Oren had been taking notice that the spirits he encountered were in tune to the surroundings. In general, if the atmosphere was cordial they would be amenable to his desires. When there was chaos they were in chaos as well; keeping them at bay in a busy city might require far more effort than out here. But the correlation was not a guarantee that they would match up. If there was harmony here and a nearby place had discord, the panic could flow over.
They packed up after a cold breakfast of jerky and water. It was not half as good as lunch the day before. And within the first hour of daylight they were on their way.
It was around midday that Martell noticed a smell in the air, something she could not recall the origin of. It made her tense. It was the scent of something she had not encountered in years. It was something that she should recall but for some reason the memory did not come forward. The longer she thought on this the more elusive the memory seemed to be. Her consciousness turned through corners trying to recall where or how it was familiar. But the odor was faint and she went down many tangential thoughts each time she thought she finally recalled. When she asked Oren and Rowenn if they could smell it or place it, they were uncertain as to what she referred to. There was a strong aroma of pine in the air among the normal smells of the forest. At one point Oren thought it may be some animal, but of this Martell was certain it was not. As they started to pass out of the forest and up to the foot hills, she was able to get it. Then as if it had been lurking for the right moment to strike, her eyes widened in realization.
“Off the horses,” hissed Martell. The smell had finally come back to her. She continued, “The smell is that of an oil that is used by goblins when they attack. Odds are the goblins do not know we are here and if they see us mounted on the horses we will be the target of a barrage of arrows. They have mastered archery, but not much else in the realm of civilization as far as anyone else is concerned. They have a remarkable knack for knowing distances when it came to trying to peg down their prey. But what is more threatening is that they possess a glass arrowhead with an oil inside. The oil catches fire when it comes in contact with the air. To the best of my recollection, water does not extinguish the fire either.”
“So either they were or are here?” Rowenn asked.
“Yes, we should go more cautiously up these hills with the assumption we will be attacked.” Martell replied quietly. “They are small creatures about two feet tall, maybe two and a half. They have a face that looks kind of like a cross between a pig and a dog. Their skin is anywhere from a yellowish brown to dark gray and generally hairless. They are generally covered in a patchwork of smaller animal skins, though their leaders may have a pelt from a wolf or a deer on them. The attack in small groups but are usually coordinated with a larger pack.”
There were no signs of a struggle or fight within sight. They would be cresting the hill soon, so hopefully they would be able to get a peak on things and not be ambushed. Based on the strength of the smell, Martell figured that it was earlier today that the struggle took place and that a fair number of arrows had been used.
As they got near the top, Rowenn held the horses back while Oren and Martell crawled forward. Looking over the top of the hill, they saw in the valley several dozen bodies. They looked a mixture of goblins, horses, and humans. They surveyed for a sign of the victor or at least survivor of the ordeal. Martell could tell by the banners that lay on the field this had to have been Tabia’s forces. Oren spotted a band of people at the bottom of the field. The banners were of two trees.
“Martell, I think they are over there.” he pointed.
“Yes, but let’s look a little longer. I want to make sure we are in the clear before rushing down there.” To Oren, she looked to be counting something more than simply looking for anyone in the distance. “There are seventeen dead from Tethinger Order and none I see from Vocknuera Order. There are nine goblins from what I count, maybe more.”
“That doesn’t bode well for Tabia. She may be injured.”
Martell continued to survey the hillside “They probably were ambushed by the goblins. Though the goblins must have fled as opposed to push the fight. Which is odd, based on their normal behavior. That leaves only five left in Tabia’s group. There should have been at least twelve more Goblins and with their archery they should have pushed the fight, despite Tabia’s recently acquired abilities…something is not adding up.”
“Should we go down and meet them?”
“Yeah, but let’s approach properly. Back on the horses, the goblins are not around right now.”
Martell relayed to Rowenn the sight she was about to see as they mounted up. Rowenn gave shiver at the thought of so much death in one place. Oren seemed somewhat distant to the sisters, as if the carnage was still processing somewhere in his head. He said nothing on the trot over to the camp.
They approached the small encampment with a slow friendly gait. Their goal was to approach with calm and not startle those that may be tending to wounds and on the lookout for another fight.
The smell of charred flesh mixed with the odor of the goblins’ oil. It was all Rowenn could do to hold back from vomiting at the putrid mix. If this had been a hot summer day, she would have probably lost it as the scent filled her nostrils.
Oren continued on in silence, breathing through his nose in long inhales and exhales to calm the sense of panic he was feeling. If the aroma had not been so strong, he would have noticed an odor he was more familiar with settle in. However, between the stench and the carnage before him, he completely overlooked the warning sign.
Martell looked over the field and remembered why she did not miss being in the Tethinger Order. This was a scene she had encountered before on several occasions. She did not take time to see if she recognized those that gave their life here. Once early on, in one of her first fights, she had been assigned with some other green soldiers to scour the field looking for survivors after the fight. She made the mistake of gazing into the eyes of a fallen comrade. It hit home at that moment the true cost of the battle that day. She didn’t recall what made her recall that memory. Something about the field below her stirred that memory and emotion. Martell did not look down and knew the moment she did she would have been useless.
As they approached, Martell called out, “Tabia, are you ok? This is Martell and Oren.”
There was some commotion before an answer was shouted back from a familiar voice, “Yes, I am. We had a struggle here but I am ok. I cannot say the same for everyone else.”
They sped up their approach with the confirmation of friendly intent. When they arrived they found Tabia and the priest of Dahl along with the two Vocknuera knights. Bound on the floor was an injured foot soldier from the Tethinger Order.
“He and his friends turned on us when the goblins assaulted. Thankfully, they had no idea what ability the gods bestow upon the faithful. The goblins were either puzzled by the whole ordeal or lost their nerve when they saw the betrayers fall so quickly. Our friend here has been a bit hesitant to talk. Needless to say, once this ordeal is over we will need to clean house at Tethinger. Perhaps it is time Latl gets her temple back.”
“Indeed they have lost their way,” commented Rowenn, “I am here for the key to our vault. The Tethinger Order assaulted our temple after you left and I was forced to seal it with me outside.”
“You may have the key, but after we finish our journey to Wind Gait. The fortress is where Casapan and the Drémores are. I believe they are the ones who also corrupted the order with promises of power.”
“I see, if this is what Varelle has commanded then I will fight at your side when the time comes.”
“No, you are not to fight. You are to be kept safe from harm in case I fall so the lineage of priestesses continues. But the vault is not to be opened till Tethinger is brought in line and no longer a threat.”
“Then where am I to stay in safety, Lady Tabia?”
“You shall stay with the supply wagons and support for the army, out of the fighting. Martell, you and Oren are free to stay with her or fight with us in the assault.”
“Lady Tabia, why is the assault necessary?” Oren inquired. “Aside from the gods deeming it necessary.”
“Casapan is not to be treated so nicely. In his day, when he had favor in the Drémore Kingdom, he tried to bypass the guidance of the priests. What’s more, near the end of the Drémore Kingdom, he turned on the priests that had stayed loyal to the Drémores, executing two of them. He claimed they had misled the king and it was their fault for the losses suffered. King Drémore was corrupted by Casapan and went along with his every word. No king prior or since has slain so many followers of the gods. He is why, to this day, the name Varelle has little recognition outside the city of Avo. She has become the goddess of Avo.” Tabia’s voice was ringing with anger, “He is why Latl and Dahl are names you hear no longer in the south. He is why the city of Aleto has no faith in the gods.” She raised a sword in the air and brought down toward the Tethinger prisoner.
In a flash, Martell was by him deflecting the impending blow with her dagger and all the strength she could muster. “Lady Tabia or Varelle, whoever is in control, stand down. This is not Casapan. He may have betrayed you, but he will not be able to explain if he is dead.” The man just lay their cowering, defenseless. Glancing over Martell was certain he would talk now; however, she was unsure if this was Tabia’s goal or if his death had been her plan. Martell knew this Tabia would easily best her if it came to a fight.
“As I said before,” the man squeaked out, “I don’t know who is directing all this. I only know our orders were to turn on you, as you were leading us to certain death.” His body shuddered, confused as to what it should feel other than terror and it was taking its toll on him. “The order was to make our move in one of the valleys. There would be goblins there and the Order has a truce with them, so we were using them as a distraction to break free.”
“I am not buying it,” Tabia retorted, “You know more.”
“No I don’t!” He said with determination. “Look at the quality of soldiers they sent you. We are the lowest ranking, the newest of knights, ready to prove ourselves. The captain they sent was of no such rank and experience; you saw how fast he fell to the Vocknuerans.”
“He may have a point,” Martell interjected, “With all due respect to you two men, but if these were seasoned troops the order sent then at least one of you should be injured or dead after this ordeal.” Neither of the two knights said anything, one nodded in agreement.
“So the order has no honor left?” Tabia spoke. “Martell you did well in releasing yourself from their clutches. I do think there must be others in the Order that are worthy of respect and honor. I only hope it is enough to keep it around.”
“What does the priest of Dahl think we should do?” Asked Rowenn.
He bowed modestly before one of the Knights of Vocknuera spoke. “My name is Ba-shar. Our esteemed priest of Dahl is mute. It does not hinder any other aspect in life other than to make small talk. He will write out his verdict of execution or prison when he has reached it. He does not take these things lightly and prefers not to act in the moment. We will need to wait for the rest of the campaign to get here before moving on. We cannot perform well with diminished forces.”
“So we wait. Has anyone looked among the captain’s body for further information or orders?” Oren asked.
“No, we have not been afforded that luxury yet,” replied Tabia.
“I will go do so if you will direct me to where he fell.”
“About forty paces that way,” she pointed and Oren started off.