Lodge of Petrichor, Part 3
The defense of the Lodge has been a much talked-about thing - the cause celebre among the nobles and the Faith and really most of the movers and shakers in the Compact. And while ridiculous reports of animals are almost assuredly exaggerated it's the strange natural effects that dominate the conversation.
Near the Lodge, a large area of ground has caved in, as though there are burrows underneath - a veritable warren of small animal homes. But normally this would only happen in small pockets if that - surely animal burrows are a common thing? Farmers scratch their head at this strange news, but the Compact has people on the spot to deal with that.
The Crimson Blades are out in force here - and while they can't stop the earth from moving or collapsing, they are there to make sure that no one is truly hurt. Violet, Harlex, Thorley, Arianna, and Aiden work together as the ground near where the Blades make their camp gives way. They report some human casualties, as loss does happen in accidents, but nothing to alarm the Compact over, for certain. Squire Ragnarr Ragamuffin (and who has a name like that really) is listed on the rolls of the casualties - but not on the rolls of the dead. Those familiar with that area breathe a sigh of relief, but most just nod and are glad a budding Knight of the Compact is among them.
The King's Own and others also ride in that area - the King has sent his Hundred to aid in the defense of the Lodge, as is his prerogative, showing he most certainly intends to ensure the Lodge is defended. For the most part, the patrols have been quiet, but on one led by Sir Corban they foiled an ambush - and Corban, Mae, Eleanor, Ophelia, and Paloma returned safely, but gravely injured. Reports of cultists have come from the Forest for a long time, but these seem quite a bit stronger - and certainly more focused - than the average shav would. Still, guarding against ambushes is part of the job of the Sovereign's Own and they do their job well and thoroughly.
For now, the area known as the Burrows remains defended.
North of the Lodge is a grove of trees. These trees are notably ancient, and shaman from Redrain claim that this is a place where spirits who have been gravely injured can come to rest and heal. Those of Redrain nod and look comforted at this, but most of the faithful of the Compact scratch their heads - what could harm a spirit? Ridiculousness to many, but this stand of ancient trees is beautiful and peaceful, whether one is a shaman or not.
And now it too comes under attack.
Reports are less than forthcoming out of this - the Spirit Walkers band together, with notable shaman from across the Compact coming to perform rites and rituals here. Do they work? Who knows? Even those who talk to the spirits tend to have conflicting answers.
'The spirits are still present,' they say, and then will add, 'but very restless.'
And then the attacks start. It is as though the forest has attacked - wolves and bears and creatures great and small by all accounts. They are maddened, as though some kind of poison has twisted them and driven them insane, driving them toward the shaman who revere life and nature and the spirits themselves.
All around the grove are soldiers. Led by Warlord Marian Redrain soldiers spread through the forest to protect this special place. Count Thesarin, Duke Gabriel, and Dame Irisa have some trouble - they handle it, but when they return to the Lodge to be cared for by the healers under Marquessa Reigna's guidance they are all gravely wounded.
The Wolves of Redrain fan out too, directed by Sir Aksel Nygard. And they too fight hard, and some of them die well and others live to tell the tale - but when Sir Aksel returns to the Lodge his eyes are haunted and he does not speak of what he has seen.
And the grove itself? There is battle after battle here, and the shaman struggle to hold to their rituals while battle rages all around. Marian, Vercyn, Gerard, Brogan, Aodhan, Marcas, Cybele, Signe, Sparte, Kritr, Morrighan, Volcica, Cillian, and Kalani move to protect the grove, to lead the soldiers stationed about. The Spirit Walkers - Eilonwy, Bashira, Kaldur, Cybele, and many others work on their shamanic rites. It is hard to keep their focus, and not all the shaman survive. Bashira Ru-tual falls - but the rite does not falter. Cybele too falls, but even so the shaman use their deaths to inspire.
And even as the forest quiets and the attacks break off, the grove is different, changed. What once was ground newly-consecrated by then-Legate Orazio and several of the Faith is now different. Deeper. More peaceful. The priests of Petrichor have claimed Sanctuary, and the shaman rites have empowered the spirits, and now this is no stand of trees but a Grove true - newly formed and still growing into its power. But even so a place of peace, of holiness, and it stands strong and defensible.
In the center of the Grove, where two shaman met their ends bravely, stand two saplings now, twining about each other as they grow. Some say this is a symbol of Cybele and Bashira's sacrifice. Others say it is an embrace of the Spirit Walkers and the Order of Petrichor. Whatever the symbol, this is a miracle - and a hopeful sign indeed.
And the Grove of Renewal stands.
There are an increasing number of ridiculous rumors circling the city about the Gray Forest. But of them, the most believable is the number of cultists that seem to be trying to infiltrate the city. To worship false gods. The faithful men and women of the Compact have no time for these folks - this is beyond the schism between the Oathlanders and the Faith. This is not hardliners versus more lenient folk, no. These are rumors of those who worship other people instead of the Pantheon.
And so when factions across Arx agree to go root out corruption and cultists, the people can get behind that. They go in groups. Miranda, Faruq, Nuala, Vitalis, Fecundo, and Sophie first, with prayers from Legate Bianca strengthening them. They return victorious, a little bloody, and thoughtful - but the Mother Mercy herself has gone with them and so they are well-tended when they arrive back in Arx.
Next the Mirrorguard and the Society of Explorers, and Talen, Enyo, Lou, Arcadia, Meriah, and Emily scout the next series of caves. They too return bloody, and thoughtful, and victorious. See, says the Compact. See how our scouts are superior. And we fight for the Faith. Against these false gods. We are strong as we walk in the Light of the Pantheon.
Now Reese, Theron, Giulio, Felix, and Jhond, with support from the Order of East Light's Dame Coraline, supplied well by Princess Alarissa. And again they try - and again they win, though not without pain. Still they return to report the caves have been cleared, and if they immediately send messages to some of the leaders of the Compact, that's probably after-action reports, right?
Valdemar, Vanora, Rosalie, Luis, Salvator, and Harald are the last to return. They return bloody but victorious, with tales of cultists deep within a cave - but thanks to their efforts, the cave is empty now. And yet those efforts are not without a price - the Grim Duke himself returns, carried on his shield, lost in the depths of the caves in the Gray Forest. Those now speak of his sacrifice, of his bravery. But still others remember him on the front lines in the Forest in another battle, of spitting in the eye of death and coming out on the other side. He died as he lived - grimly - but he will be remembered for his bravery.
And so the caves are clear.
It's strange - the more the talk of danger to the Lodge, the more people who generally don't stalk forth to protect the Compact physically seem to be leaving Arx on Important And Yet Thoroughly Undefined Business.
They leave in small groups - Mason, Fortunato, Margret, Nicia, Ariella, and Dafne leave together. Delilah, Fairen, Mia, Appolonia, and Alistair. Aleksei, Luca, Briseis, Donella, and Sina another group. Tikva, Lucita, Sorrel, Lisebet, Eleyna, and Macda. Khanne, Lianne, Thena, Percephon, Arik, Rowenova, and Mirk. Laric, Faye, Gareth, Mercedes, and Tomwell. So many in small groups of five and six. They come back bloody. They come back bleeding and near death. They come back bruised, but with triumph in their eyes. They come back in quiet contemplation. One comes back nameless, and already the artist formerly known as Fortunato has a new name he's using - and the price of the artwork signed by him before triples.
But of all of them one comes back carried by his fellows. Prince Gareth Grayson, stalwart, unsmiling Inquisitor, fierce in his pursuit of the truth - a complicated, intelligent, ill-tempered man has fallen.
And still the Lodge stands.
It's midnight, and all is quiet in the Grayson Ward.
It's two in the morning, and all is quiet in the Grayson Ward.
In fact, it stays very quiet all night, the guards undisturbed in their rounds. But when those who live in the Grayson Manor awaken in the morning, they find dismembered corpses in the courtyard, bloody and foul, from too many disparate bodies to easily count. From the gates, it just looks like a charnel house vomited on the grounds. But from the upstairs windows of the mansion a single word is clear:
And now news starts to filter in from the Mercies and Physicians at the Lodge and in the House of Solace, of those who are greviously injured - or those who bear back the dead bravely. Rymarr, Felicia, Caius, Thorley, Norwood, and Leola leave on a scouting mission, and come back with some bumps and bruises - but Caius is nearly dead.
The Valorous Few go out too and they return a little short and a lot banged up. Audric is injured but grinning (typical), Lys is near death, Capri is not speaking, and Shard... well. Shard is missing, and doesn't show up for two more days. And there's something in their eyes that suggests their return was more luck than skill - and that they have definitely seen something horrible.
Ian, Ainsley, Jasher, Sebastian, Helia, and Galen go out - more scouting, and these are not names that are unknown to Arx. They travel with the Choir and return with the Choir, but Ian and Sebastian are severely injured, and Galen too is near death.
With all else that's going on, it's a little shocking to see so many injured so badly. But the Mercies and healers take over and so far, those who return from the Forest - and there are far fewer who return than who go - are on the mend.
Scouting the Lodge is particularly dangerous right now, or so it seems.
Closer to the Lodge, sightings of cultists and dangerous animals are becoming increasingly more common. Fortunately for the Compact, Caspian, Navi, Mikani, Sable, and Jace were there to patrol. They managed to suss out some cultists intent upon the Lodge proper, and well armed enough that the clash turned deadly. Sable died early in the fighting, but Caspian and the rest of the team ensured her death was properly - and thoroughly - avenged. No cultists left that ambush alive.
Jordan, Harlan, and Sunaia go out in response to another report of something dangerous - and encounter it they do. They fight and kill the creature, but with its final death blow it was poised to kill Duke Harlan when Sir Jordan stepped in and took the blow. Some say his lucky streak at last ran out, but others say he was lucky to have been able to exchange his life for his liege.
It's a dangerous time, and with Sir Jordan's death the security at the Lodge tightens, patrols are doubled in strength, and everyone gets a little bit sharper - whatever's out there is deadly, and definitely not playing games. If it's the Lodge they want though, the Compact means to deny them.
And still the Lodge stands.
The Lodge is under attack.
Word comes slowly, borne with litters of wounded and dead. Rumors range from the mundane to the absurd. Petal, Olivia, Brigida, and Sasha have done something - they've placed a stone shield in the gardens of the Lodge, and even through the snow there are vines growing around it. As a symbol, it's a powerful one - the Lodge is protected by the full might of the Compact as needed. The Lodge is part of Arx, entwined with all the things that the Compact grows - the people, the heart, the spirit. The Lodge will stand. Powerful indeed.
Siege weapons are installed now too - at the Stone Watchtower, at the Lodge itself. Manned by Templars and Knights of Solace, these are skilled operators ready for almost anything. And now the armies of the Compact spread out, and they are tested sorely. Preston, Esoka, and Cassandra lead the way, making sure the Templars are up to the task ahead. Bedivere, Jeffeth, Emilia, Sparte, Austen, Riagnon, Tessa, and Skye work with them - and when they are tested, they come through. Rumors of a huge battle make it back to Arx, and the death toll is high - over six hundred Templars and Knights of Solace lie dead. If blood makes the grass grow, spring at the Lodge will be glorious.
But the Lodge stands.
After the battle at the Lodge, Daemon, Silas, Nebulosa, and Alexandre leave on an urgent mission. They return in varying states of confusion and disquiet, with a filthy captive and a very sick Daemon. He has been stabbed, and his fellows bring him immediately to the Mercies. The wound is not deep but it is already red and swollen, and his face is far too pale. The captive is remanded to the Inquisition by Lord Commander Silas. Daemon is relinquished to the healers, who do their level best to get him stabilized and comfortable.
But in the morning, Sir Daemon Dracone is found in his bed, dead.
Yet the Lodge stands.
Those at the Stone Watchtower near the Lodge have been vigilant. They have stopped ambushes and turned back creatures of the forest - wolves, bears, even the occasional wild boar, though rumor has them measured at nearly twice the size of normal, and some darker rumors claim that these have been somehow changed into servants of an evil cultist force. Even so, those vigilant sentries of the Iron Guard, the Order of East Light, and even just civic service-minded members of the Compact - Mayir, Calaudrin, Harper, Kenna, Godric, John, Coraline, Denica, Dycard, Dagon, and Sheena - have protected the Lodge and turned away those who would do it harm.
In the pasture - the unicorn pasture some call it, though that is the sort of name children dream up, of course - there have been more incursions too. Kael, Rey, Shae, Natalia, and Rohran go out on patrol and come back bloody and with a tale to tell, of a young colt and the cultists trying to sacrifice him on an altar of stone. Alexis, Hannah, Fianna, and Philippe along with the Valardin cavalry lead by Princess Alis herself have a different story of horror - of a pack of wolves working with a band of bears and rumors of an evil hand guiding them all - and though Alis is terribly wounded she stays strong and determined. She leads her people with an iron will and stares death in the eye and continues to fight, her example an inspiration to all in that moment.
And still the Lodge stands.
The Lodge has been by turns a haven and a battlefield. So many lives lost. But slowly the Compact has gained a little ground. The caves have been cleared of those heretic cultists. The grounds of the Lodge have been kept safe, the pastures protected, the Watchtower reinforced. Shaman whisper of a new Grove, the Grove of Renewal, and those who witnessed its birth in battle and rite are popular guests to tell their tale.
The constant attacks have been repulsed. At first they were frequent, but as the Compact continued to rise to the occasion they were less so. Less and less, and now the duties of guarding the Lodge are important - for all the duties relative to the security of the Compact are important - but no longer quite so urgent.
And then a note is left at the Lodge. "The high cultists are dead. Gargantuans will no longer walk. The Forest is your duty now. Hold the line." The note is burned on the bark of an ash tree and held down by a polished octagon of copper.
And the Lodge stands.