Gozran 10th, 4711
The Tree of Woe
Leaving behind the ruined lair of the aberration known as a weaverworm, the party continued wending their way deeper into the Shudderwood towards Ascanor Lodge.
About a half-days travel later, the party came upon a small clearing, at the edge of which sat a large yellow pine tree. The pale corpse of a naked man hung from this tree, bound to the trunk with rough cords. His mouth was stuffed with large, pale purple flowers, and his wrists and ankles were swollen and dark with bruises marking where his bindings cut into his skin, but the large silver hunting knife embedded deep in his heart seemed the most likely cause of death.
The party moved forward cautiously, as Torquemada moved up to the tree to get a better look at the corpse. Suddenly, Torque stumbled over a well-concealed trip wire, and the deep thudding of crossbow strings filled the air as over a score of silver-tipped crossbow bolts flew out of the surrounding foliage to pincushion the hapless Inquisitor.
Torquemada groaned as he fell to one knee, but the bolts had only bloodied him, and were soon removed. Luckily for him, the dried substance he found smeared on the boltheads seemed to have lost its efficacy, as he felt no ill effects other than the wounds themselves. A closer examination of the paste identified it as silversheen – an effective poison against lycanthropes, but of no consequence to a normal human.
The party set about finding and disabling all the crossbow traps, and once Torque was healed up, continued on their journey, soon making camp for the night.
Gozran 11th, 4711
The Lodge in the Wood
Dawn came dimly through the thick bowers of the Shudderwood, but at least the night had passed uneventfully – no giant arachnids or aberrant monsters had disturbed the party during the late hours, so after a quick breakfast, they resumed their trek south.
It was still early morning when the widening trail suggested they were nearing their destination. Sure enough, the tang of wood smoke soon filled the air, and rounding a turn, the adventurers saw their destination waiting for them – Ascanor Lodge.
Ascanor Lodge was a large and decadently appointed manor deep in the heart of the Shudderwood, used by Ustalav’s elite as a hunting retreat. Once a private hunting lodge owned by Lozeri’s deposed count Beauturne, the Palatine Council of Lozeri appropriated the estate when Beauturne fled the county and opened it year round to paying guests.
The Lodge was constructed out of layers of interlocking pine logs set atop a shallow stone foundation. Far from a simple cabin, the main lodge rivaled some of the grandest mansions of Caliphas. Meant to impress Ustalav’s pampered elite who come to the Shudderwood to “rough it,” its intricate (and confusing) layout consisted of various levels, balconies, patios, hallways, and towers. Ivy covered much of the stone foundation, while the remainder of the lodge consisted of “rustic” hewn wood. The roof was shingled with gray and dark red slate, while the gables, shutters, and other trim were painted a dull reddish-brown. In addition to the main lodge, the grounds supported stables, a maintenance shed, three houses for servants, and a small watchtower. A 10-foot-high, vine-covered stone wall surrounded the entire property, enterable only through a double-arched gatehouse.
As the party approached the gates, they were greeted by a number of armored guards standing watch outside the half-opened gates. They inquired as to the party’s business, and were promptly handed invitiations by Ryszard. One guard disappeared inside the gate moving towards the manor proper while the party was told to wait for a response.
About ten minutes later, a well-dressed halfing emerged, introducing himself as Belik of Ascanor Manor.
Belik had the invitations in hand and drew himself up to his full 3’ height before addressing the group:
“I apologize for any misunderstanding, but as the porter of Ascanor Lodge, I cannot permit your entrance at this time. You do not have reservations in our books, and despite your claims, I have no evidence to justify allowing strangers into the lodge. From the looks of you, unlike the rest of my guests, you haven’t come here to take a peaceful retreat. I want no trouble, so off with you all, and take whatever troubles you bring somewhere else!”
The halfling porter gestured to the assembled guards, who glared brazenly at the party who seemed rather unaffected by Belik’s pomp and arrogance.
As a silence fell, suddenly, down the path from the manor came a group of men clad in hunting leathers, led by two arguing men in front. One was dark haired, bearded, and obviously in rugged shape. He carried a ash long bow and carried a fine hunting spear that had seen much use. His arguing companion was also clad in leather, but where the first man’s were worn and practical, the second’s were much finer, but obviously much less used.
Despite the commotion, the two men pushed through the crowd, oblivious to anyone else’s concerns. Several scruffy-looking hirelings followed behind them leading a pair of horses and carrying wooden crates marked with heraldic symbols. As they shuffle past, the woodsman called back to the noble, “For the last time Duristan! I’ll take you there, but I ain’t bringing my dogs!”
Almost in mid-sentence, the one called Duristan caught sight of the PCs and sized them up. He calls to them, “You there! Fall in with me, I need more able sword-arms for the hunt!”
The hunting party continued past, and Torquemada nodded after them, the party falling in line with the group. Duristan continued his conversation, and the group learned the rugged woodsman was called Delgros. Soon, Duristan turned towards the party, suddenly seeing them for the first time. “Who are you? You’re… you’re… you look like… real adventurers!”
As Ryszard and Lashmar nodded assent at this statement, Duristan’s entire demeanor changed. His pompous attitude dissipated and he flung question after question at the group, asking about their homelands, their experiences, and their adventures. He seemed star-struck to be in the presence of “real adventurers” as he put it.
Torquemada asked what was the quarry of this hunt, and with a gleam in his eye, Duristan smiled and replied, “werewolves!”
“Earlier this day, Delgros led a small party of patrons into the woods on a hunt that ended with the horrific, unexplained slaughter of the golden buck he and the guests were pursuing. The sight of the stag’s flayed carcass so terrified the participants that they fled back to the lodge in a panic, spreading rumors of the Devil in Gray amongst the lodge’s guests. Delgros attempted to quell the rumors, but I immediately caught wind of the gossip and realized the truth — the stag was slain by a werewolf!”
The banter with the young nobleman continued, as he was obviously enchanted with the idea that he was now traveling with seasoned adventurers.
Just outside the gates of the lodge, Duristan and Delgros mounted up and begin to trot in a westerly direction along with the party. After a few miles, they reached the spot where the dead stag was found.
The trail led to a small clearing, where the trampled ground and snapped brush showed signs of a great struggle. The soil was soaked with blood, and more was splashed upon the tree trunks and leaves. Despite the telltale evidence, Delgros’s jaw dropped and his eyes darted wildly with shock at the situation. “It’s gone!” he cries.
A frantic search of the area ensued, but all else that was found were two sets of partial tracks. One was a set of wolf prints, but of enormous size – about twice that of a normal wolf, but with elongated claws. The other was a set of large boar tracks.
Suddenly, the brush nearby shook as a trio of massive dire boars charged at the party, their razor-sharp tusks slashing into Duristan’s men as the feral beasts attacked. Duristan rushed forward to the attack, and the party followed, hacking at the bloody beasts. Luckily, Gorum smiled upon the party on this day, and the boars soon lay motionless on the sward.
Duristan was extremely excited – almost overjoyed at the battle. While he had certainly shown his bravery, his inexperience with life-and-death combat had now clearly shown through.
Delgros investigated the brush from which the boards had emerged, calling out that he had found the missing stag. Duristan wasted no time inspecting the carcass. The task was a little over his head, however, and he requested that Torquemada assist him. Torque discovered two types of wounds on the carcass — the tooth marks and tusk slashes
of the boars, and a number of bites and lacerations that presumably caused the stag’s death. After examining these wounds himself, Duristan was convinced that werewolves were about. Excited with the prospect of another kill, Duristan quickly decided to wait out the night in the woods in the hope of catching the werewolves. Delgros derided Duristan’s plan as a “fool’s errand” and informed the group that he was heading back to the lodge before night falls. Duristan hoped that the PCs will stay with him, and asked them to do so, promising them a hunt like no other. The party tried their best to dissuade the nobleman, but seeing that he was resolute in his intentions, decided to stay with him to protect him from any real threats.
Once Delgros departed, Duristan got right to business. He recommended that they set up a central camp, lay baited traps about the perimeter, and wait for the wolves to come to them. Without waiting for the PCs’ reply, Duristan split his hirelings into pairs, and instructs them to bait the perimeter and keep watch. From the crates, his hirelings pulled
several silvered, toothed wolf traps and hunks of raw meat. Two pairs headed out in opposite directions. The third pair remained behind, setting up a small camp, while Duristan poured each of the PCs a crystal snifter of exquisite Ustalavic brandy. He entreated the PCs to tell him of their exploits, and listened eagerly and attentively. When they have finished, he proudly told them of his own prowess as werewolf hunter. To date, he’d slain three, a fact he was quite pleased with. As if to punctuate his accomplishments, he showed off his scarward — a strange scar on his shoulder given to him by a local witch that purportedly grants immunity to the curse of lycanthropy. Duristan offered to hire her to give the PCs scar-wards as well once they get back to Ascanor Lodge, but they politely declined.
Later in the evening, as the brandy in the bottle got lower and the PCs’ conversation with Duristan died down, a short, horrid snarl pierced the night, followed by a smothered scream. Gathering up their weapons, the party strode into the night. Arriving at the scene, they found the body of one dead hireling on the ground, and a huge, gray-furred
werewolf with bloody jaws holding the lifeless body of another, whose throat has been torn open.
The massive beast threw aside the lifeless body and spoke:
“Stop there, humans! Why have you entered Vollensag territory?”
“We were not aware…” started Torquemada, but the monster interrupted.
“Your false explanations are meaningless. Go tell whoever sent you to stay out of wolf affairs! Let him know that his dealings with Mathus Mordrinacht and the Silverhide pack do not sit well with the other tribes of this wood. There shall be much blood spilled between our kin before a Silverhide packlord sits upon Highthrone. Mathus the betrayer shall never claim the title, and should you and yours continue to support him, the wrath of the wolf packs shall fall upon him! Now leave our territory and return to your cozy wooden den, or share the fate of these poor little sheep!”
“We’re not leaving,” said Ryszard.
“Then DIE!” growled the werewolf before leaping to the attack!
The massive creature was amongst the party, it’s claws tearing into Haza and Ryszard and it’s fetid infected breath foul as it’s jaws snapped at the men. Weapons were bared and spells flew as the beast was joined by another, and the party was hard pressed by the two beasts.
Finally, the first creature was finally struck down by Lashmar, and as quick as the Magus’ lightning, the other had turned and retreated back into the darkened night, howling it’s frustration and hatred.
The howls were answered to the south… and to the east. At least six other beasts… whether true wolf or werewolf were closing in.
Quickly the party gathered themselves up and retreated to their campsite. Quickly packing their gear and dowsing the fire, they mounted up and raced off into the night ere the other wolves could attack.
On through the night they rode, pushing their mounts as hard as possible in the dim forest, a chorus of howls following at their very heels all the way back to Ascanor Lodge. As they finally broke the cover of the trees into the clearing around the Lodge, the howling of their hunters rose up into the night.
The doors to the lodge were open and warmth and light beckoned the party inside.