Part 15: The Forest Ornament
The following morning I gathered my things and headed down to the dock.
I opted to travel using non-traditional means.
I'd been warned by Saturas that the ornament in the forest would be dangerous to reach. I decided to go see if Lares could help. There weren't many others who could be trusted, after all.
Lares was at his usual post down at the harbor.
"Have you ever used a teleporter stone?" I asked.
"No, but I've heard of them. The Water Mages aren't too sure of those things yet."
"I've given it a try."
Lares laughed. "Of course you have. You're not afraid of anything, are you? Well. If you want to use the things, go ask Orlan the pub-owner whether he'll let you into his boarded up cave. I think he has a hidden one of the teleporter stones for the Water Mages near his tavern."
"Can you help me get through the thick woods in the east?"
"Okay. But what do you want to go there for?"
"Nefarius ordered me to find more ornaments. One of the places where I'm supposed to look is in the middle of the woods."
"I see. And that's still too dangerous for you alone, right?" I nodded. "No problem. Let me know when you want to leave."
"Okay, let's get going."
Lares grabbed his sword and we set off toward the eastern gate.
I slung my hunting bow around my shoulder when we'd reached the gate. If this place was as dangerous as I keep hearing, then I'll be of little use in a melee.
Again we headed toward Akil's farm.
When we reached the edge of the woods, Lares paused and turned toward me.
"Have you thought about going into the woods? Do you really want to do that?"
Lares removed his outer clothing to reveal his Ring of Water outfit. "All right, my friend. Then follow me. This is going to be gross."
I took the time to pick some mushrooms that grew near a tree stump. Digger Meat were large mushrooms that tended to grow in clusters near old trees. They weren't the most delicious things, but they were very filling.
A pack of wolves and boars greeted us at the crossroads. Lares and I dealt with the creatures and we pressed on deeper into the foggy forest.
I took the time to skin the animals. It wasn't my best work, but Bosper was desperate for anything.
The woods were fairly dark, very little light could pierce the thick canopy above. The amount of creatures on these paths indicated just how rarely it was used.
Three field raiders ambushed us from behind a corner and we dispatched them as usual.
I took a look at my map. Using nearby landmarks I estimated that we were about halfway into the forest.
As we neared an ancient stone circle we were suddenly beset upon by more of those skeletal goblins. I futilely fired arrows at the undead while Lares did all the actual work.
Lares stopped before the circle and gestured toward it. This was where the ornament was.
"Hurry up. I don't want to stay here any longer than I have to."
I searched between the standing stones. While I found a stone tablet, I could find no sign of the ornament.
I was completely lost as what to do next. Tired from my frenzied search, I leaned against one of the stones to catch my breathe.
There was a click.
I turned around to see what I'd hit. A small, barely perceivable button was on the pillar. I pressed it.
Nothing happened. I decided to see if the other stones had anything similar.
They did. Each set of standing stones contained a button. Once all three were pressed, the earth began to shake and smoke rose from the center of the stone circle.
When the smoke dissipated I could now see a large, imposing statue. It lumbered toward me. A stone sentinel!
I ran over to Lares and took hold of my bow. Lares finally noticed the statue coming and unsheathed his sword.
I fired arrows at the sentinel but they harmlessly bounced off. The stone sentinel was almost in range. I tossed my bow to the side and quickly unsheathed my blade. I motioned to Lares, who took position in front, meanwhile I circled around.
Lares skillfully dodged each powerful, heavy blow that the statue threw out. would I wailed on it while he kept it busy. Eventually the stone was no longer able to withstand any punishment and it crumbled onto the ground.
I sifted through the stone and found the ornament I was looking for.
Lares saw that I found it. "There. You should be able to do the rest by yourself. I'm headed back, then."
I said my farewells and went on my way. Lares headed toward town while I traveled for Akil's farm.
The defeat of the stone sentinel boosted my ego quite a bit and I felt that it was time to deal with the bandits on the bridge.
I ran across the bridge dodging a dozen or more arrows in the process. Once I'd reached the other side, the bandits all reached for a melee weapon and gave chase.
I'd completely underestimated them and needed to get myself out of there.
I made for The Dead Harpy and, thankfully, they didn't dare follow me too close to it.
Once inside, I leaned down on the bar and looked over to Orlan. He was staring at my hands.
"Am I being paranoid, or are you staring at my ring?" I said, looking up.
"I'm not quite sure what to make of that."
I waved my hand in front of him. "Man! I belong to the 'Ring of Water'!" I didn't really. Not yet.
Orlan rubbed his chin. "Do you now? Hard to believe they would pick such a moron."
I ignored him insult and remembered what Lares had said about the teleporter stone.
"Have you ever used a teleporter stone?"
"Are you out of your mind? As long as none of the Water Mages swears to me that there's no danger, I'm not going anywhere near those things. They ordered me to hide one of those teleporter stones, and apart from that I'm staying well away from them."
"Can I have a look at this teleporter stone?"
"I don't care. Here's the key. I've blocked the entrance."
"Where is this teleporter stone?"
"There's a cave to the south, not far from my tavern. That's where the Water Mages found one of those things."
I traveled south from the tavern. A small, old graveyard was nearby and infested with field raiders.
I found a locked door on the bottom of a nearby cliff. Using the innkeeper's key, I opened it and walked inside.
There was another teleporter platform inside, remarkably similar to the one in the Water Mages' ruins. It pulsed with ancient magic. I gathered up some nearby supplies and walked into the magical field.
My vision went blue and I found myself in the northern ruins, just outside the teleporter stone to Khorinis. While I was here, I purchased some scrolls and potions from Cronos.
I also decided to hand in the ornament I'd just gotten with Lares.
I approached the mage, who seemed surprised to see me again. "Here. I have another." I said, handing the ornament to him.
"That's terrific. Now only two more are missing. Maybe you can find them, too. Here. I can give you some gold coins for your trouble."
Now I just needed to head back. Against my better judgment, I chose to use the teleporter stone back to Khorinis.
This time the Orc wasn't so shocked to see me and immediately gave chase.
I made it out safely and put some distance between us. The orc retreated back to his cave and I made my way over to The Dead Harpy again.
I grabbed a quick drink and traveled back south toward the teleporter stone.
With my supplies replenished, I decided that I would get rid of the bridge bandits today.
I prayed at a shrine that was situated against the cliff face. I hoped that Innos would be with me for this coming battle.
I snuck through the woods behind the bridge camp and, when I was in range, prepared a scroll.
A blood red aura surrounded me as I recited the words that would summon a goblin skeleton.
My skeletal ally successfully distracted the majority of the bandits while I engaged a few, scattered groups.
Soon enough, the bandits lay dead and I began to rummage through their things. A few of the bandits carried Erol's stone tablets. He'd be happy to know I recovered them.
Another few carried suspicious rapiers. They were similar in design to normal rapiers but they were obviously of a higher quality, and even bore a maker's mark.
The leader of this bandit group carried an odd ring. It seemed to have guild markings of some sort, but I wasn't familiar with the guild. It seemed as though it may be useful so I took it and put it away in a pouch for safekeeping.
After looting the bandit camp of anything valuable I made my way back down to Erol, who sat just below the bridge.
Before I told him the good news about his stone tablets, I wanted to know if he knew anything about the weapons deliveries.
"I need information about a weapons delivery for the bandits."
"Weapons delivery? Yes, I know about that. Some swine from the city sold them so many weapons that they could barely carry them all. Some of them are kept on the bridge where the bastards attacked me. The rest were probably hauled past Bengar's farm on the high pastures. Maybe the bandits wanted to take them across the pass."
"Where are those high pastures?"
"Orlan's tavern is located just about in the center of the island of Khorinis. It's called 'The Dead Harpy'. There's a way south from there. It leads to the high pastures and the entrance to the pass to the Valley of Mines."
I had what I needed so I gave him the good news. "About those stone tablets... I've got some." I handed a wrapped bundle of three tablets.
He looked overjoyed. "That's enough. Now I can keep my promise to the Water Mage in town, and then go home at last. I'll pay you for them, of course." He tossed me a pouch of 30 coins. "I'm going home. Come with me if you like. Maybe I can sell a few things that might interest you when we get there."
Erol got up to walk away, but I was quick to remind him of his promise. "Show me how to hit harder."
"Right. Pay attention. There's a simple trick. When you hit, you don't take the strength from your arm, but from your entire body. Turn your hip, bring your shoulder to the front, and stretch out your arm at the same time. If you hit right, you'll notice the difference!"
I felt as though I was getting close to finding the source of the bandits' weapons. Using Erol's information, I traveled south from The Dead Harpy to the pastures. From up here I had a good view of Onar's farmland.
A few boars grew angry at my intrusion on their lands and charged me. My arrows took care of them.
Next I encountered a small pack of scavengers, and a few lurkers. I'd intended to pass by the lurkers but they didn't take my trespassing kindly.
My arrows were not quite tough enough to pierce their thick hides, so I was forced to engage in melee with the beasts. Damned things nearly killed me.
I found what I assumed to be Bengar's farm just past the stream where I encountered the lurkers. It seemed to be busy enough. I approached the nearest farmhand.
"Everything all right?" I asked.
The farmer shrugged.
"What are you doing here?"
"I'm the shepherd here. It's not exactly a demanding job. But now and then, you really have to watch out. Especially if you get too close to the pass."
"What do you know about the pass?"
"Not much. Just that it leads to the old Valley of Mines that was surrounded by the Barrier until a few weeks ago. Back then, the only thing we farmers had to be afraid of was the monthly caravan that took all kinds of goods to the Valley of Mines. Those cut-throats often made life difficult for us out here."
"I don't see any women here at all." It seemed like a nice place.
"You got that right. This is a men's farm, so to speak. Works pretty well, I think."
"Where can I find the pass to the old Valley of Mines?" I needed to get there eventually. I may as well know where I needed to go.
Malak gestured to his left. "Near the two waterfalls on the other side of the high pastures."
"What is it they say about the Valley of Mines?"
"All sorts of things. Some of the boys say they've heard screams at night, some have even seen strange lights over the mountains. But if you ask me, it's all just old wives' tales."
"Have you ever been to the Valley of Mines?"
"No. But I go near the pass once in awhile. Then I always see those paladins who stand around and keep watch. It looks like they're making sure that nothing comes out of the valley. Back then the Valley of Mines was a natural prison. If you went in, you never came out again."
"Tell me more about the paladins. How long have they been posted there?"
"A week or two, I suppose. I don't know exactly. Some time ago, there was even a whole troop of them that disappeared into the pass. Since then, I haven't seen them again."
Malak wasn't proving too informative, and he certainly had nothing to say about bandits. I waved and walked away. "Don't work too hard."
"I'll try." he said dryly.
I walked over to the next farmer that seemed like he was at all important.
"You're a farmer here?" I asked one.
"You could say so, but I'm really just a tenant. All the land here is owned by one big farmer."
I immediately knew who he meant. "What do you think of Onar?"
"He's a greedy bastard who will get us all hanged in the end. One of these days, the paladins will come out of the city and make us small farmers bleed for what he's doing here. But I haven't got a choice. The militiamen only come here to collect and not to defend the farm. If I held myself loyal to the city, I'd be very much on my own. At least Onar sends some mercenaries now and then to see how we're faring."
"How do you make a living?"
"Mostly hunting and the wood we cut. Of course, we also raise sheep and work the land. Onar saddles me with all these laborers, and I have to keep them busy somehow. Only a few of them are good hunters, you see?"
"Has anything strange happened around here lately?"
Bengar nodded slowly. "Many strange things are happening these days but none as strange as the mysterious disappearance of Pardos. He's one of my field workers, and certainly not the kind who would drop everything overnight and slink off just like that, you see."
"What exactly is so strange about his disappearance?"
"Pardos is such a timid sort - the furthest he's ever been from the farm is to the end of the fields. He would run away at the mere sight of a meatbug. Those things may not be pretty to look at, but you really couldn't call them dangerous." Bengar looked disgusted. "They say there's even people who eat them. Gross."
I shrugged. "You get used to it. Maybe he was simply fed up?"
"Working in the fields was his life. I cannot imagine him having gone to work for another farmer. With me, he could do whatever he wanted."
"Any clues at all?"
"I think those bandits must have dragged him off. They've been roaming around this area for days now. I once saw them drag a citizen of the town off to their camp. It looked like they were going to make him a slave."
"Where is this bandit camp?" I was finally getting some useful information. If I didn't find anything about the weapons, I may still find some information about the missing people.
"At the far end of my fields, some stairs lead down to a small hollow. That's where they have made themselves at home. I'd like to go look for Pardos there, but there's no way I'm going up against those guys. And you had better give them a wide berth, too. They're not known for their sense of humor."
"Were the bandits carrying weapons when they passed by here?"
"What kind of stupid question is that? How would they be bandits if they weren't armed?"
"I mean a whole LOAD of weapons. A big delivery."
"I see. Yes, now that you mention it, they were carrying lots and lots. Some in barrels, some in bags, and some on the cart they brought."
That was all I needed to know. I said my farewells to Bengar and set off to find this camp.
Following Bengar's directions, I found some old, deep tracks. I also spotted a rapier of similar make and design to the ones I'd found on the bridge bandits. I was getting close.
I quietly walked down the stone stairs that led to the valley below. If Bengar was correct, the bandit camp was right around the corner.
He was right. A tattered, hide tent was situated in the corner of the valley. I snuck as close as I could. A few bandits were huddled around a camp fire and chatting amongst themselves.
Now was my chance. I unslung my bow and took aim at the nearest bandit.
I managed a solid blow on his chest. The bandits were surprised by my ambush and quickly scrambled to get their weapons. Amidst that confusion, I recited another scroll to summon myself a skeletal goblin ally.
A few minutes later the three bandits were dead. I rummaged through their things. Sure enough, they had a fresh supply of weapons. I went to check out the tent next.
To my surprise, I found someone inside the tent.
I put my hand on my sword hilt and looked him over. For all I knew he could be another bandit "Who are you?" I asked.
He looked overjoyed to see me. "My name is Elvrich. I come from town." Ah, right. Thorben's apprentice.
"Master Thorben told me that you had disappeared."
"Those lowly scum dragged me off here and were keeping me prisoner."
I nodded. "Lots of people are missing in town."
"I don't know anything about missing people. I can only tell you what happened to ME."
"What exactly happened to you?"
"I was on my way to the rendezvous I had set up with my girl. Her name is Lucia. We had been planning to get away to the mountains. Away from the town and all those who live there. I had just arrived at the meeting point when suddenly some of these bandits sprang out from the underbrush and captured us both. I put up a fight, of course, but to no avail. There were just too many of them. You didn't happen to see them?"
"Tell me about Lucia."
"A girl from the harbor district. She used to work for that horrible Bromor. She's very pretty."
"What did the bandits want with you?"
"Sometimes I could overhear them at night. I didn't get everything, but I think they wanted to make us slaves."
"Where were they going to take you?"
"To a place somewhere here, on the island of Khorinis. But I think one couldn't get there without a ship. They brought me to a mooring place on the coast. Some pirates were camped out there. One of the bandits approached the pirates to negotiate. They were having a fierce argument. I think that the bandit wanted the pirates to ferry him somewhere, along with me. But the pirates wouldn't have it. So the bandits withdrew, and we've been sitting around here ever since. They seemed to be rather at a loss. And then you came."
"Where's the pirates' mooring place?"
"Not far from the harbor of Khorinis. When you stand on the quay and look out to sea, all you need to do is get a boat and go to the right, along the coast. The first small bay you come across is the mooring place I was talking about." As I'd thought. The spot where I'd met the pirate.
"Did the bandits who held you captive receive a shipment of weapons?"
"Oh yes. So many that they could barely carry them. They took the whole kaboodle and disappeared towards Sekob's farm."
I knew where I needed to go next. "Where's Lucia now?"
"We parted ways at the big crossroads in front of Onar's farm. The bandits dragged lucia off to the woods behind Sekob's farm. May Innos protect her."
"You should get yourself back to town in a hurry!"
"What else would I be doing? I'm going straight back to my Master Thorben. Will you go look for the bandits?"
"Well, yes, I think so..."
"If you find Lucia, get her safely back to town, will you?"
"I'll see what I can do."
Elvrich ran off back toward town and I took a seat inside the tent, thinking over what I'd do next.
It was getting pretty late and, as a result, would be much more dangerous in the wooded area behind Sekob's farm. I decided to take a nap. The bandits would have to wait until tomorrow morning.
Other: Quick video supplement, trip through the forest http://gothic2.sankis.com/video/orn2.html