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    The Silver Wolf-Behind The Mask: Mark Of The Beast
    Posted on Wed, March 15, 2023 by LordCeb
    CruelSummerLord writes "They barely made any progress before Revafour cursed loudly, picking up the one of the hobgoblins’ shields. The shield displayed the ghoulish image of a hideous red skull adorned with bone-white horns and a golden crown on a pitch-black field. Luna felt her blood run cold at the sight.

     Chapter Fourteen

    Mark Of The Beast

    “To one year together,” Amyalla said, holding up her mug.

    “And many more to come!” the companions all said together, tapping their mugs before drinking.

    It was Wealsun 5, the one-year anniversary of the day the seven adventurers formed the Company of the Silver Wolf. They’d rented a private room at the Bruin Inn, enjoying as fine a feast as one could find in all of Highfolk. From the wild venison and spring water Revafour enjoyed, to the sweetmeats Seline loved to chocolate imported from Ma’non’go’s home of Hepmonaland to a whole keg of Big Cedar Log, there was something for each of the companions.

    The companions discussed all manner of topics during their meal, but as it ended the conversation turned to one thing that’d been on all their minds.

    “What’re we going to do next?” Weimar said, walking to the keg to refill his mug. “I take it everything’s alright with your Blackmoor friends?”

    To Weimar’s surprise, Revafour frowned, taking in a deep breath.

    “It is, but it might not be for long,” Revafour said. “Some of them told me about how monsters from Iuz and the Horned Society are both moving further and further west. They’re threatening the Highfolk, the Furyonds and the people of the Vesve. Isn’t that that whole reason those Hart Knights are gathering?”

    “So what do you want us to do?” Seline asked. “Help with patrolling the Vesve, or something like that?”

    “Yes, I am,” Revafour said. “I know it’s asking a lot after it took us so long to get here, but I think we could really do some good for the Highfolk. I understand if you want to leave, but could we…?”

    “How could we not?” Luna said, beaming. “Highfolk’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The people are some of the kindest I’ve ever met, too. If we can do right by them, they deserve our aid.”

    Revafour returned her smile.

    Highfolk had a strong tradition of cooperating against the threats surrounding them. They often expected adventurers living among them to help defend the community, and the companions had no trouble enlisting as a scouting patrol. They set out into the southwestern Vesve almost immediately, more than ready for any threats they might encounter.

    Seen up close, the Vesve Forest was even more impressive than the companions first thought. Weimar and Revafour pointed out the many different species of trees they encountered, from bronzewood to oak, roanwood, maple, usk and elm. Each tree was more majestic than the last, many of them centuries old. They gave the forest an almost tangible sense of ancient wisdom. The trees had a feeling of timelessness that made the companions realize they existed for millennia before the memories of even the oldest elves.

    The companions’ first afternoon and night in the forest was uneventful, as was the next morning. That all changed in the late afternoon, as the companions came across a fresh trail that was hacked out of the surrounding bush. Weimar and Revafour exchanged glances, concerned at the brutality inflicted on the greenery. No Highfolk elf or human would’ve been so cruel to the forest.

    Weimar raised his hand to keep the rest of their friends back as he and Revafour moved onto the trail to examine it.

    “These slashes were so violent,” Revafour said, examining the cuts in the greenery around them. “It looks like it was done with a sword.”

    “You’re sure it wasn’t an axe?” Airk said from off to the side. “Maybe some dwarves-“

    “They’re too tall to be dwarves,” Revafour said, “and these cuts came from swords, not axes.”

    “The stride on these footsteps is too long for a dwarf’s or a goblin’s too,” Weimar said from where he’d knelt down to examine several footprints. “Too narrow to be from an orc’s foot, either. I’d bet my axe they’re from hobgoblins.”

    “Hobgoblins? This close to Highfolk?” Luna said, alarmed.

    “They might just be a scouting party, like us,” Weimar said, “but they might also be something much worse.”

    The way he strung his bow told his friends how he felt.

    They all shared his sentiments.  

    Amyalla silently prayed her thanks to Arvoreen, the halfling god of defense and combat, that the coming battle was happening during the summer month of Wealsun. Despite the late evening, the sun was still relatively high in the sky and she got a clear look at the hobgoblin troop from the tree she’d climbed.

    There was more than a score of the ugly creatures, their apelike features, reddish-brown skin and tall, sturdy builds unmistakable. They were all clad in suits of banded or chain mail and carried vicious-looking longswords and spiked morning stars. Their bedrolls and campfire indicated they’d made camp for the evening. Although most of them were feasting on the deer they’d clearly caught and butchered earlier in the day, their demeanors indicated they were more than ready for a fight.

    Can you tell if Airk and Revafour are ready? Amyalla heard Seline’s voice in her thoughts. One spell Seline recently learned allowed her to telepathically speak to people who were nearby.

    Amyalla shifted her gaze past the hobgoblin camp to a stand of bronzewood trees on the other side of it. After a few moments, one of the trees in the back of the stand, visible from Amyalla’s perch but not from the ground in the hobgoblin camp, started to grow more thickly on top. That was a signal from Luna, who magically caused the tree to bloom.

    Yes, they are, Amyalla thought back to Seline, so we’d best be ready.

    Pulling a dagger from her belt, Amyalla clenched it between her teeth as she climbed back down to the ground.

    Airk and Revafour exchanged glances as they prepared to charge, their weapons at the ready. Luna had used a silencing spell to mask the sound of their heavy metal armor as they made their way through the trees to their ambush point. Once they were ready, she used another spell to signal the rest of their friends.

    Now it was Seline’s turn to act.

    The sounds of clanking armor, talking men and trampling feet suddenly filled the air. It came from the west of the camp, leading many of the hobgoblins to focus their attention that way. The hobgoblins standing guard advanced towards the sounds, while many of the others picked up their weapons.

    They were completely caught by surprise when Airk and Revafour burst from the trees and attacked. Revafour hacked one hobgoblin nearly in two with a titanic slash and beheaded a second, as Airk drove his military pick through another hobgoblin’s knee. The hobgoblin fell, howling, as Airk blocked a fourth hobgoblin’s sword blow with his shield and drove his pick into the hobgoblin’s heart. Luna emerged from the trees behind them, striking down a hobgoblin that was coming up on Revafour from behind.

    One of the hobgoblins, clearly the leader by the badge he wore on his armor’s shoulder, shouted an order to his troops. They started to form into a circle, ready to meet the attackers coming from both sides, but the marching sounds coming from the west suddenly fell silent. Several of the hobgoblins exchanged confused glances, but their confusion turned to pain as a series of silvery-blue magical bolts flew from the trees at them, followed by several arrows and sling stones.

    Several of the hobgoblins fell dead under the relentless missile assault, as Ma’non’go charged from the trees. Weimar followed quickly behind him, tossing aside his bow as he picked up his axe and shield, while Amyalla stalked off to the side. The hobgoblins, reeling from the companions’ missile assault, couldn’t stop Ma’non’go from driving his trident into one hobgoblin’s chest, before he tore it free and gouged the arm of a second monster. A couple of hobgoblins managed to strike at Weimar, but he easily blocked their blows with his shield. He chopped one of the hobgoblins down immediately, and the other stumbled back as he tried to thrust at Weimar again.

    Seline was the last to emerge from the trees, chanting quietly under her breath as she prepared another spell. The marching sounds had come from a spell she’d cast that created an illusion to distract the hobgoblins. The hobgoblins were starting to rally, but Seline reached into her pocket and tossed a small lump of butter into the middle of their ranks. Her spell made the butter grow into a large puddle of slippery, greaselike ooze. Most of the remaining hobgoblins lost their footing, and cried out as they fell to the ground. Once they were down, they were easy prey for the rest of the companions. A couple of the hobgoblins tried to flee, but Amyalla easily cut them down when she caught them by surprise.

    Once the hobgoblins were slain, the companions started searching their bodies. They barely made any progress before Revafour cursed loudly, picking up the one of the hobgoblins’ shields. The shield displayed the ghoulish image of a hideous red skull adorned with bone-white horns and a golden crown on a pitch-black field. Luna felt her blood run cold at the sight.

    “…The Horned Society,” she said, swallowing hard.

    “If the Society’s troops are coming this far west already, Highfolk might be in more danger than anyone thought,” Revafour said. “We need to tell the Knights’ leaders right away.”

    None of the other companions were about to argue.

    Despite the setting sun, the companions spent half the night walking back to Highfolk, stopping for only a short rest. They set out again early in the morning and arrived back in Highfolk a few hours later, making straight for the lodge where the Knights were meeting. A pair of guards stood at the double doors to the lodge, crossing their halberds in front of it as the companions approached.

    “The meeting is off limits-“ one of the guards said, before Weimar cut him off.

    “The Knights will want to hear what we have to say,” he said, taking the large sack he was carrying off his shoulder. “Take a look for yourself,” he said, untying the sack’s drawstring and holding it out to the guards.

    The guards peered into the sack, and blanched at its contents. One of them opened the lodge doors and ran inside, while the other took a closer look at the companions. He frowned at the obvious fatigue and concern on their faces.

    “They’ve come this far already?” the remaining guard asked.

    “So they have,” Amyalla said.

    “Damnation,” the remaining guard said, tightening his grip on his halberd.

    The other guard returned after a few minutes, with orders that the companions be brought before the Knights. The guard led them inside the lodge into a large room containing a wide uskwood table. Nearly two-score of the delegates to the Knights’ conference were seated around it, their expressions both expectant and anxious.

    “This had best be important-“ Lord Edward Silverhelm said, before Jolene interrupted him.

    “Given the deeds these adventurers have done for us in the past, I believe we can spare a few minutes,” Jolene said in response to Silverhelm’s scowl. “And I doubt they would have interrupted our meeting without a very good reason.”

    “That depends on what you mean by ‘good’,” Weimar said, as he walked up to the table and poured his sack’s contents on top of it.

    Gasps and shouts filled the room as the delegates got a good look at what Weimar had to show them. There, piled on the table in front of them, was nearly a dozen severed hobgoblin heads and several shields decorated with the Horned Society’s emblem.

    The din continued for several minutes until Jolene, who was chairing the meeting, managed to calm the delegates down.

    “We need to decide on our course of action as a group,” she said, “but I have some suggestions to offer. Some of us from Furyondy and Veluna must return home to warn our leaders. The sooner they can muster their nations’ forces, the sooner they’ll be able to aid us here in Highfolk.”

    The companions left as the delegates worked out the details of their response. They were silent as they made their way back to the Bruin Inn, relieved to be able to get some rest.  

    Airk was confused by one thing as he removed his armor and prepared for bed, though. He hadn’t thought much of it at the time, but when the companions were searching the hobgoblins’ bodies he found that several of them had tattoos marking their allegiance to Maglubiyet, the malevolent god that created goblins and hobgoblins. That was strange, given the Horned Society’s allegiance to Nerull, Mephistopheles and Asmodeus.

    Why would the Society let its hobgoblin minions continue wearing signs to another god besides its patrons? Airk wondered. They must be recruiting from the monsters in the Vesve Forest itself. That’d save them having to cross Whyestil Lake or the Furyondy borderlands.

    Airk felt ill at ease as he settled down to sleep.

    He couldn’t tell if his unease came from the thought of a Horned Society invasion, or the thought that something else might be going on.  

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    Re: The Silver Wolf-Behind The Mask: Mark Of The Beast (Score: 1)
    by FaithSa on Wed, May 31, 2023
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