Chapter Three: Broken Moon II

Ceris Athiri’s journal, 15th Gozran 4711

We left Roguard and Daggmar locked in separate rooms in the tower at Ascanor Lodge and prepared to go to the Stairs to the Moon. When we approached the gates to go into the Shudderwood there was a commotion. A large, heavily armoured aristocrat was roaring about wanting to go werewolf hunting and demanding to join us. He had just finished introducing himself as Lord Durson when Malvern appeared out of the trees. He had left us after we sacked Schloss Caromac, unhappy with the questionable moral choices of his companions, but the woods told him not to run from his problems.

Duristan told us more about the tribes of wolves. There are five:
The Prince’s Wolves, who are the sworn enemies of the Whispering Way and turn into grey-brown wolves;
The Dorzhaners, or Broken Ones, a matriarchal tribe that turn into small, red wolves;
The Jezeldans, or Demon Wolves, outcast from the other tribes for worshipping demons, the smallest pack, that turn into black wolves;
The Mordrinachts, or Silver Hides, intelligent, aggressive, solitary, who turn into grey-white wolves;
The Vollenstag, known as the Primals, who are the tribe of the dead pack lord and turn into large grey direwolves.

These last we’ve met. We headed into the Shudderwood and had not gone far when rustling in the bushes startled the horses. Two werewolves jumped out in front of us and we engaged them. Seems little point in trying to talk. During the fight, one of the wolves howled, calling others to join him. We killed the two in front of us and Azenutine cast ghost sounds to lure the other wolves away from us. Sigmund heard a bow, but not in time to prevent Malvern being hit with an arrow.

The Stairs to the Moon is in a clearing. We halted in the treeline on the edge and surveyed the area. There were two buildings; the temple itself with two staircases winding up the outside and another large, square building. Wolves were milling around all over and we were clearly outnumbered. We spotted archers in the upper floors of the temple, so I deployed a sunrod to even things out a little.

The ground floor of the temple was accessible by a great arch and we agreed to clear the bottom before ascending the stairs. The arch led into a pillar-lined amphitheatre strewn with bones. The walls were covered in symbols and scratch marks. In the centre was a dais and on the other side of that another arch led into another room. Sigmund said that he could sense evil. On the dais the bones were clearly arranged in a pattern. Sigmund saw a shadow, like that of a huge, hulking beast, slide past us.

Nothing of value or interest in this room so we cautiously went through the second arch. Something took a swipe at Sigmund and missed but we found ourselves in combat with it. It was over quickly but the spirit wasn’t defeated, it just ran off.

Stairs led down to a long corridor with two doors. The place stank of decay. The room beyond the first door looked like it had once been someone’s private quarters. The dust on the floor was covered in wolf-tracks and a black robed corpse lay in the corner. We found a plain iron ring, onyx pieces and a map of Ustalav. Marks on the map indicated places we have been since Petros’ funeral and a village called Feldgrau.

The other room was similar in layout and the floor had been swept to reveal stone flags. Azenutine noticed a pile of stones in the corner that looked out of place and Lorinthor was convinced it was trapped. We retreated back to the corridor so that Lorinthor and Azenutine could lift the stones magically. There was a click and a greenish flash, luckily we were out of range.

In the room below the walls were lined with shelves containing bottles of mystical ingredients. And Estovion, the owner of the Lodge, stood looking at us. I barely had time to notice the wolf bite on his arm before he launched himself at us. Lord Durson proved most handy in dispatching him. We found, as well as treasure, several scroll cases. One contained the notes of a journal of a priest of Desna and another the ritual of the Duskmoth.

In the middle of the room there was a pit with a skeleton at the bottom. I took a dose from the wand of spiderclimb that we’d just found and scrambled down. The body was that of a Desnan priest and all I found was a ruby-coloured stone and some notes. The notes explained the origin of Lycanthropy in the Shudderwood. The priest’s son had contracted it and when he died his spirit had been trapped in the stone. We believed that the spirit wolf we’d encountered above was the priest’s son so we crushed the stone. Nothing happened except a faint howl on the wind. But we didn’t encounter the spirit wolf again.

We went out of the temple and up the external ramp to the first floor which was covered in a mosaic of the holy symbol of Desna. My relationship with my goddess has been rather casual. I call on her for luck and honour her by travelling, but give no thought to her presence in the world. We encountered the werewolf archers I had earlier scorched with the sunrod. Finishing them off was easy enough. The staircase heading up was worn and narrow. Sigmund and Durson were heavily armoured and concerned about falling so we all took a dose of spiderclimb and walked straight up the tower to the observatory.

The observatory was encircled by ten arches and had another butterfly mosaic in the floor. There were also more wolves. Lorinthor unleashed a fireball and we fought them. We won without too much trouble. There was one more floor, the very top of the tower, 150ft above the forest floor with dolmens arranged in a circle. Two werewolves were talking in the centre; a large female wolf dressed as a druid and an armoured silver wolf who turned out to be Mathus. The priestess immediately cast a spell on Lord Durson that tangled his feet with vines. Lorinthor cast haste on the party and we directed our first efforts at Mathus. With his death we expected to also slay the priestess but she stopped attacking us and wanted to talk.

She introduced herself as Cybrisa Dorzhanev and thanked us for killing Mathus Mordrinacht. None of the wolves want a demon-worshipper as pack lord so had reluctantly agreed on Mathus. Cybrisa didn’t have much to tell us about the Whispering Way, except that Mathus was in league with them, and directed us to the village of Feldgrau. Then she started to cut out the heart of Mathus so that she could eat it and become pack lord. Below us, the wolves were now fighting amongst themselves.

We discussed re-consecrating the temple to Desna, something I keenly felt should be done, but the full ritual would take a whole day and we still had work to do. So we recovered Horse (Sigmund’s warhorse), the rest of our mounts and Skippy the dog and headed north to Feldgrau. Some way along the path we found the remains of Duristan’s hunting party and, not much further beyond, a group of Varisian travellers. Strange to see them here and strange enough to assume they are not what they appear to be.

They were the Prince’s Wolves and eyed our silver weapons with distaste. Their leader, Rhakis Szadro, told us he suspected the Whispering Way’s involvement in the death of the old pack lord, who was of their tribe. The heart was still missing and the demon wolves were going to Feldgrau to retrieve it. What Cybrisa was doing trying to eat Mathus’ heart, I don’t know. He asked us to return the heart to him so that he could become pack lord and offered us his allegiance. Malvern asked them about Feldgrau and was told that the inhabitants had been massacred by Count Neska twenty years ago and the bodies tossed in a mass grave.

They also said that Desna may be able to cure Daggmar.

Ceris Athiri’s journal, 19th Gozran 4711

Feldgrau was four days ride away. Fortunately, it was uneventful until we emerged from the Shudderwood onto the plains of Ardeal. In the distance we could see a lone farmhouse, weathered and fragile-looking. Beside it was a tree with what looked like the bodies of children hanging from it. Remembering the warden’s lodge at Harrowstone that collapsed while we were exploring, Sigmund and I decided not to approach. Malvern and Lorinthor went towards it and found themselves compelled to cut down the bodies. It turned out to be a trap and Malvern, Lorinthor and Sigmund (trying to rescue the other two) found themselves stuck to the tree. Someone had the bright idea to set it on fire and that dispelled the illusion. The bodies disappeared and we defeated the monstrous tree.

We left our horses at the farmhouse so that we might approach Feldgrau by stealth under cover of night. The village was a hive of activity with all sorts of creatures milling around. Lorinthor made Azenutine invisible so that he could scout through the village. He reported back that there were people sifting through the ruins looking for parts of skeletons, saying that things need to be taken to the tower. The tower was on the other side of the village, a three-storey watchtower overlooking the town square. The top third of the tower was ripped off and there were wolves, necromancers and skeletons milling around. Azenutine told us there was only one way in. He had also heard that the onyx stones needed for a ritual had been lost. I made sure they were firmly in the centre of my pack and wouldn’t be accidentally dropped.

Rather than fight our way through the village, we snuck around the edge, took a dose of spiderclimb and walked up the back wall of the tower. The second floor was guarded by four skeleton warriors but they were no match for us.

Looking down through the collapsed floor we saw two antechambers, one was empty and the other filled with tents. Sigmund detected a large amount of evil. We climbed down and approached the largest tent. Lorinthor desperately wanted to throw fireballs at it and in retrospect that might have been a better strategy. But we didn’t know what we would find and were keen not to destroy anything potentially useful or valuable.

Inside the tent were vivisection tables, remains of animals, easels supporting anatomical drawings and many boxes. Someone was muttering in the shadows at the end of the tent. Lorinthor and Sigmund found some notes about the experiments; they couldn’t read them but kept them in case Roguard could make any sense of them. We went further into the tent where we discovered a black-robed figure cutting up a rabbit. He said, “I wondered when you’d get here. I am your nemesis, Auren Vrood.” I laughed. Nemesis. We’d known his name barely a week and were hunting him for money. Who knows what he thought was going on.

Vrood pulled out his staff, topped by the skull of a child, and summoned two giant, scuttling hands to attack us while he sat and watched. I focussed on the hands and those with magic or ranged weapons attacked Vrood directly. It was a hard fight. We had nearly defeated Vrood when he cast a spell, circle of death, that nearly killed us all. It did kill Lord Durson, Azenutine, Malvern and Skippy the dog. Lorinthor finished off Vrood despite our shock.

We found the heart of the pack lord. It had a piece cut from it. We also found a poem that suggested that the Whispering Way are attempting to raise the Whispering Tyrant. It read:

Upon the ashen pathways tread
Softly, as the whispered dead.
As mortal flesh doth rot and fail
To leech and maggot, ebbing frail.
Unhallowed words cannot be spoken,
With whispered oath, death lies broken.
Shed fear, shed life, shed pain, shed time,
Eternity seized shall soon be thine.
First spirit torn from Grave-Lady’s grasp
Be rent and sown as soured ash.
Soft the spiral song reverses,
Judgment lost, damnation surges.
Keeper of the damned’s soul take,
With packlord’s heart the beast shall wake
And flesh be wrought in disarray—
Stillborn cocoon, to blessed decay.
A hundred slain lie innocent,
Grind bone and marrow to cement.
Craft now a skull of splintered graves,
Unmake life, unmake the slave.
Where history churns dream to blister,
Necrophagous secrets whisper
Through chronicles of Raven’s tongue—
A legacy of fear unspun.
Blood spilt atop the Iron Thorn
Invokes that which cannot be born.
Arise the Tyrant now unbound,
Bearer of the Carrion Crown!

Outside the wolves were ripping each other apart. All the others had gone, taking everything with them. We wandered through the village and found the remains of the inn. Inside was the ghost of a balding man. “Finally, heroes have come,” he cried. Sadly not. It was just me, Lorinthor and Sigmund (who I suppose might qualify). He said he was Aucris and in life had been the innkeeper. He asked us to perform one final task and bury the town’s people. He also said that if we bought him the head of the necromancer he could perform a seance, and there might be a reward in it. Sigmund gave the townspeople a much delayed burial and Lorinthor and I skipped off to hack the head of the corpse of Auren Vrood.

When we returned we received our reward and the ghostly innkeeper started the seance. It showed us visions of Vrood’s memories; a furiously darting ink quill dashed out a stream of words that read, “My Master, I shall stay in Feldgrau and build an army of corpses for our risen lord…” The sentence faded, and after a brief flash, hands placed the letter in an envelope and struck it with the wax seal of the Whispering Way. Another flash came and the scene changed. Cultists scurried around the town square, exhuming bodies and raising an army from the corpses of Feldgrau’s dead. Another flash. Vrood’s hands placed three strange items into a chest: an iron-and-glass vial containing a swirling gray mist; a bloody heart inside a glass bottle; and a fragile skull composed of hundreds of bone fragments. Into a second chest he placed a strange statuette of murky green stone depicting a grotesque, tentacled creature. Another flash. The chests were given to two riders in dark cloaks on pale horses. “Ride to Thrushmoor,” said Vrood. “Our agent will exchange the Effigy for the relic we need.” After a final flash, the visions faded.

Now that the people of Feldgrau were properly buried and the graves consecrated, peace settled on the village.

Lorinthor Hathem’s journal, 19th Gozran 4711

This day I became a man, this day I’ve lost those whom I respected, this day the world lost heroes. I shall not speak today of glorious fights with undead nor destroying demon wolves for these things lack consequence when friends now rest in the eternal forever.

They met their end bravely without their enemy seeing any fear on them nor seeing their back. Yet it was he who was a coward killing them without facing them in true combat. This day I do swear to destroy these beasts and abominations that masquerade as men and call themselves the Whispering Way.

Till now I have wondered where the line was in fighting evil. I had pondered and pontificated childish notions of being knights in shining armour. But in truth the goodness is served best by the destruction of evil, no matter the cost. These dogs show no remorse for our kith and kin. We tried to be upstanding and our brethren paid with blood. Now a debt of blood must be paid by our enemies.

Before Malvern passed I crafted for him an Elven bow of our rangers. In him I saw the soul of the woods and knew that he would use it well. Now I shall raise it in his name to take vengeance.

We travel to dark places to fight dangerous foes yet in the Shudderwood we leave buried two companions and still another has been cursed and we know not how we can cure her. Though others may use another name she will always be Daggmar the Brave to me. You have taught me strength in so many more ways than you could fathom.

Malvern, whose aim was as true as his heart, and Azenutine the mystical, who was twice the Elf I could ever be, I say to you both farewell but you shall not be forgotten. This is why my people are wrong to isolate themselves away. They miss seeing the wonders of others.

I shall put away these foppish extravagant clothes for truly this is a dark road we walk. This day three died. Malvern, Azenutine and the child that was Lorinthor. From now on we shall go forth and do good but now I truly understand the weight that rests upon us. So I go as a man seeking justice and vengeance from a foe my blood has fought for a thousand years.

Ceris Athiri’s journal, 23rd Gozran 4711

Four days later, we were back at the Stairs to the Moon. The clearing looked like a battlefield and we could feel eyes on us all the while. Rhakis and Cybrisa met us at the temple. They wanted the heart. We were unsure whether to give it to them or to take it for Daggmar. After some negotiation we agreed Rhakis could have it and that Cybrisa would re-dedicate the temple to Desna. She gave me a scroll but I couldn’t use it. Lorinthor tried and failed, then tried again and it was almost as though Azenutine was back with us.

Desna appeared, in her guise as a beautiful elven woman, and thanked us for restoring her temple. She presented us with visions of the future. We saw the death of a black-robed necromancer wearing a bone breastplate as he stood before a ruined tower; us fighting a terrifying, tentacled monster deep beneath the sea; us confronting a beautiful female vampire spellcaster in an underground chamber; us battling a decaying lich, blazing with arcane power, atop a high spire beneath dark, churning clouds; and finally five graves but we could not see the names. Desna then gave us a remove lycanthropy spell and we returned to Ascanor Lodge to reunite with Daggmar and Roguard.

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