THE TIDE OF SHADOWS

PROLOGUE

Adventure Date: September 12, 2009

Last Updated: January 2, 2010

AND THEN THERE WERE SIX ...

Red bloodshot eyes glared out from beneath a heavy brow. The orc - the last surviving member of its unit - gripped its crude short sword in its fist as it desperately looked for away out of its dire situation - its back up against the wall of Tristan MacGuffin's small non descript thatch roofed cottage.

Yellowed, broken tusks protruded from behind a torn upper lip as it snarled its defiance.

And suddenly it lunged forward.

Powerful legs launched it towards a gap in the line of its tormentors - the crude short sword drawn back for a devastating backhanded strike.

As the orc's lead foot touched the ground and sword arm came forward, five feathered shafts slammed into its chest - seemingly bringing the beast to an abrupt stop in mid-air before it crashed face down onto the cobbled street - the short sword clattering just out of reach of lifeless fingers.

With a curt nod from Caydeyrn, the five archers relaxed their bows, easing the nocked arrows to a rest position. The youngest of the archers - Terric Harding - strode forward and with his booted foot, rolled over the orc.

Though now obscured by the blood oozing out of its chest wounds, it was still clear that an unseeing white eye split by a slashing bolt of lightning adorned the tattered tunic of the goblinkin raider. All of their expressions grew more grim as their collective fears were confirmed that this was no ordinary orc raiding party.

Even the elven face of Caydeyrn - the "Battle King" - betrayed his growing concern. "Battle King" was a nickname his men bestowed upon him after a particularly awesome and bloody display of battle prowess against a pack of dire wolves. That was during his first winter as a unit commander of "The Twelve" - Triboar's vaunted defense force. At that moment, that seemed many lifetimes ago. This veteran of "The North" was no stranger to skirmishes with orcs, but he was beginning to doubt if they would be able to continue to withstand the never ending waves of orc raiders. If these were typical orc forays - chaotic, unorganized and usually undone by internal strife before they posed any serious threat - "The Twelve" would have had no problems repelling the raiders.

But these raids ... they were different. The first had occurred that past summer just after the summer solstice, and since then the raids had grown in frequency and boldness. It soon became clear to all that though "The Twelve" were very effective against normal incursions, the frequency and scale of the assaults warranted the mustering of the militia. Within a day, a heavily well armed force of 300 strong had been organized and regular patrols in addition to those of "The Twelve" began. But the raids continued and there were rumours that other things, dark things, now strode amongst the orcs not yet entering the fray, but rather observing - as if held at bay by an invisible leash. What were they waiting for why not attack with the full brunt of your forces

Suddenly Caydeyrn became aware that he had been muttering to himself as he stared at the orc corpse - worrying a loose thread of his scabbard - and that his charges were eyeing him with growing apprehension. For if the "Battle King" was worried, what hope could there be?

He mustered as much false bravado as he could and exclaimed with a guffaw "I do believe that miserly MacGuffin will owe us a free round of ale at his tavern for the good service we have done him!" His hand emphatically struck the wall of MacGuffin's cottage and the men shared a chuckle - for MacGuffin's "frugalness" was legendary in "The North". "But before we can quench our thirsts, we need to finish ousting this rabble from our homes and our town" and as the toe of his boot slammed into the dead orc's ribs to emphasize his point, the sound of a pitched battle drifted down the laneway to their left. The five archers and their leader started off up the laneway, their easy gait eating up the distance between them and the next battle. A waning gibbous moon lit the way.

Late into the night and early morn did the patrons of the The Triboar Arms toast the exploits of the defenders of Triboar and honour those who fell. Caydeyrn and his four remaining men were treated by Tristan MacGuffin to a round of his finest ale and even he joined in the toasting of the memory of young Terric.


Faurael Blackhammer - the Lord Protector of Triboar - surveyed the damage from the latest orc raid. It was the morning of the third day since the raid and still the remnants of the Merchant's League's warehouse smouldered, casting strange shadows as the rising sun slowly crept up into the sky. He uttered a long frustrated sigh and swept his meaty hand over his scar etched face. Orc raids and the loss of merchandise was a fact of life of "The North", but the Merchant's League - as did others - deposited substantial amounts of gold and jewels into the coffers of Triboar to ensure such losses were a rare occurrence. Dabron Sashenstar - the founder of the Merchant's League - snug in his Baldur's Gate home - was a man Faurael liked, but Dabron was a merchant first and foremost and he would demand and eventually extract appropriate compensation for the losses. Faurael's expression soured. He preferred solving problems with his namesake - which he absentmindedly patted with his right hand - rather than through tedious talk.

His sourness, though, turned to resignation - for he knew full well that his small walled town was strategically located where the Long Road - "The North's" main trade route - and Evermoor Way intersected. Caravans and adventurers depended upon Triboar and availed themselves of the shops and services of the town - thus ensuring the livelihood of the residents he had pledged to protect. But in his nigh forty years as Lord Protector, Faurael learned that caravans and adventurers are fickle, especially when merchandise is lost, and, that Triboar's traditional rival - Yartar - would try to reap the benefit from Triboar's misfortune.

Faurael was brought out of his reverie by the approach of Caydeyrn, who quipped "Dabron will be eager to claim his proverbial pound of flesh!"

Faurael only grunted in response to the laughter in Caydeyrn's eyes and his mouth twisted into a grimace once again.

"You need to press the Lord's Alliance further for a garrison to help deal with this scourge" continued Caydeyrn. "Unless you can't contact the Alliance because the orcs decided to have carrier pigeons kebobs during the last raid," he joked dryly before continuing on more seriously. "We lost too many good men and I don't know how long the morale of the militia will hold. You know you can count on "The Twelve" - their allegiance is unwavering, but you can not blame the members of the general militia from beginning to question whether or not we will prevail."

Faurael winced at those words and snapped back "Leave the militia to me - they are my concern!" and immediately regretted his curtness. Cayderyn was only speaking the truth.

In a softer tone, Faurael asked "Do we know how many orcs were involved in the last raid?"

"We counted thirty six intact corpses and collected random body parts to account for at least another two scores of orcs, but there is no telling how many began the assault." Caydeyrn responded.

"And what of Gwaeron's Slumber?"

"You would think the orcs would have remembered the Stalkers of the Silent Path after their last disastrous encounter. From what I understand, what appeared to be about a score of orcs and a troll or ogre - it was too dark to really tell for sure what that hulking shape was - entered the Slumber and never returned. Instead, literally minutes after the band of raiders entered, a group of ten Stalkers emerged, fresh orc ears adorning their belts. You know, I suspect it was an ogre in the end, as no fire was sighted within the Slumber and the Stalkers were not lugging a corpse out of the Slumber for burning elsewhere. Suffice it to say that the Slumber remains unmolested." At that pronouncement, both Faurael - a relatively new convert - and Cayderyn reverently touched the sign of Gwaeron - a four clawed bear print with a five-pointed white star in the centre of the paw - embossed on their respective pinnies.

"It is too bad we haven't been able to convince the Stalkers to join us in the defense of Triboar, but understandably their focus is on the Slumber," lamented Cayderyn.

"Fear not my friend - Gwaeron has given me a sign. I had a dream last night in which Gwaeron pointed towards six saplings, the bright sun shining down on five of the saplings and the sixth of the saplings was in a dappled light - not quite in the dark - but not quite in the light either. Our saviours walk among us - who knows, some of them may have come with the Carnival", Faurael reassured his friend. "Though I hear a blind girl is part of the show this time round can you imagine - our salvation is dependent on girl who can not even see her own hands!" Both warriors shared a chuckle at such a ludicrous thought, the brief moment of brevity welcomed by both.


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