Just east of the Banshee Wastes, the large settlement of Hope was once a thriving trade center. Though on the edge of Orcish lands, it has been well-frequented by merchants, diplomats, and holy peoples seeking to cleanse the lands beyond Aenn. However, the supposed dragon attack only three months ago has left Hope nearly demolished. All but the center of town has been reduced to rubble, and ash clings to the town like a permanent stain.
As the Travelers finish their hearty ration stew, the druid finally wakes. She questions the situation for a moment before details start coming back to her, and eventually she is made fully aware of the situation, as well as introduced to the party. She recalls that she must continue on to Hope, in her mission to “heal” the Banshee Wastes. She therefore offers payment to the Travelers if they can escort her there; seeing no reason not to, they accept.
That being settled, it comes time to discuss the orc encampment to the southeast. Kho Na’an insists upon trying to communicate with them first, and though the druid and some others object, they eventually concede. Just as they begin discussing tactics, however, they hear a galloping from behind them, and a loud, high-pitched voice calling “Steady!” Who should they see, but Wanda, seated on a murky brown pony, galloping just a few paces beyond them until the horse stops in its tracks and she is thrown off. Kho Na’an lifts her and checks on her, asking if she is okay; he is pleasantly surprised to discover who it is, and after a brief conversation to catch up, she repairs his smiley watch so that it will glow whenever kobolds are nearby. After that exchange, she meets the rest of the group and explains the nature of her journey; she is on a trade route to sell her wares in Hope, and attempting to make the journey quickly as she has been appraised of the orcs on the warpath. She informs the group that they are heading for Aderann, capital of Aenn- though newly informed, Kho Na’an and the group still feel they should check the encampment and attempt to reason with them. At this, Wanda bids them farewell and hops on her pony, then takes off in the direction of Hope.
Kho Na’an, Blaze, and Xenlin go to scope out the orc encampment, while Voltage, Caratticus, and Annalae the Druid carry on towards the town. Kho Na’an and Blaze sneak up to the encampment to discover a band of 50+ orcs, pitching tents outside of an old, ruined tower. Kho Na’an, ever resolute, approached the encampment, hailing in Orcish. He was approached by two warriors, who upon hearing some convincing diplomacy business, agreed to show him their war path in exchange for help in discerning the quickest and safest path to the human capital. Kho Na’an follows the orcs into the broken tower, hoping to gain some intelligence from the ordeal.
Caratticus, Voltage, and Annalae arrive at Hope to find it in absolute ruin. The town is hard to see through the fog; all the Travelers can make out is ruined homes and ash. Annalae is deeply saddened by this discovery, and becomes distant from the others. The three decide, rather than waiting at the outskirts of town as planned, they should go in and search for signs of life. As they draw closer to the center of town, this is exactly what they find; more and more buildings have been left standing, and even a few humans can be sighted going about their daily business. Caratticus asks a man what happened here; he is unsure they will believe him at first, but divulges the attack of a green dragon only a few months ago. Not having much more information to give, he directs them to Eliade in the town center, who he claims is running the town following the attack.
Upon seeing the tactical map, Kho Na’an advises the commander to send half his men through the Banshee Wastes so as to flank the capital from either side- if they think they’re skilled enough. The half-orc hopes that in sending half the orcs through the Banshee Wastes, the commander will weaken his own forces, the Wastes being terribly dangerous and shrouded in Draconic myth. Kho Na’an then offers his services in scouting Hope, which the new route would lead the orcs straight through. The orc commander concedes, sending Kho Na’an east with five of his best. As the half-orc departs with his scouting party, he yells “ambush” in Draconic to alert Blaze to the situation. He then proceeds to delay the orcs as much as possible as Blaze and Xenlin travel on horseback to Hope, in the process learning their names and lengthy back stories. The largest orc is named Ulnar, and he carries a falchion. The next two are Grub’nak and Gul’dak, who, as Kho Na’an recalls, were in a small domestic dispute the previous night. The remaining two are Temmie and Temmie; Temmie is the quiet one of the group, but Temmie is rather headstrong and is deeply offended at Kho Na’an’s reference to him as “Temmie II.” Temmie is Temmie, Temmie insists, and though Temmie has little to say on this matter, Temmie is obviously wounded by the ordeal. Still, Temmie is cheered by Kho Na’an’s suggestion of a traditional Orcish insult contest, and even participates a bit (though his insults don’t branch far from excessive use of “h0is”).
Blaze and Xenlin reach Hope to find the very same ruins that their companions encountered. Blaze descends from the horse, dazed by the sight; it reminds him of dragon fire, and he is triggered. Xenlin pushes him to act, and the two decide to split up; Xenlin will travel to the center of town in search of the magic-users, while Blaze will scout the route back to note the progress of the orcs. That being decided, they part ways, and the paladin proceeds on Horcerer (accept it, Xenlin) to the town center. Blaze puts his masterful sneaking to good use and tracks the orcs back a short distance; he finds them as Kho Na’an is listening intently to the various long-winded backgrounds of his Orcish party. Blaze determines that it’s roughly a 40-minute march to the broken gate of Hope, and so hastily makes his way back, stopping only to observe a small outcropping that could prove useful in case the aforementioned ambush comes into play.
Caratticus, Voltage, and Annalae reach the center of town to discover the still active community of Hope. A large town hall stands out above all other structures, garnished by a small but intricate fountain at the foot of its steps. A large guard post lies to the hall’s right, and a smaller one to its left. Across the main road is an assortment of shops and crudely repaired residences. Annalae wanders off, still in some sort of daze upon seeing the desolation of this place. Caratticus and Voltage speak to a guard standing beyond the larger post; he tells the Travelers that Eliade can be found in the town hall, and that no, he’s not quite sure about lighting up the fountain, and they should ask Eliade if it’s regulation since they’re already looking for her (municipal gubbanent being extremely important to the people of Hope). That being settled, the magic-users make for town hall, when they see Xenlin approach on horseback through the fog. He quickly dismounts and tells them of the approaching orcs, and they decide to speak to Eliade together. They check on Annalae first, but she seems quite taken with the fountain. “There was water here, once…” she mutters in dazed, melancholic Elven. They decide to leave her to it.
The Travelers approach Eliade within the town hall as she discusses daily matters with a guard. She wears leather armor and speaks with an unusually casual tone; however, there is nothing about her that does not immediately convey leadership. More important matters having come up following the discussion of lights and dragons, the Travelers quickly decide to inform her of the impending orc scouting party. She appears all at once angered, exhausted, and unnerved by this situation; she sends her guard to ready the troops and have them stationed in each remaining residence to protect the citizenry. Though she prepares to meet the orcs head-on, the Travelers inform her that they should have no trouble dealing with this mess (failing to mention that they themselves may have caused the mess in the first place ;P). After some convincing, she accepts their help and goes out to make sure that her people are getting to safety.
The paladin, wizard and cleric exit the town hall- who should they encounter, but Wanda! She is pleased that the three have made it to Hope, but is made uncomfortable by the discussion of orcs approaching the settlement. She offers her assistance in fighting them, but is at great length told by Xenlin that the Travelers should have no trouble handling the ordeal. That being done, she departs yet again to go about her business, seeming more annoyed than anything else that the orcs might interfere with her day. Once the gnome leaves them, they decide to reconvene with Blaze to discuss strategy.
Blaze meets up with Xenlin, Voltage, and Caratticus on the outskirts of town, with Kho Na’an still leading the orcs in that very direction (at this point, Annalae is gods-know-where). Blaze mentions the choke-point he discovered, and the four decide to position themselves there – the ranger and the wizard lying in wait, the paladin and the cleric standing out to confront the potential foe head-on. They are sitting at the rocky outcropping for mere minutes before they sight the orcs; when Kho Na’an draws near, he turns to face them and delivers a spine-chilling speech:
“Orcs! Fellow kinsmen! I am Kho of the House Na’an, Barbarian. Blood of my blood, noble orcs need not fall this night! We have no quarrel with you, and our martial might has bested all foes thus far. Even now we have comrades gathering strength, and our combat would surely be ruination onto you. Ulnar, you spoke to me of your family. You know that their honor would be stained with your death, and their glory ensured with your life. Grubnak, your search for wealth and women cannot continue beyond the grave. Temmie, do you not want to claim your namesake, live up to that glorious legacy?
Surrender or join us in our fight. It is the harder struggle, but the more honorable.”
He levels his axe, and narrows his eyes at them.
“Gruumsh himself protects our quest.”
The orcs look shocked for a few moments, but slowly each one of them begins to consider the words of the half-orc. Grub’nak turns to his partner. “Gul’dak… I’m tired of living a lie…” Temmie looks down and appears on the verge of tears. “Temmie just want to be Temmie…” Four of the orcs are ready to leave this place; the only one who remains unconvinced is Ulnar. As the troupe readies themselves to leave, Ulnar turns to Kho Na’an with a hateful glare. “We will not forget this, Kho of the house Na’an.” The half-orc attempts to intimidate Ulnar, to little avail. However, as the largest of the scouting party turns to leave, Xenlin calls out to him, challenging him to unarmed combat, a duel of honor- should Xenlin win, Ulnar is to say nothing of what happened here. Ulnar, being honor-bound and foolhardy, immediately accepts. The orcs and the Travelers gather in a small circle as the combatants ready themselves (except for Blaze, who is still just being sneaky af). Bets are placed; everyone has a jolly old time.
The battle starts with a troublesome amount of misses; the two seem to continuously dodge each other’s punches, and attempts to grapple fail outright. Soon, however, the tides turn in favor of Ulnar. He begins to land blow after blow, knocking Xenlin around and boggling his senses. As this transpires, and although no one witnesses it, Caratticus shifts in his position on a low rock; a shadowed look comes over him, as if his wits are once again about him. Ulnar throws a few more punches, and eventually Xenlin is thrown to the ground by a strong uppercut. Caratticus bends down to check on him, calling for the orc to wait; he sees Xenlin is unconscious, and stealthily heals him with a hand on his back. This action appears to be unwitnessed by any of the orcs, and the fight continues with Xenlin appearing to have a “second wind.”
For a long time, neither of the fighters manage to land a blow. However, after a great deal of time, and much to the delight of the Travelers, Xenlin becomes more and more adept at landing small and efficient blows on his orc foe. Though the fight was long and hard, the paladin manages to eventually knock Ulnar to the ground. The Travelers rejoice; the orcs appear shocked, but accept this and, with dignity, pick up their unconscious friend and carry him off in the direction of the encampment. Before they leave, however, Temmie stops and turns to them, a severe and terribly serious look crossing his usually blank face. “I saw what you did, cleric,” he states. Caratticus affixes him with a solid stare, and claims he has no idea what the orc is talking about. However, the orc’s nat 20 spot skills prevail, and he leaves with knowledge of Caratticus’ dishonorable action in helping the paladin. Though he is dissuaded somewhat by the combination of intimidation and diplomacy that the group inflicts upon him, he leaves with merely a promise that he will think about it. Xenlin, of course, is unaware of all of this, having stumbled away to find a seat after being thrown around to a great extent. Once the orcs have departed, the Travelers make to go about their business. First, however, Caratticus has more to do in his brief moment of clarity. He walks up to Kho Na’an in a rage, and promptly delivers a surprisingly eloquent lecture:
“You blithering fool! How dare you endanger the citizens of Hope? Your actions put lives at stake! Women, children, families! You dared to flout the teaching of St. Cuthbert with unequaled ignorance! I have no means of knowing what put you on course towards this act- and for the Savior of Protection’s sake, I don’t want to. Praise be to St. Cuthbert that he did not acknowledge this blatant disregard for the protection of innocents.”
“You nearly have damned the citizens of Hope and have unnecessarily ruined their chances of avoiding bloodshed in the future. How could you have taken such risk without worrying of the consequences? Explain yourself, Kho Na’an. I demand you tell me why you take such risk!”
At this outburst, everyone is shocked (except for Xenlin, who is still too “birdies flying about the skull” to notice). Even more shocking, though, is Kho Na’an’s reaction: he slaps Caratticus and states plainly yet forcefully, “I’ve had to care for you as a child for months. Don’t you dare question me.” He asks Caratticus if he knows the population of Aderann, in an attempt to make his point; unfortunately, it is to no avail, as the slap knocked Caratticus from his moment of clarity, and he has completely forgotten his outburst as well as the events of the past few minutes.
As he realizes his mentor has slipped back into his haze of senility, Kho Na’an turns to address the rest of his companions; what was once an early afternoon has sunk into late evening, and the Travelers take this time to recount the terrible amount of things that have transpired over mere hours.