Brother, these letters bring me no small measure of comfort, even as they help me record the sights and deeds on our journey to Vasheen. Granted, this is only my first since setting out from our eventful stop in Tseni, but we have already found ourselves in some truly extraordinary circumstances. As such experiences mount, I feel more and more that a group blood oath will help smooth out any potential suspicions between members of the group, and give us a binding reason to help each other out in our endeavor. But as I am wont to do, I digress.
We said our goodbyes at midday, after the dreadful business with the illegal quarrying was resolved, and set out for the next stop on our journey: Timbertown. At our pace, the trip would take roughly one and a half days of travel, but we had perhaps taken for granted that a path exists between Tseni and Ahtenko. The lack of trails and thick undergrowth made travel with our carts difficult, and by the afternoon of our second day of travel we noticed plumes of smoke rising from the general direction of Timbertown. Knowing that the town had been cut off from the rest of Nemahay after a dispute with High Plains Orks, we proceeded with caution.
However, dear brother, I believe that on this journey, we were given purpose, and maybe even a blessing, from none other than Chagee! An ork in brilliant blue robes and bearing a large satchel appeared from the undergrowth and called our names, handing a letter to me stating the following:
“Greetings Silver Linings,
You embark now into the fresh wilds, and ancient grudges. May the Passions protect you and may the dark things fear for their safety as you draw near. The wood you enter is known as the Asaelya Nahmala to those of the High Plains. The Sacred Grove. The orks believe it sacred to Chagee, but what use is a grove to the Passion of exploration?
In your travels, remember that not all can be painted with a single brush. Not every bird that titters bears a message, not every silent wolf wishes ill will. Exploration is discovery. Exploration is truth. Exploration is risk.
Use Caution and keep an open mind.
A Prideful Benefactor”
I read the letter aloud to my compatriots, and before I had finished the ork had disappeared. Truly, this was an extraordinary start to what would be an extraordinary adventure. The rest, however, would not be quite as whimsical.
It was as we passed a low ridge that Lokan heard hurried whispers and called out to whoever was hiding in the brush. Four orks in hides, with shortbows drawn, emerged, led by a fifth of somewhat nobler bearing and with his hand on a fine axe. Lokan immediately recognized these as Naizhan orks, and remembered that their dealings relied heavily on blood oaths and practicality, and the giving of tribute was a customary method of opening any negotiations. Their leader, a man named Wukwa, demanded this tribute and ordered us to turn back. We offered him some weapons and made a blood oath of peace against him and his people for one lunar cycle, in exchange for his vouching for us to his Warchief, a man named Habya.
The group fell in alongside our wagon, and I engaged one of the other orks in conversation about the goings-on in the area. I learned that two warchiefs led approximately 150 braves, evenly split between the two assembled tribes. The aforementioned Habya was a powerful nethermancer representing the Naizhan, while the Keresan were led by Warchief Istaka, an accomplished scout. Approximately one year ago, chieftains from both tribes approached Timbertown to warn them of the sacred grove of Chagee they were desecrating with their presence. Neither chieftain (nor their parties) returned to their own lands. Some weeks ago, Istaka and Habya’s delegation arrived seeking answers, but they were fired on as they approached Timbertown, and this led them to their current course – besieging the town until they got what they wanted. The orks had two grievances; first, that the folk of Timbertown had settled on ground sacred to Chagee. Second, that the killer of their chieftains needed to be brought to justice. From what we observed, however, the first issue was nowhere near as important to the besiegers as the second. Mundane conversation had yielded much useful information!
We were led to the main camp, and saw the palisades of Timbertown, with siege trenches dug around them. We were led to the east of the encirclement, to two large tents. We saw two children running around, but as soon as we approached, a man came out of the tent and shouted for them to go inside. He gestured to another brave to do so as well. Wookwa pointed that man out as Warchief Istaka. He then introduced us, and said that we were at the camp to trade and pay tribute. We noted that Istaka was flanked by two female guards with spears, while Habya was flanked by a suspicious-looking scout. All of their gear appeared to be of good quality – thread items, likely. We were dealing with powerful people, indeed. Istaka explained to us that his brother was among the chieftains who had approached a year ago. They were killed, and when Istaka recently approached Timbertown to learn what had happened, he and his men were fired upon.
Conversation quickly turned to what we could offer, and in short order a blood promise was proposed. We would investigate in Timbertown, endeavor to learn who had killed the chieftains, and bring them to justice. In exchange, Istaka would protect our goods and hirelings while we were out, and promised he would prevent any assault on the town while we were inside. My compatriots took the offer, knowing their investigative skills would be enhanced by the lifeblood used to power this promise. As my endurance was required to help the group, I opted out of this arrangement, and we retired in short order, night now having fallen.
The following morning, Tukko continued evaluating the markets while we approached the gate to Timbertown. Three of us (Gen, Lokan, and Tala) were allowed to approach (without weapons) to parlay. A yaguarete woman who introduced herself as Sheriff Charyssa was the leader of the guards inside of Timbertown and met our party at the gates, demanding that Gen, Lokan and Tala explain themselves. After they described the situation to her, she let the rest of us in and offered to take us to Mayor Lisk.
The Mayor, who introduced herself asLahalla Lisk, told us the tale from her own perspective. Ork scouts approached about a year ago claiming the people of Timbertown were desecrating the sacred grove of Chagee. The leaders made the agitating orks leave, and that was the last they heard of them. The Lahalla surmised that loggers who were out in the forest might have tried to engage in an act of violence against the orks, but she had discovered no evidence of this in her (admittedly limited) investigation. She pointed out that a battle-hardened, mounted scouting company acting as honor guards to a chieftain could easily dispatch a group of loggers anyway. Lisk also gave us a few leads in town: a weaponsmith named Yuska, formerly of the Keresan tribe; Aren, an elf running Forlorn Logging; and the Tin Roof Inn, where most of the loggers are staying while stuck in the besieged town.
We decided to make our first stop Yuska’s residence, and were greeted by a yaguarete elementalist named Huaztli, who quickly recognized the gloves and bracers we bore. We were let in and Yuska, an older, scarred ork, joined us. We asked about the Keresan, and he admitted that chieftains in the tribe are given a lot of leeway in how they conduct their work. He and Huaztli also noted that recently, there had been strong negative emotions in their astral readings of the town, far worse than could be accounted for by the unrest alone. They surmised that a blood curse placed by the Naizhan may have caused some sort of issue. Their hypothesis might have been wrong, brother, but what they observed fit the chilling pattern we began to put together.
We next visited Forlorn Logging and spoke to its owner, an elf named Aren Spearth. Aren mentioned that the High Plains orks had been expanding their territory, slowly but surely, over the past year, with some attacking his logging teams. As far as encounters within Timbertown, he remembered a shouting match that turned to blows between some orks and an influential logger – a dwarf named Dirk Tallfellow. Since this argument, Dirk had been agitating for a ‘kill on sight’ policy of dealing with the orks.
We decided to head to the Tin Roof Inn to continue our investigation, and upon entering, Gen and Lokan could not help but break into another performance by the Tumblin’ Weeds. As with their previous performances, they quickly enthralled the crowd of approximately 40 sullen loggers with their bravura performance. I noted a young Oni child ferrying soup to hungry loggers, and an oni woman who appeared to be the proprietress of the inn looking at us in surprise. Lokan tried some of the food being given out to the loggers, a strange grayish tuber soup of some kind. I chatted with some of the loggers and then Hachi, the owner of the inn, learning that food has been getting scarce, but that Dirk had come forward with supplies he’d been keeping for his own family in order to provide food for the masses. She admitted that despite his largesse, she had and still did see him as a generally unpleasant individual.
With a strong lead (and equally strong suspicions to accompany it), we headed to Dirk Tallfellow’s residence. While Dave’s attempt to sneak into the home’s cellar was stymied by a strategically placed padlock, the rest of us attempted the tried and true method of the front door. A dwarf woman opened the door a mere crack and introduced herself as Rhonda. She asked us to leave, as her husband was out for the day. Gen convinced her to hear us out, and after some time she let us in; it was at this point that we noticed her black eye, bandaged arm and cracked lip. When we entered, she quickly shut the door behind us and broke down, incoherently talking about how her two sons, Darin and Harin, had been getting more rambunctious of late, and only Dirk could keep them under control. One son had bitten her arm multiple times, while the other hit her lip. The black eye had come from Dirk himself.
We were at a loss. I have encountered violent spouses, but for children to be so bloodthirsty? Something was wrong here. The children, it was now clear, were locked in the cellar, and were scrabbling with great strength to try and escape the cellar; between their cries, Rhonda’s breakdown, and the sudden rage that Lokan seemed to feel toward Dirk, the situation had grown far too confusing. Dave noted the astral space in the area was steeped in very negative energy, and we had little time to consider this new wrinkle before the two children burst out of the cellar and set upon us.
Brother, I need not tell you the genuine fear we all felt here. Our suspicion that the children, having regularly ingested the same food that seemed to give Lokan rage issues after one mere portion, were seized by some supernatural bloodlust was only half-formed in the chaos of the room, and so we struggled to come up with a plan for dealing with them nonviolently. However, their own aggression meant that our only option was to stun and bind them before they could do any harm. After one son was stunned, the other retreated to a corner, whimpering.
Rhonda had recovered from her panic enough to let us know that Dirk had discovered a cavern as he dug the cellar of their home out over a year ago, and had never let her down there. She also noted that he had once had hounds that had grown to monstrous size, but had disappeared some time ago.
We descended into the basement to investigate the cavern, with Lokan staying upstairs in order to keep watch over Rhonda and the kids . We immediately noticed two strange bushes bearing strange tubers, and in between them a large lump under a sheet. I approached the sheet, expecting to find a dead body – and brother, I got far more than I had bargained for. Underneath was a wretched decomposing corpse that could be of no Namegiver; it appeared as if the top few layers of skin had been flayed from the thing, while the flesh glistened as if moist. It had large, claw-like hands and sharp teeth set in a wicked face, and a bundle sat near the thing’s feet.
As Dave inspected the creature with his esoteric knowledge, I proceeded to inspect the bag. Dave’s conclusion was a chilling one – this was no mere Horror construct, though that would be bad enough. In fact, he concluded this may have been the physical manifestation of a now-deceased Horror. With this terrible knowledge, I opened the bag, finding a number of fingers, a pair of hide boots, and a blowgun. The boots, it was easy to see, were of High Plains make, and the conclusion was a chilling one – this was all that was left of the scouting parties that had come to Timbertown a year ago. We had found our murderer.
The discovery of this supernatural danger in the cellar immediately led me to another conclusion: as our benefactor had noted, the idea of a stationary sacred spot for a Passion of exploration was indeed strange – but what if the true purpose of this sacred spot was to keep Namegivers from encountering the tainted energies of a Horror? Perhaps the esteemed Passion had defeated this blasphemous being and hidden it here to keep it from endangering Namegiver lives, only for the logging prospects to bring more Namegivers into the area. One of whom, a xenophobic dwarf, discovered these terrible remains and began doing the dark bidding of a Horror! Now Chagee personally intervening by steering us toward a path of peace made sense – war would only expose more Namegivers to this threat.
I did not have time to share this information with my compatriots, as upon grabbing the bag we heard the front door of the house smash open – Dirk had come home, and he was angry.