Castlemourn

The Road to Lhoadur

The Demise of Sugar

Stealing away in the middle of the night, the party packed hastily and fled the comfort of the city of Zroas. their plan was to search for the fey legends of the Stormstars Wood. Each member of the hodgepodge group weighed down with their own thoughts, dreams, and worries. Enoch, the newest and most mysterious member, was fleeing from an enemy that had sworn to hunt him down. The revenant, Acacia, has sworn vengeance and somewhere inside, Enoch knew it was only a matter of time before his debt was called due. Elkarena, in the meantime, felt a new lightness and thrill run through her when she thought of her liaison of the night before. The magnetic gang leader, known only as One Eye, had invaded her thoughts like a well planned ambush. She brushed the sleep and the starry eyed thoughts from her mind and focused on the road ahead, her instincts as Guide taking over. Anselo was laden equally with worry and hope. A realization crept steadily toward him, much like the misanthropic ooze he had spied in Maurelle’s dream tour that sputtered and crawled in some netherworld. He was all but convinced the pact he had made was not made by the creatures he had assumed. It was more than a compelling argument that his pact powers were fueled by the Winter Court not the Summer. Yet, where would he be without the powers? Or, more to the point these days, who would he be without it? Only steady Lornel took to the road free of any immediate anxiety. The storm in Lornel’s heart was far off still, yet he sensed the power of those unseen thunderheads of memory and hoped that his courage would stand when faced with the storm of his past.

So it was that each companion rode silently through the early morning darkness toward the next stop on their journey, the mysterious Elven built city of Lhoadur. These days, rumor had it that no elves lived there, although there were a few of The Banished that would pass through and spend time in the city. Sightings of elves were as rare as shooting stars throughout Lothran. These days, Lhoadur was just a city that brought the river trade to caravan trade and sent the merchants inland. The road to Lhoadur was equally mundane. By every account the Carvalho’s had heard from grandfather and from what Enoch knew from previous travel, it would be a quiet and sedate jaunt of two days. Even so, with the wall torches of Zroas still within sight, the party felt an oppressive weight upon them. Soon thereafter, a heavy rain started down, and that helped not at all.

By most estimates it was a true two days between Zroas and Lhoadur but the rain and the increasingly muddy road threatened to extend that timeframe. As fortune favors the bold, due to the early start the party took they managed to reach the midway point as dusk was threatening to close in. Enoch had passed this way coming up to Zroas and knew of the small enclave that stood midway between the towns. They were a friendly lot who took in travelers and plied honest custom to the road weary. As the four came upon this small burgeoning hamlet, it looked anything but welcoming. Nothing moved but crows and even they kept their distance. The gray skies increased the gloom that the abandoned houses radiated. Still, what choice did the group have but make the best of their luck and bed down securely here. Either that or in the woods.

As they investigated the well-built and tidy cottages and what must’ve been the town’s tavern, they noticed that most of the easily packed things were gone while those items too bulky or unnecessary for quick travel were left behind. A brief investigations led the party to believe that the good people of this enclave had packed and left in a hurry, but why? The answer to that came soon thereafter. As they searched the Tavern for food and drink, the horses that had been stable outback went mad with terror. The party went to the doors in time to see a hulking, feral creature dragging one of the horses toward the wood line. Its throat was torn and blood cascaded behind in a heavy flow. Those who could attack from a distance, burst through the front door and did so with magic and arrow. Yet, as quick as the arcane artillery and expert marksman were, the monstrosity escaped to the woods, albeit without his fare.

As Anselo stood, his gloves smoking with the vestiges of arcane bolts, Lornel headed out toward the dying horse. Elkarena suddenly cried out as she realized the horse that was down. Her beautiful riding mare, Sugar, had been the monster’s victim. Sugar’s powder coat marred with arterial spray and vestigial gore as it lay twitching in violent death shutters under the gray sky. Few things brought the sting of tears to Elkarena’s eyes but even as they welled, they froze in an anger that hummed with horrible power. With a shutter, Elkarena turned and stormed back into the building. The more introspective Lornel eyed the poor creature calculating its distance to the tree line. A brief conversation among the men brought a plan. Although Sugar’s loss was tragic, perhaps the monster of the wood would be satiated with this large sacrifice.

Sugar was actually a heavy horse but her days of anything but riding were behind her. Elkarena has ridden her from a young girl. They had spent many an afternoon in the wildflower laden countryside, the wind is Sugar’s white mane and Elkarena’s red hair. Lornel, bravely or insanely, walked out toward the dead corpse and attempted to move the heavy riding horse toward the wood.

As Lornel tugged on his gauntlets and moved toward the carcass, Enoch and Anselo looked at each other with incredulity. No man they knew could drag a horse that size anywhere. And at first, it seemed so. Lornel struggled with the load until he shook with strain. Then, they saw Lornel raise his head and arms to the sky as if searching for something as he mouthed a few words. A look of recognition crossed his face, as if he’d found what he was seeking. Lornel reached down again and took a good grip on the fore quarters of the beast and heaved. The horse corpse moved and moved fast, plowing a vicious row of rain, mud, and blood as Lornel pulled Sugar to the edge of the wood. Anselo and Enoch stood wide eyed and speechless. Lornel hustled back to the cabin, appearing no worse for the ordeal but, even given the amazing feat of strength he just performed, his steps were quick toward the tavern.

Darkness was beginning to fall as an anxiety was rising among the companions. As they watched, the horse did indeed disappear into the deeper wood and shapes began to dart and dance through the darkness. They could tell it was more than one, but if it were two, three, or four, it was difficult to say. The one thing that was becoming increasingly clear was that Sugar was not the only thing on the table tonight. Their tension mounted as they watched out the windows. They did not have to wait long. As each person tried various means to peer through the windows, create light or guard the Tavern, the monsters attacked. Huge lupine forms surrounded the Tavern and took the fight to the party. As if they had sized up the physically weakest of the group, one of the monsters crashed through the window nearest Anselo and attempted to drag him out into the woods. Looks can be deceiving however, and Anselo repelled the attack with his pact magic. The fighting was chaotic and fierce. The creatures were inhumanly strong. Enoch identified them as lycanthropes and urged the party not to get bit, lest they get infected with the curse. Easier said than done, however, as they were fighting for their lives against mounting odds. Bites and claws fell liberally among the defenders. Elkarena was bitten, as least once.

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Despite the intense fighting, the party was victorious. Eventually, morning came and, only one horse shy, they made their way away from the hamlet with all haste. The rain had set their slow pace before, and as it let up, the tempo of their journey, and their spirits, rose a bit. Yet, just when they thought they were out of the woods, they heard a panicked scream about 100 paces off the road. While Elkarena, Anselo, and Enoch paused and glanced at each other with that “Are you taking a piss?” look, Lornel rushed headlong into the deeper foliage. Unfortunately, he only arrived in time to see a giant lycanthrope tear the throat out of an old woodsman and turn to eye Lornel with hatred. The rest of the party was not too far behind and they all fought valiantly to take down yet another couple of cursed souls. This fight once again almost saw Anselo carried off. Was it because he appeared the weakest in stature or was there some other beacon that called them to Anselo? None could answer but Anselo came within a hair’s breadth from getting his own throat ripped out. Luck was on his side and he walked away with only two dislocated shoulders.

Worried that the woodsman might have a family that would be at the mercy of more of the creatures, the companions ventured deeper into the woods following a trail to the woodsman’s cottage. The cottage was mostly made up into a forge and it appeared, by all investigations, that the woodsman lived alone and made his living as a swordsmith and a hermit in the woods. Lornel, as luck would have it, was a bit of a smith himself. Given the obvious lycanthropes infestation in the woods, the party decided to use the forge to put a silver edge and head on their blades and hammer. Anselo had quite a bit of silver coin, although no one knew form where and contributed it to the endeavor. Searching the cottage, Anselo found a small vial of a thick, silver substance that Enoch suggested might likely coat a weapon and cause some sort of beneficial effect upon the blade. A small argument ensued in which Enoch confronted Anselo about the vial. Through a long and sometimes heated discourse, the party established the rights to loot found along the way. All ended well but Anselo and Enoch seemed effected by the exchange.

The groups weapons prepared and daylight still left, they made it back to the road and continued their seemingly endless track to Lhoadur. The rain was picking back up causing the road to muddy up once more. After a few miles’ travel, the party rose up over a crest and looked down upon a single merchant wagon with two fellows attempting to get it through a mud hole created by the dip in the road and the bad weather. The merchant and his man, or dwarf rather, hailed the party and appeared elated for the help. They even offered to pay the group to help them escape their dire circumstances. as the worked, they talked and it just so happened that this merchant was headed toward the hermit swordsmith to pick up his latest order which he was taking to Zroas for market. Anselo shared the bad news that his business associate had been killed and cautioned him to turn back to Lhoadur. The jolly merchant scoffed good-naturedly and said they could handle a mongrel or two, if needed, as the merchant’s burly companion did his best to appear unphased by that glib dismissal of monsters. The party helped them out of the mire and both groups parted ways with well wishing.

As Lhoadur came in sight, the party started to feel safe once more. Their luck would hold and they would make it to town. Luck even looked to be turning in their favor as they saw a discarded backpack on the side of the road. It appeared someone had left it there under a tree while, perhaps, they went a little further off the road to take care of nature’s call. It didn’t take the powerful observation skills of the party to understand what must’ve happened given the new wildlife in the woods. Some poor traveler’s misfortune turned to their fortune and Lornel went to check out the backpack. Upon opening the flap, a brilliant blue flash, clearly arcane in nature, burst forth. Lornel just had time to look into the blue light and he made out hundreds of strange, large spiders scurrying up through some magical summoning conduit, clearly to protect whatever lay inside the pack. Swarms of the spiders burst out of the blue nimbus and attempted to creep and crawl under Lornel’s armor to do gods knew what. Quickly, Lornel summoned the power of Dusk and blasted the creatures forcefully from his presence. Unfortunately, about that time, Elkarena stepped forward to see how she could assist and took a face full of spiders. Seeing Lornel’s tactic a sound one, she used her own power and, with a stylized crossing of her blades, a blistering winter’s blast expelled the spiders back toward the woods and back toward poor Lornel. Although frost now rimed along his armor and bearded helmet, the tactic worked as good as any could have. The swarm of spiders was quickly blasted into whatever dark place they came from.

The backpack itself turned out to be something worth protecting! Examining the contents, it appeared that some portal existed inside the pack that allowed much more to fit inside then a normal pack. A hard won prize true but one worth celebrating.

And with that last trial behind them, the party looked upon the green towers of Lhoadur. The rain let up and yellow rays of sun beamed through the green and dense topiary surrounding the Elven built city. A heaviness, as if they had not slept for two months, not two days, suddenly fell upon them. They trotted their horsed toward the legendary Lhoadur, their journey finally done.

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JimWayne

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