Campaign Logs

The Sunset Vale Saga

By Brian Flood

Chapter 69 - Rumble at the Roadblock

Along the Dusk Road

Five Miles North of Corm Orp, The Sunset Vale

Mid-Morning, 16th Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)

The Mock Caravan

Sensing that the adventurers have no further input, Tamara addresses her soldiers. "Sergeant Sheila, you and your two outriders will come with our friends and I."

The militia officer turns in the saddle to address the two riders behind her. "You two stay back here. Tell Corporal Rossum to wait until he sees us attack and then charge an open flank."

Lastly, she raises her voice slightly in order for Kjira, who still stands with the main body, to hear her. "Lady Kjira, come with us please."

Kjira simply nods and begins leading her mule forward. In the meantime, Tamara tells Sergeant Sheila to guard the rear of the small detachment with one of her outriders. The junior militia leader nods in consent.

As soon as Kjira has caught up with the small band at the front of the caravan, Tamara spurs her horse forward. She walks slowly with one of the outriders to her right. Immediately behind her, Dolak and Lucas follow in the dwarf's cart. Kjira walks her mule behind the cart while Sheila and one other outrider bring up the rear.

The detachment has only moved a few steps when the voice from the Zhentarim soldiers commands, "The riders will dismount and walk their horses."

Exchanging glances with her soldiers, Tamara swings her leg from the saddle and drops to the ground. The other militia riders do the same. Cyzicus also follows suit and dismounts his pony. After that short delay, the small band continues toward the enemy roadblock.

When they have reached a point at which the lead militia soldiers are flanked by crossbowmen, the mounted soldier to the rear of the Zhentarim group orders the caravan to stop. The archers to either flank keep their loaded crossbows trained on the party.

As the adventurers come to a halt, the Zhent officer commands, "Tell your guards to drop their sword belts."

Tamara turns her head to make eye contact with Lucas. She arches a questioning eyebrow at the masquerading mage.

Lucas frowns at the Zhent's commands and decides to initiate action before the group is put into a further compromising position. The black-robed mage turns back to look at Kjira and says sharply, "Take the close right flank...I have the far right!"

With those words, Lucas launches the members of the small detachment into action. Several disparate actions occur near simultaneously before the Zhentarim soldiers can react.

Lucas focuses on the two crossbowmen on the far right flank in front of the caravan and summons forth his arcane powers to focus on a single word of Power.

"Sleep!" the conjurer commands. Moments later, the two archers at the end of the Zhentarim left flank drop their weapons and collapse onto the ground.

Behind Lucas, Kjira hands rapidly move in a pattern and arcane words spill from her lips. She points toward the crossbowman closest to the mounted center of the Zhentarim line and shouts, "Protect me! Attack my enemies!"

Cyzicus also completes the casting of the spell he has prepared. He points behind him at the cart holding Lucas and Dolak. In a heartbeat, a sense of divine benefit befalls the members of the small detachment.

Seated in the cart next to Lucas, Dolak leaps down from cart.

"Chakka shok! Chakka Cor!" the dwarven warrior shouts as his stout legs carry him at a sprint toward the Zhentarim right flank.

"Riders, Attack left!" shouts Tamara. With that, the Corm Orp militia soldiers in the forward detachment drop the reigns to their horses and reach under their cloaks for their swords. With a shout, the two pairs of dismounted militiamen begin to charge the Zhentarim right flank.

Lucas smiles to himself as he sees his arcane effect on the Zhent crossbowmen. Then the black-robed mage quickly shifts his attention to his familiar and sends it a mental thought to signal the others of the attack.

Focusing back to the situation at hand, Lucas shifts his attention to the next two Zhent crossbowmen covering the party from their right flank. He gathers his arcane powers and prepares to focus it. Behind Dolak's cart, Kjira does the same.

"Fire, you fools!" commands the Zhentarim officer even as the words to a spell coalesce in Lucas' mind.

THUN! Over half a dozen crossbows fire near simultaneously. More than one missile misses or fails to penetrate magical or man-made armor. But several meaty thunks signal other quarrels slamming into their targets.

One of the deadly projectiles strikes Dolak in the abdomen. Fortunately, the dwarf's sturdy chain mail armor and the blessing bestowed by Cyzicus prevent penetration, leaving only a painful bruise rather than a crippling wound.

Tamara grunts as a missile pierces her right leg. Despite the pain, she continues to charge her target. The militia rider near her pitches forward wordlessly into the grass, the quivering shaft of a quarrel protruding from this back and a rapidly expanding pool of blood forming around his lifeless body.

From his position on the bench of Dolak's cart, Lucas' eyes widen in surprise as the sharpened head of a crossbow bolt slices a path across this left arm. The words to the black-robed mage's spell melt into magical nothingness, as his concentration is interupted.

Cyzicus frowns as he watches the battle unfold. Then he reaches across his body with either hand and draws his two short swords. The halfling warrior-priest stands his ground, prepared to defend himself or the mages as needed.

Dolak, on the other hand, continues to charge his selected foe, closing the distance as his stout legs pump furiously. His two-headed axe is gripped firmly in his gnarled but strong hands and a faint gleam of battle passion burns in his eyes.

Meanwhile, the dismounted Corm Orp militia members continue to charge the Zhentarim right flank. Tamara closes into melee reach of her foe and uses her long sword to skewer the man through the abdomen. She withdraws her sword as the soldier collapses lifeless to the grass.

Hundreds of yards to the rear of the battle in the road, the remaining militia riders react. Led by and centered on Corporal Rossum, the mounted warriors draw their swords and begin to charge forward in open order.

The Zhentarim soldier that Kjira charmed turns to the archer nearest to him and brings his crossbow up to aim at his comrade. Before the other man can utter a word, the enthralled soldier fires.

The quarrel plunges into its target's eye, killing him instantly. A heartbeat later, Kjira curses in frustration, as the intended target of her spell is now dead.

At the rear of the mounted Zhentarim soldiers, the officer raises a horn to his lips. A loud three-toned blast of sound stretches across the surrounding plains.

Even before the horn blasts fade, Dolak closes with his foe, who frantically drops his crossbow and reaches for his sword. Before the Zhent can draw his weapon from its scabbard, the dwarf's axe returns the favor of the man's earlier attack as it cleaves a bloody path through the man's lower body. With great effort, the man manages to draw his sword and set his feet for battle.

"Cavalry, close ranks! Prepare to charge to clear the road!" the Zhentarim officer orders. In response, the mounted Zhentarim soldiers nudge their horses into a tight formation, leaving room in the center for their leader. Sunlight reflects from the tips of five lances as they are lowered into a readied posture.

* * * * *

In the Zhentarim Camp

Alani has sorted through about a dozen different scolls and missives on the woman's desk, most of them either notes on magical research or logistical reports and calculations of the roadblock force, when three short horn blasts sound from the direction of the road.

The elven girl quickly takes some of the papers she has found and stuffs them into an empty pouch. Turning towards the tent flap Alani also slips the two rings onto her fingers, one to each hand.

* * * * *

At the Roadblock

"Swords!" shouts the Zhentarim soldier facing Dolak.

"The cavalry! Stop the cavalry!" screams Kjira to her ensorcelled ally. She then begins the process of spellcasting.

Lucas curses from his slight wound that disrupted his magics and jumps off the cart, hopefully allowing for some cover for his postion. He quickly shouts out to Kjira, "Kjira, take the center!"

Kjira finishes her incantation and points at one of archers that stand in the center of what remains of the Zhentarim east flank. When the man's face suddenly goes blank, the lady mage screams, "Protect me!"

Kjira's first enspelled soldier drops his unloaded crossbow to the ground. Drawing a long sword from his waist, he takes a step toward the cavalry formation.

On the western flank of the battle, Dolak throws his shoulders into a devastating blow with his two-headed axe. Armor and bones are smashed as the heavy blade cleaves into his foe's chest. The dwarf pulls his axe free as the man falls dead to the earth.

Meanwhile, responding to their instructions, the three remaining warriors on the Zhentarim west flank drop their empty crossbows and reach for their sword pommels. Swords fill their hands as they each take a defensive step backward and prepare to engage the charging dismounted militia in close combat.

"Charge!" The Zhentarim officer spurs his warhorse forward. Following his lead, the enemy cavalry charges straight down the road, their lances leveled at the cluster of adventurers and mounts that remain on the dirt strip.

Cyzicus, at the head of the caravan remnants, sidesteps a lance tip. He rotates his body so that two horses actually pass on either side of him. As he does so, the halfling slices upward with his short sword. The blade severs the saddle strap on the left side of the animal, causing saddle to slip from the horse's back and forcing the rider to crash into the ground as the horse continues forward, carried by its momentum.

Three of the Zhentarim riders slam into the three riderless mounts that are at the head of the caravan column and do not move in the face of the cavalry charge. Pony and horses whinny in pain as they are brutally impaled by cavalry lances that shatter from the impact. Those riders and their mounts come to an abrupt halt, their impetus shunted by the collision with the mounts, as they release their ruined weapons and reach for their swords.

Seconds later, the three dismounted Corm Orp militia soldiers close with the surviving western archers. The archers receive the charge with a counterattack of their own. Tamara receives a brutal wound to her leg while another archer cuts down one of the charging militia. In return, Sergeant Sheela scores a glancing blow to a Zhentarim archer.

Dolak glances to his left and right at the individual battles being waged between Zhentarim soldiers and Corm Orp militia forces. His stout legs pump as he moves to his right, coming to the wounded Tamara's aid.

The two archers on the eastern flank complete the loading of their weapons and they bring them up to their shoulders. Simultaneously, one of the archers fires at Kjira while Kjira's second ensorcelled Zhent fires on his fellow soldier. Both quarrels fly wide of their targets.

Then, the first of Kjira's charmed Zhents charges into the furthest east of the three halted cavalrymen. His sword strikes the man along his side, eliciting a cry of rage and pain from his fellow soldier.

To the south, the seven Corm Orp riders left behind continue to close the distance to the melee in the road. They are now just seconds away from being able to assist the desparate adventurers and militia soldiers of the forward body.

* * * * *

In the Zhentarim Camp

Alani steps to the tent flap and peeks out to ascertain the activity in the camp, her elven ears listening for the thunder of hooves of horses of the Corm Orp had the riders she left behind earlier this morning. The elven girl can see that there is a broiling melee occuring at the roadblock. The Zhentarim appear to be half-moon formation, partially surrounding the mock caravan. A handful of Zhentarim soldiers lie motionless on the eastern flank and another handful are engaged in furious hand-to-hand combat with what looks to be dismounted Corm Orp militia riders.

A short figure that must be Cyzicus stands in the center of the road at the fore of a cluster of riderless horses. As Alani watches, about half a dozen Zhentarim charge the stationary mass of mounts and the halfling. Three of the riders come to a stop as their lances impale the mock caravan's horses. Another falls from this mount while a fifth rides out of Alani's line of sight.

* * * * *

At the Roadblock

The center-most of the Zhentarim cavalry brandishes his sword and cries, "Cavalry, concentrate on the spellcasters!"

Lucas quickly notes that Kjira's charmed friends are making quick work of the remaining Zhent crossbowmen and he turns his attention to the mounted Zhents. Drawing forth his powers of the arcane taught to him by his masters at Silverymoon, the black-robed mage conjures a greenish dart-like arrow that streaks from his palm towards to Zhentarim horseman issuing the orders. Lucas curses vehemently as the enchanted missile just misses its target.

Kjira also summons forth another spell as she tries to enchant the Zhentarim rider that overshot the cluster in the middle of the road. Again, the lady mage successfully ensorcells an enemy.

"Protect me from the cavalry!" Kjira screams at her new ally.

Meanwhile, Cyzicus moves a few halfling-sized paces away from the mounted Zhentarim and toward the recently dismounted foe, nearby.

"Now let's see how you do -- now that were on the same level," the halfing says. In response, the Zhentarim warrior struggles to his feet and reaches hurriedly for his sword.

On the western flank, the surviving militia soldiers seek to avenge their fallen comrades. Tamara's attacks is parried by her opponent but Sergeant Sheela dipatches her foe just as another archer closes with her.

The first of Kjira's charmed Zhentarim continues to attack his mounted fellow. The mounted soldier, already wounded once by this foe, blocks the attack and then brings his sword down in a frustrated and vicious arc that severs the ensorcelled man's head.

Oblivious to the fate of his mate, the second of Kjira's charmed soldiers continues to reload his crossbow. The Zhentarim soldier that he missed seconds ago, however, charges the man. Wielding his weapon like a club, he swings but does not connect.

Dolak has similar problems. The dwarf's axe misses his foe and nearly slips from the dwarf's hands before he can adjust his grip.

At that point, the frenzied battle, the slain horses and the growing smell of freshly spilled blood causes both of the party's mules to panic. Dolak's mule brays in fear and tries to run directly eastward, away from the nearest activity. Unfortunately, the cart cannot pivot on its wheels and it dumps over onto its right side as the mule drags it away.

Kjira's mule also tries to run from the unfamiliar sights and sounds of battle. Ignoring his owner, the mule runs off the western edge of the road and continues on into the grassy plains, Kjira's possessions bouncing along on its back and flanks.

Back on the western flank, the Zhent facing both Dolak and Tamara concentrates on Tamara. Steel rings on steel as the militia lieutenant is barely able to intercept the man's blade before it connects. Despite her grievous wounds, the woman stands firm against her foe.

Sergeant Sheela meets her new enemy's attack but is unable to parry in time. The militia leader cries out in pain as the Zhentarim sword cleaves into her side.

The mounted Zhentarim officer and one of his companions charge down the road as he had ordered. The second of the Zhents bears down directly at Lucas and pulls up as he brings his sword down on the black-robed mage. Fortunately for Lucas, the rider's momemtum is too much and the blow misses its mark.

The Zhentarim officer charges right at Kjira even as the lady mage's own ensorcelled cavalry rider charges back to protect her. Unfortunately for Kjira, the enemy horseman reaches her first. The lady mage screams as the man's dimly glowing blade unmercifully cuts her down.

An instant later, the charmed cavalry rider arrives. Screaming in grief, the man attacks his officer. The Zhentarim officer yells in pain as the sword slices brutally across his leg.

Cyzicus attacks his disadvantaged foe before the man can complete drawing his own weapon. The Zhent ducks and weaves to barely avoid the halfling's two swords. With a satisfied grunt, the dismounted rider pulls his sword from its scabbard and prepares to engage his diminutive opponent.

Meanwhile the second of Kjira's charmed allies finishes setting a quarrel into his readied crossbow and brings up to aim at the former comrade who stands directly in front of him. His target opens his mouth to scream just as the powerful missile slams into his chest and throws him motionless to the ground.

The thundering of hooves signals the imminent arrival of the Corm Orp cavalry that was left further south by the Zhentarim orders. Those who can hazard a glance notice that the seven riders are seconds from closing with the melee in the middle of the road.

* * * * *

In the Zhentarim Camp

Stepping back from the tent flap the elven rogue calls to her magic speaking in a quiet tone. "Nala kha doeseta hangecay elfsay..,"

The words of magic flow past Alani's lips as her outer appearance shimmers a bit. Her clothing takes on the appearance of the woman lying unconscious on the floor under the bed. The elf seems to grow taller, her hair takes on the length and colored of the woman's and her delicate elven features take on a human appearance. The rest of her lithe body does the same, even the rising bruise where the elven rogue hit the woman, is replicated on Alani's elven visage. Adding to the illusion are red streaks about her throat, giving the illusion of having been choked.

* * * * *

At the Roadblock

Lucas frowns at seeing the Zhent horseman dodge his bolt and then seeing his fellow mage Kjira go down. He then gathers forth his arcane energies and prepares another spell.

A worried look comes across Cy's face as he also sees Kjira drop. The halfling knows he cannot reach her at this time, certainly not with an opponent in his way. He also sees noone who can relieve him. So he elects to do as he must and finish this opponent and then move by the most direct route to Kjira, trusting in Avoreen that they both shall live untill he can help her.

"Fall back to the camp!" orders the Zhentarim officer even as he readies himself to receive another attack from the fellow horseman who was charmed by Kjira.

Lucas releases a prismatic spray of colours over the three closest enemy riders just as they pull on their reigns to wheel about their mounts. In a heartbeat, three of the riders and two of the horses collapse to the ground. Unfortunately for Lucas, as the horse and rider nearest him topple over, the armored horseman falls right on top of the mage, knocking him to the ground.

Sergeant Sheela's opponent tries to get in one last attack before he obeys his officer's orders. But Sheela manages to parry the man's blade even as she executes an attack of her own. The Corm Orp native also fails to connect.

A few paces away, Tamara gasps as the Zhentarim archer she faces gets past her failing guard and skewers her with his sword. The brave officer's weapon falls from a limp hand and she falls to the ground as the man withdraws the blade from her body.

Cyzicus also feels the bite of cold steel as his opponent scores a glancing blow to the halfling's neck. The blade skips off the collar of the diminutive warrior-priest's chain mail, leaving a bleeding but hardly life-threatening wound on Cy's neck.

The halfling warrior-priest ignores the minor wound and concentrates his efforts on finding an opening in his foe's defenses. Seconds later, he is rewarded for his diligence and he plunges his enchanted long dagger into the archer's stomach. He sidesteps the man's lifeless form as it falls to the bloodstained grass.

The Zhent who felled Tamara begins to back away, but Dolak will not allow it. The dwarf bellows an ancient battle cry as he swings his two-headed axe at the man. Steel clashes with steel as the man barely manages to parry the enraged dwarf's assault. The archer backs away a few paces, hoping to withdraw from the heated melee.

Meanwhile, the sole surviving Zhent horseman breaks from the battle and begins to gallop back toward the distant campsite. His decision his timely since the Corm Orp cavalry arrives on the scene at that very moment.

"Tomas and Jason -- help Sheela. The rest of you with me!" Corporal Rossum shouts his orders as he wheels off toward the northeast, headed toward the retreating Zhent rider.

Two of the militia riders split off and ride to Sergeant Sheela's aid. The charge by on either side of her withdrawing foe and his severed head falls to the earth in their wake.

The other five Corm Orp riders charge off in pursuit of the lone Zhent horseman. Enroute, one of the militiamen breaks off from the group and bears down on Kjira's charmed archer. Unknowing that the soldier is actually an ally, the horseman cuts him down.

* * * * *

In the Zhentarim Camp

With one last look at the subdued woman, Alani -- now appearing to be the "Mistress" -- steps through the tent flap. She looks to the melee in the distance, growling deepily as her eyes cut about the area. She quickly moves to the large tent next to the one she exited. Exgarerating a limp, the elven girl smiles inwardily as she moves out to do her part in the surprise attack.

The first thing the elf notices is a group of horsemen headed at a gallop directly for the camp. At the head of the group is a Zhentarim soldier, the four riders close behind him appear to be Corm Orp militia cavalry. The horseman are about seven or eight score yards away and closing fast.

Otherwise, the melee in the center of the road seems to have been resolved. The only figure left standing appears to by Cyzicus, however. A handful of warriors appear to be still fighting in personal combat on the western side of the road while no one still stands on the eastern side. Lastly, it appears that a mule or small horse is dragging a cart away from the scene on the road.

* * * * *

At the Roadblock

The two surviving Zhentarim soldiers continue to rout. The horseman rides hard toward the campsite while Dolak's prior foe turns and runs north and east to put distance between him and the deadly dwarf.

Sheela quickly issues instructions to Dolak and the two militia riders that came to her aid. "Tomas, after that soldier! Jason, catch that mule! Dolak, see to Tamara!" the sergeant commands.

Cursing, Lucas untangles himself from the Zhent horseman and stands back up. "Cyzicus, see to our wounded!" shouts the black-robed mage. "I shall see to theirs!" he adds.

Having imparted her orders, Sergeant Sheela moves to nearest fallen militia soldier. In her wake, the two Corm Orp horsemen split off; one gallops north and east in pursuit of the escaping dismounted Zhent archer. The other wheels and heads off to the south and west, chasing after Kjira's panicked mule.

Meanwhile, Corporal Rossum and his four companions continue their pursuit of the routed Zhent cavalryman. The five riders spread out into a loose formation centered on their leader as they gallop away from the road and toward the Zhent campsite.

Cyzicus steps past his fallen foe and runs to aid Kjira. The halfling hopes that it is not too late for Arvoreen's assistance as he comes to a halt next to the fallen adventurer, drops his weapons, and kneels down to check her for signs of life.

Dolak, lacking anything else constructive to do, opts to follow Sheela's instructions. The dwarf runs the few paces to where Lieutenant Tamara lies motionless in the bloodstained grass. He holds his axe in one hand and he kneels down and puts a gnarled and calloused hand to the brave militia leader's neck, searching for a pulse. He lets out a shout of joy when he feels the weak beating of Tamara's lifeblood.

* * * * *

In the Zhentarim Camp

Alani sees the horseman galloping towards the tents. The now-disguised elf quickly limps to the second large tent as she drops a hand to a pouch and takes up a small handful of sand.

* * * * *

At the Roadblock

Lucas draws a dagger from his robes as he bends down over the Zhent who knocked him down so rudely after his most spectacular spell. With little hesitation or remorse, the black-robed mage administers the coup de grace to the unconscious soldier. He then straightens and looks for the next closest foe.

Meanwhile, Cyzicus begins a low and steady chant as he bends over Kjira's motionless form. A silver-hued aura flows from the halfling's hands and over the lady mage's wounds. When it dissipates, Kjira remains unconscious but her wounds have stopped bleeding and her chest rises and falls in a steady interval.

Over on the western flank, Dolak quickly tears a length of cloth from Tamara's dark cloak to act as a makeshift bandage. The dwarf then begins to wrap the dressing around the most serious of the lieutenant's wounds -- the bleeding hole in her stomach wear the Zhent sword skewered her.

"Cyzicus! Be needin' your help!" the dwarf shouts over his shoulder as he begins to see that Tamara may yet die dispite his help.

"Here as well, priest!" adds Sergeant Sheela. The militia leader kneels next to her fallen soldier, treating him in much the same way as Dolak is administering to Tamara.

To the north of the actions in the road, the militia rider Jason rides down the retreating Zhent archer. The Darkhold soldier screams as the warhorse tramples him under. Bones crack as the horse's hooves drive the man into the earth. Jason wheels his horse around and prepares to finish the wounded man.

Further to the east, the detachment of Corp Orp riders led by Corporal Rossum continues to chase after the lone Zhent horseman. The enemy soldier seems hell-bent on reaching the campsite.

* * * * *

In the Zhentarim Camp

Alani moves the tent flap aside and looks inside the second large tent. Inside are a simple cot and a field table but no apparent owner or resident is present.

The magically altered elf drops the tent flap and turns around. She notes that the half-dozen galloping horsemen are now only four or five score yards away and closing.

* * * * *

At the Roadblock

"Yield! I yield!" screams the wounded and prone Zhentarim soldier just before Jason, his Corm Orp opponent, finishes him.

Instead of killing the man as he intended, Jason points his long sword at the man and commands, "Kneel!"

The Zhent obediently does as the militia rider commands, his open hands held weakly in the air.

Meanwhile, the five Corm Orp militia riders continue to chase the lone Zhentarim horseman. About fifty yards short of the campsite, however, Corporal Rossum brings the militiamen to a halt. Dust swirls about the legs of their horses as the riders slide their swords into scabbards.

Amongst the carnage on the road, Lucas quickly steps past a fallen horse that lies between him and the next two closest unconscious Zhents. When he comes to a spot where he can easily reach both, the mage uses his dagger finish the lower ranking soldier. Then he turns his attention toward the unconscious officer.

Behind Lucas, Cyzicus turns and sprints toward where Dolak continues to administer to the fallen Tamara. The halfling skids to a stop at the dwarf's side and begins to take a knee to call on his patron deity for help.

* * * * *

In the Zhentarim Camp

Hearing a shout, Alani looks up. The Zhentarim horseman is only a score or so yards away. Behind him, his Corm Orp pursuers have brought their horses to a halt. As she watches, the militia riders return their swords to their scabbards.

Seeing that the horsemen are closing fast on the encampment, Alani knows she does not have time to check each tent individually. So, the young girl once again calls to her magic.

"Tokasus nuchla leepsay..." the girl's voice comes out in a deep resonate tone as the words of magic flow through her lips and she sends the sand into the air. Her focus is on the middle tent of the row of small tents on her right side.

* * * * *

At the Roadblock

The Zhentarim officer at Lucas' feet shows signs of recovering. Before the man can complete the process, however, the black-robed mage drives his dagger home and extinguishes the Darkhold soldier's life. Behind him, Lucas hears an equine snort as one of the unconscious war horses begins to awaken.

Meanwhile, Cyzicus again calls on Arvoreen's aid -- this time to help Lieutenant Tamara. The familiar silvery aura flows from the halfling's hands over the woman's wounds. When it dissipates, the bleeding has stopped and the unconscious officer's breathing is weak but steady.

"Over here, Cyzicus!" pleads Sergeant Sheela.

With only one opportunity to call on his deity, Cyzicus looks from the nearby as-of-yet unaided and motionless body of a Corm Orp militia soldier to where Sheela kneels by the other fallen soldier, a score or more human-sized paces away.

* * * * *

In the Zhentarim Camp

The five militia riders remove short bows from scabbards tied to their saddles. With the practiced skill of trained warriors, the militiamen string their bows and reach for the quivers of arrows that also hang from their mounts.

Taking up yet another handful of sand, Alani again calls to the magic that is hers to command, repeating the words as she looks to the tent opposite the one she centered her last spell on. Again she flings the sands into the air, casting the same spell on the center tent in the row to her left.

Just after she completes her casting, the Zhentarim horseman gallops up to her and reigns in his mount.

"Mistress, hurry! Ride with me!" the soldier urgently pleads. After he speaks, he looks anxiously over his shoulder to where his Corm Orp pursuers have stopped.

* * * * *

At the Roadblock

Cyzicus yells, "Stabilize him, Sergeant!" before he runs to see if he can help the other militiaman. He hopes that at least one can be stabilized without divine intervention.

"Sergeant," adds Lucas, "after seeing to the wounded, see to replacing the dead mounts with the Zhent ones, here!"

Cyzicus runs by Dolak as the dwarf jogs to the roadway. The warrior-smith utters a brief exclamation of despair when he sees that the rout of his mule, and the subsequent upheaval of his cart, has left the tools of his trade littered over the road and along panicked beast's wake.

* * * * *

In the Zhentarim Camp

Alani nods at the Zhentarim rider, continuing the ruse she has created, and limps towards the mounted soldier, keeping the mount between her and the archers in the distance. Her right hand falls to her left side -- on the hilt of her illusion-covered short sword.

The elven scout nears the unsuspecting soldier as his head is turned away from her. She quickly unsheathes her blade and thrusts forward, toward the mounted soldier's back.

The horseman cries out in pain and surprise as the weapon pierces him. Critically wounded, he turns to look at Alani with a look of utter bewilderment.

THUN! The sound of several bowstrings going taut fills the air around the campsite. The sky rains arrows as a volley of missiles arcs downward toward the campsite.

The Zhent's horse whinnies in pain as an arrow punctures its flank. Otherwise, both Alani and the horseman escape the barrage without harm.

THUN! Before either the soldier or the elf can react, the militia riders launch a second volley of arrows. Man, elf, and horse cry out as the rain of missiles strikes all.

Alani gasps as the sharpened head of an arrow slices across her barely exposed shoulder and continues on to perforate the tent behind her. A few moments later, the disguised and wounded elf is slammed to the ground as the soldier falls from his horse, a feathered shaft protruding from his side.

* * * * *

At the Roadblock

Lucas looks to the Zhentarim camp as he walks over to the two archers on the east flank that earlier fell prey to his sleeping spell. He notices that a mounted soldier is stationed at the far end of the campsite.

The black-robed mage also detects movement about six or seven hundred paces beyond the camp and nearly one thousand paces from where he stands. It is a group of horsemen or similar riders. There appears to be at least ten, possibly as many as a dozen of them. From this range, Lucas cannot make out colors, dress, or livery.

As the mage continues to move and watch, a volley of arrows -- followed closely by a second -- flies from the now stationary Corm Orp militia detachment toward the two targets in the camp. At the end of the second barrage, the Zhentarim soldier falls from his horse.

The mounted archers slowly edge their horses closer to the camp. As they do so, the now riderless horse in the tent city gallops away to the south. With the horse out of the way, Lucas can see a robed figure stand up from the ground with his or her hands raised. The distance is too great to discern any details, however.

Meanwhile, off to the west of the road, Cyzicus bends over the fallen Corm Orp man that no one has yet checked. A few seconds later, the halfling straightens with a sigh when he finds that the soldier has fought his last battle.

"Priest! I need your help!" Sheela hollers at Cyzicus, breaking the holy warrior's brief period of reflection.

Dolak crosses the road at a run, his short legs pumping. A short distance ahead of the dwarf, Lucas takes his eyes from the campsite and the approaching riders long enough to bend over and use his gory dagger to end the life of another unconscious Zhent.

* * * * *

In the Zhentarim Camp

Alani groans a bit as she pushes the fallen soldier off her person, the wound on her shoulder stinging slightly as she rises from the ground.

As the does so, however, the riderless Zhent horse decides that two wounds and the loss of its rider is enough for one day. Uttering a frightened snort, it gallops off to the south, exposing Alani to the militia riders.

With the horse no longer blocking her view, the elven girl watches the mounted militia archers slowly walk their horses forward. Their bows are held across their bodies, with arrows nocked. The riders slowly come on line as they approach the campsite.

Alani moves slightly out of the fallen soldier's reach and raises her arms in a sign of surrender.

"Hold your fire!" Alani calls out to the militiamen, her elven voice cutting through the morning air as she stands there nervously, hoping the men will heed her word.

* * * * *

At the Roadblock

Lucas moves to the last Zhent archer and ensures he has shot his last arrow for the Zhent cause. Behind the mage, Dolak continues to run into the eastern grass in pursuit of his routed pack mule.

Back at the road, Cyzicus runs down to help Sergeant Sheela with the surviving but wounded militia soldier. As he nears the fallen warrior, he passes one of the mounted Corm Orp riders who is guiding Kjira's mule back to the road.

* * * * *

In the Zhentarim Camp

"On your knees, hands raised!" commands the center-most of the Corp Orp mounted archers.

Alani wastes no time in doing as the man commands. She drops to her knees and leaves her arms high in the air in plain view to all three men. Her almond-shaped eyes never leave the arrow tips pointed her way.

"Relax, it is I -- Alani," the elven girl explains, hoping that the militiamen will listen.

* * * * *

At the Roadblock

Lucas hears Dolak running up behind him and calls out to his dwarven friend.

"Shall we check out their camp?" Lucas asks Dolak. "It seems there is another foe that the Corm Orp cavalry is trying to deal with as I speak," the mage adds as he gestures to the Zhent camp where it appears that the riders have captured an enemy soldier or two.

Dolak grunts back an answer. "First I fetch me mule, then we try the camp." The dwarf's final words are sent over his shoulder as he continues running after his panicked animal and battered cart.

Meanwhile, back at the scene of the melee, Cyzicus reaches Sergeant Sheela and takes a knee next to the fallen militia soldier at Sheela's feet. The halfling grasps his holy symbol as he starts to call upon his deity for one more healing prayer.

* * * * *

In the Zhentarim Camp

"Stay still!" the center militia rider orders Alani.

"Flankers, with me," the man adds as his slowly walks his horse forward. The two outmost riders follow his lead, closing ranks slightly as they do so.

"I took on this illusion after I knocked the true 'Mistress' of this operation out," Alani hollers at the riders as they walk forward with arrows nocked. "And a good thing I did also or that one would have gotten away."

The elf pauses and motioning to the soldier with her head, the bloodied short sword lying next him where the elven girl dropped it when the man fell off the horse.

* * * * *

At the Roadblock

The healing magic of Cyzicus' patron diety flows from the halfling's outstretched hand and into the fallen militia soldier. Standing beside the halfling, Sergeant Sheela gives an audible sigh of relief when she sees the man's bleeding slow and his breathing return to normal, albeit shallow.

"He will live," is all Cyzicus says as he stands.

Meanwhile, Lucas takes off at a run after Dolak. The mage hopes to help the dwarf run down his routed mule before the distant approaching horsemen arrive and before anything happens with the Zhentarim captive in the camp. The mage easily passes his companion and gains on the panicked but encumbered pack animal.

* * * * *

In the Zhentarim Camp

Three of the riders continue walking their horses forward while two cover from their original position. The trio of moving horseman stop just short of the still-smoldering campfire.

Looking to the tent where she left the unconscious woman, Alani continues, "You will find the owner of this face tied and gagged in that tent."

The elven rogue's final words come as she looks to the archer in the middle. Never once does she attempt to move from the position she is now in, all the while wishing the magic she has cast upon herself would hurry up and run its course.

"Jenna, bind her," is all the centermost horseman says. The female militia rider to his left glances to him and nods.

Past the riders, Alani diserns three figures headed roughtly toward the camp. From here, it looks like Dolak and Lucas are chasing after the dwarf's mule and cart. The trio is still one hundred or so paces away.

The order of the militia leader brings a sigh from the elven girl. She does not take to the fact that she is to be tied like those she came to help against, but she understands the man's reasoning.

Alani's arms remain high in the air until the woman moves them and tightily secures them around the illusion-shrouded elf's back. A small smile adorns the bruised false face that the elven rogue conjured earlier when she sees Dolak and Lucas making their way towards the camp. She hopes that at the very least one of them will be able to see through the illusion she has cast about herself and ensure the soldiers that she is not the enemy.

Unfortunately for the elf, Dolak continues running after his mule. She watches in chagrin as the dwarf catches up to the pack animal and soothes it. Lucas seems more concerned with helping the warrior-smith than aiding the militia riders in the camp who apparently have things well at hand.

The Corm Orp soldiers gasp and Alani sighs in relief as the illusion runs its course and expires. The elf's smile freezes on her face when she feels cold steel pressed against her throat.

"In know not what magic this is, but you will not use it again… witch." The grim voice of the rider Jenna rasps in Alani's ear as the rider stands watch over her prisoner.

The content of The Sunset Vale Saga are the property and copyright of Brian Flood, and are not to be published or redistributed without permission.

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