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?"