The Frightful Forest
A quick note about Game Master (GM) notes for campaigns. These notes are the GMs has made about running his campaign, and thus can continue information not known to the in-game characters.
Rested and at least somewhat relaxed after their near-fatal encounter, our heroes left the ruins of the village in their wake, as they puzzled over the strange manuscript they found in the town hall. For lack of a better choice, the sextet began orienting themselves towards the north, in the hopes that Port-a-Lucine might be just around the corner.
The two rangers, using their expertise in the wilderness, took charge. Rimo, scouting ahead with his longbow in hand, took the lead, while Tallorn, with his hands on the pommels of his paired swords, stayed towards the back and watched for signs of trouble.
At long last, cornered by her comrades, the strange female was finally asked for her name. (1) Dera and the others were told to call her Sik, but no last name was revealed. Not questioning this event, they forged through the woodlands, wary of trouble. The woods of Verbrek were no place for wandering humans, and the adventurers soon learned this lesson quite harshly.
Daimonion, listening carefully, began to hear a low buzz around the group, emanating from the very forest itself. At his warning, Tallorn and Dario soon heard the same and drew steel. The buzzing grew louder and louder, as if thousands of insects were swarming through the trees.
At last, the group saw what caused this strange sound. Vicious insects with bat wings, several claw-like legs and a long, needle-shaped nose flew down around the group. (2) The majority of the group held their ground and prepared to fight off the creatures, but Dario felt his nerve splinter. As one of the creatures landed on his chest, piercing through his armor, Dario let out a harrowing cry and ran off, screaming, through the woods. (3) Aside from the sound of the rogue’s cries, the remaining five soon lost track of their friend.
Battle was joined. The creatures swooped down several times, hoping to land onto the warriors and drain away their succulent blood, while the adventurers hoped only to crush the vile insects before they were too injured to fight back. Daimonion, using a skilled riposte, fended off his assailant and skewered it on his rapier. Tallorn and Dera were not so lucky. Within the first few exchanges, both the ranger and the mage were slowly being drained of their vital fluids. Rimo, acting quickly, loosed his arrows and felled some of the creatures even as they fluttered, hungry for life. Seeing his good friend in danger, Rimo grappled with the creature stuck to Tallorn’s chest, ripping it free and attempting to crush it. (4) As he struggled, Tallorn gasped for air and tried to assist Dera and Sik, as they struggled beneath the claws of their assailants. With a mighty heave, Rimo flung the creature against a tree, where it flapped its wings once, then fell to the ground.
Finally, the creatures were beaten back. Dario’s screams still echoed through the forest, as his friends chased him down. Finally, in a small copse of underbrush, the five found their friend as he rolled on the ground, screaming as he flailed in horror. Aiming carefully, Rimo nocked another arrow to his bow. (5) The bolt sliced through the air and buried itself deeply into the creature’s back. As it stopped struggling, Dario flung it off and laid down to weep in horror.
At long last, his comrades were able to calm the frantic rogue down and get him under control. The sun slowly began to set. For lack of a better place, the group decided to make a camp and rest for the evening. Watches were set and the majority of the group settled down for a well-earned rest.
Daimonion sat awake with Rimo, sharpening his blade, as night drew on. The sound of whetstone and oil on cold steel softly provided rhythm to the night, as the group rested. His sharp ears perked up, as the sound was disrupted. Footfalls softly padded through the forest floor. They were not alone. However, the sound quickly passed and their watch was up. (6) Waking up Dera, they drifted into a deep, dreamless sleep. However, Dera soon heard the same noise. Working quickly, she roused the rest of the group.
It was then that the footfalls came into sight-range. Shambling humanoids had ringed themselves around the group, slowly tightening a fleshy noose around them. Armed and frightened, the four positioned themselves around a tree in a strategic maneuver, anticipating a dire fight that may cost them their lives. (7)
Finally, the creatures came into the firelight and the all-too-familiar scent of undeath filled the warriors’ nostrils. Limbs were attached to torsos with long surgical staples. Heads lolled on necks, not supporting their hideous weight. Yet, most disturbing of all, each of the creatures’ lips were stapled shut with long metal pins. (8)
Steeling themselves against the horrible sight, the adventurers readied their weapons. However, rather than tearing their victims limb from limb, the undead merely began to push the sextet north. Hesitant, at first, then agreeing to move with their vile captors, the adventurers began moving with the undead and marched through the night, without any idea where these creatures could be taking them, or for what purpose.
After a long and weary hour-and-a-half trudge through the woods, a clearing came into sight. At the far side, a statuesque log cabin stood vigil with bright lamps glowing in the windows. Forcing the six to the door, one of the creatures stood at the fore and gestured crudely towards the door. After a moment’s hesitation, the adventurers slowly opened the door.
Before them stood, as still as a marble pillar, a powerful figure. A man, perhaps in his mid 50s, with receding brown hair and a dire gaze in his grey eyes, invited them in. (9) Fatigued and ready for rest, the six nodded reluctantly and stepped into a lavishly furnished sitting room. Immediately, the figure bade the six to introduce themselves. After their introductions, he gestured to himself, introducing himself as one Dr. Gregorian DelShonar, and then begged them to sit in the dining room, so that they might be refreshed.
Seated at the long oak table, the group anxiously wondered what this strange man could want from them. DelShonar took his own seat at the head of the table, then smiled as the door to his rear opened. From the kitchen came four massive automatons, each shaped in ghastly mockery of the human form. Bearing heavy platters, they placed them silently on the table, then slid back into the kitchen, leaving only the echoes of their crunching gears ringing in the ears of the party. (10)
Gregorian smiled. Announcing the repast to be ready, he lifted the cover on the main platter and began carving a roasted peppered lamb in a red wine sauce. As the group ate, the enigmatic man appraised them and asked what business they had in Verbrek. Answers were provided reluctantly, though Gregorian’s face remained as stoic as marble.
As the rest of the group discussed their situation and where to go from this strange place, Dario quietly asked the doctor if he knew another noted figure, Dr. Rudolph Van Richten. (11) Thinking wistfully, DelShonar told the young dilettante that, yes, he did in fact know the peerless monster hunter. In fact, DelShonar had studied medicine and alchemy under the doctor for two years, in their shared hometown of Corvia, Darkon. When Dario pressed him for more information, DelShonar told him that, frankly, Van Richten had all but disappeared, though rumors spoke of his commitment to a mental institution on an island off the coast of Mordent. (12)
Dario continued to speak with DelShonar, while the others bickered. At last, DelShonar interrupted their arguments, suggesting that they follow the nearby river to the east, which would lead them north through the barony of Richemulot into Port-a-Lucine. DelShonar even gave them the name of a steamboat operator, one Nathan Timothy, who might offer to ferry them into Richemulot. This, in turn, got the others questioning the doctor. He indicated that he had gotten his doctorate in Pont-a-Museau, and had begun research on his book there. Curious, the group asked if he had a copy of his book. Rising slowly, yet quite pleased at their curiosity, DelShonar set a thick leather-bound tome onto the table. (13)
After the group flipped through DelShonar’s book, the doctor eyed them carefully, telling them abruptly that it was time for them to leave. Begging for rest, the group pleaded with DelShonar for one more night, but the doctor had other plans. Rather than let them rest, he told the four that they would be used as field test subjects for a group of his latest constructs. They had five minutes to run, before the undead scourge would begin following them.
Running like madmen through the wooded night, the adventurers sprinted to the east. Soon after, the sounds of undead footfalls began to dully crunch through the underbrush around them. Harrowed, the group ran on, but as they dodged the trees, four skeletal forms leaped down on top of them!
Immediately, the warriors started to beat them back. Using the hammer found in the town only a day earlier, Rimo smashed two of the creatures into oblivion. However, the victory was not without its price. For a second time, Tallorn’s defenses failed and only Dera’s sorcery managed to save him. However, even then, a dying blow from one of the creatures managed to slash her throat, leaving her bleeding on the forest floor. Calling on the spirits of nature, the newly-healed Tallorn staved off the bleeding and helped the young mage to her feet. (14) Their flight resumed.
At long last, the six arrived at the river’s gorge. A dire thirty foot drop led into a rough, rapid-filled gorge, which all six gaped at. A single, rickety rope bridge crossed the abyss. With trepidation and fear, they began to cross. (15)
Deftly, Daimonion made his way across first, successfully. Tallorn came next, but had some difficulties getting across. Eventually, after some minor slips, he emerged on the far side. Sik made her way next, and gracefully ran across the bridge with no problems whatsoever. However, when Dario stepped onto the bridge, his balance failed him. The bridge twisted beneath his weight, flinging him off. Only by swiftly grabbing the thin handrail was the young rogue saved. Thinking quickly and holding on for dear life, Dario pulled his rope and grappling hook from his pack. Swinging it across, he failed to make contact and nearly lost his grip, which would have left him plummeting into the raging river below. Breathing deeply to keep his cool, an idea struck Dario. Using his grappling hook as a sliding device, he slid down the handrail over to the far side, where Daimonion and Tallorn quickly hauled him onto land. (16)
This left only Rimo and Dera. Rimo was firing shots from his bow at the slowly approaching horde, while Dera mounted the bridge. However, halfway across, the young mage slipped from the bridge and plummeted into the river below. Rimo, in a valiant act of heroism, dove in after the mage, desperately trying to keep her head above water. With a massive feat of skill, Rimo grabbed up the drowned mage as well as a rope tossed down by Dario. Eventually, the four pulled up Rimo and Dera, and Tallorn began to resuscitate the quickly drowning mage. (17)
As Tallorn worked and Dera began breathing again, Rimo and Dario slashed the ropes on the bridge, leaving the bewildered undead without a way to follow them. Now, all that remained is to rest and search for the enigmatic steamboat captain, Nathan Timothy, in the hopes that they could make their way north. (18) Port-a-Lucine seemed to be only a hopeful dream, at this point.