Journey to the East

Missing Ravenmoor
26th September 4711

The next morning the group awoke well fed, and a few with hangovers. Sandru had yielded to the Halfling caravans entreaties to make camp with them for the night, rather than push on to Ravenmoor.

“The place creeps me out” explained Sandru. “It looks normal enough and they’re seemingly friendly during the daytime but is there room at the Inn? No. They just don’t want you there at nightfall. What the fuck they do I’ve no idea, and I’d rather not find out. We can just drive past the place in daylight tomorrow.”

As they packed up the Elder apprached Ungo, and handed him a fine axe of obvious Ulfen workmanship. “This belonged to one of our folk who died of a fever some time back- a great warrior in his youth. Perhaps you can make good use of it?”

“Hmm ta grandad” said Ungo, hefting the weapon. “Ah think ah’ll call it C***cleaver.”

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Caravan of Troubles
25th September 4711

As the wagons crawled up a low fold in the land Shaleelu appeared, a small deer over her shoulder.

“Trouble " she said, in her monosyllabic way. “Drums. Stop and you’ll hear.”

Sandru called a halt and everyone listened. Visibility was poor in the chill mist, but listening hard they could hear the rythmic beating of drums. Sandru looked at Ungo.

“Nae Shoanti” said Ungo, “Thes is Shriikirri-Quah territory, an’ theer more inta tradin’ than raidin”.

Dinald, Ungo, Ragnar, Ailukka and Rasha agreed to scout forward with Shaleelu, while the otehrs stayed behind with the wagons. Moving through the trees off the trail to the right, the drums became louder as they topped the rise, and these were soon supplemented by the rythmic banging of shields and gutteral shouts in unison.

“Orcs” said Shaleelu. “Working themselves up to an attack by the sound of it”.

As they crept closer they could see a clearing, and in this were drawn a quadrangle of wagons, laagered together with crates and barrels. Inside this they could glimpse a number of small, and probably frightened, defenders.

“Weel” thought Ungo. “Jist like me. Mebbe thurrs a decent burrrd or twa needs rescuin’ in theer.”

Shaleelu pointed to the groupong of orcs on their near side, and a group of archers in the western treeline. Supplementing the orcs was a very large Ogre.The group crept closer. The shields banged louder.

“Akkuuuuuttttttthhhhuuuuuu!” shouted the orcs, and as the cry was taken up they started to rush out from their cover. The defenders ineffectually let out a hail of slingshot and javelin fire.

Rasha and Shaleelu poured arrows at the Ogre, assisted by Ungo. Deeply impressed, Dinald threw one of his daggers off into the undergrowth.

The Ogre staggered with several arrows in its back, and turning round to face the group, roared loudly. A number of the nearest orcs halted in their charge and turned to see what was happening.

Ragnar pulled out his sword and rashly ran forward. “No!” snapped Shaleelu as she aimed down her arm, but her warning made no impression. As Ragnar approached the hulking brute flicked sideways with its club, and Ragnar was swatted sideways like a fly-spinning through the air and crashing to the ground several yards away.

Revenge was swift as Rasha shot again, and then in the space of a heartbeat Shaleelu fired one arrow deep into its throat,and then another into exactly the same spot. With a baffled look of incomprehension the beast staggered backwards, and then flopped to the ground with a crash.

As the group engaged the approaching line of orcs, Dinald rushed forward to the fallen Ragnar, attracting the attention of several orcs. Meanwhile Rasha and Shalelu continued to pour arrows into the orcs, supplemented by Ailukka’s ice magic. Ungo drew his axe and rushed forward.

The battle was short but bloody. While a number of orcs managed to break inside the laager, the attackers nearest the group and the archers were incapacitated or put to flight. As the group turned their attention towards the wagons the remaining orcs started to withdraw.

“Ahm yer hero daarlin’s” said Ungo tactfully as they approached, “Noo who’s furst fer a s***?”

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Leaving Wolf's Ear
24th September 4711

As the caravan loaded up Rasha was grumbling to himself. Woln had been given the Sheriff’s message by Ameiko and Koya, and he had simply nodded quietly and gone off to his cabin. Half an hour later he reappeared with his spare bow and weapons, and a loaded pack. Nodding at the group he wandered off to the south.

“What is the matter my friend?” asked Ragnar, staring along the road at Woln as he disappeared.

“Blasted Koya” sighed Rasha, “I hate it when she’s like this. Stray puppies, abandoned cats. And now she bites my head off for me joking about Woln”.

“What about abandoned half -elven waifs?” grinned Sandru as he hauled a barrel up onto the rear of the wagon. Rasha pulled a face.

“You were joking?” frowned Ragnar. " I wasn’t."

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The Testing
23rd September 4711

At dawns first light Koya shook Dinald and Woln; her spells had healed the worst of his wounds, and he had been informed of what she intended. A very quiet man, he had nodded his head in assent. Reynald stood nearby with Ameiko and Sandru.

“No point in eating anything” said Koya. “The wolfsbane is a poison- the effects are painful and unpleasant, but hopefully it won’t kill you. And it may counteract the curse- if you survive. Now I will prepare you.”

She stood back and muttered several sets of incantations over both Woln and Dinald, before presenting them each with a small flask. Both unstoppered the corks, and swilled the contents down.

For a long pause there was no apparent effect, and then Dinald screamed and clutched his stomach, rolling on the ground. Reynald and Sandru moved to hold him down, and Shaleelu shoved a piece of wood between his teeth. Woln huddled in a ball, Koya touching his forehead and speaking quietly.

Outside the wagon Dinald’s and Woln’s groans and screams could be clearly heard. The sheriff had also arrived, having been informed of the arrangements the previous evening.

“This situation is a problem for us” said the Sheriff. “Its not Woln’s fault but we don’t want him in town if he is infected.”

“We tell him when he wakes” said Ailukka, “Koya I think will make him sleep a while after this.” The sherriff nodded and left. Inside the wagon all went quiet and Koya emerged with Reynald and the others.

Ragnar looked briefly inside at Woln. “You all know me as a peaceable, funny fellow. Ve must not let zis poor man become a ravening monster. But, ve cannot just murder him. I suggest ve give him a head start and then ruthlessly hunt him down and slaughter him like ze dog he vill become, ja? Zat vay, ve give him a valorous death, and rid ze vorld of some chaos, no?”

Rasha nodded approvingly at the Monks suggestion.

“Suits me. I can use the hunt to help train any of you who are interested in the basics of tracking bipeds. If he turns during the hunt, we can add a quadruped section to the lesson.”

He glanced over at the sleeping Woln.“Sorry, old chap, but your death will serve to help us practice our skills. It’s all good, you know?”

Reynald stepped protectively in front of his sleeping brother, his right hand hovering near the hilt of his rapier. “If you think you’re going to hunt my brother like a dog too, think again half- man.”

Koya stepped in front of Woln, fire blazing in her eyes as she stared at Rasha. “I see that while Faldo tried to teach you woodcraft and some of the ways of the Forest, all that you have learned, in fact, is to behave like a beast. You have learned Nothing.”

Rasha looked to Reynald, avoiding Koya’s gaze. “I know Koya has your brother’s back, so you’re fine with me.”

“No.” interrupted Koya, slapping Rasha across the face. “I have both their backs. You will talk to me and not across me young man. I see manners are also something you have failed to learn.”

At the sound of the argument the rest of the camp drifted over.

“What’s going on Koya?” asked Sandru.

At that moment Dinald hobbled into view, having seemingly crawled out of the wagon he was lying in. Somewhat irritated, he had overheard Rasha and Ragnar’s conversation.

“If it’s alright with you two”, said Dinald through clenched teeth, as Reynald stood back at his side, " I’ll not waste time with another treatment as I’m feeling fine. I will be hale and hearty by a fort-night and ready to continue on the journey. Yeeees, this ol’ body of mine has fought off fiercer body ailments like the ones I had contracted in the bath-houses of Magnamar!” He forced a smile , before turning and hobbling off. Ragnar watched him doubtfully.

“Actually we’ll be moving on tomorrow” said Sandru, “That’s already one days delay, and I’m not waiting here a fortnight.” From a short distance away Dinald could be heard whimpering.

“Pfft. Sounds like a puppy.” thought Ragnar darkly.

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Back at Camp
22nd September 4711 (Afternoon)

Reynald worked at the padlock on Woln’s chains, and the man collapsed to the floor. Ragnar bandaged him as best he could,while Rasha hunted round the cave and managed to scrounge up some canvas and a few poles, with which he improvised a travois.

The hunter was in a sorry state, with a strange blue liquid dribbling from his mouth; he had obviously been bitten, and had strange runes runes cut into his flesh. A flask of the blue liquid was nearby, and Ailukka took this to show to Koya.

Arranged on a table nearby was a selection of alchemical equipment, as well as what appeared to be four small fetish dolls. Looking closely they could see that two of these bore some resemblance to the human forms of the two werewolves they had fought, and one of the others looked a little like Woln.

“I think I get it” said Reynald, “This wizard or whatever he was was somehow controlling the werewolves- that is why the first one was trying to warn us away. These dolls must have had something to do with it. Witch dolls.” Ailukka nodded.

“Ja. But this means that he too has become infected”. She nodded towards the insensible Woln.

“Let’s get him to Koya” suggested Rasha. “She’s Scarzani- they know about these things.” Ungo harrumphed but the others agreed.

Ragnar said nothing. When he had tended Dinald’s wounds earlier he had noticed that he too had been bitten. He had taken care at the time to see that none of the others had noticed.

Ailukka had picked up a large tome emblazoned with some sort of grinning skull, with some distaste. She pulled out the wand she had obtained in Brinestump Marsh, and muttered a few words and then examined the book closely.

“Neither the script nor language I can read, but this book is very ancient, and very evil” she said. “It has some association with Devils, and its function is to control werewolves. There are many diagrams in here and see- cutting runes into human flesh as has been done to Woln.”

“Thaet feller what ran” growled Ungo, “He had horns.”

“He might have had Devil or Demon blood” suggested Ailukka, “What they call a Tiefling. I see a few in Kalsgaard.”

Ungo walked over carrying a chest full of assorted coins. “Look what I foond.”

“There’s more books over here” said Rasha, “Over at this desk. This is really strange- look.”

The books seemed to be several volumes labelled ’Wolf’s Ear Immigration Records’ for particular years. The years in question were 4695, 4696 and 4697. These appeared to have been studied in some detail, and the book for 4696 was open and an entry had been ringed.

“Thorin Faringdale, age 12 years- DECEASED” read Reynald. . Around this were scrawled a variety of excaimations including ‘Noooo! He has escaped!’, ‘All this time- Wasted!’ and many other indications of extreme frustration.

“Maybe these were stolen from the Sage also?” suggested Reynald.

“We should take all of this stuff back” agreed Ragnar, “but we should take Woln to our camp first to see Koya. Maybe she can suggest something for the poor man.” And so it was agreed.

Back at the Caravan Koya shook her head. “The werewolf’s bite it is not simply an illness, it is also a curse. It is beyond my poor powers to cure.”

“So what will happen to him then?” asked Dinald. “Do we need to buy a nice lead HaHa!”

Koya looked at him directly; nobody else appeared to be laughing.

“Even a man who is pure of heart
And says his prayers by Night.
Can become a wolf while the wolfbane blooms
And the moon shines Full and Bright.”

Dinald looked with incomprehension. Koya went on to explain patiently.

“The next full moon is about three weeks off on 12th October. Unless cured, he will transform into a rampaging bloodthirsty beast, which kills for sheer bloodlust and feasts on human flesh. Although possibly a good man, he will have no control over this. It will be his Nature.”

“But you say he cannot be cured?” asked Ragnar.

“Not by my magicks or any we are likely to find hereabouts. Also there is some complication-this blue potion and the runes: some other magicks have also been wound into his condition. But there may may be an old Scarzani way.” responded Koya. “Unfortunately it can only work within three nights of being bitten, and the remedy can be fatal. You are fortunate indeed that none of you were bitten in your fights with these creatures.” Ragnar said nothing, but shot a quick glance at Dinald, who was examining his nails: they seemed a little longer than he remembered.

“Perhaps we’d better try it then” said Rasha. “After all we don’t know how long ago he was bitten. What do we need to do?”

“Wolfsbane” said Koya. “You need to gather me Wolfsbane. As much of it as possible.”

“Eh but thats lethal stuff isn’t it?” asked Rasha.

“As I said” replied Koya. “The remedy is Kill or Cure.”

As Koya spoke Reynald observed Dinald closely, and saw that he went to the back of the group and sat down against the wheel of one of the wagons. Quietly he edged his way over. Dinald stood up sharply.

“Everything alright Brother mine?” asked Reynald quietly. Dinald stared down at the floor.

“Oh…I feel all right you know. Just got mauled by some idiot gent I was trying to save.” Dinald said, a hint of bitterness in his voice.He looked at his brother and started to say something, and then paused, biting his tongue.

“I’m sorry Reynald. I feel fine. Koya’s news is…disturbing however.” He looked over at the group with a strange look in his eyes. The others had not noticed their conversation yet, and were debating the whereabouts of Wolfsbane. It occured to Reynald that his brother looked… for once- well, Humble.

“Look Reynald, if it would be alright with you, I’d like to try the cure, no matter what the results. I was bitten." said Dinald quickly. "Death would be better then turning around and hurting some innocent who’s only fault was his inability to defend against my onslaught.”

“Whit yoose twa dein’ fairyboys?” asked Ungo, sauntering over and swigging from a rancid bottle. Before he could react Dinald whipped him off his feet and gave him a close hug .

“Arrg ye’ galuutin’ fee nancyboy puit me doon oor ah’ll bite ye nuts.” screamed Ungo. “Arrgh No, I didna’ mean that-ye’ll have me on the turrn too at this rate!”

Hearing the fuss the others paused and looked over; knowing both the twins well Koya was quick to discern the root of the problem. As she held her hand for silence she noted that Ragnar whispered something quietly in Dinald’s ear. As even Ungo quietened down Dinald looked straight at Koya, and with her angular face she nodded silently, and then turned to Rasha.

“I will need at least two potions.” she paused to let the effect of her words sink in. Everyone looked at Dinald. “However the more you can find the better. If you are back before nightfall I can brew the poison this evening, and then I will have to rest to prepare the magicks I will need to maximise their chances of success.”

“It might be best if one of you brings the Alchemist here to retrieve his things-maybe the Sheriff too. If this fails we don’t want to be accused of poisoning Woln. No need to otherwise spread word of what has happened though.”

An hour or so later Sheriff Starling and Yuri the Alchemist , arrived in the camp. Walking slightly behind was Brooks, the shepherd. The Sheriff frowned as he heard their story, and enquired as to the location of the cave. Yuri listened with interest to the tale of the blue potion and examined the Tome they had found, and the runes cut into Woln.

“Hmm I’d like to examine these I think. If I may….?” He and the Sheriff walked back into town-the latter to gather some men to search for the cave before nightfall. Holding his hat in his hands Brooks spoke up.

“I believe you anyway, it all fits. I’ll go and have a word with the Mayor about your reward.” he shook his head. “Poor Woln.”

Some hours later Yuri returned excitedly into the camp. “I cast a few spells and was able to make sense of some parts of the book” he said. “The potion and runes somehow alter the lycanthropy, making it easier for the victim to control the curse. The downside is it makes him very vulnerable to control by the manipulator of this”, here he held up one of the dolls. “So essentially whoever was doing this was manipulating people with lycanthropy to do his will- and seemingly to infect others. And he escaped you say?”

“Aye” said Ungo, “Jist vanished”

“Which means he is still at large”said Yuri. At this point the Sheriff returned and Yuri explained his theory.

“The cave is as you described”, he said nodding. “One of the older men knew the place as Devil’s Cave interestingly.”

“I suggest the best thing for these dolls is that you take them with you, and then dispose of them in some faraway place” said Yuri. “The magicks will have a range as regards the controller, and if he is far enough away I don’t think anything you do to them-destruction preferably – will have any effect”. Koya nodded and took the dolls.

A few hours later Rasha returned with Koyas herbs, and by the camp firelight she worked well into the night preparing the Wolfsbane.

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The Devil in the Cave
22nd September 4711
The next morning the group set off for the rendezvous with Brooks. Sandru had let them go, as he and Ameiko could handle the limited amount of trading likely to occur. Heading slightly northwards they eventually spotted a flock of sheep grazing on the low hills to the west, and heading towards these they soon saw Brooks sitting on a small cairn overlooking a small tarn, around which sheep were drinking. Nodding to the group he called to a young lad that he would be away for an hour or so, and led the group off to the north west.

After half an hours tramping across shallow dales they looked over a small valley with a samll stream running eastwards towards the caravan trail. Looking carefully they could see a stone shepherds bothy and a sheep fold situated along one side, and it was to here that Brooks pointed.

“Good grazing hereabouts, and the Bothy and Pen are useful too. This is my best spot, but I can’t afford to lose any more sheep to this here wolf.” Answering a few more questions for the group he headed off back towards his flock.

Splitting into two groups led by Ungo and Rasha, the party made their way westwards on opposite sides of the stream. There were of course many sheep tracks, crisscrossed with the occasional bootprint and small animal. The sodden weather of late meant that there was no shortage of impressions.

After about an hour and a half Ungo paused near one of the thorn bushes, that the sheep often used to scratch themselves on. As usual there were scraps and patches of wool, but as he reached down and picked off the wool there was also something else. This wool had patches of blood on it-possibly the animal had been ambushed at this very spot.

Commanding his companions to stand still, Ungo started casting around in a circle, and some minutes later found what he was looking for-evidence of a carcase being dragged, and more significantly, a somewhat large wolf print. He stopped and hailed, and Rasha’s group made their way across the brook and rejoined the others.

Hot on the scent now, Rasha and Ungo scouted ahead, with the others trailing behind. This was not turning out to be immensely popular, as several of the group were sodden through-including Rasha who at one point took a tumble up to his waist in ice cold water. The rain poured down.

Ahead were the low ruins of an old farm, and Rasha was picking up additional clues now; moreover he had realised something which gave him cause for concern. The wolf tracks he was following were, in fact, bipedal. He fingered one of the silver arrows he had recently purchased in Galduria.

As he crept through the jumble of low walls he suddenly spotted something, and he signalled across to Ungo. Crouched near the tumbled wall of an old building was a man in ragged clothing, soaked through to the skin but clearly oblivious. His hair and beard were wild, and he clutched his head in his hands, and he was screeching to himself and rocking from side to side.

“Keep out of my head! Go away! I won’t do it!” These phrases, or others like them, were repeated over and over again. Ungo crept back and motioned the others forward, but their woodcraft was not sufficient to match the man’s senses.

“Who’s there! Keep away! Keep away I tell you. He’ll make me kill you go away Now!” The man started moaning again, holding his hands over his ears.

“Tae Hell with this” said Ungo, and fired a silver arrow at the man. His body jerked convulsively, and he staggered to his feet. Shrugging, Rasha also shot, hitting him full in the chest so that he tumbled over the low wall and out of sight.

As the others moved forward they could hear the man screaming in his death throws. Curious Dinald moved forward to the low wall, as the others stood in a group discussing what had happened.

Dinald peered round the wall but there was no man, only what looked like a huge and dirty old fur rug. But then the rug moved, exposing a bestial wolf -like face, and a body which, if stood at full height, would have been over seven feet tall. The thing bounded towards him.

“Helllp!” shreiked Dinald, turning and fleeing, but not before the thing raked his back with its claws. Turning the others saw what has happened, though with the rain and the intervening rubble none of them now had a clear shot at the Beast. Arrows were nocked and people started to move around for a clear view.

Throwing his blade up ineffectually Dinald tried to ward off the creature as it again raked him with its claws. Fainting he fell to the ground, and the beast lunged forward and bit him with its dripping maw.

At that moment two or three arrows slammed into its back, all silver, along with a curling dart of blue white energy from the tip of Ailukkas staff. The creature howled, and then fell to the floor atop Dinald.

Rushing forward they could see that the thing was thrashing and jerking. They went to pull it off Dinald, when with one final shudder, it sighed and lay still. Lying atop Dinald was the body of the ragged man, no longer transformed into a supernatural beast. Ragnar kneeled down and bandaged and cleaned Dinald’s wounds, and made him drink one of the potions he kept in his knapsack.

“The tracks come from the woods just over there” said Rasha. “Let’s have a look”.

Not far inside was further evidence. Here was a tumble of bits of wool, blood and bone: all that remained of a sheep carcase. Much of the animal had been ripped clean and massive teeth marks were gouged deep into the split bones. There were other bones too, though these were human. Gnawed and cracked and split, along with the remants of tattered clothing. The grim fate of one of the local hunters perhaps.

The wolf tracks seemed to come from deeper within the wood however, and though Dinald appeared less than enthusiatic, the group decided to press on.

Their efforts were rewarded half an hour later when the trial led to the opening of a small cave, from which trickled a shallow stream. Lighting spell and torch, and with Ailukka’s protective spells cast, the group cautiously headed inside.

Ungo was not cautious enough however. Only a few yards in his ankle touched something and he heard a crash of rocks above him,and the clatter of a wooden pole. Leaping to the side he was caught by a shower of smallish rocks, which though they caused minimal damage, made a noise that no doubt could easily be heard.

“Perhaps I should check ahead old chap” suggested Reynald, “I have considerable expertise with this sort of thing you know.” Grunting Ungo stepped aside, and let Reynald check several steps ahead.

The twisting corridor stretched ahead for a hundred feet or so, before turning a corner to the left. The ceiling was thirty feet overhead, and water dripped down the walls. The air was chill, though there was definately a breeze through the passage bringing the scent of woodsmoke, animals and a variety of pungent smells which were difficult to recognise.

Using his considerable expertise Reynald checked the corridor for traps,before what was apparently a false floor gave way beneath him and he plunged down a forty foot sinkhole towards what probably was not to be a happy landing below.

Reynald clawed and reached but was not quick enough. Ungo was however and dropping his axe he dived forward, managing to grab a wrist in both hands. As Reynald fell Ungo was pulled, and Ailukka jumped onto Ungos legs, getting a view she probably didn’t want of Ungo’s red haired and relatively unhygenic buttocks, as his kilt had turned upward during his dive.

“Savve meeee!” cried Reynald, as he swung like a pendulum. Ungo got dragged further, Ailukka scrabbled to maintain a grip and the group slid a little further forward towards the brink. Things couldn’t possibly get any worse.

Rasha quickly skirted round the pit to the opening beyond, to see if any danger threatened from that quarter.

Dinald aspired to do the same, but his footing gave way and he too tumbled downwards. Fortunately he managed to grasp Reynalds flailing legs. Slowly, inexorably he started to pull Reynalds trousers down.

“This isn’t….” grimaced Reynald through gritted teeth, “much of a rescue….”. In an attempt to curtail the avalanche Ragnar dived down beside Ailukka and reached for Reynalds other wrist.

Conveniently enough it was then that the large Werewolf appeared around the corner in front of Rasha. “Oh. Good” he thought, as he dropped his bow and pulled out Whispering Shrike. The creature towered on its hind legs, a foot or more above him. It raked with claw and lunged with tooth, but the agile Half Elf managed to duck aside, hitting home with Shrike and drawing blood on the terrifying beast.

Back at the pit, Reynald, pulled by Ungo and Ragnar, had managed to jam his elbows over the edge and onto solid ground. His task was made considerably easier by a tearing noise below as Dinald let go, along with the rear seam of Reynald’s trousers, to plummet below. Deciding that Reynald was now safe enough, Ungo retrieved his axe and moved forward towards Rasha, who was now backing towards the pit, having already once been slashed by the beast’s claws.

“Richt yer scunner. Me axe is nae silver and has nae hocus pocus. Let’s see eff eet’ll wurkk onyhoo” snarled Ungo, and with a feral yell did his mighty salmon leap (not actually that high for a halfling) and crashed down C***slicer onto the beast’s shoulder. The axe cut straight down removing shoulder, arm,and a slice of the creatures torso. As blood and gore spurted out the creature howled in mortal agony, and spun back into the main cave, twisting in its death throes.

“Yer Bastaaarrd!” howled Ungo rushing into the main cave, and started quickly as he took in the scene.

This was a largish cave with a number of passages leading off. Fixed around its perimeter were brackets holding torches, and there were tables and oddments scattered about in what appeared to some sort of den. On the opposite side was a thick wooden slab, across which the bloody figure of a bearded man, stripped to the waist was thickly chained. Standing near to him, and looking towards Ungo was a man sized figure, though Ungo swore he had goatlike horns protruding from the sides of his head. The figure reached out and something flew toward Ungo. It splintered and a gout of red fire exploded, staggering the halfling and also splashing Rasha, who had approached with him.

The two charged forward and the figure threw another flask before sprinting away down one of the side passages. This time Ungo fell to the ground, and Rasha and Ragnar paused to pour a flask of healing potion down his throat. Ailukka and Reynald were now also catching up, and taking the situation in, Reynald rushed past hoping for a clear shot. He got one, but missed. Together they pursued the fleeing figure.

“Hauld!!” said Ungo as they approached a turn in the passage. Probing the floor with his axe a portion of floor clattered away revealing another deep sinkhole. A flimsy wooden frame and sacking had been used to cover it, which in the half light made for a reasonably effective illusion. Edging their way round the corridor turned…. but then dwindled into a small crevice. Ungo attempted to crawl along it, but although he did think that it led upwards, was unwilling to try it in case he got stuck.

Heading back to the cavern they met up with Rasha, and Dinald also came limping in.

“Ah thought yoo were deid” said Ungo with obvious disappointment.

“Fear not noble friend!” said Dinald. “Fortunately after I bravely and nobly decided to sacrifice my own life in order that my dear brother could save his, and so then in some small way I could live on through…”

“Geet oan wi’ it Man” growled Ungo.

“Aha! Yes. Well I only fell about a dozen feet before I thought to myself ’Dinald are you being too rash? Too noble? Perhaps there is yet much good you could do in the world?”

Ungo stared at him.

“Of course all this was in a fraction of a second. But, forced by my subconscious I suppose, my finely trained and razor sharp reflexes kicked in and I managed to grap a small spar of stone. And of course then by dint of my manly strength and iron endurance”, here Dinald cocked an eye at Ailukka, “I managed to climb up to safety”. Dinald struck a pose and folded his arms across his chest.

“I see” said Ailukka," And vhy do you have a pair of mans trousers in your hand?"

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The Shepherd who cried Wolf.
21st September 4711

As dusk approached Sandru halted the lead wagon to take a drink from the waterskin hanging nearby. “Ten minute break!” he shouted, and the others pulled up to a halt.

Below them they could see a sizeable settlement a few miles off. The forest here had been cleared for a couple of miles off to the west, and the low fells were being grazed by sheep. A few smaller copses and woods still stood dotted around, remnants of the greaater forest which had now retreated westwards.

“Wolf’s Ear” said Sandru, pointing.

“We heard some rumours about the place from some hunters in Galduria” said Rasha. “They said that it had a reputation as a haunt of werewolves-but that when Magnimar absorbed the place into its remit some years back these were ‘purged’. They didn’t seem that convinced however.”

“That may be so, but I’ve never had any trouble there” said Sandru. “It’s a pretty orderly timber community- stockaded too. If there are hidden Weres they keep their secrets out of sight of the town, at any rate. I think we’ll trade here tomorrow and move on the day after-I want to pick up some lumber for Roderick’s Cove.”

An hour later they drove in though the stockade gate. There was a sort of internal compound with an inner gate, which Sandru explained was a park for small caravans such as theirs. They set up the wagons and started to cook, but Ungo, Rasha, Rgnar and the twins decided to check out the local Inn and possibly eat there instead. Exchanging a few coins with one of the Guards they determined that the Sly Serpent would likely be their destination of choice, and so they wandered through the inner gate.

The town semed orderly and fairly prosperous, with a population of a few hundred and a handful of shops, including the inevitable General Chandlers. They approached a large building which looked like a two story log cabin.Sounds of laughter and a drunken ruckus escaped the cracks around two large wooden doors at the entry. Above the doors hung an old wooden sign carved with a twisting sea serpent with its tail wrapping around a mug of ale.

Pushing the doors open revealed a wooden room warmly lit by a glowing fireplace and a raging wood stove. A long wooden bar faced the kitchen and was lined with rough and tough looking men covered in dirt and sweat, pounding their ales and talking about their day while enjoying the company of other local workers.

The inn keep was a spry looking young man with an odd manner. He rushed to and fro attempting
to appease his customers. A serving girl brought plates of steaming venison and potatoes out to the round tables where several groups of customers sat, and the group sat at one of these.

As they sipped their first ales and ordered food Rasha could hear the locals discussing the recent gossip around him. A local shepherd was bemoaning the fact that all the local hunters appeared to be missing-he had hired one a few days ago to look into the problem of his disappearing sheep and now he had gone missing too, the latest only last night.

Another group were discussing a burglary of the local Alchemist-somewhat unusual as there were no known strangers or caravans in town at the time. The fact that the thief must then be a local made for dour local news indeed.

Rasha was distracted by the arrival of what passed for ‘food’ and he picked out the few tender chunks of cooked venison with care, even as he glanced round and saw that the big shepherd had withdrawn from the conversation with his cronies somewhat, and was staring moodily into his tankard while they discussed the merits of the new firewood tax. Rasha glanced over at Ragnar, who’d been listening on and off, and caught his eye.

Catching Rasha’s meaning, “Here friend, I would buy you a drink, yes?” Ragnar called. Nodding, the man stood up and moved across.

“We could not help but overhear your troubles with your sheep. My friends and I are in town for a day or so, but maybe we could look into it for you? Rasha over there is an expert tracker. What do you say?”

“Well I’d be more than happy for your trouble” said the man, introducing himself as Brooks Ballinger. “This all started about two weeks ago, when one of my sheep dissappeared during the daytime. I could find no trace but determined to keep a more weather eye out- these things do happen”

“Unfortunately two days later the same thing happened, and my first thought was ‘Wolf’. I came into town to look for Leth or Dorin; they are two local hunters who I have used on occasion for such problems. Unfortunately no one had seen hide nor hair of them for some weeks, and it was believed they had probably left the district. "

“I was at my wits end but someone recommended a new fellow called Woln. He was apparently a recent arrival in Wolf’s Ear, and so I paid him half upfront but now he has dissapppeared too. And yesterday I lost another sheep, and even worse my dog Finn went missing. Thing’s are going from bad to worse.”

“And might there be a rewards fer killin’ yer Woolf?” asked Ungo with relative politeness (for him).

“I offered a small reward initially but all of the local shepherds are worried now” explained Brooks, “And so the Mayor has bolstered the reward up. If there’s a real sheep killer out there it could cause a lot of damage to the local flocks.”

“Fair enough” said Ragnar, “If we meet you tomorrow morning you can show us where the sheep went missing , yes?” And so it was agreed.

The evening drew to a close with Dinald getting his ribs stomped by a local tannery worker, and the whole group getting hauled off to the Guard Cells, which they managed to avoid by liberal application of a ‘Fine’.

As he nursed his cracked ribs with his swollen fingers Dinald ruminated that the following day was bound to be better.

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New Owners
19th September 4711

It was after midnight when Ungo raised his head from the folds of his cloak, suddenly alert and gripping C***slicer in both hands. He could hear something moving rapidly through the undergrowth, and then falling silent.

Half a minute again the sequence repeated itself. With visions of monstrous spiders crashing jerkily and erratically, Ungo quickly started to wake the others.

The commotion started again, and this time a dark figure crashed out of the forest and into the edge of the campsite, finally falling face downwards onto the floor. Rasha pointed his bow at the figure, while Ungo moved forward.

“H…Help me…” moaned the figure, and realising finally that it was man, covered in filth and close to exhaustion, the group approached. Koya knelt down beside him, and started to pour some water down his throat, and to wash away some of the grime.

After a few minutes of this he sat up, and beneath the torn clothing and layers of woodland detritus they could see that he was a fairly ordinary looking man of early middle age: his name was Bob, and he worked at the Spider Farm. Clearly something had gone badly wrong.

“We were at the evening meal, all gathered in the Dining Hall”, explained Bob. “I had popped out for a leak-the latrine area is some way off from the Hall, when I saw some little figures barging into it- and then screams. They were goblins as far as I could tell, and there looked like there was quite a few of them.”

“Anyway they hadn’t seem me, and so I snuck off behind one of the other buildings. I managed to creep behind the Dining Hall and I heard that they’d hered all the staff into one corner, and placed some guards outside. The rest was hunting about for stragglers- then one of them spotted me. I ran- you found me. This was all maybe two hours ago.”

The group considered their options. Clearly the attackers would not expect any intervention from the town for well over a day, and so they themselves might surprise them with caution. Bob explained the layout of the Farm-essentially a deep narrow pit covered with a strong metal frame, within which the spiders were kept. The silk was collected on long spiked poles from the frame, or more commonly from a series of wooden bridges which also ran across the chasm, and arranged in a rough rectangle around the pit were the various workshops, offices, living quarters and so on which comprised the farm. The Dining Hall was located along the western side.

Rasha and Ragnar approached cautiously from the south side, the wagons having been parked some way off. Shaleelu approached with them, and then indicated that she would circle the camp and eliminate any remote sentries, while the group saw to the rescue of the prisoners.

Creeping up to a stable block on the south side, the noises of horses could be heard in the stalls: they didn’t sound disturbed and so that presumably indicated they were goblin free.

To one side of this was a deserted house, and creeping in through the window Rasha saw that it was fairly well furnished, including a couple of rooms with a distinctly feminine touch. This, he surmised, was the ranchowners dwelling. Peering through a window northwards he could see the spider pit running through the centre of the encampment, with a line of builings on both sides. Those on the eastern side were all in darkness, but he could see that several of those on the western side had lights on, and even goblin guards outside. From Bob’s description, he thought he could see which one was the Dining Hall.

It was determined that Ragnar and Ungo would sneak around the western woodland edge until they were on the far side of the Dining Hall, while Reynald appraoched one of the smaller buildings which appeared inhabited. Rasha would provide cover from the Manager’s House while Aulukka and Dinald would rush the nearest builing, once the alarm had been raised by Ragnar and Ungo.

Ragnar and Ungo managed to move quietly towards their position, but did have to quietly dispose of a goblin guard who had decided to move around the back of a building to relieve himself; once this had occured, it was only a matter of a very short time before it was realised that something was amiss.

The moment came when Ragnar was in position along the northern edge of the Dining Hall. A goblin voice called round for the missing guard, near whom Reynald was waiting. Realising that the game would soon be up Ungo and Ragnar rushed around the corner, quickly disposing of the two door guards. A shout went up, and for the next few minutes chaos reigned.

Rasha shot one of the guards in front of the southernmost building, as Ailukka rushed forward in a most un-sorceress-like way wielding her battleaxe; Dinald hesitated and then followed behind. Inside the Dining Hall Ungo and Ragnar rushed in to see a group of about a dozen frightened workers herded behind an improvised pen of upturned tables and furniture, surrounded by half a dozen goblins. Protected by one of Ailkukka’s spells they tore into the surprised greenskins, knocking down half of then before they had a chance to respond.

Peering through the door Reynald determined that his help probably wasn’t needed in the Dining Hall, and he moved southwards towards one of the two smaller buildings between the Hall and Rasha’s position. Unfortunately a few peripheral guards had started to approach, and he found hinself under bowfire from a couple of goblins in the vicinity of the spider pit. Deciding that the buildings were a safer immediate option he rushed in, confronting four goblins, one of whom appeared to be casting a spell.

In the other building Ailukka had hacked one goblin down (“she seems a bit aggressive for a mage” thought Dinald admiringly). Deciding that he couldn’t really back out when an unarmoured woman was getting stuck into the fighting, Dinald engaged another, skewering him easily much to his surprise (and Ailukka’s, if she had noticed).A goblin at the rear of the building fired a bolt of magical energy at Dinald, making him yelp.

Rasha meanwhile was engaged in an archery duel with three or four goblins positioned near the pit, or on the wooden bridges across it. His cover in the doorway gave him an advantage, but even so the range and the darkness, dragged the exchange out, though he did fell two of them.

Meanwhile Ungo and Ragnar had joined Reynald, and the three made short work of the goblin shamen and his cronies. In the southernmost building Ailkukka and Dinald managed to finish off the remaining two goblins as Ungo charged out and cut down the remaining archer. And then everything went quiet.

Breathing heavily Ungo peered down from the wooden bridge and through the heavy wooden lattice into the darkness below. Shuddering with disgust he caught a glint of multiple eyes close to the wooden latticework- the monstrous creatures no doubt excited by the scent of blood. He wasn’t going down there.

As he looked up he saw Shaleelu approaching from the western side of the pit. With her were two individuals- a middle aged bearded man, likely of Ulfen extraction, and a young woman.

“This is Ulayah, the owner of the farm. And his daughter Heri. Locked up over there.” she nodded towards the buildings to the north east. “Guards all dead.” Shaleelu nodded at Ungo and walked off back towards the direction of the caravan, leaving Ulayah staring after her looking somewhat bemused.

“Err.. thankyou friends for your rescue,it….”

“Hauld ‘yer weelin maester. Ah’ll geet yin o’ the cissyboys tae shell yer flaap.” Putting his axe over his shoulder Ungo stalked off towards what he hoped was a storeroom, looking to find something to drink. Seeing Reynald nearby he jerked his thumb behind him towards the two standing on the bridge.

Reynald started to move forward before he was tapped on the shoulder. Turning round he saw no-one but then heard Dinald introducing himself to the attractive young woman and her father. Muttering he went to look for a healer.

Shortly the rest of the caravan arrived, and the farm started to come back to life as the workers attempted to restore order to the site. Ulayah confirmed many of the details of Bob’s story, but he had no insight into the reason for attack. He did say that the goblins seemed especially angry with him, as they had been pointing down towards the spiders-he had feared that they intended to fling him down into the pit.

Once he arrived Sandru started to enter into negotiations with Ulayah, and as the group prepared a very early breakfast he suggested that they should stay here for the day: everyone was pretty tired anyway, and Ulayah had offered the use of one of the dormitories.

“He also offered this-one of you should probably have it” said Sandru, proferring a heavy and ornate belt. It’s some sort of magical belt-make you tougher or something, he said. We should be able to get a good silk deal out of this too hopefully."

Dinald had overheard Sandru talking about the belt, and breaking away from a mollified Heri he ran over to where the belt was being proffered.

“Me ! Me ! Me ! I want it ! I want the belt !!” he shouted as a jumbled array of half remembered bedtime stories flooded across his (limited) mind, all of them featuring a central hero who wore a magical belt. He had to have it!

“I’ll take it if no one else wants it.” he said as he shoved his way to the front, pushing Ungo away by the face and elbowing Rasha in the stomach. “Mine!”

Fearful that Dinald might bite, Sandru gingerly passed the belt to Dinald’s greedy, jittery hands. Dinald admired the feel of the fabric, the toughness and sturdiness of the craftsmanship. The glimmering blue turquoise stones set into the burnished silver buckle and the…black leather. Black leather?

“Ah…excuse me Sandru. Does this come in any other color? It doesn’t quite match my armor (I got it in Magnimar)” He whispered the last part to Ailukka who looked like she couldn’t care less.

“I’m actually going for a ‘Rose at the Dawn of Battle’ motif and I’d like this to be in a burnt umber if possible?” Dinald asked.

“No.” Sandru stated somewhat coldly, muttering under his breath.

“Oh…If that’s the case this… fine… belt can probably be used by one of the more weak members of our party.” With that he absently tossed the dark belt back into Sandrus’ hands and begin to look for Heri who had seemingly wondered off.He only did this for a very short time as Ungo punched him in the groin, and then as he folded to the floor, started to stamp on his fingers as Rasha looked on dispassionately.

“Give it to Ungo or Ragnar" said Rasha,as after a somewhat overlong pause Ailukka and Ragnar dragged Ungo off Dinald. "They’re on the front lines a lot”.

Reynald piped up, almost shyly, lacking his brothers flamboyant Flambeau trait but applying his usual logic: “I’d say I could use it, it’s not like I’m shying away from fights but I’ve not the resilience of our friends Ungo and Ragnar”

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The Spider Farm
18th September 4711

Early next morning the caravan made its way north through a light drizzle, following the ancient caravan trail northwards towards Riddlepoint and then beyond to the Lands of the Linnorm Kings.

“The trail isn’t that heavily used by the serious traders anymore” explained Sandru, “as most of the large scale trade is now by ship. But a few smaller caravans like ours still make the trip a couple of times a year.”

He had been interested at the talk of the Spider Farm, and decided that it was worth a day- long detour to see if they could procure any silk. They might easily be able to trade some of this at a profit.

The trail was now bounded by sizeable woods on the eastern side, while on the western side lay the dark expanse of the Churlwood, stretching all the way westwards to the Fogscar Mountains. Sandru explained tha the forest road was quite dangerous, as the area was notorious for banditry. The Shoanti Shriikirri-Quah tribe considered the eastern edges of the forest to be part of their domain, and warned that the group should be careful not to get on their wrong side.

Eventually they found the side track, marked with a stone engraved with a simple spider along the trail. The wagons set out along it, moving into denser woodland, and as the afternoon progressed it looked like they might have to make camp.

“Oh it doesn’t really matter we have plenty of supplies” said Sandru. “We’ll make camp at a secure spot and visit the farm tomorrow. I’m not travelling in pitch darkness through this forest.”

And so the camp was made, and lookouts posted. At least sheltered somewhat from the intermittant rain, the group huddles round the central fire, as the sentries glanced nervously out into the darkness.

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The Homecoming
17th September 4711

As the group gathered round for breakfast, Ragnar discussed the days plans with Rasha. Dinald was grumbling a bit that he had to assist with the days trading, but Sandru didn’t give him much option- the caravan had to make money to survive. Meanwhile Ragnar, Rasha, Reynald and Ungo had a day off, and determined to escort Alice back to her parents farm.

This was on the north east side of the town, beyond the stockade-in fact along the route they would be taking the next day. As they walked through a hedged lane they could see a few people working in the fields, and Alice grew noticibly apprehensive- and made as if she wanted to say something a few times.

“Don’t worry”, said Ragnar, “We’ll say that we managed to rescue you before anything happened-what they don’t know can’t hurt eh?” Alice looked considerably relieved.

As they approached the farmhouse one of the workers- a young man- seemed to recognise Alice, and then rushed forward. “My brother Tam” she expllained, before rushing forward to hug him. Patiently the group stood by while welcomes were made, and more members of the household, including her parents, approached.

When an opportunity presented themselves Reynald explained that they were members of a caravan, which had come upon another set of wagons being attacked by bandits. They had rescued Alice fleeing the scene,as she had been working for it as a cook as it went toward Sandpoint: it had sufficent elements of truth for them to find his story believable.

Alice’s father nodded and thanked the group, handing Rasha a good Hunting Bow from inside the farm.

“My brother left this, but it’s a good bow. He took another with him, and it’s probably more use to you than me.” Rasha thanked the old man, and then they left before the questioning became too awkward for their answers to remain convincing.

On their way back toward the north gate Ragnar headed off to a small copse containing a shrine to Iomidae; the others stood back while he appraoched to make his devotions, leaving a few coins.

Back in town Reynald did some shopping for a new bow while Rasha disposed of his old one -the bow the farmer had given him was somewhat superior. As they were discussing their purchases thye fell into discussion with two hunters, Garth and Serkis, who apparently made their living supplying the various lumber camps with fresh meat. The two were in town for a few days to blow their recent earnings on drink, gambling and women. They learned that half a day northwards a side track headed westwards towards the forest edge where there was a Spider Farm.

“Who the heck would want to farm spiders?” asked Reynald, “Big dangerous ones?”

“Aye pretty big” replied Serkis. “For silk. Spiders produce silk. Not as fine as the stuff that comes from Tien, but still strong and supple. The Ulfen will pay a premium for it, and its popular in Magnimar. Earns a pretty penny I hear.”

“Maybe Sandru might want to hear about this?” suggested Reynald. “Might be worth a slight divert as its roughly en route?”

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