, but the two quickly scooped it out and climbed inside. Using branches from trees and their cloaks, the two created a lid for the tunnel to keep out wind and snow and also to make it easier to push off snow later when it was time to climb out.
The whole was cramped, but with the dirt around them and their shared body heat, they were safe from the blizzard.
They slept for a few hours, then Tiaga opened blurry eyes. At first she wasn’t sure what had awakened her, but after a moment she realized she could barely feel Moira. Her sister was still there, but the connection felt muted, like sound through thick cotton.
Outside, the winds had stopped completely. The storm had passed and no animals were yet making a sound.
Tiaga woke up Zelu and the two of them pushed together on their makeshift plug to clear their way out of the tunnel.
Outside, the snow was over three feet thick in most places, though less than a foot had covered their tunnel opening on the partially covered leeward side of the hill.
Zelu shivered and not just from cold. Something felt like it was missing. Tiaga tried to cast Witchsight again, but her cantrip fizzled. That was enough for Zelu to realize that he felt odd because all magic was dampened.in the area, including sorcery. It was still possible to cast spells, but it took more effort and cost more energy. It wasn’t a dampening spell, though. It was like the storm had used up all magic in the land and left it temporarily drained.
The two bundled up and headed towards Moira, Asger, and the halflings. Tiaga could still sense enough to know which direction they were in. Tiaga took the lead. She had to break the trail through the snow since it rose to Zelu’s chest (and over his head in some places where wind had piled it high).
Moira quietly woke up Asger, then gestured him to be quiet. She carefully cracked the shutters on a window in the wagon’s door and poked her head out. She had an arrow drawn and ready to shoot. It was past midnight and the moon was just a crescent, but with the fresh snow everything was still bright
Asger grabbed his hammer (even though it wasn’t his best weapon in the cramped and crowded wagon). A few other halflings, including Pim, began to stir.
Outisde two figures, bundled up against the cold, slowly moving towards the wagons. One had a sword drawn. The other had hands held in front of her in the tell-tale stance of a sorcerer ready for danger. They were examining the tipped wagon that Moira and Asger had been unable to pick back up the night before.
Moira called out for them to stop and identify themselves. The one with the sword pulled back his hood, revealing silver-white hair. He was a dark elf. In the starlit snowy night, it was easy to see why they called themselves the Silver Folk.
“Hail the camp. I am ”/characters/zelphar" class=“wiki-content-link”>Zelphar. My companion is Bemere. We are Wardens of these woods. You have entered territory belonging to the Silver Folk without permission."
When Zelphar said her name, Bemere pulled her hood back as well. The tattoos on her face and forearms. confirmed that she was a dark elf sorcerer.
Bemere made several rapid, small gestures in some sort of sign language towards Zelphar. She was clearly displeased.
Behind Moira, Pim had crawled forward. He gasped softly when he heard Zelphar speak.
“Oh no! Those are the dark elves that told me never to come back. They said they’d punish me if I ever came back!” It’s clear the young halfling is scared.
Moira shushed Pim. She wrapped a cloak around his shoulders and told him to stay there. Moira then opened the door (which took several tries to dislodge the piled snow) and stepped out and spoke to the two dark elf Wardens.
“I am Moira. My companions and I were traveling south outside your territory when the storm overtook us. We had to find shelter for our lives.”
Bemere spoke up for the first time, “You are trespassers here…”
Zelphar interrupted her smoothly (which earned him a scowl), “But as they say, what choice did they have?”
Moira spoke up again, “We had no time or opportunity to ask permission and we only came into the very edge of your territory.”
Bemere said, “Fine. But you must leave immediately.”
“Come now, Bemere,” Zelphar said. Then to Moira he continued, “You can wait for the morning. But then must leave. These woods are not open to outsiders.”
“Very well,” Zelphar continues, “are you all well? Do you need anything until the morning?”
From her expression, Bemere was clenching her teeth in annoyance hard enough to crack stone.
Moira assured him that they didn’t. Zelphar nodded, Bemere glared, and the two of them turned and left. As they disappeared, Bemere continued her conversation with him via sign language.
Moira sighed. That could have gone a lot worse. Relationships between the three elven people were not good, and the dark elves were notoriously distrustful of non-elves. Zelphar had been surprisingly civil and even Bemere had done little more than scowl (though things would likely have gone very differently if she had been in charge).
Opening the wagon door, Moira found Asger with his hammer and several halflings in the doorway. They’d all been listening. She didn’t, however, see Pim. Instead, she found the cloak she’d wrapped around him bundled against the wall and she saw a small window near the roof of the wagon opened. Pim had slipped out while she was talking to the dark elves.
“I’m going to kill him!” Moira growled in exasperation. She was already heading back out the door. She quickly recast her Alarm cantrip around the camp—it was harder to cast than it should have been, but she still managed.
In the fresh snow it was easy to follow Pim’s tracks. Her conversation with the dark elves hadn’t lasted more than a couple minutes, so he couldn’t be far ahead.
Then she heard Pim yell in surprise. She rushed forward until she came to a steep ravine where he had fallen and slid down. At the bottom of the ravine, he was still lying down, shirt bunched under his armpits from sliding.
He had stopped yelling and instead was frozen in place, looking up at the opposite edge of the ravine. Five orcs were on the opposite side of the ravine. They were strange looking orcs, but still clearly orcs. Their faces seemed longer and their builds seemed more top-heavy.
Three had already slid down the opposite side of the ravine when Moira arrived. The other two saw Moira and stayed at the top.
Moira focused on the one already down in the ravine with Pim. She had seen what they did to the elk before and she didn’t want them to reach him.
All those hours and years avoiding training as a priestess with her sister’s collusion hadn’t been spent in leisure. She’d been learning to be a Ranger instead. Part of that training included archery and she had been a quick pupil.
She shot an arrow at the orc closest to Pim, who was the smallest and quickest of the five orcs. She had another arrow drawn almost before it hit. The first arrow hit the runt orc in the head and knocked him down. The head wound bled profusely. She couldn’t tell if he was dead, but he wasn’t moving.
Her second arrow hit the next closest orc in the chest. He had tusks jutting out of mouth. The tusked orc staggered and fell to his knees, but didn’t fall all the way. The third orc, with a distinctly green cast to his skin, ran to the tusked orc and tried to pull out the arrow and staunch the bleeding.
Pim was safe for a few moments. His snapped out of his fear paralysis and scrambled over to the runt orc who was breathing but unconscious. Pim picked up the crude club the orc had dropped and turned back to the two orcs still down there with him.
One of the orcs at the top of the ravine, who wore an uncured animal skin wrapped around his head like a turban, backed up and then took a running leap over the ravine. Turbaned orc was a strong jumper and came right at Moira with an iron mace lifted high.
Moira managed to get a third shot of and it buried deep into the shoulder of the arm holding the mace. The arrow shattered his clavicle and emerging out his back. Turbaned orc dropped his mace, though momentum still carried it across the ravine where it landed with a heavy thud nearby.
Turbaned orc slammed bodily into Moira , knocking her off her feet with the orc on top of her. Her bow flew from her fingers.
She shoved at him off of her frantically. He wasn’t trying to attack her, though, and let her push him off. He cradled his arm and shrieked.
Asger arrived in time to see the orc slam into Moira. He had followed shortly behind her.
Seeing the orc lying on the snow by Moira, he lifted his hammer and smashed it down on the orc’s head. His head ruptured like a melon after being shoved almost a foot down into the snow. Only a scrap of his fur turban was still visible above the snow.
The rush of battle filled Asger and he felt his control slipping. A red haze covered his sight. He was unstoppable. He was invincible. He was rage and battle incarnate. And the world was full of enemies to destroy.
Moira started to thank Asger, then saw him raise him hammer again and move towards her. Barely believing what was happening, she rolled out of the way, avoiding his hammer by inches. She scrambled to her feet, grabbing her bow on the way, and ran to put some distance between herself and Asger.
Across the way, the fifth orc, with gray warty skin that looked like rough stone, jumped into the ravine. The greenish orc, still uninjured, helped half-carry the tusked orc with the arrow in his chest while stony-skinned orc grabbed Pim. They ran down the ravine, trying to get away.
Asger saw them and roared. He jumped into the ravine, smashing into the stony-skinned orc carrying Pim. Stony orc stumbled to the ground, dropping Pim. Pim scrambled away. Luckily Asger stayed focused on the stony-skinned orc and ignored Pim (for now).
Asger swung his hammer at stony-skinned orc and missed.
Moira deliberated what to do, then decided to pull out Pim and get his far away from Asger. She pulled him up just as Tiaga and Zelu arrived on the opposite side of the ravine. Moments later, the two dark elf wardens also arrived and helped her pull up Pim. Pim squeaks when he sees them, but there are more pressing concerns.
Asger killed stony-skinned orc with a wet thud. Moira shot a second arrow into tusked orc, killing him. Then Asger finishes off green-skinned orc.
Asger was still beserk. To keep him occupied, Taiga called to the Ariada, the Star of Spring, one of the Three Sisters that she worshiped, to create phantasms of more orcs rising from the snow around Asger. It worked and Asger gleefully smashed them as more and more orcs seemed to rise up.
It was a temporary fix, though, and they knew it. Bemere was the first to suspect that there was an external supernatural influence acting on him. She cast a banishing spell.
Asger felt the battle lust leave him like a wind. He lowered his hammer and immediately apologized to Moira. Then he looked at Bemere and smiled his special smile. Bemere, realizing what he was offering, looked revolted. Zelphar looked amused (and possibly more amenable to the offer).
Moira told Zelphar and Bemere that the orcs are their problem now. Once it was clear that Asger was under control, the dark elf Wardens head off deeper into the forest. Asger, Moira, Tiaga, and Zelu, now reunited, stumbled back to the camp where the halflings and Master Rankins are waiting.
Each of them, especially Asger, is now more wary. Asger’s battle rage had almost killed Moira. They couldn’t risk that happening again.