So Osborn Serpentus the Druid was wiling away the hours (and his money) at the Red Acorn when an elvish priest of The Skull walked into the tavern followed by a raven about the size of a wolfhound. Ted Mundersen, the proprietor, started to feel under the bar for his weighted broomhandle when his taciturn brother Ned nudged him with his elbow and noted the rose shaped patch on his tunic that marked him as a veteran of the Commonwealth army, and thus a friend to those who made their home in Fort. The stranger stepped up to the bar as his huge avian companion hopped up on a nearby stool and sat scanning the darkened room with her glittering black eyes. The taverner smiled nervously and slid a drink to the elf.
"Whoosh, you didn't but give me but half a turn, sahr. I thought ye was Bark Eatin' Ted hisself, come to lay a curse on my poor tavern."
From there a conversation progressed that caused Serpentus to perk up his ears and listen, as Mundersen spun a dire tale of the mad druid who had haunted the Northern woods for as long as anyone could remember, fiercely defending his territory and causing all sorts of calamities to any who dared his domain.
When the taverner had his attention drawn to other customers, Serpentus approached the elf and introduced himself. The elf in turn gave his name as Celenor Wildblade, a devotee of the Church of the Skull. (The Skull was the totem of one of the old churches, one rather distrusted by more civilized folk, as they represented a dangerous element of the wild.)
The two fell to talking, and discovered that they had both recently gone to the Captain of the Road Watch and obtained a letter of marque that allowed them to hunt monsters for bounty. They decided to go on an excursion, as both were well versed in the ways of the wilderness, and could travel quickly and lightly. Their goal, to track down some of the goblins who had been plaguing the Eastern farmlands and bring back some bounties.
The following morning the two adventurers set out, accompanied by Wildblade's raven Brighteye and Serpentus' unnamed giant viper as companions. They fared down the Pilgrim's highway, stopping for the night in the stables of the inn at Millford. The following morning, they set out again, moving slowly and foraging as they went. By midday they cut North and headed into the great oak forests that give the Eichenlands their name. Upon entering the woods, Wildblade sent his huge raven to scout ahead of them, while they moved slowly among the great trees, searching the bushes and underbrush for food to sustain them in their travels.
By the time they were ready to make camp, they had enough roots, nuts, and berries to feed them for several days. Brighteye returned, bearing a blackened twig in her beak. The travellers surmised that the great black bird had been as far north as a wide swath of land that was known to locals as "The Desolation", which was visible from the highway as a wide grey patch of barren land on the hillside. As the light of the sun faded, Wildblade attempted to make conversation regarding their similar philosophies with the druid, but Serpentus' creed was a secretive one, and he was less than forthcoming, and the conversation soon lapsed to an uncomfortable silence.
When morning dawned the adventurers set about finding the spoor of the goblin raiders, which was easy for a skilled woodsman like Serpentus, both because of his high skill at tracking, and because the goblins were hardly covering their tracks with any care. They discovered the raiders were mounting excursions every few days, spending a few days out in the field before returning to wherever their central base was. They also determined that the goblins tended to move only at night. By Serpentus' estimation, aided by the elf's observations about the trail, the goblins were due to pass by them that night. They sent Brighteye down the trail, and presently the bird came back reporting "many enemies" in her limited vocabulary of elvish words. Thus they decided to lay in ambush and spring on them when they passed by.
As night fell, the pair of adventurers dug in between the exposed roots of a mighty oak tree, covering themselves partially with branches, while their animal companions hid nearby. A couple of hours after the sun set, a raucous tumult assailed their ears, the sound of squealing pigs, panicked chickens, and the harsh, grating laugher of goblins, accompanied by bellows like breathing and the cracking and snapping of twigs and underbrush. Then they saw them. Three huge wolves, black as charcoal and mangy, hung with the struggling plunder of some hapless farmstead. On their backs, a dark, wizened thing like a leathery mockery of a halfling, their bright fangs and the red points of their eyes visible in the blackness under wolfskin hoods, clinging like bats to the great beasts' withers.
Sadly for the ambushers, the great worg's eyes and ears were sharp, and they were spotted. The raiders crashed into the cleric and druid's hiding spot and the battle was joined. While the laughing, jabbering goblins stabbed at them with their spears, the worgs bit and tore with their fanged jaws, smashing Serpentus' frantically raised shield into kindling. Wildblade cast a spell of fear, causing the worg who was worrying him to bolt for the woods with it's black heart full of primal terror, while it's goblin rider cursed and swatted the beast with it's spear butt, all in vain. Brighteye dove like a hawk for one of the goblins assailing Serpentus, gashing the creature's face open with her razor sharp claws and causing it to wail in agony. The druid's viper struck at the other goblin, poisoning the wretch with it's venom, while it's master spun away from it's worg mount, slashing with his scimitar. The elf cleric then ducked behind a forked tree, desperately casting healing magic on his druidic companion before his wounds overcame him. It was none too soon as the remaining worgs wheeled on the two adventurers and attacked with their fearsome, gnashing jaws. Meanwhile, the stricken goblins both perished, one from the viper's poison and flyby attacks from the huge raven, and the other trying to flee while blinded, and falling off his feral mount and breaking scrawny neck. The worgs barely noticed the loss of their riders, as they pressed Serpentus and Wildblade, pulling the druid off of his feet while the cleric ducked behind the fork in the tree, taking advantage of the scant protection it provided him from the huge beast. Serpentus scored a hit on his attacker with his curved blade, while the raven worried the beasts back with flyby attacks. Eventually, the worg, now bleeding severely, decided to flee into the woods. This left a single ravenous beast for the four companions to turn their attention on, and they wore down it's resolve with claw and blade, finishing with aspell from the cleric that imbued his hand with the cold touch of death. It was not enough to slay the foul beast, but it sent it packing with it's tail between it's legs.
Well aware that they were in quite over their heads and thankful to be alive, Serpentus and Wildblade healed themselves with spells and magical berries, cut the left hands off of the dead goblins as proof for the bounties, and fled the trail posthaste, fearing an encounter with more raiders, especially with the one they had sent running with Wildblade's fear spell.
The pair used their woodcraft to travel at speed through the darkened woods, soon breaking out into open grassland on the way to the highway, and from there, to Millford.
With the highway and the low buildings of Millford in sight, the pair had one last terrifying encounter, as they spotted a trio of shadowy shapes moving through the grass roughly two hundred yards away. The pair of adventurers and their animal companions hunkered down, as the figures passed, so black that they seemed to eat the very night in the feeble light of the waning moon. As they moved, the tall grass was deathly still, as if the creatures weren't even there. The figures glanced in their direction, their eyes cold points of eerie light, but went on their way, to some unknown purpose. Shaking with relief, the pair hurried back to the villiage, glad of the warmth and light of the inn.
There, they spoke with a travelling priest of the Wheel, an affable fellow with grizzled grey hair by the name of Van Beck, about the apparitions they saw. Van Beck, a man well versed in the lore of the area, guessed that they might be wraiths, undead spirits of those who served the Eichenland's former masters, the Hauser nobles who dwelt in a great mansion known as Eichenbaum, where now the Desolation lies. The pair of adventurers made a note to travel someday to the Desolation, perhaps with greater numbers, to see what might be found there.
Follow-Up to Yesterday's Post
8 hours ago