Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Sixty Eight




We wended our way to the bottom of the valley. The paths were steep and the snow unrelenting, but we found ourselves at the bottom at last without incident. The snow was half way to my knees in the open, which would prove a problem for burying young Thomas. But in true form, Clarisse spotted the right place before the rest of us. Across the valley, directly beneath the tower where Bob was held captive, stood an enormous tree. The fact it was half a league across an open battle field didn’t seem to concern anyone in particular.

We weren’t stupid, but we were likely lucky. The battle ebbed and flowed, as is their wont. The valley was wide and the armies dispersed. We crossed frozen earth, churned with the passing of giants and scored with the detritus of battle. We gave wide berth to one spot where dozens of mangled orcs sprouted from the frozen mud, their deaths a matter of malevolent magicks.  The dark energy there made me nauseous and forced Clarisse to whimper in fear. The giants were no amateurs at war, that is for sure. We saw evidence of their prowess as we skirted one hill to find another field of dead orcs, their bodies crushed by thrown chunks of stone and ice. The giants required no siege engines in their campaigns.

Once we were surprised by a group of routed orcs, their leaders dead and their eyes on finding shelter. Half of them had thrown down their weapons in their haste to escape the ferocity of the giants. We slew a dozen or more, but most fled, attempting to flow around us as if we were the stone and they the rushing stream. It was not glorious battle by any means. Rote actions, muscle memory and emotionless actions, as if batting aside an irksome fly. We were on a mission and the bother of the orcs was not to be accepted.

We did hide at one point when the battle flowed toward us, the giants in one skirmish losing, being brought down by ballista fire from the orcs, and overwhelming numbers. While the orcs had to have lost twenty or more in the exchange, the six giants they felled — obviously not veterans — weakened that portion of the line, allowing the orcs to rush forward, like a swarm of acid spiders over a dying mount. From where Bob viewed the valley, it had to look just like that. I wondered at his state of mind.

The sun moved across the sky, though it was shrouded behind clouds. We witnessed two more giants fall once the orcs got beyond the embankments, and for the first time I considered the fact the giants may not win. Granted, some had retreated with their mounts, being unable to use them in a tactical extraction, but it appeared to me that they may have need of their mounted troops to sway the final tide of battle.

More than half way to the tree we came upon those orcs that had fallen in the onslaught that breached the giant line. Having witnessed battle previously on this scale I was only slightly shocked at the carnage. The brigands, more highway robbers than murderers, had never seen death on this scale. Clarisse grew very quiet and young Seth began to vomit at the state of the smashed and broken bodies. Just Jacob led him onward once he could stand.

I relished the cold and the snow in that moment. The stink of death is horrific, the stench of a recent battle foul beyond words. While our crew wound through the clumps of sundered flesh that had once been sentient, if awful, being, I risked a small hillock, rising above the general miasma of the valley. The way we had come looked impossible. How had we made it through all that and not been slaughtered? It was as if we were protected somehow.

I looked upward toward Bob’s tower, a flash of hope in my heart. The light there had not rekindled. I swallowed, guilt churning in my gut. Bob had leant me part of his power, channeled the light he had somehow been endowed with and I fear my lack of faith may have flowed back through that conduit and hurt him somehow. I had no experience with the sharing of power, nor the ramifications thereof. I took a deep breath, eschewing the path behind us and strode back down toward the others who were huddled beneath the edges of a grove of ancient boughs. The tree we sought was at the very heart of the coppice, a colossus among titans.

The ground here was softer and the snow fell away after only a rod or so into the shadow of the canopy. The quiet of the falling snow was a ruckus compared to the near breathless silence of the trees. This was holy ground. Not that of a church or temple, but place to worship nature. I would imagine a great order of druids ruled here once, or perhaps still did. I definitely had the foreboding that we were being watched from the instant we lost sight of the sky above.

And why not an order of druids. This land had been part of the greater nine and sixty kingdoms. Their cultures may have fallen and risen a thousand times since the great city perished in fire. Some powers of good (or at no worse neutral) may have been rekindled here. I just hoped they saw us as pilgrims and not someone to sacrifice. The trees moved their branches above us, from what I dearly hoped was wind.

I opened my mouth to ask Just Jacob if he was familiar with these woods, but no words came out. Instead I coughed once, amazed by the dryness of my throat. The others seemed to realize their plight at the same instant as weapons came up and choked coughs rang out from the others. Scarlet pulled her waterskin from her belt and took a long pull, coughing again and managing a single word.

“Dryads,” before we were overwhelmed in a golden light so powerful, we each fell to our knees.

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