Eager to save the boy trapped between the Gnoll and Orc warbands, the party plunged into the thick of combat. As the heroes exchanged ranged fire with the Gnolls, their Pack Lord ripped into the Orc lines, summoning a pair of hideous Maw Demons from the corpse of a fallen Orc using a staff adorned with the skull of an elf. Mark the Woodsman was nearly killed by the Gnolls' Hyena, but the combined efforts of the party and their allies prevailed without any casualties. Ireni dispatched the Gnoll Pack Lord with a cleansing blast of Druidic magic.
Willem, a boy of 8 from the nearby farm town of Swallow's Perch, was rescued and taken under the wing of Yuna and Knight Ulrich. He explained his town was attacked by orcs, and he was separated from his family as he was out playing in the fields when the attack began. The family that had taken him in as they fled was cut down just moments before the party arrived. Yuna held out hope that his parents are still alive, but Vani, having seen firsthand the savagery of the Orcs when they attacked her village when she was young, was less optimistic.
Against Sir Colmb's advice, the party made camp to rest, only to be ambushed by another party of orcs. After fending them off, the group finally earned their chance to rest.
Moving closer to Throughway Keep, the party found an ogre corpse littered with arrows. Identifying the fletching as those used by the wood elf scout Adrin, whom the party met at the start of their adventure through the southern forests, they followed a set of mysterious cart tracks deeper into the woods.
With Vani's help, the party was able to sneak up on another group of Orc raiders resting after a skirmish with the wood elves. Three captives, including Adrin, were tied up in a cart. The orcs were arguing with an enormous ogre named Urgo, who wanted one of the elves for a snack. The orcs, none too pleased to leave any elven captive alive, were only doing so at the behest of someone named Korrig, presumably their overall commander. The orcs said Korrig had lead the orcs into Astaroka, and through his guidance, they hoped to conquer and secure a beachhead for reclaiming their lands to the west. The orcs eventually compromised and agreed to cut the ears from one of the elven captives and feed her to Urgo.
Unwilling to watch such barbarity, Vani and Yuna struck at the unaware orcs, killing several of their wounded before they had time to don their armor and grab their weapons. Uli the barbarian entered a rage and engaged the Ogre. The healthy orcs and Urgo put up a better fight, but were eventually slain after a hard fought battle.
Ireni healed the badly beaten elves with her magic, restoring them to some semblance of health and coherency. Adrin, Yeva, and Trella thanked the party profusely. They explained that they were the ones who killed the ogre by the road. They had been lying low in the forest for days, picking off orcs and ogres as they broke off into raiding bands to gain food, weapons, and loot before they coalesced into another attack. When asked about Corrig, the elves suggested that he may be an Orog, a particularly intelligent breed of orc who often serve as military leaders for their species.
The party suggested that elves join them on their way to Throughway Keep, as the Wood Elf lands are located past it, on Astaroka's eastern border. The elves agreed, and the group set off for the final push to the keep and the safety of its walls.
As night falls, the party approaches the keep, observing large numbers of farmers and miners at its gates, slowly filtering in with carts laden with the sick and wounded. If there were any doubts that the orcs were stepping up the speed of their assault on Astaroka, this sad sight dispelled them.
A thought hangs in the back of the group's minds; if the Orcs truly wished to seize Astaroka, they would inevitably have to take Throughway Keep…
Just how many orcs are lurking in the forests, poised to form up again into a proper war horde?