The Tale of One-Tree (FMF Unleashed campaign recap)

Since there are a few other threads about recapping campaigns here already, I’d like to add the recap of a campaign I’ve been running since late 2021 here. The recaps are going to be a bit vague because it’s been a while since I ran these scenarios, and the campaign is also still ongoing, so I have to be careful that no spoilers end up here.

The campaign uses the FMF Unleashed ruleset and is a wilderness campaign (That’s actually a bit of a new one for me, as pretty much all other campaigns I have run so far have focused on civilised settings as a baseline, even when a lot of wilderness travel and exploration was involved).

The cast of characters:

William, a Gifted gatorman bokor and bone grinder, a native of the gatorman village of Yokté.
Odrys, a Mighty gatorman warrior and scout, who joined the group a few sessions in, and also a native of Yokté.
Roza, a Gifted Tharn bloodweaver and shaman of the Devourer, a native of the Tharn village of Nemnoc.
Samira, a Gifted human blackclad and warlock of the Circle, native to the Bloodstone Marches.

The Setting

Ten years ago, the gatorman village of Yokté in the north of Widower’s Wood was destroyed by a sudden surge of masses of swamp creatures. The gatorman Toothy Trudy, who’d lost a leg in the attack, led the survivors north, out of Widower’s Wood. At around the same time, the Tharn village of Nemnoc in the south of Glimmerwood had been destroyed by a massive dracodile, and even though the beast had been slain, the village’s chieftain, Rawgash, led the survivors south out of Glimmerwood.
In a lake nestled in the grassland plain between Glimmerwood and Widower’s Wood, a massive ghost willow tree (so named because it is covered in luminescent lichen and also home to hundreds of fireflies) seemed to draw the two groups of survivors like a beacon. The site offered an easily defensible position, especially considering the open terrain made sneaking up on the place pretty much impossible, and was still close enough to Glimmerwood and Widower’s Wood to allow hunting parties reasonably good access. The lake itself also gave the gatormen all the comfort they needed.
When each party realised they were not the only ones heading for the massive tree, their chieftains quickly made the others recognise that their numbers were too depleted for a fight, and that they would actually benefit from cooperation, and so the village of One-Tree was founded.

One-Tree
The village of One-Tree, inhabited by gatormen and Tharn, is situated on a small island in a lake on the plains between Glimmerwood and Widower’s Wood, about a day’s walk east of the Black River and the small Cygnaran trading post of Blake’s Wheel, which sits right on the river’s eastern bank, and with whom the villagers often trade meats, skins, herbs and other materials gleaned from the wilderness for the supplies they need, like metal tools and glassware.

Eventually, ten years after the founding of One-Tree, the Circle sent one of their warlocks to the area to supervise the Tharn living in One-Tree, and to manage the Circle’s interests in the area. They decided to send Samira, a blackclad from the parched lands further east. And that’s where our tale begins…

3 Likes

The Tale of One-Tree, Chapter I: River Bounty

Shortly after the arrival of the human Circle warlock Samira, the chieftain of the gatormen, Toothy Trudy, asked the gatorman William to take some of the medicinal plants she’d been growing in the lake to the human trading post of Blake’s Wheel and trade them for various materials the village needed, like tools and nails for building and repairing One-Tree’s huts.

William took Samira with him, who still had to get to know the area, and where a blackclad of the Circle went, a Tharn would also go naturally, Roza easily slipping into the role of the young warlock’s bodyguard. The journey to Blake’s Wheel was without incident, and once there, all bargains and trades were easily made, so the groud decided to spend the night in Blake’s Wheel and return to One-Tree the next day.

When they had settled in a corner of the trading post’s inn, called The Wheelhouse, they soon noticed that a human was watching them thoughtfully, and finally the man got up and walked to their table. The man, who looked badly bruised and battered, introduced himself as Captain Douglas Merryweather of the riverboat Night Lily, and inquired whether gatormen were as good at swimming as rumours said. When William answered in the positive, Merryweather made a proposition: He had recently had to dump some illicit cargo into the river somewhat to the north of Blake’s Wheel (the “unofficial” Khadoran patrol that had brought them up shortly afterwards had been very unhappy about discovering this and roughed Merryweather up for it) and wished to retrieve it.

The group quickly agreed to the job, happy to add a pile of coins to the goods they would be bringing back home. The next day, they accompanied Merryweather north (the Captain did not want to travel on his riverboat, as the craft would be impossible to hide), and after a day’s journey, the captain was confident they were in the right area, so Samira’s wold and William began searching the bottom of the river.

While they were working, Roza and Samira realised that there was movement in the brush, but decided to pretend they hadn’t noticed. Then William found several small but heavy crates and dragged them to bank, where Merryweather proceeded to open them, revealing strange brass spheres wrapped in straw, the mechanikal brains of those smoke-belching steamjacks the wild folk had only seen from a distance so far.

The group then settled in for the night, and thanks to their vigilance the day before they were not surprised by a group of bog trogs raiding their camp, and quickly dispatched them (with William asking Samira to have her wold drag the bodies along so he could process them for bone grinder fetishes later, as well as for food). However, the next day they saw a riverboat searching the bank, and Merryweather told the group it was the same Khadoran boat that had brought him up a few days earlier.

The adventurers quickly hatched a plan: William disemboweled the bog trog carcasses and stuffed the cortices into the bodies, then they crammed the offal into the crates that used to hold the cortices and nailed them shut again. Then they proceeded back to Blake’s Wheel, and when the riverboat confronted them shortly thereafter, with a group of riflemen taking aim at them from the vessel, the group feigned defeat and dropped the crates, before retreating east into Glimmerwood while the patrol disembarked to check out the crates. With the decoy slowing down their pursuers, the group still decided they needed to hurry more than they could with the wold dragging the carcasses, so William, being the biggest and strongest, quickly ripped the cortices from the bodies again, and proceeded to waddle into the forest as fast as his legs could carry him, with one cortex clamped under each arm and the third precariously gripped in his jaws.

The ruse worked, and by making a detour through the forest the group was able to return to Blake’s Wheel without further harm, and without encountering the Khadorans again. Captain Merryweather paid the agreed-upon reward, and after a drink and the promise of further business when he was in the area again, he went back to the Night Lily, while the warlock, the shaman and the bokor collected the goods they had traded for and returned to One-Tree, where Toothy Trudy was truly happy to see their return after the unexpected delay of a few days.

2 Likes

Truly beautiful story. I particularly like that the session ended up with a single encounter and otherwise just role playing.

Also, what is your opinion on the game’s “social” system? Does it promote or rather hinder role playing sessions like these?

1 Like

Nice work, your players sir are far less inclined to violence than mine, mine would have assaulted the khadoran patrol barge, if sneaking by it wasnt a possibility(i have a larger party so there is the added boldness)

1 Like

Im not morgan but i can help a bit with your question, the “social” system does help but not by a lot, it depends more on the group a more role play heavy group will end up using it seamlessly given a gm got used to it, a low role play group will need prompts of how you are doing this, its greatest strenghts is allowing character to be versitile without needing to spread around the atributes

2 Likes

I think the FMF social system greatly promotes role-playing since it means characters don’t have to spec for social interactions (becoming the “faces” of the group) but can play out social interactions using their strengths instead. I had initially been very doubtful of the lack of a defined charisma stat, but have since come to greatly appreciate the system.

1 Like

Our sessions tend to be role-play and investigation-heavy rather than action-oriented no matter the system and setting. Most sessions have no combat, and when they do players pick their fights carefully if they are not forced into them. We’ve even had sessions that went by without making any rolls, just because what the players were doing was so brilliant and at times unexpected that rolling would have spoiled the plot.

3 Likes

The Tale of One-Tree, Chapter II: Watch over Ruins

The Tharn chieftain of One-Tree, Rawgash, approached the shaman Roza while she was meditating on the Devourer and, once he had respectfully waited for her to finish, asked for her help: The inhabitants of One-Tree still occasionally go back to where their old villages used to be, if only to keep watch to make sure no-one else (and nothing else) tries to establish themselves there. The last party of three he had sent to the ruins of Nemnoc, the Tharn village, had not returned on time, and Chief Rawgash wanted Roza to search for them.

Roza immediately got Samira and William, and together the three of them set out into Glimmerwood. The journey to Nemnoc was uneventful, with no evidence of disturbances or the presence of creatures that could have explained the missing Tharn. Once the group arrived at Nemnoc itself, however, they did find something strange: Large patches of the grass and vegetation covering the few remaining ruins were wilted and tousled as if by a storm. There were also tracks of large feet coming from the north and heading back there, and fresher imprints of three bodies laid out on the wilted plants, with drag marks leading east.

After debating which tracks to follow, the group decided the three sets of drag marks likely marked where the Tharn had disappeared to, and followed them first. Soon thereafter, the group arrived at a warren of sorts, where they were quickly attacked by large, armoured, insectile creatures - vektiss. Retreating to attempt to draw them off their lair, the group slew the creatures without too much trouble, including a particularly large specimen that eventually came rushing from the lair.

Once the vektiss had been cleared out, the group found the three missing Tharn inside the vektiss lair, insensate and, strangely, tied up with ropes. William quickly determined the Tharn braves had been afflicted by the vektiss’s venom and began preparing bone grinder fetishes from the creatures’ carcasses that would draw out the toxin. Unfortunately, the group neglected to also keep a careful watch over their helpless wards, so they failed to notice that something was amiss until it was too late: the insides of the paralysed Tharn began to churn as maturing vektiss larvae began to dig their way out, and even though the adventurers acted with all haste once the threat became apparent, they were unable to save two of the young Tharn, leaving only one survivor.

Once William had been able to draw the venom out from her body, the surviving Tharn, Juta, then revealed to her rescuers that they had been examining the ruins for tracks when a sudden storm had whipped up and men of iron and steam emerged from it, quickly overpowering and capturing the Tharn. Their leader had then tried to interrogate them, but had seemed less than impressed when they told him there were only watching the ruins to make sure no creatures moved in, and eventually the group simply left, leaving the Tharn braves tied up and helpless. The vektiss had simply arrived on the scene before the Tharn had been able to free themselves, and easily disabled the braves with their bites before dragging them off to the warren. The rest the adventurers knew already.

Saddened by having failed to save all of the Tharn, the adventurers then returned Juta, who also blamed herself for not having noticed the group that had initially attacked them, to One-Tree.

2 Likes

The Tale of One-Tree, Chapter III: Planting Stones

A few weeks after the adventurers’ sombre return from the ruins of the Tharn village of Nemnoc, One-Tree was approached by two ominous cowled, black-robed figures. The Tharn sentries immediately recognised the regalia of blackclads, of course, and quickly relayed the news to Samira, who went to greet the other two members of her order. They introduced themselves as Overseer Roarke, a hard-faced woman with the kind of ageless features that the druids are so well known for and wearing the armour of a Wolf of Orboros over her robes, and Warder Hamlin, a much younger man, but one trained as a wayfarer and knowledgable in the rituals needed to travel instantaneously along ley lines. Once those introductions had been made, Roarke informed Samira that the wayfarers had recently noticed the ley lines north of One-Tree had become disrupted, preventing easy travel and communication, and tasked Samira with accompanying Hamlin to several stone circles in the area to examine them for the cause of the disturbance.

Samira immediately gathered her companions, and together with Warder Hamlin they set out into Glimmerwood. Though Hamlin’s maps of the area were not very precise, both he and Samira shared great sensitivity to magical energies, and used them to locate the ley line conjunctions – but to their surprise, there were no standing stones at all at the site, nor any evidence there had ever been any. Searching the area, the two blackclads quickly established that it was the conjunction’s location that had shifted, which the standing stones should have prevented, though they seemed to have been knocked over a while ago, breaking their connection to Orboros. Using Samira’s wold, the blackclads carried the stones to the new conjunction site, but while they were doing so, they were attacked by a gorax. The beast was slain by the group easily enough, though Roza spotted a strange greenish blur in the distance after the brief fight which melted away into the foliage and trees before she could follow it. The group continued to drag the stones to the new site for the rest of the day, and them Hamlin and Samira began the rites needed to re-empower them. While they were doing so, William and Roza stood guard, and luckily so, for the site was attacked by a gorax again – the same one, as a matter of fact, now dead but still moving, and going down easily to their attacks. A wispy lambent form rose from the carcass then – a feralgeist, which was promptly blasted apart by William’s magic.

After completing their rites and resting for the night, the blackclads tried to follow the ley line to the next conjunction site. On their way, they were once again attacked by gorax, two of them this time, and just as rabidly aggressive as the first. However, as soon as one of the beasts was downed, a green blur leapt from the underbrush and melted into it, and the carcass rose once again, now controlled by another feralgeist. Even though the group had to put the gorax down twice, this did not prove too much of a challenge, and the feralgeists themselves were no threats, falling easily to the magics of the Devourer and Kossk. The group was perturbed, however, by how they had now been attacked twice by the same formations of foes, and how these attacks seemed to be escalating in severity. Still, they pressed on, and after finding another site with toppled stones and determining where the ley lines had shifted this time, Hamlin and Samira proceeded as before, erecting the stones again at the new conjunction and restoring their connection to Orboros.

Following the immaterial trail of the ley lines, the group proceeded to seek out the third and last site the next day. Warily keeping an eye out for a new attack, the group had Samira’s wold move the stones as before, and soon after the two blackclads had begun their rituals did William and Roza notice hulking shapes moving about in the underbrush – trolls, this time, and they were just as dead as the gorax after the last two encounters, but moving, and circling about the ritual site in a strangely wary manner. Eventually, Roza decided to engage the trolls, confident that creatures reanimated by feralgeists were easy to take down a second time. As soon as she began her assault, another undead troll erupted near the ritual site, seemingly eager to disrupt the blackclads’ workings after its companions had drawn off the sentries. However, William and Roza managed to redeploy quickly enough to protect their comrades, and soon after the trolls were slain, and the feralgeists emerging from their bodies shredded by spells or fleeing.

This time, the group decided to pursue, and even though feralgeists could effortlessly pass through trees and brush, Roza was still fast enough to keep up and spot the ectoplasmic tracks left by the feralgeists taking shortcuts. Eventually the creature disappeared into what looked like a massive tree trunk… but when the group approached, what had looked like ancient, overgrown wood turned out to be stone, a wide column worked with the designs of fiercely scowling faces on three sides and a single glaring face on the fourth. As the group silently examined the strange obelisk, the eyes in the smaller faces seemed to follow them with their gazes, while the immense face stared straight ahead with fierce intensity.

After examining the stele but finding no point of ingress, the group then decided to head in the direction of the large face’s intense gaze. After a while, Roza began to feel the area was eerily familiar, and soon thereafter realized they were approaching the ruins of Nemnoc, Roza’s old village. While nothing about the ruins seemed changed, Roza and William did begin to experience an odd throbbing pain in their skulls, and they decided to search the area more carefully. After another day, they had found a second stele like the first, with one of its faces gazing unblinkingly at Nemnoc’s ruins, and using Samira’s understanding of geometry, they realized that if the steles were evenly spaced, a third one must also exist, which they then proceeded to find with little trouble. At this point the pain William and Roza experienced was quite severe, and the group decided to attempt to chip a piece off one of the steles. As soon as the blade struck, the sensation of pain suddenly disappeared, and a tense silence settled over Glimmerwood, like the calm before a storm. Wary of having awoken an unknown threat, the group decided to retreat back to One-Tree now that their original task to reestablish the ley line conjunctions was complete and their current investigations seemed to have hit a dead end.

Easily retracing their steps back to One-Tree along the route they had taken only a few weeks ago, the group left Glimmerwood again. Soon after they had left the treeline behind, they spied a lone traveller trudging along the treeline on his way west. The stranger approached them, a strange figure with large, pointed ears sticking out from under a wide-brimmed sun hat, and with goggles protecting his eyes. Haltingly picking words from a book, the man introduced himself as Terys Llorryr, native of the realm of Ios, and asked if the group knew of a nearby settlement where he could find shelter. Confused, curious and more than a little amused by the stranger’s mannerisms, the group decided to take him along to One-Tree, from where he could later continue his way west to Blake’s Wheel and the trading routes of the Black River if he so wished. At this point Warder Hamlin also said his farewells, since he had no more business in One-Tree, and began heading west on his own errands.

Upon their approach to One-Tree, however, the travellers were greeted by the sound of chanting carried on the wind, and saw Tharn and gatormen crowded around the base of the giant ghost willow in the centre of the village. Rushing towards the village, the adventurers were welcomed by Chiefs Rawgashs and Toothy Trudy, who were glad to see them returned safe and sound, but also gloomy with recent events in One-Tree: It transpired that in the previous night the glow of the luminscent lichen and swarms of fireflies inhabiting the ghost willow had failed to ignite, and now the villagers, terrified that this was a bad omen, were propitiating the Devourer and the spirits for aid.

William, Samira and Roza silently looked at each other, each of them reading the same thoughts in the other faces: The repercussions of what they had found and encountered in Glimmerwood had reached One-Tree as well, and whatever it was that had harried them through the forest over the past few days, it was not finished with them yet.

2 Likes

(BTW, and especially for the players involved in the campaign, the summaries of the sessions in the Tale of One-Tree may be quite error-prone, as I am mostly working from my very short notes on how the scenarios were intended to play out, plus some additional notes on where sessions left off or how specific situations were resolved. Actions in particular may be attributed to the wrong characters, or some minor plot points like the passage of time may be left out or incorrect.)

1 Like

The Tale of One-Tree, Chapter IV: Weakened Spirits

After the group had discovered the three sinister steles surrounding the ruins of the tharn village of Nemnoc in Glimmerwood, a tense sense of anticipation had settled over One-Tree, especially with the ill omen of the giant ghost willow’s light having faded at the same time. However, over the course of the following nights, the tree’s nightly luminescence regained much of its strength, so the villagers dared to hope things were not as bad as they had feared.

The Iosan traveller, Terys Lloryrr, had in the meantime settled into a hut at the edge of the lake surrounding One-Tree, paying in foreign coin for the villagers to help him build his shelter. The gatorman chief, Toothy Trudy, as well as the tharn chief, Rawgash, had welcomed the Iosan for the time being, and spoke darkly of needing his coin, as they had been having strange dreams and premonitions.

That things were not as well as the villagers had been hoping became clear when hunters sent into Glimmerwood did not return, and other warriors sent after them returned soon after, reporting that a strange quiet now hung over Glimmerwood. Reluctantly, Rawgash decided that Glimmerwood should be considered off-limits for the time being, and together with Trudy they decided to exclusively hunt in Widower’s Wood instead. The group was tasked by the chiefs to go into Widower’s Wood in order to clear out large predators, both to collect their hides for sale in Blake’s Wheel, and to encourage more prey to move into the area, but the group decided to instead go back into Glimmerwood one last time first to further examine the steles and what was going on.

After an uneventful journey through the oppressive silence of Glimmerwood, the group reached the southernmost stele, and to their surprise found it had been cleared of the plants that used to cling to it. Deep tracks of bare human feet led to the northwest and northeast, and the group decided to follow them to the northwest first. The trail led directly to one of the steles, which had also been cleared of vegetation, and then towards the ruins of Nemnoc itself.

Quickly, the adventurers made their way to where the tharn village used to be, but found the site partially cleared of ruins, with a group of naked, misshapen beings with clawed and bladed metal limbs working on chopping a tree to pieces, while a grey-robed, steel-masked figure was directing them with peremptory gestures. Angered by the destruction of what had been left of Nemnoc, the group charged the grey-fleshed things, but to their shock their spell runes skittered away from their forms, and their blades bounced off iron-hard hides – and then the slack-faced things counterattacked with vicious swipes of the blades bolted to their stunted forearms, the defensive spells Roza and Samira had wrapped themselves in rippling away to allow the attackers’ blades free passage. The struggle was vicious, and the creatures managed to bring William down, but Roza managed to save the bokor’s life after dispatching the last of the dreadful undead. Breathing heavily after their exertions, the group then realised the grey-robed figure had made its escape while they had been occupied fighting its minions.

Exhausted and wary of being attacked by such formidable foes again, the group decided to quickly retreat back to One-Tree, taking one of their foes’ carcasses with them. Returning to One-Tree the next day, the group came home to further ill news, and this time literally so: While the tree had resumed its nocturnal glow, some of the villagers had become sickened. Some of the oldest and weakest had already succumbed to the onset of this sudden, unexplained ailment, and would soon be taken to the burial grounds to be given to the Devourer. Rawgash also refused to allow the undead’s remains to be taken onto the island, so they were left at the lakeshore, where Terys Lloryrr spent some hours exactingly dissecting and studying the corpse. The Iosan’s examinations showed that the thing’s entire flesh had been infused with veins of iron in some unknown process, which went some way towards explaining its hardiness and strength.

In the light of the illness ravaging One-Tree and the presence of such formidable monsters in Glimmerwood, Rawgash and Toothy Trudy were now even more adamant about making sure Widower’s Wood became One-Tree’s main hunting grounds, and only allowed the group the bare minimum of rest before sending them out again, this time into the swampy forests to the south.

A Note on the Title:
Yes, “Weakened Spirits” is a bit of an ill-fitting title (pun not intended). But it was the working title when I was writing the scenario, only the players decided to take the game in a different direction than I’d intended (north rather than south). But their arguments for why they needed to do this were simply too good, so there.

2 Likes

At this point the group was joined by a new player playing a Cunning human hunter named Daniel, though the player did ultimately decide not to stay with the group after a few sessions.

The Tale of One-Tree, Chapter V: Hunting Grounds

After the adventurers had returned from their last unsuccessful foray into Glimmerwood – the only result being having found out that the forest was now infested with very dangerous undead monstrosities – they soon met a hunter from the village of Blake’s Wheel named Daniel, who brought further disquieting news: Some shepherds plying their trade between Blake’s Wheel and the edge of Glimmerwood had gone missing, and he had been sent to inquire at One-Tree whether they had any information on what was going on (which was quite a daring thing to do, considering the wild folk living in the island village).

Toothy Trudy, the one-legged gatorman chief, explained that Glimmerwood had become dangerous, but she was also interested in maintaining good relations with Blake’s Wheel, and suggested One-Tree’s hunters could supply the riverside village with some of their catch from Widower’s Wood instead. Daniel agreed to this suggestion, and offered to accompany the group into Widower’s Wood to clear out large predators (and bring back their meat and skins in the process as well).

Setting out for Widower’s Wood, the group reached its northern edge by evening, but considering that the swampy terrain was very inhospitable for non-gatormen, they decided to spend the night resting outside the forest and only venture inside Widower’s Wood during daylight. The night passed peacefully, with the sentries watching the dance of fireflies all around them.

The next day the group ventured into Widower’s Wood, with the gatorman William happily wading and plowing through the treacherous waters, while Samira and her wold followed with the usual aplomb of the thoroughly wilderness-attuned druids. During their search for tracks, the group nearly became the prey rather than the hunter, however, as a group of swamp trolls managed to creep up on them under water, their tongues shooting out to drag members of the group away from the others so the trolls could then begin to maul their prey with their flabby claws. However, the trolls realised too late that, for once, they had bit off more than they could chew, and were soon torn apart by spells, blades, and jaws. The struggle had not been easy, however, so the group decided to make camp on a raised, moderately dry piece of ground, where William began to process the carcasses into bone grinder fetishes as dusk fell and the fireflies resumed their dance.

It was at this point, however, that Daniel realised a strange thing: The only fireflies in the area were those hovering around the group of the hunters, while the rest of Widower’s Wood was dark. Intrigued, the adventurers managed to catch a few fireflies in some of the jars William carried to collect the body parts and fluids needed for his trade, but at close observation the fireflies did not seem in any way unusual – except that, when dawn came, the group realised the jars were empty, despite no-one having removed the stoppers.

Resuming their hunt, the group next found a nest of snappers, and with some baiting drew them out into a trap and slew them one by one. In the nest, they found eggs, which they took with them to either let them them hatch at One-Tree or cook. Settling down for the night, the group’s anticipation was rewarded with more fireflies appearing, and once again they proceeded to catch some of the insects in jars. Closely watching the luminescent insects, the group realised they behaved differently towards different people, eagerly bouncing against the glass when the jars were being handled by Roza or William, but appearing listless when Daniel or Samira were holding the containers. William then drowned some of the fireflies, and to the group’s surprise the tiny bodies shrivelled before their eyes, dissolving into nothingness within mere moments.

After that night’s rest, the group spotted damage to the vegetation the next day that they identified as having been left by one of the most horrific predators of Widower’s Wood – a swamp horror. The Tharn Roza, however, was eager to take on such a beast, and the group soon tracked it to an island in a boggy lake. After readying an ambush, Samira had her wold wade into the water, where it flailed and splashed around until a slight ripple in the water told the hunters that a large beast was approaching. The massive fanged creature initially snagged the wold with its powerful tentacles, but the druidic construct thankfully was sturdy enough to weather the initial strikes, and though it was severely damaged, it bought the other hunters the time and opportunity to rush the swamp horror and bring it down, though not without Samira taking some dire wounds in the process as well.

Triumphantly, Roza now began to tear the plates and spikes off the swamp horror’s hide, intending to use them for trophies and in her work as a maker of armour and weapons, while the rest of the hunters settled in for the day, wishing to recover their strength before leaving Widower’s Wood the next day, confident that taking down a swamp horror would have eliminated the most dangerous predator in the area and thus allow prey to move back in. And as the gloom between the trees deepened, the strange creatures that looked like fireflies came out once again and began swirling and circling around the hunters.

Dumbfounded by the creatures’ eerie presence, William and Roza once again captured some of them in jars, but watching them yielded no results other than what they had seen before – until they handed one of the jars to Samira, at which point the hunters realised the fireflies were not as sluggish as they had been before when they were being handled by the blackclad. Curious, Samira decided to open the jar and hold it to her arm so that the fireflies could reach her skin, and watched them crawl across her skin for a few moments before they began to bounce off the glass again. On a whim, Samira then decided to move the jar’s opening to one of the wounds the swamp horror had torn, but cried out in horror as one of the fireflies immediately swooped down on the gash and slipped inside in the blink of an eye.

Quickly, William examined the wound in order to remove the insect, but found no trace of its presence any more. What was more, looking up from his work the gatorman and his companions now realised that the night had indeed become dark – all the myriads of fireflies that had been circling around them had disappeared. And the deepened gloom was not the only change, as Samira, rather than feeling the worse for the wear, now experienced a strange sensation tugging at her senses, drawing her attention ever northward.

After spending the rest of the night in wary watchfulness, with the rise of dawn the group began to make its way back to One-Tree the next day, and it was not long till Samira realised the strange compulsion she felt was pulling her in the same direction – back to One-Tree. Agitated by this realisation, the group decided not to rest again but try to reach One-Tree as quickly as possibly. After they had cleared the northern edge of Widower’s Wood and reached the open plains again, Daniel said his good-byes to the group and went on his own way back to Blake’s Wheel, while the other hunters marched across the plains to the clearly visible landmark of the giant ghost willow sitting in the middle of the lake, reaching it just after nightfall.

Surprised by the nighttime arrival of the hunters, the sentries immediately took them to see Rawgash and Toothy Trudy, but as the two chieftains emerged from their huts to receive the news from Widower’s Wood, Samira was stopped dead in her tracks by a chilling discovery: The eyes of the hulking grizzled Tharn and the one-legged gatorman rushing towards her were lit with the lambent cold luminescence of fireflies…

2 Likes

Oh c’mon Morgan, what a cliffhanger :sweat_smile:. The next scenario is already written, I respectfully (and pressingly) demand the next write up :laughing:!

1 Like

The next three scenarios have already been written and played, and we are currently playing the fourth in the row. I just wasn’t writing recaps at the time, so I’m lagging behind writing them up from my notes now. :stuck_out_tongue:

1 Like

Oh my, writing up recaps is impressive enough. I never managed to do this, relying on my players and memory for recollection.

At this point the group was joined by Odrys, the Mighty gatorman warrior, who would prove to be an immeasurably powerful asset in combat.

The Tale of One-Tree, Chapter VI: Spirit-Bound

Returning to One-Tree from their trip into Widower’s Wood, the group warily approached the village elders, Rawgash and Toothy Trudy, after the human Blackclad Samira had realised their eyes were alive with the eerie shimmer of fireflies. At the same time recognition was clearly written on the faces of the two chieftains as they gazed at Samira, and even though neither William nor Roza could discern even the slightest unusual thing about their companion or their elders, it was soon made clear that Rawgash and Toothy Trudy were aware of a strange luminescence in Samira’s eyes as well.

Settling down under the great ghost willow towering over the village, the two chieftains explained that, as far as they knew, they had always borne these lambent eyes, though they had only realised this when they first met ten years ago, after the destruction of their old villages and their flight onto the plain and to what would later become One-Tree. Drawn to the ghost willow by an unerring sense of direction, in the absence of the slain chieftains of their village Rawgash and Toothy Trudy had assumed command, inspiring the wounded and forlorn by their confidence, and when each saw a similar group of wounded approach, they quickly decided it was wisdom to band together rather than expend the last of their strength in a futile battle that would see both communities dead – wisdom that was helped by the strange kinship that Rawgash and Toothy Trudy saw in each other, and which they now saw in Samira as well, though neither could explain it. The group’s strange experience with fireflies in Widower’s Wood likewise meant nothing to the two chieftains, but since Samira had been an outsider to One-Tree, being the only one of the group not born in the village or part of either Yokté or Nemnoc, the two chieftains took it as a good omen that Samira now bore the same mark of kinship – an attitude that still left the blackclad as well as the bokor feeling a little uneasy.

At any rate, the chieftains were happy to receive the reports of large predators having been successfully cleared from the adjacent stretches of Widower’s Wood, and after a night’s rest it was decided to take the skins, claws, teeth and meat to Blake’s Wheel for sale. The group was accompanied on this trip by Odrys, a young gatorman warrior of great strength, who naturally fell into the role of being William’s bodyguard, just as Roza was acting as Samira’s blade.

The journey to Blake’s Wheel was without incident, and sales were quickly finalised. While enjoying a drink in the Wheelhouse, however, the group was approached by a man with an elegantly waxed beard who offered them substantial pay for protecting and guiding a group of travellers into Glimmerwood. The man seemed either unaware or uncaring of the dangers recently stalking the luminescent depths of the forest, but the hunting party also saw the potential of finding out more about what was going on inside Glimmerwood when travelling in the safety of a larger group, and so they struck a deal with the man, who then introduced himself as Oleg Ruskinovich while signing the compact.

The next day, the group set out with Ruskinovich and his associates, who included a particularly burly, taciturn maul-wielding man who seemed to act as a sort of second-in-command to Oleg, and whose name they found out was Vasko Ambrozovich. The other half a dozen men in the group seemed more like warriors than mere travellers, and they dragged with them a tarp-covered cart, from which issued a strange humming noise.

Slowed down by having to manhandle this cart among the trees, the party made slow progress, but they did not encounter any threats, and eventually settled down for the night. The people from One-Tree were not surprised when fireflies began appearing again as the night deepened, but studying their movements revealed both that things had changed, and provided some further disquieting clues: The fireflies still clustered around the people from One-Tree, but seemed less focused on Samira now, and they positively shied away from the cart, always giving it wide berth in their seemingly random circles.

As before, William tried catching some fireflies in a jar, and once successful upended the open jar on the back of his arm, but though the fireflies did alight on his scaly skin when forced to do so, they appeared listless and confused this time around. Overcome with curiosity, William made a nick in his arm with a knife and placed the jar over the wound, but the fireflies did nothing more than sluggishly probe the cut with their antennae. Exasperated by the creatures’ seeming indifference, the bokor then made a large gash in his arm, going to far as to pry apart his flesh, before placing the jar over the gory mess. The gatorman could feel only a moment’s sense of gratification as one firefly finally forced its way into the wound, however, before he was struck down by a sudden sense of vertigo and collapsed to the ground unconscious. Samira and Roza, too, felt a bout of faintness, but recovered after a moment – only to witness all the other fireflies silently fall out of the air, their light extinguished, until the only illumination left was the luminescent lichen on the trees and the glow given off by the campfire.

Examining William, the adventurers were relieved to find he was not dead, though severely ill and weak, and Samira noted that in the bokor’s eyes, too, there was now a fitful illumination, though no-one but her could see it.

Roza, in the meantime, decided to examine the ominous cart. Making the best use of her ability to move unseen and unheard, she slipped past the sentries and lifted the tarp, only to see a large metal chest covered with strange mechanisms and glowing apparatus. Fiddling with the clasp on the lock, a task made difficult by the transformed Tharn’s feral thought processes, Roza then tripped something in the mechanism, and the lights on the chest went out and its humming was silenced, only to be replaced by an indistinct whisper, as if many voices were coming from inside the chest. But before Roza could peer inside, Ruskinovich emerged from his tent, clearly alarmed, and it was all Roza could do to slip away into the night as the man quickly made his way to the chest, where he reengaged its mechanisms and went on to berate the sentries for not standing close enough to the cart to make sure it was undisturbed.

The next day, the company travelled a little further into Glimmerwood, until Ruskinovich, who had kept raising a hand holding something wrapped in cloth to his ear throughout the day, declared they were in the right spot. The men then began to clear away the trees from the campsite, even taking axes to the larger trees (a task which Odrys relished, enjoying the chance to show off his strength and engaging in a somewhat one-sided competition with Ruskinovich’s second-in-command Vasko, whose maul was now lit with the same glow of strange mechanisms and caused the trees he struck to shatter like glass, the wooden splinters suddenly coated in brittle frost). William was still feeling too weak to participate in the work at this point, but he was thankfully beginning to regain his strength.

After working on clearing the site for a day, Ruskinovich then opened the strange chest and began removing strange stone rods from it that were carved with scowling, snarling faces – the same kind of faces the adventurers from One-Tree had seen on the steles around the ruins Nemnoc, which also made them realise they were actually not that far from the old Tharn village now. Ruskinovich thrust these rods into the ground to delineate some kind of perimeter around the camp as the work clearing the area around the site continued, and William, Roza and Samira all felt a strange, stern hostility emanate from these rods, and even Odrys could hear a faint whisper spill from the snarling lips when he stood too close to the rods and wasn’t looking at them.

After another day of work, Ruskinovich seemed satisfied, and called for his party to break camp and return to Blake’s Wheel. However, soon after they had left the site now marked by the rods spaced around it, Roza spotted the lumbering forms of the steel-fleshed undead that had previously accosted them in Glimmerwood, with another of the metal-masked, semi-corporeal wraiths seemingly guiding them. After the tharn had notified the others, however, instead of calling his party to arms Ruskinovich confidently walked towards the spectre, pulling the cloth-wrapped bundle from inside his coat and unwrapping a black medallion that he proceeded to hold aloft as he spoke in a strange, harsh tongue. While none of the group could understand what the man was saying, it soon became apparent from the growing agitation of Ruskinovich’s gestures and the way he kept brandishing the medallion ever closer to the wraith’s face that whatever negotiations he was engaged in were not proceeding as planned. And when the metal-masked thing slowly raised its hand in a peremptory gesture, Odrys, assuming the ghost was about to command its footsoldiers to charge, decided to pre-empt the creature, impressively proving his merits as a warrior as ghostly robes tore like gossamer under the gatorman’s axe and jaws, and one single moment later the discarded mask dropped to the mossy ground with a dull thud.

Unfortunately, even with the demise of their deathly commander the remaining dreadful undead were undeterred, and now began to lay into the party, and as before their steel-infused flesh was difficult to damage with blade or maul, and most spells were still powerless to affect them. The people from One-Tree gave an excellent accounting of themselves, however, smashing one of the monsters after another to pieces, but when silence settled again, they suddenly realised only they, Oleg Ruskinovich, and Vasko Ambrozovich had survived.

Ruskinovich surveyed the carnage with a grim expression on his face, but after examining the medallion in his hand for another moment, he tucked it away into his coat pocket with a satisfied smile, and called for the party to be on its way. It was then that Vasko protested that he did not want to leave the bodies of his comrades in such an unhallowed place, but Ruskinovich merely shrugged and ordered the man to leave the dead behind. Simmering with rage and torn by grief, but also unwilling to refuse a direct order, Vasko then turned to the group from One-Tree, and offered them his entire wages if they helped him carry the bodies of his comrades back to civilisation, and to Ruskinovich’s amusement and Vasko’s relief the adventurers immediately agreed to help.

The party made all haste back to Blake’s Wheel, even weighed down by the remains of the warriors slain by the undead (though having a wold as well as large gators certainly made lighter of this work than would otherwise have been the case), and thankfully were not attacked again before they stepped from the edge of Glimmerwood again. At Blake’s Wheel, the bodies were then carried on to a riverboat under Ruskinovich’s command (a riverboat which the group realised they had seen before, with rifles pointing at them, when they had helped the smuggler Douglas Merryweather a few months earlier), but when Vasko took out his purse to make good on the deal he had struck with the adventurers, they respectfully refused coin for their service. Overcome with emotion, Vasko asked the group to join him in drinking a glass of uisge to commemorate his comrades, and after toasting their memories, said that the people from One-Tree had made an undying friend on this day.

Epilogue

After collecting their pay from Ruskinovich and purchasing some supplies needed in One-Tree, the adventurers then made their way back to the lake-bound village. An unsettled mood hung over the village as they returned, as the ghost willow had not only once again failed to blossom into its usual nightly luminescence a few nights earlier – the same night William had performed his experiment with the fireflies in Glimmerwood – but had also become deserted by any and all fireflies since that night, and only regained a very weak illumination since then. Worse, another wave of inexplicable illness had passed over One-Tree, and some of those who had not yet fully recovered from the previous one had passed away. Finally, William, too, now bore the same mark of luminescent eyes and felt drawn to the ghost willow in the same manner as Samira, Rawgash and Toothy Trudy, though the meaning behind this mark still escaped the adventurers – but perhaps, Toothy Trudy suggested, an answer might be found in the tombs of past bokors of Yokté in Widower’s Wood…

2 Likes

The Tale of One-Tree, Chapter VII: Proving Grounds

After the group’s return from Glimmerwood and the change induced by the firefly-like creatures in Samira as well as William, Toothy Trudy, the old one-legged gatorman chief, advised William to go to the ruins of Yokté and seek out the vaults of the old bokors in the area to gain their favour, and maybe gain some advice and insight that the living no longer remembered. William readily agreed, with the idea having been growing on him for a while that some magical weapons might also be found in the vaults that could aid the group in the future, especially considering William and his bodyguard Odrys were the only members of the group without access to such powerful items.

After taking a brief rest, the group set out for Widower’s Wood again. The journey was unsurprisingly uneventful, as the group had slain the most dangerous predators in the area not too long ago, and after half a day of walking across the grassy plain the adventurers began finding the ground under their feet increasingly spongy and boggy, until the foliage of Widower’s Wood’s trees closed over them and they were trudging through the pools and pits of the swamp.

Night eventually fell, but was darker than before, with no more fireflies buzzing about, and William and Samira wondered at what had brought about this change. After spending a quiet night on a small dry islet in the bog, the group continued on their way towards where the ruins of Yokté once were. The swamp was even more unforgiving to the works of man or gator than the wilds of Glimmerwood, of course, so they expected to find little of the wooden huts left, if anything, but William did remember the approximate layout of the little dry outcroppings that had used to house the gatormen of Yokté, and the sacral vaults of the old bokors should be scattered about the surrounding area.

When the group was confident they had reached the correct spot – not really far away from where they had killed the swamp horror a few weeks earlier – William and Odrys began searching the bog for hidden entrances, their gatorman constitution and powerful tails serving them well while swimming and diving, while Samira and Roza, who were much less at home under water kept watch. But even after the gatormen had spent the rest of the day searching, they had not found an entrance to a sacral vault yet, and the group settled down for the night, feeling more than a little frustrated and exhausted.

It was during the following night that Roza noticed movement in the darkness, however, and quickly roused the others as hump-backed figures began to emerge from the deep darkness, the water sloshing quietly around their bodies as they advanced, spears in hand. Recognising a party of bog trog raiders, Odrys rushed to stand between the adventurers and their attackers and bellowed a challenge into the night, and so powerful as the gatorman warrior’s cry that the bog trogs immediately froze and, after a moment’s hesitation, quickly ducked underwater and beat a hasty retreat into the sanctuary of the night. Grumbling at having been denied the joy of a fight, Odrys returned to the rest of the group, who didn’t quite share their companion’s disappointment.

But Odrys would not be denied his fun for long, as the group had barely settled down and managed to find sleep again when there was more clumsy movement in the dark waters. This time there would not be a challenge, because this time it was the unliving remains of those who had died in the clammy embrace of the swamp that had begun to encircle the campsite. With raised bottled light in hand the adventures met their foes, and even though the undead were fearless and hardy, they did not long endure the onslaught of tooth, blade, stone and spell, and soon the last body stopped twitching. But it was then that the adventurers became aware of one more figure standing motionless among the mangrove trees – the lambent form of a lone feralgeist had emerged, and it was its eyes that drew William’s and Samira’s attention, as they blazed wit the same pale cold luminescence that they saw when they looked at each other’s faces.

The feralgeist remained motionless initially, but when the group warily approached, it began to retreat further into the swamp as if wanting to lead the group. Noting the creature’s uncharacteristic behaviour, as well as confident in their own prowess, the group decided to follow, and after a short trek through night-dark waters and over grass-covered islets a taller shape emerged from the dark, a shape that William immediately recognised as a sacral vault so covered in vines and plants that it was barely recognisable.

Climbing the sacral vault’s steep stairs after the feralgeist effortlessly floating to the top, the group arrived at a strangely shaped mound, and after clearing away most of the plants, an altar was revealed, with runnels leading away into holes cut into the top of the vault. His bokor training easily allowed William to deduce that this was a sacrificial altar, and the group immediately agreed they wanted to hunt prey worthy of being sacrificed to Kossk, rather than pour just any kind of blood over the altar’s carved stone surface.

The group spent the rest of the night on the sacral vault’s roof, with the feralgeist fading to a barely visible green shimmer in the air as daylight began to penetrate the morning mist. After a quick breakfast, the group then set out into the swamp again, with Roza and Odrys as the experienced hunters, and William as a skilled bone grinder, leading the way looking for tracks left by a beast that would prove a worthy sacrifice. They had been searching for most of the day when they spotted bits of shed skin, examining which told them that a truly great pale tatzylwurm must be in the area.

The group decided to set up a trap for their prey, as they wished to capture it alive in order to sacrifice it to Kossk on the sacral vault’s altar. Odrys and Roza deduced a spot that the tatzylwurm would likely pass on its wanderings, where Samira concealed her wold under vines and plants while William caught a few small snakes and prepared wriggleworm charms from their stripped skeletons to catch the predator’s attention. Samira, Roza and Odrys then climbed into the trees surrounding the site, while William concealed himself in the swamp nearby, and then they waited.

Odrys and Roza had indeed chosen the spot well, as after a few hours a monstrously large pale tatzylwurm indeed approached, drawn to the trap by the noise and movement of William’s wriggling charms. The beast slithered towards the movement and had just begun to inspect it when the trap was sprung, with the wold rising to wrap its arms around the serpentine body and Roza and Odrys leaping from their concealment to aid the construct. Though the wold appeared tiny compared to the titanic serpent, it must have got an astoundingly solid grip on the tatzylwurm’s jaws, as the creature struggled futilely to escape, and then Odrys and Roza pounced and had smashed the beast to the ground even before William could arrive at the site of the battle.

Quickly confirming that the tatzylwurm was not dead yet, the group quickly tied its jaws and began to drag it towards the sacral vault, glad to have the strength of two grown gatormen and an untiring wold to aid them. Even so dragging the tatzylwurm was slow and wearisome work, and the creature began struggling awake just as the sacral vault had come into view again. Desperate not to lose their sacrifice this close to their destination, the group put their backs into their work and managed just in time to breathlessly haul the beast up the sacral vault’s steep slope and throw it over the altar, where Odrys and the wold held it down while William slashed its throat to allow the blood to gush out over the stone under the watchful eyes of the waiting feralgeist’s pale presence.

As its blood soaked the stone, flowed along the runnels and finally disappeared into the vault, the tatzylwurm’s struggles grew increasingly faint, and the beast eventually lay still. But just as the beast had gasped its last, the group became aware of a faint tremor under their feet, and then the sides of the sacral vault erupted into a whirlwind of bones sweeping from small concealed openings. The whirling bones then converged on the platform at the top of the sacral vault and coalesced into a clattering, towering boneswarm, but rather than attack, the creature’s many skeletal hands reached under and around the altar and lifted it off its foundations, revealing rungs leading down into the sacral vault’s dark and dank interior. The boneswarm then retreated to slowly circle around the sacral vault’s platform, while the feralgeist descended into the darkness, its incorporeal form gaining stronger luminescence in the inky blackness down below.

Having climbed down the rungs of the sacral vault, William, Samira, Roza and Odrys found themselves in a small chamber. There were many shelves and niches around them, but they were empty, and the ground was covered with scattered beads, mouldy feathers, and decaying bones. Only one niche was occupied by the hunched skeleton of a masked gatorman, and it was next to that osseous form that the lambent feralgeist was patiently waiting.

Reverently approaching the long-dead bokor, William offered a praise to Kossk, and then began to concentrate on casting the spell that would allow the dead to speak once again. A quavering deep voice immediately filled the vault, announcing itself to be the voice of Amuruk the Nightwalker. Asking the dead bokor for guidance about the strange possession that had come over Samira and William, as well as the ailment that had befallen One-Tree, Amuruk could offer little, unfortunately, though he recalled the gatormen of the area once having been in alliance with a spirit called Manylights until strange men in armour of screaming iron faces had come out of the west and raided the sacral vaults of the gatormen of Widower’s Wood. Immediately noting the similarity of Amuruk’s description to the glaring masks on the steles the group had found in Glimmerwood, they beseeched Amuruk for aid, and he pointed them towards two weapons he had been able to recover and conceal in the vault before his death, the axe Manyfangs and the staff Corpse-Eater. Amuruk also bequeathed his feathered headdress to William, wishing for a new generation of bokors to wear his mask of office once again.

Thanking the spirit of the old bokor for his aid and advice, William concluded his spell, and after the group had retrieved the axe and the staff from their hiding places and reverently accepted the dead bokor’s mask, they prepared for climbing the rungs to the opening at the top of the vault again. Just before they left, however, the feralgeist came forward to face them one last time. The lights then went out of its eyes and filtered down into its translucent chest, where they formed a configuration of four blazing dots for a few moments, with one in the middle and the three others arrayed equidistantly around it, with one of them directly to the right of the central dot, one above and to the left, and the last underneath. Then the lights winked out, and the feralgeist shook itself as if awakening from some form of slumber before quickly retreating into the solid stone of the sacral vault’s walls.

Puzzled by this last display but seeing no way towards figuring out its meaning at present, the group proceeded to climb the sacral vault’s rungs and emerged back into daylight, where the clattering boneswarm still surged and circled. Once the last of them had emerged, the boneswarm immediately rushed towards the platform once more, and after shifting the altar back into its former position the creature begun to split into individual bones again, which within a few more minutes had disappeared completely into the sacral vault through all those tiny openings and slits they had emerged from earlier. Silence again settled over the sacral vault then, with only the faint buzz of mosquitoes and the distant calls of swamp creatures disturbing the place’s sombre serenity.

The journey back to One-Tree after the group’s audience at the sacral vault was uneventful and easily accomplished, what with William and Samira simply having to follow the pull drawing them back to the giant ghost willow at the village’s centre. As they approached the lakeshore, they were met by the slight form of their Iosan guest, Terys Lloryrr, who inquired about their latest adventures in his halting way, carefully picking his words from a book. The elf’s curiosity roused the adventurers’ curiosity in turn, but he seemed unable to shed any further light on what the adventurers told him about their encounters in Widower’s Wood. The adventurers did notice, though, that something about their encounter with Amuruk’s spirit seemed to trigger a particular interest in the man, and when they did not stop prodding, he finally relented and revealed that the lingering existence of spirits held a particular fascination for him because he was certain he was denied the same. Taking off his goggles, Terys then revealed the black-in-black pits of his eyes, and told the adventurers that they were the mark of the soulless among his people, marking him as one of those who would not leave a spiritual presence after death. Terys also told the adventurers that he had come to One-Tree after having received a prophecy by an Iosan priest in his homeland, which said that the empty vessel must travel to a lake that glowed in the light of a lone tree.

Having made these revelations, Terys then offered to leave One-Tree, knowing his presence was likely unsettling, but the group decided to allow the Iosan to stay, only asking him to take on sentry duties along with the Tharn and gatormen of the village.

Epilogue:

Over the course of the following days, William figured out how to raise the power in the axe and staff recovered from the sacral vault. The axe Manyfangs, its blade engraved to look like the open jaws of a gatorman, was given to Odrys, not only granting his swings greater force but also bursts of exceptionally swift strikes, while William claimed the staff Corpse-Eater, which augmented his spells with the power to end even the hardiest of the restless dead at once, and extended the same offer of final destruction to those struck by the staff’s gnarly length.
Seeing William now not only bearing the staff recovered from the sacral vault but also wearing the mask of the long-dead bokor, Toothy Trudy then approached the young gatorman and offered him her position as one of the two chieftains of One-Tree, a position which William accepted, both out of justified pride at his own accomplishments and out of respect for the age and infirmity of body of the one-legged herbalist, who gladly retreated to the role of an advisor.

2 Likes

I love the vault scene! Very gatory and mystical. Especially the boneswarm playing gatekeeper. Amazing campaign!

1 Like

(BTW, William choosing to take on the role of chieftain had also been prompted by him having taken the Chieftain career at 30xp.)

1 Like

The Tale of One-Tree, Chaper VIII: Call of the Dog-Catcher

After William’s ascension to the position of one of the two chieftains of One-Tree and the reclamation of the two magical weapons from the sacral vault of Yokté in Widower’s Wood, the blackclad Samira decided it was time she expanded her own powers as well. Having recently gained the ability to bond to more warbeasts, as well having achieved resonance with living warbeasts in addition to wolds, she had contacted her fellow blackclads to see about where she could claim a warpwolf for her battlegroup. A few days after she had sent her request, Samira had then been informed that Overseer Faro the Wolf-Eyed was currently finishing training a new pack of warpwolves on the southeastern fringes of the Thornwood west of the Black River. When Samira set out to meet the Overseer, she was accompanied by Roza as a matter of course, as well as William, who had often had the opportunity to see the warlock’s forces lend essential aid to the group’s endeavours, and was now happily offering his protection during her journeyin turn. And where William went, Odrys went as well.

It took the group several days to reach Faro’s camp, and while they travelled ever further from One-Tree via riverboat and on foot, Samira and William both noted how that strange pull ever drawing them towards their home village neither diminished in strength nor wavered in its certainty of direction, even as the distance between them and their home kept opening up. Similarly, whenever dusk fell they could clearly see the lambent glow in each other’s eyes that was at the same completely invisible to everybody else.

Finally, skirting around the southern fringe of the Thornwood, the group was near the blackclads’ camp, and the first sign they were near was Roza spotting several Wolves of Orboros standing watch, hidden among the trees and bushes. Soon after the Circle warriors spotted the group too – unsurprisingly, considering Samira had her wold with her, and that William was not particularly adept at moving unseen. The Wolves immediately challenged the group, cleft spears forward, and Samira and William immediately picked up on the unexpected tension in their stance.

Samira easily passed the Wolves’ challenge, of course, and the warriors led the group to a rough compound of tents, with many more Wolves standing guard, most of them watching the Thornwood looming to the north. Samira also senses the presence of another warlock, and soon after they had stepped inside the circle of tents, a burly, wild-haired man with uncanny yellow eyes emerged from one of them, his robes immediately announcing him to be a blackclad.

Samira and Faro exchanged greetings, and though the other blackclad was initially a bit wary of Samira having brought two outsiders to his compound, he also seemed preoccupied. While William and Odrys hung back respectfully, Faro and Samira then went over to a few simple pens of stakes, where several men and women in ragged clothes were sitting around, either staring listlessly into space or watching the arrivals with a strange, inhuman intensity. Samira correctly guessed that these men and women were in fact warpwolves, only currently in their human forms and kept under control by Faro while they were still being trained.

Inquiring about the compound’s state of alert, Samira was then told by Faro that a week ago he had inducted a group of warriors of the Wolves of Orboros into a deeper embrace of the Devourer by overseeing their transformation into skinwalkers, but that they had been missing since running off in the throes off in their initial transformation. While skinwalkers being overwhelmed by their first change was not unexpected, it was unusual that they would not return. Even worse, Faro had realised that a newly-transformed warpwolf had also run off and disappeared in the same area a while ago, though Faro had only attributed that disappearance to accident at the time.

Faro and his warriors had since tried searching the forest, but after following the skinwalkers’ tracks north for a day Faro had decided to return and safeguard his remaining warpwolves in training instead. Now that Samira was here, however, the bearded warlock asked his younger colleague to search the forest one more time and look for the traces of any interlopers that might explain the skinwalkers’ disappearance, like trollkin hunting parties, Cygnaran army scouts, or even Menite zealots. In return for this service, Overseer Faro would give the pick of his current litter of warpwolves to the young Warder.

Not wishing to waste any time and risk any remaining tracks disappearing completely, Samira and her companions immediately set out into the Thornwood after picking up some provisions and waterskins from Faro’s Wolves of Orboros troops, with Roza naturally slipping into her feral form to gain the benefit of improved senses. Soon the trees had swallowed the group, but they still easily maintained their bearings by dint of the unwavering pull towards One-Tree acting on Samira and William.

Spreading out as they slowly advanced north, the group kept their eyes for peeled for anything unusual, but the skinwalkers’ trail had naturally long grown cold, and there did not seem anything unusual in the activities of birds and small animals flitting and scurrying about, nor did there seem to be any damage to the vegetation that suggested the presence of predators or warriors capable of taking down a warpwolf or a pack of skinwalkers.

In the later afternoon, the adventurers did happen on an unusual thing, with William noting how there was a spot where the plant covering on the forest floor looked strangely wilted. Examining the area, they realised that the plants were dying because they sat on a thin coating of soil on top of a covered ditch. After scraping away the dirt and smashing a hole into the rough wooden planks underneath, Roza immediately dove into the darkness below – quite aware that few things would be hiding in there that would be more scary than her – followed by an equally eager Odrys and the much more reticent William, while Samira and her wold kept watch aboveground.

The ditch was unoccupied, however, with the state of its ends suggesting that parts of it had already collapsed. The one unusual thing Roza and Odrys found was the imprints of large feet in heavy boots, and they also noted how these booted feet seemed to have stood facing the wall in the narrow ditch for a prolongued period of time, as if their owners had been possessed of some kind of nigh-inhuman patience and been content to stare at a rough earthen wall for hours on end, without so much as fidgeting.

Crawling back up through the hole they had made, the adventurers marked where the ditch was and resolved to tell Faro about it later, but were unable to come up with an answer to this mystery. Not soon after, night began to fall, and they set up camp in the place Roza had scouted out for them.

Night in the Thornwood was very different from night in Glimmerwood, with no luminescent lichen dangling from the branches of the trees and no swarms of fireflies, and also different from nights in Widower’s Wood, with the absence of the low mists and gurgling ripples of the bogs all around, and the adventurers were a bit disconcerted at first by how different this forest was from the woodlands near their home, and especially by how dark the night was here. Still, their fire kept them warm, and William was glad for having used the easy access to luminescent extracts at One-Tree to furnish everybody in the groups with bottled lights.

The night passed without incident, and after breakfast and covering the remains of their fire the group continued their search. The morning mists had not completely dissipated when Roza spotted a group of hulking shapes towards the west, which she identified as a group of armed trollkin. Gleefully using her preternatural stealth, the Tharn snuck up on the party, and made them jump by growling a guttural “Good morning, darlings, we are missing some humans” at them as she emerged from among the trees.

Alarmed, two of the trollkin immediately raised javelins, but their leader had wits enough to realise the Tharn woman had talked rather than struck the first blow, and probably had other plans than to begin a fight. Introducing herself as Vessos Sharpaxe, the trollkin hunter uneasily admitted that her people, too, were missing some of their number, and that she had been tasked to search this area for any evidence of what might have taken them. Roza did not reveal that the “humans” she was looking for were skinwalkers and warpwolves, but she told Vessos about the covered ditch the group had found the day before. Vessos warily accept this new information in turn, musing that they would now need to search for similar ditches too. Vessos also told Roza they had not seen any strange humans in the forest, nor had any dealings with them, but also warned the Tharn not to go further into the forest to the west of where they were now, as that area was her people’s, and they would not brook the presence of Tharn or blackclads there. And with those words Roza and the trollkin hunters parted ways, with Roza rejoining her companions and the trollkin retracing their steps west.

Continuing north, it was already getting late in the day when Samira and her group suddenly heard gunfire pierce the natural sounds of the forest. Abandoning caution, they rushed towards the sound, but when they arrived, they only saw several human bodies strewn about underneath a cloud of blasting powder smoke, with no trace left of the attackers. Examining the bodies, however, they noted that the men wore the uniforms of the human kingdom to the south, Cygnar, and that one of the men was still barely clinging to life. William did his best to save his life, but soon realised the man was in dire straits indeed, and even moving him might easily spell his death. The best the gatorman bone grinder could do was stitch up and bind his wounds and hope he would last the night, after which he might regain sufficient strength that the group could begin moving him.

Examining the bodies in the meantime, Samira had established that the men had been shot or struck in their backs, with some of them also having received some additional injuries on their arms and chests as they had survived the initial onslaught long enough to turn around and face their attackers. Their weapons were still on them, and from these Samira could further deduce that they had been attacked by their own, as the injuries the bodies bore matched their own armaments.

Odrys and Roza had also found tracks leading east, suggesting that was where the attackers had run off to, but could not spot them among the trees any more, and decided to stay with William and Roza instead of giving chase, wary of the attackers returning at some point and overwhelming their companions while they were away.

While setting up camp, William then decided to attempt to trick any future attackers by having Odrys and Roza prop up the bodies in sitting positions, while concealing the unconscious survivor under a thin layer of twigs and foliage. After these preparations had been made, William then sat down in front of one of the bodies and cast the spell that would enable him to speak to the dead, and soon the thin, croaking voice of a spirit emerged from the corpse’s slack jaw in response to the bokor’s prompting. The dead scout, who gave his name as Flynn Garrity, confirmed what Samira had found out: Rather than being attacked by another party, the men had been attacked by their own, without provocation or warning, though the dead man also cryptically said that it had felt like something was missing in his comrades’ eyes as they laid into him and the others. The dead man also said the attackers had been newly attached to their unit recently, but knew nothing else about them, nor could he recall anything unusual about them in other ways during the few weeks they had served together as Cygnar’s scouts in the Thornwood. As for the covered ditch the group had found a day earlier, the scout claimed to know nothing about it, but mentioned smugglers would craft hideouts and caches like that. And with that the adventurers decided they had got all the useful information they could want from the dead, and William allowed the man’s spirit to depart again as the group settled in for the night.

And night had not long fallen when a fearsome howl pierced the dark among the trees and the unmistakable shape of a warpwolf emerged into the far reaches of the campfire’s light. Quickly, Roza and Odrys rushed to engage the creature before it could reach the campsite, and Samira ordered her wold to advance as well, wishing to capture rather than kill the warpwolf, suspecting it to be the untrained warpwolf Faro had reported as missing.

While the warpwolf was a fearsome opponent and its shifting body gave it whatever swiftness or strength it needed at any given moment, Odrys and the wold were soon engaged in wrestling the large monster to the ground so Samira could bind and subdue it. It was while they were thus engaged that William, who had been hovering near his concealed patient, suddenly realised that there were other shapes moving among the trees to the south, and the bokor did just have time enough to call out a warning to his companions before four more feral shapes rushed forward. These lanky, wolf-headed attackers – skinwalkers, William reckoned – immediately began to lay into the propped-up bodies with axes and fangs, making William glad that he had thought of that ruse, as otherwise the skinwalkers would easily have identified the survivor and slain him before the bokor could have intervened, especially with the warpwolf having successfully drawn off the other defenders.

With the warpwolf having become pacified under the Samira’s touch in the meantime, Roza was running at a full tilt to support William, and was soon joined by Odrys and Samira’s wold, but even so they were too late to prevent the skinwalkers from cutting down all of the propped-up decoys. Thankfully, with William being an obvious target, the skinwalkers did not take the time to do a thorough search of the campsite afterwards but ran straight past the concealed body of the survivor to engage the bokor, and even in spite of his tough hide the fight could easily have gone badly indeed for the gatorman. In the end, the skinwalkers did manage to knock William down, out cold from an axe strike, but before they could finish him off Roza and Odrys had arrived, and the skinwalkers simply wilted under the gatorman warrior’s might and the bloodweaver’s magic.

William was not truly worse for wear apart from feeling weak as a nipper snapper while having a headache the size of a wrastler, and to Samira’s relief the skinwalkers were similarly battered but still alive. Tying them up while keeping her will clamped down on the untrained warpwolf, Samira did wonder why skinwalkers would dare to attack a member of the Circle, but decided to deal with this in the morning.

The rest of the night passed without further attack or incident, and when William examined the survivor at the break of dawn, he was gratified that it look as if he had indeed regained a little strength, and might even wake soon. The skinwalkers, too, had transformed back into human forms, and were indeed the four skinwalkers who had gone missing from Faro’s compound, but all they could tell Samira that they had been told to attack, without seeming able or willing to reveal who it was that had told them to attack.

It was at that moment, when William was busying himself with reviving the Cygnaran survivor, that Samira suddenly noticed something disappear from the eyes of the skinwalkers. Immediately afterwards, they began to transform back into their feral forms, and to her horror Samira also felt her bond with the warpwolf break as the creature struggled to its feet. Still, the warpwolf was still weak from its injuries, and was knocked back to the ground as soon as it could regain its feet. Realising the skinwalkers, too, were out of control, Roza and Samira grimly obeyed the demands of the Circle and put them down before they could struggle out of their bonds.

Examining the bodies of the skinwalkers, William then spotted strange, identical scars on all of their heads, so the bone grinder and the blood weaver began to unceremoniously strip the flesh off their skulls, revealing well-healed incisions in the bone underneath those scars. Cracking open the skulls, the two then proceeded to examine the brains, and found tiny devices of metal and glass that had been inserted into the pulpy grey matter.

Samira, in the meantime, had reestablished her bond with the unconscious warpwolf, but after hearing what William and Roza had found examined the creature’s head as well and found the same incisions still visible under its fur. Coming to the conclusion that the warpwolf had been subverted in some manner by manipulating its brain in the same way the skinwalkers had been subverted, which also explained why her bond hadn’t held, Samira then struck off the warpwolf’s head with her voulge. To no-one’s surprise but everybody’s growing horror, William then removed the same tiny glass and gold needles from inside the warpwolf carcass’s skull before returning his attention to the scout now slowly regaining his senses.

The man, who gave his name as Maddox Carruthers, was initially – and understandably – terrified at being surrounded by towering toothed gatormen and gore-drenched wild folk, but he was grateful enough that they had saved his life three times now, and readily volunteered further information. While he could only confirm the information given by the spirit of Flynn Garrity, the testimony of the living was still better than that of the dead. Maddox also told the group that the Cygnaran scouts had merely been in the area to monitor trollkin activity, and that nothing in their orders had indicated that they were doing anything but general reconnaissance. When shown the devices recovered from the dead skinwalkers and warpwolf, Maddox claimed not to know what they were, but he did say their general configuration reminded him of mechanika. The wild folk of One-Tree weren’t really familiar with the city folks’ gadgetry, so Maddox happily offered to show them to his superiors as well as to some mechaniks at Corvis university as soon as he got back to civilisation, and get word back to the folk of One-Tree. Last but not least, Maddox knew he owed the group a deep bond of gratitude for saving his life, and said he would aid them in any way he could if their path should ever lead them to the cities of the Iron Kingdoms.

Gladly accepting Maddox’s offer, Samira gave him a handful of the devices they had recovered, while keeping the rest for herself, to pass on to the Circle as well as to maybe present them to a civilised mechanik for an examination herself. Odrys then fashioned a travois for Maddox, and Samira set her wold to carefully drag Maddox on their back to Faro’s compound with William walking beside him, keeping a watchful eye on his still weak patient.

Even though they were not attacked again by man or monster, and even though they were still aided in navigation by that unfailing sense of direction pointing to One-Tree, it still took the group a few days longer to return to Overseer Faro’s compound than their outbound journey had taken them , as William insisted on making cautious progress so as to not jostle his patient unnecessarily and risk any of his wounds reopening.

Once they had finally reached Faro’s camp, the blackclad overseer was not really happy with sparing Maddox, considering him an intruder into the Circle’s affairs, but he did bow to Samira’s advice that the Cygnaran scout was actually a good avenue for having a real expert examine the strange devices they had found, and was of course immensely grateful for the young warder having uncovered an unknown threat to the Circle’s activities in the area. Aware now that even his own forces might be compromised, Faro then asked William to examine them for evidence of the same kind of tampering, and under the ruse that the dead warpwolf and skinwalkers seemed to have been inflicted some kind of rabid disease, the bone grinder-bokor proceeded to examine all the warpwolves and Wolves of Orboros at the compound for the telltale scars on their heads, but thankfully found none. Still, with the origin and reach of the threat unknown, Faro decided it was wiser to abandon the area, and relocate the training of new warpwolves to a site where the Circle’s presence was stronger and at least not already contested by city folk from the south and trollkin from the west.

But before the Wolves of Orboros began to strike down the tents, Overseer Faro of course led Samira to his trained warpwolves, and presented a surly bald, bearded man to her – “Barkbiter” Bacarl, one of Faro’s recently trained warpwolves and known for suffering from toothaches after transforming into his beast form or back into his human guise, and as a result often chewing on sticks or strips of leather to assuage the pain, but apart from this small idiosyncrasy in all respects everything that a warpwolf should be. Standing at Samira’s side, Faro then released his hold on Bacarl, and then Samira put her hand on the man’s head, clamping her will onto the slowly roiling core of feral instincts at the man’s true heart, and making him her own.

Epilogue:

After returning to One-Tree, the group gave some of the devices they had taken from the skulls of the subverted skinwalkers to Terys Lloryrr, but the Iosan could not reveal any new information on them, except that they were not of Iosan manufacture and reminded him of what he had seen of the works of Western mechaniks, while still being distinct by dint of their advanced construction and diminutive size.

William also determined that, with Samira now strengthened by having a warpwolf at her side, they would soon have to take another look at the stele-encircled ruins of Nemnoc in Glimmerwood, and might also have to travel downriver to Corvis themselves in the not-too-distant future to gain insight into what they had found both on their own doorstep and in the Thornwood. At the same time, Odrys also wished to turn One-Tree’s eyes east, as so far recent events had been focusing all of their attention west to the Black River, north to Glimmerwood, or south to Widower’s Wood, and the gatorman warrior was wary of the village possibly having neglected to pay attention to any goings-on on the plains to the east.

2 Likes