The howling of wolves made for a very stressful night, but the heroes managed to catch a few winks anyway. The sun rose on their camp the following morning, where Furnok was getting a start on breakfast. “Mornin’,” he said, flipping some bacon.
“That smells delicious!” said Felicity. “Is it fur-owl?”
“What? No.” The rogue smirked at the halfling. “Gross.”
“Good morning.” Besilana worked herself free from her bedroll. “The Lady of the Forests has truly blessed us if there is already bacon frying.”
“Camp coffee’s ready, too,” Furnok said, pointing at an iron pot suspended off to the side of the camp fire on a forked branch. “Use the mitt!” he cautioned Felicity as she descended upon the coffee pot.
The halfling almost missed the pot when reaching, suddenly distracted when Besilana got up. “Good morning dar… Besi. Can I pour you a cup?”
Felicity grinned ear to ear, grabbed the pot with a mitt, and poured for the Ehlonnans, giving herself a generous cup. Taliesin came over and tried the coffee but was obviously not used to the taste. Noticing the face he made, Furnok said, “There’s sugar there.” He pointed to a small leather sack. “Don’t overdo it, though.”
Taking a cup from Felicity, Besilana added a pinch of sugar. Then a much larger pinch.
“How much is too much? Really?” the halfling asked Furnok. He quirked an eyebrow at her, shaking his head as she began with one spoonful, then another, then looked at the rest and added another without looking.
“That’s all the sugar I brought, was more my point.” Furnok shook his head with a grin, sipping from a mug, and finishing breakfast.
“Fe_li_city…” said the half-elf. The halfling grinned sheepishly and stopped and stirred her cup.
“The wolves are shaken,” said Taliesin. “Things in their territory are out of balance.”
“Owlbears and assholes who worship destructive chaos. Sure. I’d be upset, too,” said Furnok.
“I fear that is the least of it.”
Besilana turned toward the druid. “Then it falls to us to set things right.”
“That does seem to be Ehlonna’s plan,” he said. “I welcome the challenge.”
“St. Cuthbert is more my speed,” said Furnok. “But I am glad to have such zealous companions.”
“It’s good that we have been set on this path. This is a righteous path,” said Felicity.
Taliesin nodded. “In the natural world the struggle for survival and the fight to protect your home and family are deliberate, everyday decisions. That is the world I grew up in. I know we’ll succeed if Ehlonna wills it.”
“The gods’ will is all well and good, but it falls to the faithful to carry it out,” said the rogue.
“So, Furnok … how was your upbringing, if I may ask?” asked Felicity. “You know so much about us, but what about you?” She then began to drink deep of her coffee.
“Furnok was an orphan,” he said, giving her a deliberate look. After a moment, he sighed and smiled ruefully. “Pampered,” I guess you could say. I wanted for little, and those, only childish demands, really."
Without realizing it, Besilana tucked her legs beneath her like a cat and listened to Furnok. Felicity listened wide-eyed as she shoved some bacon into her mouth and continued to drink.
“Every night before bed, my mother would tell me stories of great heroes fighting wicked men and creatures and through their cunning and magic, defeat the villains,” said Furnok, and Besilana smiled.
“Oh my gosh ohmygoshohmygosh! You have to tell me some of these stories sometime! Next camp!” insisted Felicity.
“Perhaps,” said Furnok, smiling wistfully. “She described the rewards so vividly. I was enamored of enchanted items from a young age, though we never owned any, to my knowledge. I had friends among the smallfolk of my father’s barony, and we played in the fields and light woods of the holding. It was truly a charmed existence.” He winced. “Naturally, it couldn’t last.” He lapses into silence, focusing on his breakfast.
Felicity rocked with barely contained excitement at the tale. When the story ended, her expression turned sad. She immediately set her cup down and practically leaped over to Furnok and put him into a halfling bear-hug. The rogue blinked rapidly in startelement, slowly relaxing and patting her awkwardly on the back.
“You’re among friends once more, Furnok,” said Besilana. Then she drained her coffee and began donning the adamantine chain mail.
“Aye,” said Furnok quietly, extricating himself from Felicity.
“Oh, sorry,” said the halfling as she let go. “I’m just really sorry, if you need anything, Besi and I are here for you. Tali too, but he might be a spider at the time.” Her eyes grew wide a saucers as she stepped away and looked over at the druid. “You could give out actual bear-hugs!” she exclaimed.
Taliesin laughed. “Where I come from, that is not something you ever want to get.”
“Hard pass,” said Furnok.
They broke camp and saddled up. As they were riding past the bodies of the fallen cultists, Furnok said, “For what it’s worth, crime isn’t paying well. They had plenty of copper, but fewer than a dozen silver pieces to their names.”
“Good…” Felicity muttered under her breath.
“No one to rob out here, I suppose,” said Besilana.
Furnok shrugged. “I guess they could have just dropped their latest haul off at base and were out on a new raid.”
The paladin nodded. “We’ll find out soon.”
“Avoiding the roads is smart of them,” said Furnok, warming to the conjecture. “Draws less attention from the Powers That Be. You know, the ones that know dead peasants don’t pay taxes.”
“Poor dead peasants,” said Felicity.
“Is there no one in charge of making sure the roads between settlements are safe?” asked Taliesin.
“This far from Verbobonc? Mostly it would be militia-men patrolling, and they wouldn’t range farther than half a day’s trip from town,” said Furnok. “We’re in the sticks, Sin.”
It was a pleasant enough morning, with the sun shining and a light breeze to cut the heat. They noticed fewer nature sounds the farther they rode to the northeast. They stopped to rest every couple of hours to accommodate the druid’s wild-shaping. Noon brought a lunch of more hard tack.
“Chewy,” said Felicity.
“It used to be food,” said Besilana. “I think.”
Taliesin saw Furnok pop a dark bean of some sort into his mouth after the meal. “What’s that Furnok? Not sure I’ve seen it before.”
“Raw coffee bean. Bitter as bitter, but it’ll pep you up,” said Furnok, and Besilana made a face.
“Interesting,” said the druid. “Coffee isn’t native to the Gnarley, but there are other plants that can produce similar results.”
“Can I try?” asked Felicity.
“No,” Furnok told her, smiling. “You were practically vibrating in the saddle this morning as it is.”
“Awww, okay.” The halfling looked down and pet her pony. “I’ll just get more coffee later then,” she muttered. “Right Mr. Neigh-bors?” Besilana giggled, and Furnok snorted.
The afternoon wore on, and the shadows began to grow long. They passed another landmark indicated by the Hommlet elders, assuring them that they were still on the right track. Furnok pulled his horse to a sharp stop and said, “Oh, no.” The others were surprised to find themselves surrounded by a pack of wolves!
Felicity and Furnok were pulled from their saddles, and their mounts bolted! Taliesin, traveling as a horse, was set upon by three wolves, and Besilana was attacked by three more. The druid kept his feet despite the pain of the wolves’ sharp teeth but reverted to his natural form from the pain. The paladin’s armor protected her from the worst of it, and she managed to keep her saddle and narrowly control her panicking mount.
Furnok whipped out his rapier and stuck it in the nearest wolf, producing a shallow wound. The wolves continued their assault, and then the rogue did something none of his companions expected. With a word and a strange hand gesture, a shield interposed itself between himself and one of the wolves! Unfortunately, the other came around and bit his leg.
Felicity collapsed from the pain of her wounds, and Besilana shouted, “NO!” Consumed by the vengeance curse, she smote one of the wolves attacking her, and the beast yelped as it was cut down. Taliesin cast thunderwave, assailing the three wolves attacking him with a painful cacophony and forcing them back several steps. While they halted their attack uncertainly, the druid crossed to Felicity, preparing to heal the fallen halfling.
The wolves on Besilana continued trying to drag her from the saddle. They failed, but Starsong’s curse kept her fixated on her attackers. Furnok pulled his dagger as well, and between his two blades, he managed to slay the wolf he’d injured. The wolves that had brought down Felicity then rushed the rogue and the druid. Furnok dodged the snapping jaws, and the paladin maintained enough presence of mind to shield the druid somewhat. Then she smote another wolf.
Taliesin healed Felicity, who snapped back to consciousness underneath a wolf. She quickly took stock of the deteriorating situation, shook her head and desperately channeled healing energy. Furnok and Taliesin sighed in some relief as the halfling rolled out from underneath the beast and regained her feet. The thundered wolves found their nerve again, rushing back in to target the druid and the paladin. The former was bitten again, despite Besilana’s best shielding efforts. Then the paladin fell to her sword’s curse once more.
With friends nearby to distract his targets, Furnok easily dispatched another wolf with a precise thrust of his rapier. He spun around and tried to end one of the wolves hurt by Taliesin’s spell, but the beast juked aside. The wolf growled at Felicity as she crawled from beneath it, but she avoided its snapping jaws! Furnok, beset by two wolves again, was not so lucky. A second shield saved him from one of the wolves, but the other savaged his leg.
In her rage, Besilana dropped another wounded wolf, while Taliesin evoked another thunderwave, ending two more and injuring another. Felicity moved beside Furnok and slapped a salve from her healing kit onto his wounded leg. The pain instantly lessened, and he nodded to her in gratitude. Then the rogue whirled and impaled another wolf. The remaining two lost interest in the would-be meal and fled into the wild.
Furnok exhaled heavily. “Gods.”
Felicity panted and coughed a little, exhausted. “That was about terrible!”
Besilana managed to calm her practically apoplectic horse, then dismounted and sat on the ground to catch her breath. “I didn’t know you could do that, Furnok.” She mimicked the shielding gesture.
Furnok looked up. “It hasn’t been necessary.”
“Furnok! You made magic!” exclaimed Felicity. He nodded absently.
“Things must be terrible for them to attack us like that,” said Furnok. “They knew they were taking a big risk.”
“Did they take a risk?” asked the halfling. “It was like a dozen wolves and just four of us. The odds were in their favor numerically. It’s not like we have identifiers or anything telling them how strong we are…”
“That’s exactly the point, Felicity. Wolves don’t attack things that are enigmas to them. They target known prey.”
Furnok glanced the direction that their mounts had run. “I hope they haven’t gone far.”
“OH NO! MR. NEIGH-BORS!” cried Felicity.
“We’ll find them,” said Besilana. She got back to her feet and mounted up, offering the cleric the back of the saddle. Felicity gratefully took her hand and squeezed in close behind the half-elf.
Furnok glanced over at Taliesin with a sly smile. “I think I’ll walk rather than ride you bareback.”
“Ride him like a pony,” Felicity whispered.
“I was planning on shifting into something that can herd the horses back to the group,” said the druid.
“Just be a horse,” said the rogue. “They like Horse-y-Sin.”
The group managed to recover the flighty mounts and calmed them sufficiently to continue on the trip. They decided to try to find a place to camp after another hour. “Think we should risk a fire?” asked Furnok. “I don’t know if that would do more to attract or repel these things. Mainly, I just hope the travelers’ tales aren’t all true…”
“I’d rather have one than not,” said Besilana.
“The closer we get the better it is that we aren’t detected I would think,” said Felicity.
“How close are we?”
“Half a day? Ish?” said Furnok. “Assuming no significant complications.”
“I don’t believe a fire will make a difference considering the state this wolf pack is in,” opined Taliesin. “But we might as well have warmth.”
“All right, then.” Furnok built a fire. He prepared a vegetable-based stew with no meat, so as not to entice the animals they were trying to deter with the fire.
Before too long, the howls started up again, and they sounded louder, as though the wolves were more numerous. Or closer.
“We should keep a watch,” said Besilana.
“Mother’s stories never mentioned all these logistical considerations,” groused Furnok.
“Isn’t it the worst?” smarmed the half-elf.
Taliesin seems confused, and the rogue glanced over at him curiously. “Don’t you have logistical considerations when you are living in villages and cities too?” asked the druid.
Furnok’s expression suggested he was trying not to give Taliesin a look usually reserved for dullards. “Adventure logistics,” he emphasized.
Taliesin shrugged. “This is pretty much how I live. Travelling the Gnarley by day and making camp at night. So it surprises me to see people unused to it.”
“Never mind,” said Furnok, smiling.
Felicity looked confused as well, but a beat later her face lit up. “OH! Please tell me a story for bedtime!”
“Heh. I think we’d better stay focused on our surroundings. Maybe a story when it’s light out again.”
Felicity pouted at him in the firelight. “Oh, okay.”
“It’ll be all right in the morning, Felicity,” said Besilana.
“I’ll take first,” said the rogue. “I don’t think I’ll sleep for a while anyway. Someone else is on breakfast detail, then.”
“I will,” the half-elf offered. “I’ll do the best I can.”
Furnok nodded. “Just don’t use all our bacon and sugar.”
“As you wish.”
“I’ll be awake all night. Elves don’t sleep,” said the druid.
“Well that is handy indeed! Thank you Taliesin!” said Felicity.
“Didn’t you grow up with elves?” Funok asked Felicity.
“Yes, but I’m not one, so I forgot.”
“We were sleeping while they were … trancing?” said Besilana. “I forget what the preferred Common word for it is.”
“I always thought that was just an old wives’ tale.”
“Next venture I’ll bring more sugar,” said Felicity, reigning queen of the non-sequitur.
“I’ll keep an eye out and awaken you if I feel there is immediate danger,” said Taliesin. After a brief pause he added, “From anything out there at least. Sugar overdose is all on you.”
“Yes, yes it is. Is that a thing? Sugar overdose?”
Besilana said, “I have a feeling we’ll find out soon if you aren’t careful.”
During the lull in the conversation, they all sensed a big predator approaching with a few smaller ones in tow. At the edge of the light they saw more wolves and a wolf-like creature that walked like a man. “Shiiit,” said Furnok. “The travelers were right!” The rogue pulled his rapier, which he’d had silvered by the Hommlet blacksmith before leaving town. He stood beside Besilana, ready to strike!
“Lovely fire,” growled the wolf-man, eyeing the silver blade askance. Then it rushed forward to attack Besilana! Its fangs sank into her upraised arm, which lacked the shield she usually carried into combat. She winced in pain as the curse settled over her mind. Quick as a snake, Furnok struck, sinking his silvered blade deep into the werewolf’s side. The shapeshifter howled angrily!
Besilana howled right back and struck him with Starsong which flared with holy light as she invoked Ehlonna’s power to smite the werewolf. Taliesin shifted into a large brown bear and moves forward, attempting to wrap the wolf-man in a bear hug. The werewolf shoved him off, with an effort.
“Holy Ehlonna please stand with us…” prayed Felicity. Her aim was inspired as the guiding bolt lanced forth, striking the werewolf full in the chest, illuminating the shapeshifter.
Then the wolves came to their alpha’s aid! Taliesin and Besilana were each bitten, but they both managed to keep their feet. Furnok pulled his dagger and attacked the werewolf, piercing its heart with the silver rapier. As the beastman fell, reverting back into a middle-aged human, the rogue pivoted around the bear to stab one of the wolves.
Besilana came to her senses and struck down a wolf, which fell with a yelp. “Stay back, Felicity!” she advised unnecessarily.
“Yep! Nope, not going into the fray against wolves again…” said the halfling.
Taliesin roared and tried to bring down another one of the wolves, but it evaded the hulking faux bear. Felicity’s sacred flame struck down on the wolf Furnok had stabbed, singeing it somewhat. With their alpha slain and another of their number cut down by a glowing blade, the wolves fled into the night.
“That … went way better than it did in my head,” said Furnok.