Hugo Tuya’s guards have lost Hugo Tuya and failed to discharge their sole responsibility on their journey through the Middlemarch. Morning has come after the deepfolk ambush, and they need to make decisions about what to do next. It is the 5th of the month of Travel and they have two days’ food left when the sun rises. The roster for this mission:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Itzel, elven astrologer
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Quangbae, wandering blacksmith

With the morning light they were able to check their camp and their situation, and they decided it was dire. They packed up their belongings as quickly as they could and set off along the Middlemarch, hoping to find their way over the cracked and broken land of this part of the pass as quickly as possible. They struggled all day, lifting and dragging the cart through rougher patches of path, losing the path several times, and finally reaching a smoother, grassy patch of the pass by evening. Here they found a camp in the shadows of a broken mound of stones, setting their cart near the entrance to a niche in the stones and building their campfire inside.

They had used another day’s food supplies, and with Hugo Tuya gone they had no way of knowing how long it would take to leave the Middlemarch, so they decided it would be a good idea to scour the pass for food. Over they day their journey had brought them lower on the pass, and as the late afternoon sun began to set they had noticed they were passing into areas with occasional trees and grassy patches. They guessed they might be able to find goats or small mountain rodents to supplement their supplies, and decided to send Itzel out hunting. In the interests of safety, Quangbae accompanied her. They kept Kyansei at the campsite in case it was attacked while Itzel and Quangbae were hunting.

Itzel and Quangbae had not been searching long when they stumbled onto the outriders of another wave of deepfolk. Four goblin raiders, wearing leather armour and carrying spears, surprised them on the path only a short distance from the camp. As Quangbae engaged them Itzel cast an ice bolt into the group, freezing them where they stood, and they both fled back down the slope through silent groves of stunted trees to the camp. They warned the others of the incoming raiders and everyone took their positions, but by now the last light of day was beginning to fade and they knew they were in trouble.

It came soon enough, but not from where they had expected. Four small gourds fell from the sky and exploded in their camp, burning them all in a wave of heat and flame and setting the wagon alight. The non-combatants – Hugo Tuya’s grieving “niece”, the wagoneer and the maidservant – had to leap from the wagon to cover, but the wagoneer’s luck was up: he burnt to death in front of them, screaming horribly as he did. They had no time to tend to him though, because the surviving raiders charged down towards their camp at the same time as the bat riders swooped back overhead, and arrows began to pour into the camp.

Now things were desperate. they used arrows and magic to bring the bat riders down from the sky so Bao Tap and Quangbae could kill them in the camp, while Kyansei defended against raiders, Bao Tap’s conjured rockhopper could attack one gang of Grig scouts and Itzel and Calim backed the group up with healing magic and bolts. Itzel was also able to extinguish the fire on their wagon before it destroyed the last of their food, or their precious Manticore egg. Another team of Grig scouts moved in, using arrows to cover their goblin captain, who charged into the rocky periphery of their camp just as Kyansei finished off the raiders. Bolstered by Calim’s magic, she charged over to attack the captain, and after a few more bloody moments all their attackers lay dead. They picked their way over bodies to check the perimeter of the camp, ignoring the last desperate whimpers of their dying wagon driver and arguing over what to do next. Somewhere in the distance they could hear the wail of pipes, a discordant keening that did not promise any respite. As everyone paused to gather their courage and catch their breath, Bao Tap called an owl from the darkness and bound it to him, sending it off to find the source of the pipes. Through luck or desperation his spell was so over-powered that he was able to become one with the owl, and could see through its eyes as if he were a part of it.

And so it was that through the owl’s eyes he saw what was coming for them, not very far back along the path in the higher parts of the pass: a much larger gang of deepfolk perhaps more than 20, led by an Orc champion of the type that had been so hard to kill when they fought the raiding gang at Estala, and accompanied by another Grig spellcaster. There were more batriders, goblin raiders, and more archers. While they had been able to best a gang of this size once, in Estala, on that occasion they had the benefit of surprise, and they were not exhausted and injured. None of them doubted that another confrontation with a gang of this size, in their current exhausted state, in the dark, could have only one outcome. They needed to flee.

They had little time, but they did what they could. Obviously they would have to abandon the wagon and the body of the wagoneer, because they could not hope to escape if they were dragging the wagon through the difficult paths of the Middlemarch. While the two girls untethered the horses and saddled the striders they rushed through the wagon, saving what they could load on the back of the horses: the manticore egg, their coin, a collection of steel weapons for recrafting, some armour and other treasures they had picked up on the way. Itzel threw all the books they had collected into a bag, and it was as she was doing this that she stumbled on something that they had picked up in Regald’s house but forgotten: a map of the Middlemarch, with an “x” mark somewhere a day or two’s journey back from where they were now. Looking at it now she realized they had probably been carrying a warning about the location of their deepfolk enemies all along, but had not realized it. Would Tuya still be alive if they had remembered the map?

Did she care? She stuffed it in with the other books, they loaded the horses and fled their camp. They hoped that the deepfolk pursuing them would approach the camp with caution, and take a little time searching it, so that they could gain a head start, but they were uncertain about the batriders. They needed to make time, so they rushed headlong down the path, hoping to go as far as they could while the deepfolk were distracted and the last light of the fading day still stained the sky. They did not dare use any light of their own until they were sure they were far enough from the deepfolk to be out of sight, and even then they did not want to be found by the batriders. Fortunately the sky was clear and soon after the last glow of day faded the sunshard emerged, casting pale silver and green light across their path and giving them just enough light to find the path. Itzel, able to see perfectly in this limited light, guided them expertly down the path, and somehow they stayed ahead of their foes, making good time down the pass. So it was that in the last hours of the night, just before the sky began to lighten with the first hint of the coming day, they staggered out of the Middlemarch and into the quiet farmland of the slopes around the town of Iruva. They had survived the deepfolk, and made it across the Middlemarch.

They passed the outlying farms in the dark under the sunshard, and reached the gates of Iruva at first light, exhausted and shattered. Stumbling through the gates, they made their way to the town’s only hostelry and called for the bailiff. They warned him of what might be coming, sent their stormrider with a message back to Estala, and collapsed into their beds. They had failed in their only mission, to protect Hugo Tuya and his caravan, but they were alive, and now the world knew what they knew: Dark forces stirred in the mountains. Something was coming from the bowels of the earth, and they were not ready …