Zhanh followed Gronk uneasily. This was the first time he had been in deep woods, and he really didn’t know what to expect. Lumlas, on the other hand, was more or less at home; more at home, at least, than she had been since she had entered Khazan two days earlier.
Perry watched Gronk’s strong back as the Minotaur was tended by the elf woman. For all the distaste he felt for life outside the forests, there were people, creatures who were quick to stand by others. He cast his food spell and offered the meal to his companions.
“I don’t think I would want something that feeds on blood sitting on my head,” Lumlas replied with a shudder; Zhanh just shrugged.
He turned back and encouraged Mensa to follow him into a safe clump of brush and briars. He got a good drink from a nearby brook. Then after turning around three times to check the little refuge and make sure there were no hidden hazards or creatures, he gave Mensa’s healing wounds another good licking, and then lay down to rest. He offered his big side as a pillow for his friend, and dozed off.
Now that they had stopped, Mensa was able to take a long, strong examination of the wolf. Not only was it large, and not only did it smell remarkably like his brother, but it had the same habit of looking back at Mensa and getting nervous when Mensa would wander a bit off-trail. At one point, Mensa thought the wolf was going to grab him and drag him behind it, but it had only turned around. When it saw that Mensa was looking at it, and continued to follow, the wolf continued on its way. Mensa wasn’t at all sure what the wolf’s way actually was but he was curious to find out. Mensa did like mysteries, and he felt happy in his certainty that Grimmel — uh, the dwarf god — had given him back his brother. And in almost the same form that he had been before he’d gotten himself killed!
Not sleepy, Mensa looked about, wished this was a dark, cool cave, and decided to stay on watch for awhile. He wondered if the moss on the side of the tree there was good to eat.
Edurin looked through the firs for something exotic looking. He spoke to one seller, “Beautiful collection of furs. Your hunters must be proud, and the preparation to preserve the furs… I am impressed.” He smiled at Wen-Wen.
“Perry, Gronk not think a hat good idea for Gronk! But if Perry want to get tattoo, Gronk agree!” he indicated the tribal tattoos adorning his arms.
Wagging his big tail, Wolf licked Mensa’s healing wounds again, and then started again on their journey, proceeding cautiously, alert to the possibility of small game (a snack) or danger.
“When this craziness over, Gronk and Perry get tattoos,” he gently patted his friend on the shoulder.
He then changed pace and fell in step next to Lumlas.
“You OK?” he asked her.
“Wulf gonna be OK. Gronk remember one fight when Wulf got all hairy and crazy and turned the tide of the battle almost by himself. Gronk was glad because it was getting pretty bad. Later, when Gronk and Wulf sat and rested to eat, Wulf asked Gronk to remember if Wulf ever killed, that Gronk should try to keep the body, and not let the enemy dismember, behead, or burn it. Do not bury it. Wulf said sometimes his kind could return from the dark kingdom of death. Gronk no understand, but Gronk remember. If Gronk find Wulf dead, we must get his body, try to bring him back. Then we get revenge on filthy humans.”
Edurin chatted with Wen-Wen as they strolled the Hunt Center, “Weslynn was looking to retrieve her family’s stolen wine. Apparently vampires stole the wine and turned her in the process. I don’t know why. Vampires can only feed on blood. Wine seems useless to them. Their actions seemed focused on securing a regular supply. At least that’s how my clan would do it. Adopt a business partner into the clan to enure loyalty.”
With that Wen-Wen spat onto the dry earth of the market road.
Satisfied with his work, he cast a small Call Flame spell and presented the wand with the flame at the tip to Gronk as a present.
“Gronk like fire-stick!” he swirled it around gently like a child with a sparkler. “Thank you.”
“Gronk love his elf-friends. Gronk will die to keep his elf-friends safe.” He looked each of his three companions in the eyes in turn to demonstrate his sincerity in his commitment. “Elfs are Gronk’s family now.”
He turned his eyes to Lumlas again, looked deeply within them for more than a few moments, and smiled.
As Edurin and Wen-Wen walked around they overheard some comments:
“Buncha monsters invaded town last night.”
“They killed some our finest citizens.”
“We bravely killed most of them and scattered the others.”
“Would you like fries with that?”
The Fur trader was glad to tell his tale: “We went down to the river late last night as a group to teach those $%#@ elves and their friends a lesson. One of our archers killed the &()%$ Minotaur with an arrow in the chest, but then a Wolfman came howling down the street and attacked us from the rear. At the same time some %$#@ing elf cast a stinker on us. We were kinda messed up for a while, but we took out the Wolf guy. The b*st*rd killed three of our good citizens and wounded several others before he died. Then this nutcake Dwarf killed a man, but we drove him off too. And, can you believe it, a tall one-eyed guy with a big spear threw the Wolfman’s body into the river before we could behead it and burn the rest. That makes me worry; my granny told me those $%#@ things can come back on you unless you dispose of them, like those bloodsuckers from the @#$%ing castle. Say, look at these lovely Mink furs here. Ladies in Khazan will pay good money for fine furs like these. Whaddya say?”
Wen-Wen whispered to Edurin that this guy shorts the tanning process, using some powder to negate the stink and quickdry them, as well as slicing the hides too thin, so the hides don’t last like they should, the other guy across the square has better furs.
Gronk caught an unexpected scent drifting on the breeze. He recognised it immediately as human. The winds next carried a faint sound – vocal and not happy: someone was close by.
Edurin headed off down river assuming Wen-Wen would join him. Her desire for revenge would need a well armed party, and his group seemed to be best equipped.
Edurin hoped Gronk still lived, and worried he might only find Wulf’s body. What little he knew of shapeshifters, Edurin knew they died just as simply as common men. Shapeshifters healed faster and were great survivors. Their animal selves granted advantages in the wilderness.
Then there was Mensa. Was he even still alive? Would he live long in the wilderness without someone to watch his back? Too many questions and no answers. As much as Edurin wanted to return to Samurai Kighe a hero, he couldn’t do it by stepping over the bodies of fellow foreigners.
“Hey! HEY!!” shouted Mensa, putting his hands up to block the Wolf. “DON’T TICKLE!!” It was hard to sound authoritative while giggling like a little girl. He spotted a lizard running up a tree and tried to break free to spear it.
Wen-Wen followed Edurin closely, out of the marketplace, and downriver.
So saying, Perry cast Haute-Couture and instantly was garbed as a hunter, in keeping with what they had seen in Hunt Center.
“Perry have good idea. Gronk play along, act captured.”
Lumlas hesitated. She LIKED the way she looked. Or at least she did, three days ago, when she had had a recent bath, and her clothes were clean. “I don’t imagine it could hurt, Perry. It sounds like a good plan.”
His instincts told him to slip into the forest and disappear, but something else told him he wanted to see this group. He forgot about Pup for a moment and broke into a trot.
Edurin set a good pace and Wen Wen struggled to keep up with him.
“You know, this isn’t safe,” she gasped. “You are taking us into the territory of the river goblins.”
Zhanh saw the wolf coming and muttered, “Sanctified excrement!” He prepared himself to cast a TTYF, but said out loud, “Don’t do anything aggressive or make any sudden moves. If we’re lucky it will try to bluff us away, and I’m good with that.”
Lumlas muttered, “No sudden moves, right. Can I whimper?”
Mensa started when the wolf (Wulf? Wolf?) spun about and rushed into the forest. “Stop! Wolf, STOP!” If this really was his brother, the last time he had rushed into battle, he’d turned into a wolf and was stuck in that form. Mensa HAD to prevent that from.happening again! Who knew.what Wulf.would become THIS time? Or if he would even survive once more?
Wolf stopped at a safe distance (to him) from the group. The huge wolf was in an alert and ready to fight or flee posture, but seemed more anxious and excited than angry or aggressive. He sniffed frantically at the group, trying to sort out the different familiar scents. His attention seemed to be most focussed on Gronk. As old human dreams and memories struggled to the suface of his sentience, he began to whine and wag his big tail, and relaxed his stiff legged tail and ears erect stance. Why did he want to run to the Bull Man and lick him? He had been in the same pack as this group. What odd looking wolves they were! He waited for Mensa to catch up, and for the group to respond to him.
Perry stood stock still and kept his eyes fixed on the wolf. He readied his web spell. He doubted a wolf would attack with a minotaur present and sensed something out of the ordinary. He used his talent in an attempt to read the wolf’s intentions. He had been able to do this with some creatures during the course of his forest upbringing but had never before tried this with such a large predator. (Rolls 1, 3 – makes L3).
“No move, elves!” Gronk ordered. Something smelled familiar about this wolf. “Wait here,” he told the elves.
He laid his axe on the ground and slowly approached the wolf with his empty hands outstretched.
“Gronk thinks he knows this wolf.”
Crashing into the clearing, Mensa spotted (some of) his missing friends and shouted: “Gronk! No hurt Wolf! He smelled something and chased it!!”
‘Mensa! You’re alive!’ Perry gaped at the dwarf. ‘But you’re hurt! What did they do to you? And Wulf…?’ He looked from Mensa to the wolf and back again. ‘Is it…? Can it be?’
“Mensa! Gronk’s little friend is OK!”
He let the wolf smell his hand and then patted him on the head.
“Poor Wulf,” he said. “Gronk think he know what happened. One cold, nasty winter night, Wulf, Gronk, and Fat Bob huddled together in a crappy shelter to hide from rain. Bob was asleep, but his teeth chattered. Gronk no like him, but he helped keep us warm.
Gronk say to Wulf, why you not go to Wolf tonight. Wolf got warm fur.
Wulf smiled and said ‘If I give this body completely to the wolf he won’t ever give it back to me.’
Gronk say why, you no in charge?
‘To give all to the wolf is much like dying,’ said Wulf. ‘Man sometimes can accept death. But wolf have no religion or philosophy for comfort. He only sees extinction in the surrender. So he won’t give it back. It is like death to him. That is why my people do not give over to the wolf except when there is no choice.’
Gronk think Wolf is friend Wulf. Smells like friend Wulf.”
“Gronk happy to see ugly little dwarf-friend!”
He put his friend down gently.
“Tell Gronk and elf-friends what happened to Wulf and you. Does Mensa know where Weslynn and Edurin are?”
Mensa looked puzzled. “Wesleywin not with you?” He scratched his head. “Ohhhhh, yeahhhhh–She meeting with fat ugly lady at tavern. Wulf and me, we run to help you. Whineywest stay at bar & grill.”
There seemed to be something else, but he couldn’t remem – Wait! He got it!
“Wulf change to wolf and humans hamburger him. But him escape – Great Grimmelgrissp save him! But now Wulf stuck as Wolf and not know how to unstuck.” Sadly, h petted his big brother, and wondered if one of his helmets would fit Wolf.
“No tickle..Mensa fine, Wolf. See?” The little dwarf opened his shirt to show the scabbed-over wounds, knocking his pack and weapons off his back.
“Oops.” Mensa began picking everything up.
“Humans killed Wulf? Wulf changed forever, he never come back, little friend.”
Gronk knelt down in front of the wolf and scratched him beneath the chin.
“Gronk want to burn town to the ground, wolf-friend. Gronk want vengeance. But Gronk must protect Mensa and elves now, and wolf must help.”
He turned to his elfin companions.
“If Wulf was killed, and Mensa almost, too, we must wonder if Weslynn and Edurin alive. Do we return to town to find out, or head to castle? Gronk’s blood boil to kill humans.”
Then his eyes widened. There was something he had heard, something he was supposed to remember:
“We need more power. Must have more strength. Percy knows where we find magic. Wolf know where we find beasts, fight with us. We find monsters, bring them on town.
“Punish all humans,” he growled.
Zhanh shook his head in amazement. “That answers some of it, at least. Don’t get dressed so quickly, Mensa; Lumlas and I should be able to heal your wounds pretty much completely at this point.” He thought for a moment. “I would still like to try to find out what happened to Weslynn and Edurin. We should be able to get to the edge of town and do some minor scouting under a Hidey-Hole, maybe find someone who will talk to us.”
Lumlas was wary of Wolf, but hugged Mensa fiercely. “We wondered if we would ever see you again, Mensa. I’m so glad you found us.”
Wolf is still wound up trying to stay close to Gronk and to Mensa at the same time. After noting Lumlas warm response to Mensa he has decided the she elf is OK now. In addition to worrying about the pup and the next feeding, he now begins to keep a sharp nose, ears, and eyes on the surrounding woods so no one or no thing sneaks up on his pack family.
Perry wanted to pet the wolf but thought better of it. He held out an open hand to the great beast. He glanced over at the two elves and asked if they would like to have the clothes disguise spell done while pondering Gronk and Mensa’s intentions. Having listened carefully to Zhanh, he now felt yo-yo’d again by these very different sentiments.He sighed and shook his head vigorously.
Just as they got the evening fire going, Gronk, who was on guard, heard the voices of humans in the distance. Wolf also perked up his ears. The big bull set off down the trail to see who was coming.
He was pleasantly surprised to learn that the newcomer was none other than Edurin, who was accompanied by some strange woman that wasn’t Weslyn. Gronk thought he remembered her from supper the night before.
Wen Wen was saying that she didn’t think the river goblins usually came this close to HuntCenter. Edurin was looking around for a place to camp. Wolf didn’t know whether he wanted to wag his tail or growl at them.
Gronk extended a hand to shake with Edurin.
“Gronk happy to see Edurin alive. Where is Weslynn, and who is this?”
Perry bowed to Edurin and smiled warmly. He turned to the stranger and watched her closely before extending a greeting. ‘My name is Perry. I have experienced difficult times of late and hope that you are a sign that a lucky star will shine over us all this night. Please tell us your tale.’
“My name is Wen-Wen,” she bowed lightly, “I was the unwilling servant of the innkeeper, she who was slain by Weslynn.”
She raises Weslynn’s pike and hatchet, “She did not survive the destroying of my vampire maker, as she was cruelly struck down from behind by the Ogre guardsman.”
“I was tricked by my former Mistress. She offered to turn me into a vampire, like her and Weslynn, in exchange for serving her as her servant until the transformation was complete. She mixed her blood with mine, but she tricked me, diluting her blood with that of a mortal, so unlike say Weslynn my transformation has taken ten long years. I cannot complete myself without blood to feed upon, and she ordered me to consume none. When I protested, even against the blood bond, my treatment she further reinforced my slavery with bonds of sorcery. When Weslynn struck her down, like an ancient hero from the tales, I was finally freed. I am sorry I could not save her from the ogre. I have nothing for me here except for bitter memories. My former Mistress knew some of Weslynn’s fate from the man who sold her the wine, and of course she met her at the inn last night, heard you talk, and spoke to Edurin, and I heard much of this. I know you are headed to Castle Greybat, on a quest, and I ask you all to allow me to accompany you, to take up my savior’s quest in her place. Allow me to complete myself with blood, lore, and training and I will fight to protect and aid you all, as I couldn’t for her, as loyally as she would have done.”
She stopped then, alarmed slightly at the desperate words gushing from her, and she stared at the muddy ground at her feet.
Mensa WANTED to like her. There was something sorrowful about her, and he pitied her. But he had to ask:
“Why would she WANT to be turned into bloodsucker?”
The blood-tainted woman sighed, and looked up at the little dwarf. “I knew her for some time, she was powerful and strong, she showed me the magics she could perform, her strength, and her grace. She showed me her beauty, and her unnatural senses. She seduced me with immortality and power. After a time of her…teasing, I felt being just a tavern wench wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted to be like her, wanted to serve her, and become like her, and serve her masters too. After a time, she pretended to ‘give in’ and agree to transform me.”
Her face transformed then from wistful to harsh, her small-boned face losing it’s prettiness to become hatchetlike as she frowned. “I was played like a child. Tricked. After I was ensnared she told me how amusing it was to watch me scrub her smallclothes, her baby vampire, never to mature. She took great delight in telling me how it was a scheme she created on a slow evening as a lark. Just because she could, she destroyed me.”
“Another bloodsucker. Why did Weslynn give her life for you? Gronk no understand, Weslynn know you before?”
“She met me at supper earlier, that’s all. I can only imagine she found my former mistress to be as abhorrent as I did, as she gloated over her portion of her stolen wine.”
Wolf lay back from the fire where he could keep an eye on Pup and Bull Man and the strange new she human. As he licked the last traces of the possum he had eaten off his jaws and paws, he perked up noticeably when Wen-Wen changed in appearance. Wolf no longer really understood language and its subtleties now, though some words had associations for him. He was very alert to each person’s body language though, and was strongly empathic where other creatures were involved.
“Your mistress had Weslynn’s wine? That explains much. Gronk no lie, Gronk not like bloodsuckers. Weslynn bit Wulf, Gronk get angry. Gronk not going to like if you bite Gronk’s friends, understand?”
His grip tightened on his axe hilt.
“She bought a portion of it off the thief as he paused here on his way upriver to the castle. As for biting your friends…I would not do so without their permission.” She looked down at the ground again.
“I am fangless now, anyway, until I have drunk blood enough.” She seemed reluctant to meet Gronk’s hostility head on.
Gronk could smell the timidity on her. She didn’t seem as much the threat as Weslynn did, but Gronk wasn’t taking any chances.
“Gronk will trust you until you give him reason not to. But cross Gronk’s trust, and you will pay. Fair?”
The former serving wench seemed quite cowed by the minotaur’s bearing and tone, and kept her gaze firmly fixed on the ground, only daring to nod her head affirmatively in reply.
Gronk felt the young girl’s fear, and felt a little guilty. He reached out to Wen-Wen, took her chin and gently lifted her face.
“No worries, you going to be OK.”
She shivered at his unexpected touch, then stopped at his gentleness, and met his eyes, and smiled at him, though still a bit uncertainly.
Wolf decided the new she human was not a threat to him or the Pup. As the others lay down to rest, he got up and disappeared silently into the woods again. Having had a good nap, he was not sleepy, and he felt like he should scout the camp area to make sure there were no enemies or other threats lurking in the woods there. His big nose and ears busy, he skulked silently from bush to bush all around the campsite. And if he should come upon some careless small furry creature, a little snack would not be unwelcome either.
As Wolf trotted off into the woods, Wen-Wen introduced herself to the rest of the group, seeking to get to know them, and make her situation known, and hopefully find herself a place here where she could find a new beginning and attain that which had been long denied her. Though she spoke to all of the group members, she was obviously keeping an eye on the three elves, as though shewais afraid they might turn on her, though not quite in the same manner as she was careful around Gronk.
Mensa pointed a stubby forefinger at her. “No bite Wolf!” He wasn’t going to stand for that again!
Perry took his pack off his back and pulled out a small wooden box. It had an eye carved into its lid, stained with some red juice – berry, perhaps. He carefully lifted the lid and reverentially lifted out the contents. It was a pack of cards bearing the same unblinking eye on the top side. ‘Perhaps, Mistress Wen-Wen you would care to see what your future may behold now you have joined the Fellowship of the Vine?’ He beckoned the girl to sit in front of him.
Mensa tried cleaning the wax out of his ears (and dumping it all in a pile at his feet) — He’d have sworn he heard the Percy-elf call them “Fellowship of the Vine” and he thought they had always been “Fellowship of the Whine.”
Zhanh offered his hand to Wen-Wen. “I was willing to offer friendship to a vampire I didn’t know well two days ago, I might as well do the same thing again.” When she hesitated, he sighed. “You’ve been raised to hate elves, haven’t you? You need to get over that; you don’t live in Hunt Center anymore.”
Lumlas approached Wen-Wen more carefully. “I made friends with Weslynn without knowing what she was, and felt betrayed when she told us, but she was still my friend. If I can be a friend to one vampire, I can be a friend to another, and we all need friends right now.”
Seeing that this was the Proper Thing to Do, and not wishing to be outclassed by elves, Mensa stuck out his hand too – the little finger being covered with earwax – and muttered “Just Don’t Bite Wolf. Ever!”
Wolf returned from his patrol of the woods, chewing on some poor careless small furry animal that had not seen him in time. He swallowed his snack, then made rounds of all present for a sniff and a wag, including Wen-Wen.
In their joy at being re-united, and under the heavy cover of the forest canopy, no one paid much attention to the weather. They noticed it was getting dark, and made camp–got a little campfire going–ate a bit more of the provisions Zhanh had carried off the Nain Evver. Subconsciously, the elves noticed that the wind was picking up, and felt a little cooler, but they didn’t really think about it until the first raindrops hits the leaves overhead and began to trickle through. The fire started hissing with every impact, and the downpour got stronger and stronger.
Gronk looked to the sky and raindrops pelted his face.
“Maybe we try to find shelter. Gronk think it too late to try to build shelter.”
She looked to the little dwarf Mensa and a look of bafflement crossed her face. “Bite wolf? That wolf? Whoever would do that?” Clearly that seemed supremely unsafe to her.
Wen-Wen looked uncomfortable at the subject of Hunt Center and elves being brought up. “I am not from Hun Ccenter. The only elves I’ve met who behaved like that are those elves. The townsfolk do as much to provoke them, as they do in return. I do not know where that feud started. Please don’t hold me responsible for their stupidity. I know they came down here last night in a great big mob of fools to try to kill you all.” She bowed her head again submissively.
“I would care to learn my fortune, good elf, if you will not hold my former place of enslavement against me. And thank you all for your offers of friendship. Clearly Weslynn has left a place of welcome for one of my kind, I will do my best to make her ghost proud and repay your welcome.”
“Do you have any idea of where we might look for shelter, Gronk? All I see is trees; if we move away from the river, we will just get lost, I think.” He pulled his hat closer over his eyes. “I DO have a five by eight tarp, but that will not do very much for all of us.”
“Gronk not sure, Zhanh. Friends all together again, so no need to move towards town anymore. Maybe we should start moving along river towards castle and see what we find. Or we could stay here in the rain. Gronk spent many nights in rain, Gronk be OK. What rest of you want to do?”
Wen-Wen moved along with the rest under the shelter of the nearest heavy branches for the shelter it would offer, while they discussed more long term plans.
After listening to all the talk about shelter, it finally dawned on Mensa. “It’s raining?”
‘When we are safe and warm, I will attempt to read your fate, Wen-Wen,’ Perry said whilst putting the cards away. He cast a Magick Umbrella spell and turned to Mensa. ‘Want to play hide and seek with the rain? Stand next to me and you will stay dry – poke your head out and you’ll get your head wet. Come try!’
Gronk snorted a laugh at Perry’s spell.
“Zhanh, maybe we can string up tarp for Lumlas and Wen-Wen and you and Edurin. Mensa can share Perry’s spell. I think Wolf and me OK in rain, soldiers used to harsh weather. If all really want, Gronk chop down some small trees and we make a lean-to and use tarp to extend roof. Gronk think building not smart because we no stay here more than one night, too dangerous. Or we can start travel towards castle now and see if we find shelter for rest along the way.”
“I’m game to keep walking,” Zhanh said, “But visibility is getting bad.”
Lumlas said, “If we have a way to get out of the rain, I am all for it.”
Wen-Wen dripped, sadly, her clothes wet through, as well as her tied bundle of clothing on her back.
Mensa gave Wolf a hug, “C’mon, brother. We go now.” He slapped Lumlas on the back. “Is only rain. We be fine!”
And, yes, Mensa had thoroughly enjoyed playing with ducking his head into the rain, then back under the umbrella. At some point, he remembered that he wasn’t supposed to play with magic, and stepped away.
Perry suggested he cast some Jeeves to carry the tarp over their heads. ‘I like to be useful with my magic. it makes me feel less sick about those men in the nets.’ His face turned ashen at the thought
“What men with nets, Barry?” asked Mensa. “Butterfly hunters?”
Wolf woke up when it began to sprinkle, and moved his big self under the nearest tree. Then he watched with some interest and puzzlement as the the group fooled around in the rain. He shook himself off, and called softly to the Pup to come join him.
Mensa was not surprised to hear Wolf call to him, nor was it surprising that he heard him in Wulf’s voice.
Wolf gave Pup a friendly face lick, and waited for the group to do something. If they stayed here, he was comfortable under the tree, and, if they left, he would go with them. Rain did not bother him much, though it made it hard to smell things. He was probably in need of a bath anyway.
Lumlas tripped and stumbled in the mud. While Gronk helped her back to her feet, she shouted, “Zhanh! If you have way to get us some shelter, now would be a GOOD time!”
Zhanh shrugged and looked for a large tree, then dropped his pack and pulled out a large bundle. In a few minutes he had the tarp slung downwind from the tree. It formed a slightly peaked shelter that was about five feet high at the tree and about three feet high at the far end, anchored to the tree at one end and by three taut ropes at the other. “I think that if we sit back to back along the center line, we can all crowd in there and have everything but our legs out of the rain,” he said.
Zhanh managed to set up his tarp to form a bit of shelter. Perry managed to keep an umbrella spell working. But the storm grew more powerful. It became difficult to talk over the roaring of the wind. The trees bent and lashed under the force of the elements. Though the forest canopy stopped 90% of the falling water, the 10% that got through was more than enough to drench the adventurers to the bone.
The group huddled together with the women on the inside and the men on the outside. The minotaur was a great help. His natural body heat helped keep the party from getting too cold. Even so, they were all wet and miserable, with the exception of Wolf. It was just rain to him. He found a spot under a bush and curled up to wait it out.
Do you know who loves storms and wetness in general?
The river goblin territory lay between the elven territory and the town’s territory. Knowing that a 2-day storm was coming, the goblins of Veel’s clan made preparations for a raid. This was the perfect opportunity to sneak up on Hunt Center and carry off every loose item they could find. The humans would be huddling inside their wooden caves.
Clad in frog skins and sometimes nothing at all, carrying light spears, tridents, and stone knives, thirty goblins made their way through the forest toward the town of Hunt Center. They spread out on both sides of the path that ran along the river bank. Accustomed to moving through the woods, they moved almost silently, gestures being enough to direct squads this way and that. When they found the canoes tied up on the riverbank, they knew that humans must be nearby in their forests. When they heard the voices of the adventurers, they drew back and planned their next move.
Two goblin scouts slithered their way through the forest to check on the intruders. Of course, the goblins planned to attack. Non-goblins were in their forest–it was the perfect opportunity. The scouts approached without being seen, and lay hidden in the darkness no more than ten yards from the party. They had moved to be downwind on their approach, and not even the wolf’s keen nostrils would catch their scent in this storm.
The scouts were surprised and unhappy to notice that the intruders included a minotaur, a wolf, a dwarf, and some elves. They had been hoping for a few unhappy human boatmen. But they hid their disappointment and crept off to report to Veel.
Wen-Wen huddled against her new friends, trying to keep warm in the wet, desperately wishing she had a good cloak at least.
Veel, the goblin chieftain, considered the opportunity carefully. A head-on attack against a party that contained a minotaur, and a wolf could be fatal. There were rich pickings to be had if he could get to them. He thought and thought and thought until he thought he had a plan.
They would wait until the middle of the night. When the tired adventurers were at their worst, asleep and wet and stiffening up, that is when his goblins would attack. Slash the ropes holding the tarp to the trees. Wound the wolf with spear jabs from above. Get goblins into the trees above them and hit the disoriented people with spears and tridents out of the darkness. Show a couple of goblins and try to get the warriors to chase them. Yes, this would be Veel’s greatest triumph. He grinned a sneaky goblin grin.
Lumlas had fallen asleep, as had a few others. Zhanh had the nagging feeling that some sort of watch should be kept, but why bother? They had a wolf. Surely it would warn them if anything wrong should happen.
Lumlas’s dream was as miserable as her waking had been recently. In the dream she was wet and cold, and huddled in a dark place. Something was watching her–she knew it, she could feel it, but she couldn’t see it. Then she saw the eyes. Lots of greenish yellow eyes glaring at her.
Edurin greeted his friends. He let Wen-Wen talk for herself. He added his own experience into the story, “I heard a commotion, and arrived in the main room in time to see Weslynn slay Shannazan. Her ogre-bouncer in turn killed Weslynn. There was little else to do after they both died.”
He took out a morsel of food and left it nearby for the wolf. He had never seen such a tame wolf… He was comfortable around wolves. They were such reliable creatures, consistent, and persistent. He would have to ask Gronk and Mensa about it some more.
As the storm broke, he reminded the others, “WenWen says this is river goblin territory, we should set watches. Wen-Wen and I have got the best sleep last night. We had a bed and roof. I’ll wake the next shift when I tire.”
Zhanh pulled his blanket out of his pack and gave it to Lumlas and Wen-Wen to share, then huddled in his coat as best he could. He had been through worse in storms at sea, but he was still unhappy. He decided to try singing a goblin lullaby; he didn’t think anyone would hear him enough over the storm to bother anyone, and it reminded him of home.
The goblins come a hunting through the darkness of the night;
they’ll steal your food and money, and your shoelaces for spite.
The goblins are so clever as they sneak and slink and steal,
And if you chance to see them you will wonder if they’re real.
Oh, the goblins are so sneaky, and the goblins are so smart,
And it’s good to be a goblin with a clever goblin heart.”
“Thank you, Zhanh, for the blanket.” Wen-Wen wrapped herself in the blanket, and much more comfortable, stood by Edurin, and inquired about watches. “How many? How long? Should I watch with you, or take a later turn?”
She seemed surprisingly eager to contribute to the daily chores, as they were, considering she was both drenched and under dressed.
Awakened by Zhahn’s singing, and Edurin’s comments. Wolf got quietly up and started one of his look around the camp area skulks, pausing briefly to mark an occasional tree to say ‘Wolf was here’. His wolfish instincts were giving him a little buzz, but he did not know why. Never a bad idea to have a quick look about. There might even be another gopher out looking for food in the dark.
“Wen-Wen stay alert as long as possible. I want to give everyone else the most rest. Gronk and Mensa, it would be good if you could nap and rest up. Neither of you look so great. I will wake you up when I grow tired.”
He looked at Wen-Wen, “Tomorrow you’ll need to return home to pick up your and Weslynn’s gear.”
Gronk tried his best to allow the others most of the shelter, the rain didn’t bother him much. He figured, once you’re wet, you’re already wet. He positioned himself at the more opened end of the shelter to help provide warmth and further shelter from the rain to the others. Knowing Wolf, Edurin, and Wen-Wen were keeping watch, he allowed himself to doze off, but he kept his axe on his lap and in hand.
“Edurin I am carrying everything I own, and what is left of Weslynn’s gear. The ogre was making noises about burning her and my ex-mistress.”
Lumlas tossed and turned in her sleep, but didn’t wake up. Zhanh’s goblin lullaby actually seemed to frighten her. Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes, but she slept on.
Wolf circled the camp, alert for anything in the way that only a wolf could be alert. The rain was really coming down hard now, and the wind had died away.
Mensa had been under the bush, resting his head on Wolf. “Just rain,” he’d been saying to Wolf. “Elves never saw rain before? Pfui!”
He must have dozed off because he jerked awake when Wolf stirred. “What is it, brother?” he asked.
Mensa was probably leaning against Gronk. Wolf is out in the woods somewhere skulking around to see if there is anything unusual or edible there. (He had to pee too).
Since Wolf had not answered him (“And why NOT?” wondered Mensa.) the concerned dwarf splashed his one-horned helmet on and stealthily slipped in the mud. Picking himself up, he followed his brother into the swampy yecch.
Wolf circled the camp, winding in and out among the trees and bushes. In one place he thought he smelled frog–not too uncommon a scent this close to a river, but the scent was kind of old. Certainly no frogs were hopping around.
Then he heard a howl–sounded like a wolf, but a very sickly one, somewhere inland perhaps half a mile away. Wolf didn’t think in terms of miles, but he knew the howl was not too close, but not too far for him to trot off and investigate it.
Wen-Wen saw Wolf get up and trot into the forest. She didn’t worry about it. He had been doing that for hours. Then she saw Mensa get up and follow Wolf into the trees. She looked at Edurin to see what to do, but the handsome sailor had fallen asleep. She was the only one awake at the moment.
Veel chortled over his plan. He only hoped the fake wolf howl would lure the animal away from the group. The rest of the group had come up to about 20 yards from the campsite, and now waited in the lower limbs of the trees. It was the most excellent kind of forest–one where the tree limbs interpenetrated and a nimble goblin could move from one tree to the next with little difficulty. The branches were slippery in the rain, but goblins were used to it. They knew just when to slide on a branch and when to jump to the next.
The hoot of an owl alerted him that something unexpected had happened. Veel quickly moved to that point in the circle, and his scout indicated something blundering through the underbrush–something not much bigger than a goblin, but somewhat sturdier. Of course, it had to be the dwarf. Veel wondered if there might be some way to capture him. Having a pet dwarf could be fun for a while.
Wolf debated in his wolfish mind whether to answer the howl, but his wolf memory and instinct reminded him that he was a sojourner here in these unfamiliar woods, and he might draw undesired attention if he sounded his presence here. And he remembered there was a large bear creature in this area which he had no desire to meet again.
Image of home rain and stone
Goblins skulk in shadows
“Edurin, wake up!” Wen-Wen shook the sailor awake. “That wolf and the little dwarf have crept off into the woods suddenly. I do not like this.”
She stood and turned around, looking for something out of place in the wet forest, cursing her merely mortal senses, save for the scent of blood that teased her constantly.
“Should we wake the others, Edurin?” Wen-Wen continued looking around in the dark rain, feeling almost more exposed now than she did being compelled to entertain some stranger in the night.
Wolf knew better than to howl in return, but he wanted to find out who the other wolf was, and why it would howl on a night like this. In his single-minded wolf fashion he began to trot in the direction of the howl. As he made his way through unfamiliar forest he heard the other howl again. It as a very weak howl–perhaps the other wolf was hurt or dying. He corrected his path and moved a bit more swiftly.
Wen-Wen reflexively clutched the soaked blanket Zanh loaned her closer around herself. “Right now, I feel the cold as much as anyone, if I were complete then not as much, and the older and stronger the vampire, the less such mundane things bother them, I have been told. Certainly that hellion at the inn did not bother to bundle up at night during the winter, even when it was a howling blizzard outside, and ice covered the windows.”
She sighs. “If only I had the blood. Ten years of cooking meals for the inn, ten years of burning my meat black, on her compulsion, so that I might not get a drop of blood that way, nor was I allowed to sample the raw meat. Ten years craving it. I thirst for it like they do, curse her. Ten years!”
He was more than a little upset. Last he remembered was standing guard. Aboard ship, sleeping during a squall would be fatal. He got up, pulled his blanket over head as a simple cloak, and took to circling the camp site weapon in hand looking outward for movement. He would be wet, but no different than aboard ship during a squall.
He wondered if river goblins were any different than the mountain goblins back home. He spent a lot of his youth wandering the highlands of the Desolate Retreat. A lot of weapon practice conducted while facing mountain goblins. Mountain goblins liked to hide in the rocks or a top cliffs. No rocks here… Enough trees to worry about.
He scanned the tree tops irregularly. He used his spear to tap out a simple time rhythm to track the minutes.
Edurin got up and started staggering around like a guard. It wasn’t like they had a natural clearing or a campfire to defend–just a wide spot in the trail and a tarp tied to a couple of trees.
Gronk awoke just as the goblins made their attack.
(Wolf, make a L4SR on either SPD, DEX. or Luck–your choice, and then tell me what you attempt to do when you become aware of the attack.)
Wolf, at the first sign of surprise attack, did what any wood wise creature and predator would do. He made a valiant effort to get away from the attackers (Speed 18; Agility 16), and he then panicked at the thought that his pack might be in danger. (If anything gets in his way, he will bite it with a great deal of prejudice, but his primary concern now is that the pup and the pack may be in danger, and he will high tail it back to camp as soon as the opportunity presents itself. I am willing to wager the Goblins can’t run as fast as he can.)
They started the capture process by bombarding him with a bunch of small branches torn or cut from the trees. One moment, Mensa was blundering through the forest yelling for Wolf–the next he was half buried in a deluge of soggy leaves and branches. (Mensa make a L6SR on CON).
Wen-Wen knew Edurin the best of the party. She took Weslynn’s old pike and went to help him fight the goblins.
Gronk awoke to a shower of spears clattering about him. With a roar, he jumped to his feet, axe in hand, and began swinging at the first goblins to close.
Edurin nearly jumped out of his skin when the goblins attacked. First few blows were aimed at pushing them back. He stabbed viciously at the strongest goblin. Focusing his main attack on his goblin of choice, he struck low seeking to cripple the goblin.
He leaped to the side, and so evaded the spear thrust coming from behind him. With a yelp of surprise he fled, sideways into the forest, looking all the time for something he could strike back at. But, no goblins appeared in his path. They were all in the trees above him, except for the one that had tried to spear him. When he got clear of the ambush scene, he stopped and shook himself violently. The dagger lodged in his flank flew out and fell on the ground, leaving only a bloodstain behind.
Wolf had an instinctive sense of direction, but it was somewhat disoriented by the storm, and by the fact that he had never been in this part of the forest before. Ordinarily he would follow his own scent trail backwards to retrace his steps, but he had been driven away from the direct path. He set out in a semi-circle, curving back the way he had come, nose down to pick up his own trail. The rain was slackening, but it was still a steady drizzle, and he would have to find his own backtrail soon or lose it.
The avalanche of tree branches took Mensa by surprise. They didn’t hurt much, but one sharp branch almost hit him in the eye, and as he flinched from that, he stepped on another that turned under his foot, and went down heavily on his back. He had left his war shovel on the ground back in camp.
Before he knew what was happening there were goblins, really just thin dark shapes with glowing green eyes, cavorting all around him, and beating on him with what felt like sticks. One blow knocked his helmet off. Another cracked into the side of his head and left him seeing stars. He tried to struggle, and he heard a screech of pain as one of his flailing hands accidentally hit a leaping goblin and knocked it five feet away from him.
Then he felt a rope tossed around his upper body and drawn tight, pinning his arms to his sides. The blows kept coming, more and more toward his head. He had time for one last yell before the darkness claimed him.
Weapon hafts beat at Edurin as he surged into battle. He felt a series of impacts, but they seemed to be glancing off and doing no real damage. Then Wen Wen jumped into the fray.
Gronk felt something hit him–it felt like an electrical charge. Then the world seemed to slow down, and he was moving as he had never moved before in battle.
The small humanoids surrounded the mighty minotaur and his female ally and beat at him with fast blows and cunning slashes in a flurry of incoming weaponry. Gronk, himself was a blur of motion in the fight, striking at one foe and then spinning to carry his attack toward all that approached him. For an instance the combat results hung in the balance . . .
As Wolf frantically searched for a scent trail that might lead him back to the camp, pure bestial rage began to boil in his wolfish heart . Ambushed and away from his group, he stopped to listen to see if he could hear anything that might help him. A savage growl rumbled in his throat. If these cowardly little frog men had hurt the pup, Wolf promised himself that someone or something was damned sure gonna die. They had lured him away and betrayed him with a false howl. Let them then hear what they had raised up!
He threw back his great furry head and howled the furious battle howl of his kind that promised hell and doom to his enemies. Then he continued his systematic search for some scent or sound that might let him find his way back to the pack he loved.
“Gronk!” Zhanh shouted. “Call for Wolf as loudly as you can; help him find us!” Then, realizing that their opponents were goblins, he switched to the goblin tongue and tried to sound like a goblin as he shouted, “Run away! They’re too strong! #@$?! Mommy! Oh, the goblinity!” and anything else he had ever heard a panicked goblin shout while he was growing up.
Perry followed Zhanh’s lead ‘They’re deadly! The magic! Ayiee! Run! Run! ‘Ware the invisible fiends! Ah, mother! The claws of the beast!’
Some part of Mensa knew he was dreaming, and that his real body was tied up. In this dream, he couldn’t move his arms, but he could walk – and there was a stern, wise khzd with many gems in his beard, telling him something which Mensa could not understand.
Gronk kicked a goblin and knocked him flying as he spun and tried to hit them with his axe. That goblin flew backwards, dazed and bleeding.
Veel saw the magical light spring into existence. He saw a minotaur moving faster than he thought any minotaur could possibly move. He sensed another spell going off, although it didn’t seem to do much. “Magic!” squeaked Veel. “They have magic! Run away!”
It probably helped that the elves were also speaking goblin and telling them to run away. That just wasn’t right. They didn’t need much more urging.
“Let’s get the prisoner and go home!” commanded Veel. The goblins didn’t need much urging. Going home was always the default for when things went wrong on a raid. As suddenly as they had attacked the goblins were gone, three of them carrying their wounded companion.
They heard the distant howling of a wolf. “I guess we didn’t kill the wolf,” snarled Veel. “Let’s take a path leading away from him at an angle.” The goblins set off downriver and toward the hills from which they had come. Four of them carried the bound and unconscious dwarf.
Gronk tried to bellow, but hardly more than a cough came out. It was a loud cough, but in the storm it wouldn’t be heard over any distance.
“I don’t feel so good,” said Gronk. At about that time, Zhanh got close enough to see that the minotaur had several minor wounds.
“How do you feel?” the elf asked the minotaur.
“Woozy or is that wouzy?” Gronk replied.
“You have probably been poisoned,” said Zhanh. “Goblin poison isn’t very strong, but it can sap anyone’s strength. Let me know if you feel sleepy.”
“Sleepy! After a battle? That doesn’t seem like . . .” The minotaur stopped speaking in mid-word and his mighty head dropped onto his breast.” He began to snore.
“I feel tired too,” said Wen Wen. She crumpled to the ground.
Sometime during the night Mensa awakened and started to struggle. Veel whacked him with a spear haft) and barked in Common, “Stop that or we will hurt you!”
Lumlas scowled at Zhanh, and then went to see if she could do anything to help Wen-Wen.