Aym 25 1333 YS
We sit here licking our wounds, wondering just what went wrong. I think it was due to a couple of factors. The enemy, a group of bandits led by a very smart bard, had used magic to give themselves a great tactical advantage, and we rushed headlong into the ambush without spending any time at all discussing a battle plan… or more correctly, the plan we had discussed was moot because of the illusory wood they’d placed between the road and their stronghold. We should have known. All the clues were there.
Let me go back a few days, to better explain what led up to this fight. We’d left Phthyanopolis and had many days travel along the Silk Road behind us. Our travels had gone relatively smoothly with only a couple of strange yet innocent encounters along the way, including a legion of Imperial clad orcs. A strange site, and they were brutes, every last one. Thankfully our wiser comrades prevailed, pointing out that to encounter this army would be foolish on a myriad of levels, so we left them be, despite their taunts.
We’d left the safety of the Great Silk Road, and set our course south toward Taginae, our intent as I last wrote: to cross the southern border of Aetrelia and make our way to see you in Drusas. The countryside was very peaceful. Small farms and pastures, lovely golden fields to either side of the dirt track we traveled. We had passed an unusual stand of trees, but thought nothing of it, not being familiar with this territory or terrain. It simply seemed as a thick stand of the same types of trees we’d seen dotting this pastoral landscape. But as time would tell, it was not as safe and pastoral as it appeared.
Our first clue something was amiss was an Imperial legionnaire. He came from the direction we traveled, riding furiously past us as we lunched off the roadway. He was bloodied, and the magnificent palfrey he spurred on at a fearful pace was well lathered. He passed us without word or even acknowledgment. A couple of hours later, a pack of wardogs, also wearing Imperial livery, gave us a pause when they limped by us, obviously tracking the earlier rider by scent. They were all terribly road-worn, and some of them were visibly injured. We thought it best to let them pass, for they looked fierce and we really did not want to have to kill them. I mean, they were someone’s beloved steeds after all (even if those someones were wretched Imperial soldiers).
Winding our way toward the Arcadia River, and well before we reached the small town of Veralamium, we happened upon a grisly scene of battle. A legion of Imperial soldiers had been slaughtered to a man, or so we thought. The lot had been looted of coin, weapons and armor. All save one, who as we approached, moved and groaned. This lone survivor, we discovered, was an ogre, a Colosini from the southern continent. Iz’Alma healed him up, after a brief discussion regarding the merits of doing so, and a tense moment before this creature, dressed in giant-sized Imperial regalia, smiled and thanked her for her kindness. He even paid her for her efforts, giving her a primitive looking necklace with a claw pendant which turned out to bestow her with some sort of natural armor protection.
This Colosini, named of all things, Julius Cleaver (he ironically wields a giant greataxe – which had been pinned between his massive body and the ground, thus the bandits did not steal it). Julius told us about being ambushed by a troupe of bandits, led by a caster who used his enchantments to befuddle, slow, and overcome the legionnaires. It had been evident when we examined Julius that they had attempted to kill him after he had fallen, but this brute was incredibly healthy and survived the three days that had passed since the ambush.
We put the souls of the fallen legion to rest, building a great pyre by the roadside, and we provided the ogre with coins enough to place into their eyes, to pay their god to ferry them into the afterlife. I am sure that this ferryman is Moremekar, and their souls will be safely delivered to Maal for judgement, though I am wise enough to not say so in the presence of a beastly Imperial officer who could snuff out my tiny life with one well-placed stomp.
And speaking of his great feet, it seemed that the only personal possession the bandits had stolen from Julius other than his purse, were his boots. Julius implored us to help him avenge his fellows, and also to retrieve his magical boots. He promised us a reward, for it is known that returning stolen Phthyan regalia was not only the right thing to do, but required by law if the citizens were able to the task. Good thing we are not citizens, but we agreed to help him anyways.
Julius told us of the ambush in detail, and mentioned that the terrain, even though it was the very same locale where his men had fallen, appeared very different now than it had the day of the battle. We mentioned the odd stand of trees, and he said that this places had looked exactly as we described the other. Additionally, he told us that the ground was full of treacherous rocks, making it difficult to fight here. And despite the rough ground, the enemy seemed unhindered and sure of foot. I was pretty amazed at how intelligent this Julius was. I had never met an ogre before, and though he was ugly as the backside of evil, he was truly not a bad person. He was affected by the slaughter of his comrades, and even wept openly when their pyres took their bodies and released their souls (that is what these folks believe, and it is not my job to correct them – everyone knows the soul leaves the body after three minutes to seek either a shrine or to be taken by Mormekar).
So the next morning we set out, back the way we’d come, to avenge the legionnaires. Yes, I can hardly believe it, working with the Imperials against rebellious brigands, but I was the minority and you know I will not just stand aside and let my companions put themselves into danger without aiding them. So… after a long day of travel, and a couple of nasty encounters with some giant insects, we came to an area that had a thicket of trees, not unlike the one we’d seen previously, but much farther along the road than where we’d seen it before. We knew that it was some sort of ensorcelment, but we had no idea how bad it was going to be.
We were discussing tactics on the road beside the stand of trees, thinking ourselves safe behind the cover of the trees. But alas we were proven terribly wrong when a volley of arrows and crossbow bolts issued forth from the wood. How they could see us to fire upon us was uncanny at best, and witchery at worst (which in the end it turned out to be). Kumori and Julius charged into the wood, as did Smriti. It was a terrible battle, for before we even reached their small fortified structure, many of us had been pin-cushioned by their fire. I did my best to keep my comrades alive, and I think I saved lives that day, but just barely.
We finally discovered that the wood was an illusion to hide them from travelers passing along the road, but as the bandits knew it was an illusion, and they could perceive right through it. Hence they launched volley after volley of missile fire at us. A brilliant tactic. By the time we discovered the illusion for what it was, the bard had enhanced his minions, and weakened us. A few more spells flew out of the structure, which we discovered was itself a magical conjuration, for after the bard had fled, he dispelled the thing hoping to catch Ian unaware and drop from the roof where he was hiding. Thank goodness Ian was still flying.
We did manage to take down (or chase off) all of the henchmen, including a terrible dwarf by the name of Boris. We learned his name because the cruel fool kept referring to himself in the third person. “Boris will now cut of your head!” Boris will disembowel you presently!” What a deuce. He died, and pretty horribly. It was amazing to watch Julius fight. His axe was magically enhanced, and he literally would cut one or two of these bandits down with every stroke. Cleaving some of them cleanly in two. Gross. I am pretty sure he could make short work of Dorak or Kumori, and after the battle we all commented on how happy we were that he was on OUR side.
The bard, whom we only glimpsed as he was fleeing, got away. The elf turned invisible (of course), and must have flown away, for he left no sign or trace of track for us to follow. He also got away with Julius’ boots. As disturbing as it is to have such a killing monster in our midst, adventuring with a disgruntled and vengeful killing monster is quite unsettling indeed.
We are camping for the night, and will decide what to do about this bandit-bard and the others that got away. Luckily we have recovered the Imperial Standard the bandits stole, along with a plethora of uniforms, armor and shields. Surprisingly, we did not find the entire legion’s worth of equipment, which leads us to believe they may have another hidden camp. Their horses, we found tied behind where the magical shelter had been.
You know, my love, that I always keep myself as far away from danger as I can, yet still I tend to the party and act as a supporting combatant, especially since I learned that little trick from Smriti on how to topple even the mightiest of creatures. I am as safe as I can possibly be, and my companions all look out for me as well. This is a good group I have found, and I know you will love them as much as I do.
I am more excited to see you with each passing day. I am hoping that we will find your letter waiting for us either in Taginae, Momagena, Aesis or Ölisipo.
All my love,