Friday, December 17, 2021

#4: Deadwalk

Having sealed the deal with Iphan and having secured help from Ailthar and his comrades, we find that sleep comes easily.  When we awaken, however, it is with the business at hand in the front of our minds.  Ganor’s recounting of his encounter with the wolves is cause for concern; it’s too much to believe that this is a coincidence, there is likely some greater power at work in the High Forest.  Whether there is correlation between these occurrences and with Ailthar’s band and their pursuit of Othal remains unknown.

A bond seems to have formed between Talas and Khadhras, and the two spend much time with hands entwined over the stone.  The nature of their relationship remains uncertain, though whatever the source of their connection, it bodes well for our two parties working together in tandem.  We are not left to curiosity long, however—Khadhras shares bits of his conversation with her, and news of her apprentice Fellad and desire for him to pass on her legacy.  It’s hard for me to have an opinion on the matter, though Ged is eager to discuss the magical stone, as Talas and Pyr seem to exist on “borrowed time,” in his words.  Though the novelty and utility of the stone is not lost on me, it seems like Ailthar would be the most likely heir, should Talas and Pyr indeed succumb to their sickness.

We learn that Ganor and young Kayd are among those who will accompany the party from Aryen’s Hope.  Our preparations do not take long to complete—having just recently resupplied in Pelanor, we are well used to travel and carry most of what we need on our backs.  Iphan makes rations for our journey available, and we are pleased to see that Ganor’s men are suitably armed and equipped.  Aside from Ganor there are two other trackers that are familiar with the High Forest, and we put our faith in their talents and training.  Our patrol will take us far from Aryen’s Hope for several days, and while we are eager to begin, we are also cognizant of the potential danger that awaits.

Iphan meets us at the gate, wishing us well and shares his hopes for our safe return.  Deploying so many hunters and able men and women leaves the security of Aryen’s Hope diminished, though not without good cause.  We leave the encampment behind us, heading south under the dark canopy.  Traveling conditions are comfortable, if somewhat hindered by long shadows as the sun struggles to penetrate the heavy foliage above.  Kayd is talkative during the first part of the journey, and seems eager to prove himself after being rescued—it seems as if there may be some survivor’s guilt, and I make note to keep an eye on him should we encounter trouble.

Ailthar and his companions are quiet throughout the morning, which is not unexpected, and only communicate via the stone when necessary.  The disease that attacks Talas and Pyr, even in this short amount of time, seems to have noticeably progressed, enough so that Ganor’s men give them a wide berth, whether due to superstition or fear of contracting their malady.

After some time, we come to a high ridge and our travel is halted as the scouting party calls back that a large, shaggy brown bear has been spotted ahead.  Ganor has us lay low, seeking cover in the brush, as he watches the bear rummage through piles of dirt and deadfall.  The creature doesn’t seem agitated or to be particularly interested in our presence, and after some time it wanders away to the north.  Ganor lets several minutes pass before standing, waving us forward and indicates that we’ll take a route to hopefully avoid any encounter with the creature should we be near its den.

At several points the trail becomes rocky and treacherous, and we are forced to move slowly and carefully so as not to slip.  As the trackers lead us back to the small game trail on which we had been traveling, we manage to avoid any reencounter with the large bear.

After some time bringing up the rear of the group, paying particular attention to the endurance of Talas and Pyr, I decide to head toward Ged and Khadhras for a discussion.  “What do we do,” I ask, having trouble being polite or nuanced, “when Talas and Pyr are too weak to continue?”  The ravages of the disease being obvious, should they succumb to it to the point that they can no longer travel, it seems like we should have a plan for that eventuality.  Likewise, should one of them become wounded, to what extent should we sacrifice our own safety to save them?

We agree that this is a conversation best had with Ailthar, and that it should wait until we break for camp for the evening.  As the sun begins to descend and a defensible site is found, we help in fortifying the grounds and gathering wood for a fire.  The fatigue of Talas and Pyr is obvious, and it’s impossible not to notice sidelong, questioning glances thrown their way by other members of Ganor’s party. 

We elect Ged to pursue the conversation with Ailthar, and when dividing watches, we make sure they are assigned watch together.  When confronted with the question, Ailthar explains “Sairy’k’s curse is weakening them, gradually.  My efforts to help treat the affliction have been unsuccessful.”  While he holds out hope that they may be spared or cured, he admits that right now he does not see a clear path towards that resolution.

He explains that he has had this conversation with them already, and that Talas and Pyr have both committed to this quest willingly.  He shares that Talas has lost her ability to perform spellcraft.  “If something should happen that Talas and Pyr are unable to continue, I will accept responsibility for their care so that the rest of the group may carry on.”

“Is there anything we need to know,” Ged asks, “if we get separated or if you or your companions should meet an untimely end?”  Ailthar explains that he does not comprehend the extent of Othal’s power, but that as long as the dark spirit Sairy’k has Othal as an instrument, his power and the danger he presents is amplified.  Their ability to remain focused on the pursuit of Othal in face of their diminishing condition and plight is admirable.  The conversation, occurring at the end of a hard day of travel and being laced with heavy emotion, takes a toll on Ged.

Kayd and one of the huntresses from Aryen’s Hope, a young woman named Hinter, seem to spend a lot of time in conversation around camp, and it’s hard not to smile watching their awkward attempts at flirtation.  It is a bit of levity that helps reduce the gravity of our situation, but it does not last long as Ganor calls for the first watch and instructs the rest of us to seek our bedrolls for rest.

I share my watch with Ganor and Kayd, seated around the fire in silence.  Ganor occasionally rises to pace and patrol the camp, but the impenetrable darkness of the forest makes such a pursuit more ritual than effective.  The silence of the forest is broken, however, as we perceive distant sounds from the east.  There are squealing noises followed by the howling of wolves, and the ring of metal.  The sounds echo through the forest—not loud enough to awaken those who sleep, but impossible for us to ignore.

I look to Ganor for instruction, seeking confirmation that we will remain on guard but that we can do little more.  The proposition of investigating in the dark of night does not sit well with anyone, nor does splitting the camp seem safe.  The direction of the disturbance may lie on our path the following morning, and Ganor indicates that we should investigate it tomorrow.  I nod in agreement.  The sounds fade shortly after and do not resurface, and after some time we rouse the final watch and alert them to the situation.

Word spreads quickly over the morning fires, and we ready ourselves for whatever we may encounter on our journey this day.  Unlike the previous day, the sun is out in full force in a cloudless sky.  The temperature is warmer, and the shadows seem to recede under the sun’s warmth.  It seems a good omen, and we make good time as we follow the game trail.  A few hours into the morning, the forward trackers return with news of a blood trail ahead.  As we stop to question whether to follow it, I mutter.  “That’s what we’re here for, right?  Let’s investigate.”

The trackers reveal wolf tracks in the area, and we ready ourselves for danger as we follow them.  Within a short time, the source of the blood trail becomes apparent—we stumble into a glade that reeks of carnage, the low buzz of flies audible as they swarm mauled bodies that litter the ground.  The bodies are small, dark-skinned, and scaly.  “Goblins,” growls one of the hunters.

Their ragged wounds, rended and torn flesh, and the spread of wolf tracks and splatters of blood make it seem obvious that they fell prey to wolves.  There are enough goblin corpses, perhaps eight to ten in all, indicative of a small warband.  It could be a sign of a larger force dispatched from the Greypeaks, which is a matter of some concern for Aryen’s Hope.  There are signs that the warband was traveling from the mountains to the east, but there is no easy return trail to follow.

“Are there any dead wolves?” I ask.  When the trackers shake their heads, I can’t help but be surprised.  The assault of the wolves upon the goblins was total, though by the amount of blood, it’s hard to believe some of the wolves weren’t at least wounded.

“This one’s still alive,” we hear, as Ganor stands over a twitching goblin body.  It has been disemboweled, guts spilled onto the open earth, and the fact that it survived the night surprises everyone.  Ged approaches Talas, holding out his hand for the stone that he might communicate with the creature before it expires.  There is no resistance, and she hands it to him gently.

Ged bends over the creature, cupping its scaly hand in his own, pressing the stone between.  “Show me what happened here,” he verbalizes, focusing his thoughts on the incoherent and fleeting visions that come from the dying goblin.  The visions relate the horror of an attack by wolves in the night, and once it becomes apparent that there is no more to learn, he stands and delivers a swift killing blow to the creature, collapsing its skull with his morning star with a sickening crunch.

An item catches Ged’s interest—beneath the goblin is a broadsword, well-fashioned compared to the usual rusted steel and other improvised weapons such creatures use.  There is an amber stone in the hilt, making it noteworthy among the detritus.  The rest of the group examines the other corpses for anything useful or valuable, many harvesting small trinkets and coins.  Ged takes the sword, wrapping the hilt in cloth before sticking it in his pack.  Ganor takes notice but says nothing.

Another trail of blood leads away from the carnage of the glade.  It could have been made by wolves that were injured in the attack, though that is by no means certain.  For me, it doesn’t make sense to stop our investigation halfway—we will either overtake a wounded or dead wolf, or they will outpace us and we’ll lose the trail.  And there’s always the possibility that it’s something more sinister than wolves—either way, investigating the path to its fullest seems of best interest to Aryen’s Hope, which is our mission in the High Forest.

We form a protective circle with bows and weapons drawn, cautious against ambush or any other dangers of the forest.  Only the trackers are outside this circle, as necessary for them to follow the trail.  Signs of wolf tracks and tufts of fur are discovered, lending credence to the notion that the wounded wolves have retreated this direction.  The sun begins to wane, however, before we find any other sign of our quarry.  The shadows lengthen and the trail becomes harder to follow, the blood beginning to dry as time passes.  Ganor orders the trackers to continue so long as there are still tracks to follow.

Suddenly ahead, the trackers stop and inform us that the trail has dispersed, almost as if the pack separated.  Stranger still, while taking in our surroundings, we notice that the land formations have taken on an unnatural layout, several tall hills or mounds arranged in rows.  Khadhras starts, knowledge of the High Forest and recognition coming to mind, and he indicates that we have likely stumbled into the Deadwalk—ancient burial mounds leftover from battles between elves and evil humanoids in ages past.  Some of the barrows could be from a millennia ago, if not older.

Ganor and the trackers seem nearly as surprised as we are.  He has heard of the Deadwalk, though didn’t know that it could lie so close to Aryen’s Hope.  His own patrols seldom range more than a day from the encampment.  “How long until dark?” I ask, knowing that time is against us.  “At least we’ve found a safe place to camp,” I mutter sarcastically.  “I’m not the most superstitious,” I admit sheepishly, “but sleeping in the shadow of an elven burial mound doesn’t seem like a great idea.”

While investigating one of the nearby mounds, Hinter calls out.  Kayd rushes to her side, and we can see that the barrow appears to have been excavated, sticks and dirt littering a black opening in the earth.

There is some talk of the potential gains from looting the graves, and I shake my head.  “You do what you want, but I want nothing to do with this.”  Disturbing the dead is never a good idea.  Someone mentions that the sword found by Ged could have originated from this looted barrow.  I shake my head again.  “Nothing good can come of this.”

We don’t have long to discuss the matter, however, before Kayd cries out in alarm.  There is a look of fear in his face as he stares into the shadows—atop a nearby barrow is a wolf.  Looking around, we can see others begin to appear alongside mounds or atop others in the distance.  We are surrounded, several sets of yellow eyes following our every move.

From either flank, a pair of unnaturally still and silent wolves regard us.  Their matted hides drip with blood from ragged wounds, and their eyes burn with a supernatural hatred.  A sense of death and decay turns our stomach as we look upon them, and we recognize them for what they are—undead creatures like the one we encountered on our way to Aryen’s Hope.

Ganor orders anyone with a bow to draw arrows and fire.  Nearly a dozen wolves begin to circle around us, the exact number difficult to determine in the shadows.  Khadhras asks what our options are—in answer, I pull out my bow and set an arrow to string, giving him a grim look as I shake my head.

As I pull the bowstring to my cheek, Ged rummages in his pack, withdrawing two large flasks as he begins speaking quickly to those nearby.  Khadhras begins muttering an incantation, his hands working in intricate patterns as a spell takes form.  Ganor’s hunters release a volley of arrows, focusing fire on the flanking wolves.  Two arrows strike the creature though it issues no cry, instead slinking into the shadows of the barrow in eerie silence. 

Ailthar and Pyr draw blades, positioning themselves between two barrows to prevent flanking attacks from either side.  One of the undead wolves launches itself at young Kayd, who flails wildly with his sword to deflect the attack.  Ailthar meets the charge of the other, cutting away a large chunk of the creature’s flesh as he pushes it back.

Ged narrowly avoids an attack as he and Hinter begin to spread oil from his flasks, the substance igniting upon contact with air to form a burgeoning semicircle of fire.  Talas and Pyr attract the attention of several wolves, putting themselves in harm’s way—and they pay the price as the creatures bite and rip at their flesh.  Talas falls to the ground, her throat torn out by a trio of savage wolves.

One of Ganor’s trackers meets a similar fate, blood spraying forth before she collapses in a heap before one of the undead wolves.  I fire an arrow at the creature but miss, and when Khadhras completes his incantation an arcane missile streaks through the shadows and strikes it in the chest.  The hunters release a second volley of arrows as I send forth my own, this one sinking into the nearest wolf with a satisfying sound.

I exchange my bow for my longsword, making ready to leap to Kayd’s defense as the undead wolf turns upon him.  I do not arrive in time, however, as the wolf bears Kayd to the ground. Nearby, Ganor holds his own against a wolf, parrying the creature’s attacks, shaking off one that has bitten into his leather gauntlet.  Pyr, however, is eviscerated by the attack of several wolves, falling to the ground opposite Talas.

Ailthar swings his blade savagely, cleaving one of the undead wolves in two.  Upon its death, half the pack suddenly disperses.  One of the trackers joins the defense of Kayd, plunging his blade into the burnt fur of the undead creature, twisting until it stirs no more.  The other half of the attacking wolf pack disbands, leaving us in silence.  I immediately drop to apply pressure to Kayd’s wounds, the young warrior flitting in and out of consciousness.

Ged moves to treat Talas and Pyr.  Both have succumbed to their wounds, their eyes staring out, glassy and lifeless.  Ganor’s huntress was eviscerated by the wolf that attacked her, her entrails spilling from her midsection onto the ground.  Abandoning care for those that cannot be saved, Ged comes to my side to treat Kayd.  He stops the bleeding and stabilizes the wounds, but not before Kayd falls unconscious.  There are other minor injuries among the surviving hunters, but nothing that demands immediate attention.

The glade is dark and silent, and as the adrenaline fades we assess our situation.  Khadhras walks solemnly to Talas, honoring his promise to the sorceress as he kneels to collect her belongings.  Ailthar is quiet, stoic—his grief is evident in his eyes, but otherwise he expresses no outward emotion.  Talas and Pyr’s sacrifice for the group is evident, and there is a moment of recognition by all present what was given in defense of the hunters.  They died honorably for a cause that was not their own.  Interrupting the silence, I hack the head from one of the undead wolves.  “Can’t be too careful,” I mutter.

Ged performs rites for the dead according to his own faith, not knowing where the souls of the departed are bound.  As he completes the act, he notices a pair of ephemeral boots before him—raising his gaze, he makes out the translucent form of a lithe, feminine figure—a ghostly elf, standing before her barrow.


  1. A preternatural voice echoes in Ged's mind, and in the minds of those around him, Ged realizes, comprehension of words unspoken arriving to all in unison.

    "Two sisters, tethered by blood. A poison flows within the vein, borne by the worshipper of a false prophet. Sever the mortal chain to cripple he who would wreak destruction over this forest... and disturbs our eternal rest."

  2. Phelan pales as the ghostly figure materializes. "I told you nothing good would come of this!" he exclaims, though his condemnation comes out less a shout and more a near-panicked whisper.

    He is stopped cold before he can do anything though, pausing like everyone else as the voice in his head speaks in cryptic verse. Phelan locks eyes with Ged and Khadras. "This is for you two to deal with. I'm going to watch for more wolves."

    Despite his denial of responsibility, you notice that Phelan doesn't stray too far from the group, lurking near the perimeter to overhear whatever might be said.

  3. Khadhras, is kneeling over Talas' body. A tear runs down his cheek as he looks at her dead body. He did not know her long, but that did not mean he did not care about her. Remembering his promise, he begins to collect her belongings with the plan to give Ailthar everything that would not be strictly used in Arcane matters.

    As he is kneeling he hears the voice in his head. When it goes silent, he continues to kneel silently letting the words sink in. He closes his eyes, and ignores Phelan's complaints completely, silently repeating the words. His lips move subtly as he repeats them, attempting to discern a meaning.

    1. Khadhras rummages through Talas' pack, procured by gently lifting the body, still wrapped in a threadbare cloak through which blood has seeped to coat the mage's hands. Wiping them on the ground, he draws forth a small hide pouch and, within it, the copper and turquoise stone used to communicate telepathically.

      Next, he finds a satchel containing trail rations provided by Aryen's Hope along with a few stale crusts. The preserves appear to be salvageable, the crimson flow not having penetrated this far. Reaching further reveals a leather-bound tome, smears of blood lightly staining its pages, though not sufficiently to damage the volume. A woolen blanket and scattering of strange coins rest at the bottom, the latter bearing unfamiliar symbols and likenesses. Underneath the blanket, mundane supplies amid a fold of worn parchment: a letter, perhaps.

      A notched, bone-hilted dagger lay a few yards distant, fallen from Talas' grasp when the wolves set upon her. Finally, Khadhras notices around the woman's neck a pewter chain, wisps of dark-but-graying hair concealing it among the gore...

      (Up to Khadhras' discretion if he wishes to claim this last personal effect...)


  4. Ged slowly turns away from Young Kayd, satisfied that at least one person mauled by the wolves will survive tonight’s carnage. As the fire around him playfully dances in the night and the smell of burnt hair and wolf flesh penetrates his senses, Ged can’t help but wonder if this mission will be the same as before. Thankfully though, before he begins to let his mind wander down a path he does not wish to explore this evening, he finds himself kneeling at the body of Talas.

    “May the Helping Hand guide you into the next world,” Ged mutters in a somber yet melodic tone.

    Getting up slowly, he drags his weary legs and marches next to Pyr, noticing out of the corner of his eye a teary eyed Khadhras making his way towards the sanctified remains of Talas. Two days may seem insignificant, but for a young naïve boy two days is an eternity. Uncharacteristically, before he begins to let his mind wander to matters of importance like the stone that has consumed his mind for the past two days, he finds himself kneeling at the body of Pyr.

    “May the Helping Hand guide you into the next world,” Ged mutters again in the somber yet melodic tone.

    Turning, Ged makes his way to the body of the nameless eviscerated hunter, reflecting on the infernal powers that now hound their party. If not for a stroke of luck and some strange connection that breaks when the fiend wolves are slaughtered, there would be more bodies littered around this blazing barrow. Strangely, before the pieces of tonight’s and today’s events began to become clearer in his cloudy head, he finds himself kneeling at the body of the eviscerated huntress.

    “May the Helping Hand guide you into the next world,” Ged mutters one last time in a somber yet melodic tone.

    As Ged slowly raises his head his senses become hijacked by the sight and sound of preternatural being, a lithe ghostly elf with a voice that would chill even the most hardened warrior:

    "Two sisters, tethered by blood. A poison flows within the vein, borne by the worshipper of a false prophet. Sever the mortal chain to cripple he who would wreak destruction over this forest... and disturbs our eternal rest."

    Smiling for the first time in hours, Ged instinctively begins to thumb the jewel around the strange sword he found earlier this day, his mind instinctively making connections that only moments earlier would be lost on his tired mind.

    Reaching out in his mind, knowing that all who hear this shade will hear his thoughts, responds to the ghostly elf: “I, Ged of Arabel, disciple of Shaundakul, accept your cry for help. If you wish our assistance with cleansing this land, open your powers to us so that we may be the weapon you need to sever the chains.”

    1. Whether or not the others truly hear the words spoken from Ged’s mind, the reply comes swiftly, starkly against the skulking quiet and low flickering of dying flames. “Bring hither to this grove the summoner of fell spirits who walks among your kin, and I shall lead your company to the usurper of the Tree Father’s dominion.”


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