A Lonesome Road
Blood of Wintersbreath
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Book 1
Chapter 2
A Lonesome Road

Featuring

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Synopsis

The morning following the attack on Wintersbreath, Sloan searches the burned ruins of Jora's lodge for a cache of alchemical supplies he'd kept curiously hidden beneath the floorboards of his home. Discovering the decorative, wooden box Sloan examined its contents and continued on to the burned remains of her family's home. There, all the young woman found was the burned remains of her family's possessions; charred books, burned leather, a lifetime of memories caked in ash and snow. Her somber work done, Sloan noticed a look of sympathy and understanding in Ashera's face, though a look the elven ranger chose not speak to.

On the road north out of Wintersbreath, Sloan and Ashera discussed the unusual manner of the orc attack and Ashera's experiences with other villages the horde struck on their way from the remote Mindspin Mountains to the west. Neither could discern a pattern to their targets, as Ashera described the kinds of villages attacked and the kinds left alone. Both remarked on the unlikelihood of these orcs working together, given that they are from different, warring clans of low ranking in their homeland of Belkzen. The horde's conglomerate appears to be comprised of orcs from "thrall" clans, claimed and used like slaves by more elite and dangerous Belkzen orc clans. Further confusing the matter was a discovery Sloan made while inspecting the houses burned down in Wintersbreath; she recognized the pungent smell of chemicals used in the creation of alchemist's fire in the soot. Ashera did not believe these clans had the knowledge or resources required to make such a powerful alchemical flame. During their discussion, Ashera and Sloan came upon an ambush laid by the orcs. Spotting the crude ambush before falling into it, the two crept up through the woods and turned the ambush around on the orcs, killing them before they could even strike.

Hours later, Ashera and Sloan's journey north took them to a clearing in the forest where a recent farmstead was built, one that had come under attack by the orc horde. To their surprise, one of the cage wagons used to haul captives remained behind the bulk of the horde along with a group of orcs injured in the attack that were nursing their wounds. In a pitched battle, Sloan and Ashera fought off more than a half-dozen of these wounded savages, though Sloan was seriously injured and knocked unconscious by a ferocious blow from one of the orcs just before the conclusion of the battle.

While unconscious, Sloan experienced an unusual vision of being in an ancient, moss-covered forest surrounded by five monolithic trees; an ash, oak, birch, yew, and fir. Each of the trees were inscribed with runes long since faded. Walking a circuit of the circle of trees, Sloan felt living presences within the trees, and could hear distant, murmuring voices along with these presences. She was soon visited by the albino stag, which scratched the yew tree with its antlers causing the tree to weep blood from its wound. Sloan could sense selfishness, anger, and frustration coming from the tree along with a sense of ruthlessness and cunning accompanied by the sound of rustling, autumn leaves.

Each other tree Sloan visited now gave a presence. The ash tree was wise and impartial with a sense of great age; the birch tree was compassion, kindness, and concern; and the fir tree was unpredictable, passionate, powerful, and matronly. Before she could examine the oak tree, Sloan spotted strange tethers of blue-violet light weaving through the darkened wood beyond the circle. Following them, Sloan found herself drawn through a circuitous path back to where she started, except the ancient trees were much smaller and grown around familiar looking standing stones. At the center of the circle was a flat stone slab inscribed with glowing runes, above which floated a snarl of the light tendrils with an inky, black center. An unearthly cold expanded from the snarl, freezing the interior of the circle. The moment Sloan stepped into the circle, she awoke on the ground with Ashera nearby, having just administered a healing potion to her.

After recuperating from her injuries, Ashera caught Sloan up to speed that she had been unconscious for only a few minutes. In that time, she'd released the prisoners — some of whom had been captured at Wintersbreath, others in previous villages struck. From the survivors, Sloan discovered that some of the captives had been held for a month and that the orcs number in the hundreds and may have at least 200 captives. The owner of the farmstead that was attacked remained cagey to Sloan and Ashera, claiming to have fought off the orcs while his wife and child remained hidden in the basement of his home, however he refused to check on them while the others were present.

Sloan's primary concern laid with the other survivors, supplying them as best as she could to travel south to Crystalhurst to meet up with the other refugees of the orc attack on Wintersbreath. Meanwhile, she and Ashera would continue on north. The farmsteader chose not to leave with those headed to Crystalhurst, and told Sloan that he would leave later and in a different direction so as to not "be caught again with the rest of the pack."

Ultimately, Sloan and Ashera chose not to waste time confronting the farmer and left north, traveling several more hours until dark. Making camp for the night, Sloan asked Ashera if she was familiar with runes — careful to not address the nature of her question — before showing one of the runes from her dream to the ranger. Ashera recalled seeing similar letters, which she believed to be from an ancient language predating the Age of Darkness, on monuments across the western nation of Varisia.

While the nature of the runes were not revealed, Sloan did make an unexpected discovery. After some curiosity about the similar make of her armor compared to Ashera's, and Ashera's curiosity about how Sloan learned how to wield an elven curveblade, the two discovered a shared figure in their pasts — Sloan's father Dannor. Ashera claims to have trained Dannor as a young man in swordplay and archery somewhere near the Bloodsworn Vale in Varisia. While she was sparse on details of their relationship, it was clear that Ashera was both surprised and confused to have reunited — after a fashion — with Dannor after what sounded like many years. After that discovery, both Ashera and Sloan agreed that something unusual was transpiring for such unlikely sequences of events to be colliding…

…events they had only just begun to discover the significance of.

Previously Sign of the Stag
Continued In The Line