In the morning of the next day, the party went to see Lord Jonas. As they were escorted into his sitting room, their eyes were immediately drawn to the figure standing near the fireplace. He was a human, but taller than most. As he turned to see the new arrivals, he regarded them with forest green eyes that were bloodshot as if he hadn’t slept recently. His hair was raven black, his skin was deeply tanned, and his gear well used and well maintained.
Lord Jonas stood, “Gentlemen, and Lady, please meet Rory Storm,” he said, gesturing to the man near the fireplace, “He has volunteered to guide you to Ard.”
Rory stepped forward and shook each member of the party’s hand, revealing ink stains on his own. “Least I can do for such valiant heroes as these. I’ve travelled all over the Duchy of Foxrun, even spent some time in the employ of the Kingdom of Broadshoulders, though I can’t say that the army life was meant for me. What I can tell you is that our journey won’t be easy. There are foul things that walk the land in these troubled times.”
Rory drew their attention to a map on the table showing the area between Bystag and Ard and quickly traced over the route they would take. “We’ll need to skirt the edge of the forest. We should be able to make quicker time, but still be able to hide in the forest easily, should we encounter any patrols.”
“How many patrols are there likely to be?” asked Simon.
“It’s hard to say with any certainty. The fronts of the battle shift constantly, and what was in friendly hands this morning, might be in the hands of the enemy by nightfall,” replied Rory, “I would have you safe to Ard at the earliest possible time to prevent being caught in a large battle. We will stop at the town of Millglade for the night, and then proceed on to Ard. If there are no questions, I suggest you make whatever preparations you require and meet me by the town gate at noon.”
“We will meet you then,” said Simon, “Thank you for the assistance you have provided, Lord Jonas.”
Lord Jonas shook Simon’s hand, “It is no more than what I promised in return for your assistance with our missing children, and may wind up being a poor bargain in the end. However, if anyone can see you safe to Ard it will be Rory. I have every confidence in his abilities, and yours, for that matter. Good luck, and may the Gods watch over your journey!”
The party left the mansion and headed to complete their preparations, such as packing their gear, and going to the temple to replenish their spells. At noon, they rode their horses to the gate, and found Rory waiting outside on a light brown charger. As they rode out of town, Simon rode up next to Rory and said, “We have one more member of our party to join us, he will be along in just a moment.”
Rory said nothing but pulled up to wait for the new arrival. Itcharat came out of the forest with his cloak and hood pulled up to hide his features. Rory looked at him strangely, and could be seen to look back from time to time to see where Itcharat was. Finally, after about an hour of this behavior, Rory stopped his horse.
“Simon, I know a goblin when I see and smell one. You are a strange group to be travelling so with a creature of Chaos, but as you have proven your worth to Bystag, I will be silent on the matter. However, I will ask that you keep him some distance from me, as I don’t trust his kind.”
Itcherat held up his hand and stopped the protest Simon was about to utter. “This is why I don’t come to town, Simon, and I can’t expect for people to forget the things my people have done in the name of Chaos. I’ll stay away, and perhaps I’ll prove myself to him over the course of our journey.”
Simon thought better of fighting about it, knowing the goblin was right, and just nodded. Rory started down the path again, followed by the rest of the party. Not long after the exchange, Rory pulled up short and said “Into the woods, NOW!”
He rode a short way into the woods and dismounted, holding his hand over the nose of his horse and the rest of the party followed suit. Within a few minutes, the tromp of boots marching down the road could be felt reverberating under the feet of the party, as a horde of goblins passed by their hiding spot. After they passed, and with a significant glance at Itcharat, Rory moved the party back out to the edge of the woods and continued towards Millglade. Not long after getting started again, Simon began to have the feeling he was being watched. Looking around, he caught a glimpse of a couple of wolves following the party. He brought them to Rory’s attention.
“Yes, I see them, and it is unusual behavior for wolves.” Rory said, “I don’t like it, but we need to just keep an eye on them, since they are staying just out of bowshot.”
The wind changed, causing the horses to catch the scent of the wolves, and making them skittish. Now two more wolves had joined the chase, matching the pace of the horses and staying just out of range of the party’s bows. The trail had begun to wind through the woods, with turns coming in ever greater frequency. Just as Simon noticed the wolves were getting closer behind them, Rory and Trish noticed more wolves coming out of the woods in front of them. Rory dismounted, drawing his bow, “We have no choice but to stop and handle this now.”
The rest of the party dismounted, and Itcharat took control of the horses, which were prancing nervously because of the proximity of the wolves. Lasheur and Walac both shot at the wolves, killing their targets. Rory shot at one, but his arrow went wide, taking the wolf in the back leg, slowing it down, but not stopping it. Simon ran forward and cut one wolf in half with his katana, and wounding a second one with a spinning back kick. As Walac dropped another wolf with his bow, he and Simon saw more wolves coming in from the forest. Realization hit as Simon recognized what the larger wolves were. “Wargs!” he shouted, “The larger ones are Wargs! Be careful!”
“I’ve never seen anything like this!” shouted Rory, “I believe these animals are under some sort of control!”
Suddenly, one of the wargs was in amongst the horses, biting and snapping at their flanks. The horses danced around, almost impossible for Itcharat to control. Trish ran forward, executing a double slash with her swords, ending the life of one of the wargs. Rory shot the warg near the horses, killing it as Lasheur traded his bow for his sword and slashed open another. Itcharat saw another wolf, larger even than the wargs burst from the woods, its eyes aglow with a red light. This wolf ran in and with one vicious snap of its jaws ripped the guts from Simon’s horse, which went down thrashing. Itcharat let go of the horses and drew his sword to meet the threat of the giant wolf. Drawing his rapier, Walac rushed forward and pierced the giant wolf. He hit it, but it seemed like the creature just shrugged off what should have been a killing blow. Lasheur killed one of the two wolves that were snapping at him, narrowly avoiding being bitten by the one that was still alive. Simon killed the warg he was engaged with and ran forward to impale another near the horses with his fighting claw. Abandoning his bow, Rory rushed the wolf that Trish was fighting, killing it. As the giant wolf snapped its teeth at Itcharat’s midsection, narrowly missing eviscerating the goblin, Trish rushed forward and hit the creature, first with the Oblivion and then with Keller’s Razor. As the rune swords hit the giant wolf, mist began coming out of the cuts, and with an unearthly howl, the wolf’s face began to contort, becoming briefly human, then the wolf fell to the ground as the red lights in its eyes went out forever. More wolves appeared at the edge of the forest, but with the fading of the howl, the wolves all turned tail and ran back into the woods. Upon inspection of Simon’s horse, it appeared that the giant wolf’s saliva had a poisonous quality to it, as the flesh around the wound had already started to putrefy. Simon doubled up with Lasheur, as the next lightest member of the party (apart from Walac, but Walac’s pony would never be able to carry them both). The rest of the journey to Millglade was without incident, and as they got closer to town, Itcharat left the party to hide out until they were ready to leave the town. Once at the town gates, the guard challenged the party until they saw Rory, who vouched for his companions. Guiding them to the inn, Rory secured lodgings for the night, and told some of his acquaintances in the common room about the encounter with the wolves. He found out that the pack had been causing trouble in the area for some time, and the group was bought a round of ale for having taken care of “the wolf problem”. All the while, Walac’s whiskers were twitching, but he couldn’t put his finger on exactly why. He told the others that he had a bad feeling, but they all went to their rooms that evening with no answer for why he felt that way.
Walac was being chased through the forest, but he couldn’t see what it was that was behind him. He had stopped momentarily to catch his breath, having outdistanced his pursuer. Suddenly, a black form leapt over his head and spun to face him.
“I am the Shadow Wolf,” snarled the visage of the wolf they had killed in the forest, “and you cannot kill me. I am eternal, and you shall die for the insult you gave today.”
The wolf advanced on Walac and as he started to back away, he realized his feet had become stuck in the muddy swamp that had crept around him while he caught his breath. He couldn’t move! The wolf stepped forward and closed his jaws around Walac. The jaws started to close slowly, with increasing pressure around Walac’s midsection, soon, the teeth would pierce his skin and he would begin to bleed to death! With a start, Walac woke up, panting in his bed. He shivered as he realized he had been having a nightmare. As he shook his head to clear the cobwebs, he realized that Simon was no longer in his bed across the room. Stranger still, Simon had not taken any of his equipment with him. Walac got out of bed and opened the door out into the hallway. No one was moving around, as it was very early (or very late). Walac went to Trish’s door and knocked. After a few moments, Trish came to the door, looking groggy.
“I’m glad you woke me up,” said Trish, “I was having a very strange dream.”
Walac said, “Me too. I woke up, though, and Simon’s gone. He didn’t take anything with him, either.”
Shaking her head, Trish replied, “Go wake the others, I’ll get my gear on, something weird is going on.”
Walac went to wake Lasheur and Rory, and found that Lasheur had also left without his gear. Rory had been having a bad dream as well, and agreed to meet Walac and Trish downstairs momentarily to try and find out what happened to the others. As Walac waited downstairs for his friends, he realized no one else appeared to be in the inn. No other customers, no innkeeper, no one. Trish and Rory were downstairs quickly, and as they stepped out of the inn, they saw someone that looked like Simon turn the corner up the street. They ran to catch up, and as they turned the corner, they could see Simon and Lasheur being escorted by some of the town guard. They appeared to be herding them towards the docks area of town.
“Rory, go back and grab Simon and Lasheur’s gear,” Trish said, “Walac and I will follow them and see if we can figure out what’s going on. Meet us as soon as you can!”
Rory nodded in acknowledgement and rushed back to the inn, as Trish and Walac followed the procession through the town and towards the mill, located near the docks. Outside the mill, there was a group of the townspeople waiting for Simon, Lasheur, and the town guard. Once they got there, the guards near Simon and Lasheur began to talk to the group around the mill, but they were too far away for Trish and Walac to hear what was being said. When the conversation was over, one of the group that had been waiting by the mill turned and began to open the doors to the mill. As the doors opened, Trish could see that there were more townspeople waiting inside.
“Walac, we don’t have time to wait. We need to stop this now, before those others make it out, or they shut Simon and Lasheur in,” said Trish as she drew her rune swords.
Walac drew his rapier, and followed Trish to the group around their friends. He swung quickly at the guard, who jumped out of the way at the last second. Spinning, a second guard hit Trish with the flat of his blade, hastily pulled from its scabbard. Trish cut him down with Oblivion, and thrust at a second with Keller’s Razor, barely grazing his shoulder. Lasheur seemed to come out of a trance, and seeing the melee around him, reached down to grab a bow from the fallen guard. Simon, who had been brought past the doors of the mill, blinked and woke up from his trance. Taking in the scene in an instant, he spun on the captor nearest him snapping the townsman’s neck with a quick upwards strike of his hand. Walac pierced one of the guards through the heart with his rapier, as Trish killed one of the townspeople and wounded a second one. Lasheur dropped the bow and grabbed a sword, missing the guard nearest him with a hasty swing. The soldiers left on the inside of the mill began calling for help, and turned to run. As they turned to run, Simon leapt forward, killing one with kick to the chest that stopped his heart, and stopped another in his tracks by snapping his neck with a chop of his hand. The last guard ran down the stairs into the cellar of the mill, as zombies shuffled out of the darkness towards Simon. More zombies came up the stairs from the cellar and down the stairs from the second floor. Simon attacked one of the closest, which had shambled out of the western part of the building, from amongst stacked bags of grain. He hit the zombie with a kick, but it just kept coming towards him. Trish slashed out with Oblivion, killing the last of the townspeople near her, and rushed the nearest zombie, missing with Keller’s Razor. Rory came around the corner with the equipment, prompting Lasheur and Simon to come over to get their gear. While Trish attacked the zombie she had engaged, she tried to figure out why her attacks here not damaging them the way they should. Remembering her training as a disciple of Lord Artol, she cried out, “Lop off their heads! We can only kill them by removing their heads!”
Matching word to deed, Trish cleanly took the head from the zombie she was fighting, killing it once more, but missed a second that had shambled up. Simon killed the remaining two townspeople, as Walac moved to help Trish. Walac sent an arrow through the skull of one of the zombies, dropping it to the ground. Trish was suddenly surrounded by the zombies. She dodged the lumbering attack of one, then stopped and concentrated, calling upon the skills that had been granted by Lord Artol. With a blinding flash, she had consecrated the area, expelling the undead creatures from her. Moving swiftly, Oblivion and Keller’s Razor lashed out like twin lightning bolts, taking the heads from the two nearest zombies. Walac, who had been included in the area of the consecration spell, stepped out, and swept the head of another zombie from its shoulders with his rapier. Trish moved around the circumference of the consecrated circle she had created, killing two more of the zombies. Lasheur moved in, and within moments, another zombie was sinking to the floor with an arrow in its skull. As if understanding that they couldn’t break the consecration spell, the zombies shuffled away, with some going down to the cellar, and others going back up the stairs to the second floor.
“Come inside the spell,” shouted Trish, “They can’t get in, and we can plan our next move!”
Simon, Lasheur and Rory ran inside the building and into the consecrated circle. As Rory came into the building, the doors swung shut with a crash, locking them inside.
“Ugh, I don’t know what happened, but I feel terrible”, said Simon.
Lasheur was feeling the effects of being under the spell as well, but as they recovered, Trish let them know what had happened since they went to bed that night. Walac pointed to a red ‘x’ on one of the guard’s hand.
“Look at that ‘X’”, he said, “That’s what was wrong last night. Everyone here had those red marks on them. I just realized that was what was making me uneasy!”
After taking a few minutes to recuperate, Simon and Trish made their way up the stairs, while Walac and the others kept watch on the cellar stairs. The stairs were narrow, with only enough room for one person at a time, so Simon was the first to see the millstone of Millglade. The stone was covered with blood, as if it had been being used to crush living creatures, rather than grain. Zombies surrounded the millstone as if protecting it. Simon and Trish took little time in dispatching the creatures, and began to look around the room. Barrels of meal were stored in the room, but the meal had been soaked in the blood.
“I bet the bread we had last night was tainted with this meal,” said Simon grimly, “That’s probably what caused the trance. We need to destroy the millstone”.
A quick check showed that there was nothing that was of sufficient strength to destroy the millstone. They went downstairs and told the others what had happened as they searched the first floor for something they could use.
“This abomination cannot be allowed to continue,” said Rory vehemently, “I believe I can destroy the millstone. These people were my friends.”
Once he arrived upstairs, Rory cast a spell, causing lightning to leap from his fingers, destroying the millstone. As the millstone cracked, the spirits of the townspeople who had been killed appeared, then faded from view. Rory turned over the barrels, scattering the bloody meal and ensuring that no more of it would be used against the people of Millglade, if there were any left untouched by the magic. He returned to the main floor of the mill.
“Let us finish this, and determine who is behind this abomination,” he said through clenched teeth.
Simon led the way into the cellar with Trish, Walac, Lasheur, and Rory following up. Once in the cellar, zombies began to move towards the stairs. There were three guards at the far side of the cellar, just inside the doorway of another room. Lasheur took aim at one and killed him with an arrow through his heart. Rory killed the second guard, causing the third one to run deeper into the room. Walac jumped down from the stairs to engage the zombies, and within minutes, Simon, Walac and Trish had cleared the room of the undead. Moving into the next room, where the last guard had disappeared, Rory recognized the body of the miller, Neeth the Fat. A brief search of the room revealed a small spiral staircase descending into the darkness. Simon cast a shield spell and cat’s eye spell on himself, as Trish, Rory and Lasheur lit Journeyman candles and torches. Walac went first, to scout for the group, and headed up the stone corridor. A short way up the corridor, there was another spiral staircase, but the passage continued on past it. Walac got to a junction in the corridor, when suddenly four creatures filled the hallway. They were grey skinned, and looked as if they had clawed their way out of a dank grave. The ghouls (for that is what they were) began to howl, causing Trish and Rory to shiver. Lasheur took careful aim, and an arrow sprouted from the lead ghoul’s eye, dropping it to the ground. Walac wounded the one in front of him, and Trish stepped forward to finish it off, killing the one next to it with a well placed swipe of her second sword. Simon leapt over Walac and took out two in the back. Trish stepped forward and finished off the final two that had come down the corridor after their brethren. With all of the ghouls dead, the party moved to the end of the passage where a stone door barred the way.