The Arrow stumble into a sunny, grassy knoll. As they take in their surroundings, they realize two things simultaneously: 1. The knoll is a small island, and 2. Mort is running on all fours over the water.
Tinuvial, Mordith, and Adalwin all let fly with their ranged attacks. They all put bolts and arrows into him, but he stumbles and keeps running. He makes it into the town they can see in the distance, and from the town they hear distant screams.
They run down to the water and begin to swim across. Tinuvial and Elyas make it, but Mordith’s armor pulls him down, and Vell and Adalwin begin to drown when they run to help. Elyas finds a rowboat and takes Tinuvial to rescue the other three. Belwrick throws them a rope, and between the rope and the rowboat they get the idiots out.
All of them except Belwrick are overcome with cold, so they head into the nearest building, a tannery. While Belwrick talks to the tanner, they begin to vomit from the smell. They troup into the tanner’s house while Belwrick apologizes. Not a great beginning.
Once they are settled, Tinuvial takes off to see if he can find or get wind of Mort. He notes the banner of some disfigured face and Kormallis’s hanging near the road. The roads of the town are absolutely silent, the shutters appear notably stout, and the single man Tinuvial sees tells him to “settle the fuck down.”
He doesn’t find much, so he returns to the tannery. He updates them on the situation, and they figure out a few things. They are in Ardeep forest, where (Vell remembers) House Phylund has a hunting lodge, and House Kormallis has an alliance with them.
Tinuvial notices the tanner, Wen Zander, edging towards the door as they talk. He asks him to sit down, and when he catches sight of Vell’s horns, he does so. They ask him about himself and the town, but he isn’t very forthcoming. Elyas discovers that there’s the tanner’s family hiding under a bed in the other room. He “reassures” them.
The mayor’s name is Jerland Mer, Vell finally gets from Wen. He’s grown up here, and it’s been called Phylund Town that long. They know of Master Mort in town, as a distinguished guest of the Lord Phylund.
The shutters are to protect them from the High Hunt. It’ll be here in about two days. Mordith and Tinuvial recognize it: It’s a religous rite to Malar, the god of the savage, bloody side of nature. They generally leave the town alone, though they get carried away sometimes. The tanner takes care of their victory. They bring back all kinds of things.
This hunt will be particularly important, as it’s the last full moon of the year, after the winter solstice.
They thank Wen for his hospitality and head towards the farmland to the northeast, then double back towards the woods in the south. Were it spring, the forest would be slow going. In the winter, it’s no picnic but they make some headway. Tinuvial hides their paths as best he can, but the brambles are so thick he can’t work with them.
Instead of wrestling with them, Tinuvial finds a small ridge where they can see farther. Elyas conjures up a small hut which they pile into and sleep.
The next morning, Vell, Adalwin, and Mordith are still exhausted, so they spend most of the day recuperating. Tinuvial, feeling better, scouts the area (without telling them where he was going). He finds little, as the forest is pretty dead, until he stumbles on an old elven road. He follows it back towards the town, and finds a pylon with the words “craw manaw” carved on it. It’s pretty old, but he thinks it means there’s an old elven tower nearby.
He gets as close as he can to the town, but the old road goes through a marsh. He scouts a bit farther into town, and sees a few locals who also see him. One building he notes is a tavern with the sign of a black panther, the Black-Blooded Pard, which is a nickname for Malar. The baker sees Tinuvial again, and gives him the same look.
He can see, however, what seems to be an old elven tower on a burgh (?). He circles back through, and comes back around sundown. He reports his finds (the tavern and the tower). They move to a more defensible spot that Belwrick found and wait for nightfall.
A half-hour or so before sundown, the baker emerges from the woods and takes a seat by the fire. He offers to help — he’s been representing his organization for about five years now, fomenting a rebellion. Step one, however, is surviving the hunt. House Phylund is lousy with werewolves, or as he calls them, the Hounds of Malar. The hunting lodge has been here for many years, and the town has grown up around it. Over time, they have bred hunting game.
He can’t blow his cover, but he’ll leave some blankets and such out for them to “steal” on their way to the tower.
There are some shrines out in the larger woods to the west, but the shrines out there aren’t going to be helpful: Malar, of course, but also Umberlee, Talos (god of storms and destruction), Aurlllllll (bitch goddess of winter).
They fill him in on Mort. The baker, Betward Noir, heard of him, but he didn’t know Mort was gaining in power the way he has been.
This place is special — the elves didn’t build here for nothing. He hasn’t figured it all out yet, but he can say the tower is there for some purpose besides defense because the river isn’t large enough for shipping. As best he can tell, this was attached to some elven nature cult.
The tower walls are still there, but there are gaps. Bricks and fire are their best bets. There may be some wolfsbane in the area, but Betward doesn’t know what it looks like.
They wrap up the conversation, and as they do, Vell asks if there’s something Betward can do to throw them off or distract them. He offers to mess with their beloved statue.
Speaking of which, what’s with that statue, Tinuvial wants to know? Betward doesn’t have much, but he hears that it was here before people settled the area, and he thinks it was a woman before it wore down. And the hotel is known as The Huntress, so there’s that.
Oh, and the druid’s circle. It’s on an island in the other branch of the stream, and no one messes with it. Also Oh, don’t go through the marsh at night. Something lives there, so when you have to get to the tower, go fast.
They give him a half an hour or so to get started, then head out. About the time they start to move, they hear dogs baying in the distance. About the time they’re getting towards the tanner’s, they see torches in the distance heading towards the woods they just left.
They lay low until the torches get into the woods, then find the baker’s shed. In it are blankets and (bonus) some sprigs of wolfsbane. On a whim, more or less, Tinuvial trucks over to the statue to check it out, while Mordith finds a good corner of a house to stand watch.
It’s clearly an elven woman, given the bow and the outline of the face. There is some elvish writing, but it’s vague and hard to read. Tinuvial casts a small light spell, then does his best to read it. The gist is that there was an elven goddess who did her best to provide for the area before the beast god took her down. Around it are clumsy offerings to Malar: small corpses, bloody weapons, broken bows and spears.
Tinuvial lays his hands on the statue, and it begins to glow a greenish-yellow. At the same moment, he hears a whispered, “I live,” and Meadow leaps out of Mordith’s scabbard, and he just barely grabs it before it flies to the statue. Mordith feels a (reassuring) presence from the sword that he didn’t before.
Mordith sees the dogs coming out of the woods, so they take off for the tanner’s. They leap over fences and through gardens to the workshop. Tinuvial grabs a few buckets of…fluid. He throws a few on the ground, soaks some sheets in it, and they take off again, this time northish towards the ruined tower.
As they look back, they can see the torches and the dogs running around the house, apparently out of confusion.
They make it to the edge of the marsh. It’s better than it would be in July, but it’s still frozen-squishy. They go as fast as they can. It’s knee deep, and Belwrick has to ride Mordith’s shoulders and they begin to think they’ll never be warm again.
Then the lights come out from the swamp. Adalwin and Mordith become very, very curious and start to wander off. With Belwrick on Mordith’s shoulders. Elyas manages to restrain them both with a Hold Person.
The rest of the group drags them (Belwrick still on Mordith’s shoulders) away from the lights and up the hill. It’s a trudge, because of the mud and the cold, but they make it.
Elyas casts the hut and they huddle up. All night, they hear sorrowful wailing off and on. Tinunvial’s best guess is a banshee. Great.
The next morning, they find themselves on a grassy, rubble-y rise, which is going to need some scouting and repair. A few things become apparent. There used to be a bridge built with Mirabar stone. There are a few broken spots in the otherwise high walls, which would need some repair, and the entrance to the underground storage would probably be over…there. The two trees inside the tower are an elm and an old willow.
They get to work. They repair the holes as best they can with the rubble and Elyas’s stoneshape. Vell and Elyas reduce the wolfsbane to an essential oil. Tinuvial prays to Selune under the willow, and Mordith joins him. Eventually Adalwin and Belwrick finally find the entrance to the tunnel. Just as the sun goes down, they begin to lift the trapdoor. The smell of “wizard’s tower” floats up, which is not at all what they expected.
Vell, Adalwin, and Tinuvial head down the spiral stairs into the darkness, easily below the level of the river. It’s relatively warm, and humid, so the wooden doors they find look pretty swollen. There are four doors, one in each of the cardinal directions. There’s no sound other than the intermittent drip of water. Adalwin opens them, just about the time the sun sets.
Each doorway leads to a hallway, which presents two interesting things of note. First, they don’t have time to explore these and second, these are travel tunnels — tunneling is inefficient use of space, so they’re not going to lead to storage.
Time is up, though. The hounds are baying, so they take positions.
The moon is up, and beyond the hounds they can hear a more human howling, and behind that, the banshee. Everyone’s knees get watery.
But then there are some howls of pain from the wolves, so they draw the logical conclusion. After that, it’s quiet briefly, and then the werewolves come at them from another direction.
They begin to come out of the woods. They feather one, while the others come in through the fiery barrier.
It’s still a shooting gallery. They rains arrows and bolts down on them, except Elyas, who throws a web spell. One werewolf runs for the stairs, but the other two are stuck, which sucks when the willow they are under comes to life and smashes them.
Vell drops darkness on the stairs as the werewolves fight themselves free of the web and head for the way up. The willow pursues them with vengeance, so Elyas jumps (with his levitate spell) into it. The two smaller werewolves get themselves perished, but the alpha runs up the stairs through the darkness, which doesn’t end well for him. They can’t see anything, but they hear a yelping.
The other wolves outside the wall go curiously silent. No time to worry about that.
Mordith charges down the stairs, yelling “Cancel the darkness!” Vell does, just in time to see the last, biggest werewolf run for it. He makes it to the entrance and disappears into the darkness, yelping all the way.
It’s distressingly quiet for a while, and then there are hunting sounds from several directions farther in the distance. They eventually walk down to check out the corpses. They are clearly brothers, and wear (wore?) the badge of Phylund on their shoulders. Two members of the family gone. They roll the corpses into the river.
Tinuvial offers a bucket of water to the tree as offering and thanks, and as they regroup, Elyas gets a squirt transmission from Sylvia Wands: “You’ve been framed; don’t come back to Waterdeep; they are coming.” No idea what that’s about.
They survive until the next morning, somewhat miraculously. Tinuvial and Elyas go out, against Vell’s better judgment, to the island tomb of the banshee. They get down into the tomb, investigate, and discover the following: whoever she was, she predates the Huntress statue. From what they gather from the carvings, she was an elven woman who fell in love with a human man. His name, however, has been struck from the walls. Farther in, they find her corpse, buried with her head under her arm in conflict with the ancient elven beliefs. She has a ring on her finger, so they (quickly) peep for his name. As soon as the ring comes off, the whole place begins to shake. Tinuvial reads the name and puts the ring back. They replace her head as well, and Elyas uses stoneshape to re-write the lover’s name. It seems to be over.
They return to the tower. Vell shakes his head.
They go to see the baker. On the way, they notice that the town still seems quiet, and a lot of doors have blood over their lintels. To go with this, they see a small pile of wolves just outside of town, with their throats slit.
They walk into town from the north, past the Huntress Inn (which has a male hunter on its sign). On the other side of the street an Iluskan with a pair of wolfhounds watches them go past. The hounds raise their heads and whine, and their owner shushes them, but looks at them suspiciously.
Tinuvial turns into Malar’s Outfitters’ next to the master of hounds’s house. The proprietor looks out of place in an outfitters. His hands are manicured and his hair his coiffed. On the walls are plenty of bows, arrows, clothes, and so on.
Vell talks him into charging House Phylund for their expenses (some tents, cold-weather clothes, and a crossbow for Belwrick. He rather accurately plays the rich douche and they get their gear.
To keep up appearances, they walk into the Huntress. Even by Waterdeep standards, the place is pretty swank. In the lobby, both of the houses’ banners are on display. The girl behind the counter tries to wave them off, but Adalwin makes a show of stomping about until they find the bar.
It’s filled with people of both houses who seem to be very drunk and muddy to the knees. Adalwin goes straight to the bar and orders a drink. Mordith is right behind him. The bartender tells them to get right the fuck out, and gives Belwrick a sausage. They finish their drinks and head out.
Three houses down, they realize that the sausage was a racial comment. Mordith is all about going back for a conversation, but the rest of the group wants to see the baker. On the way they knock the new offerings off the huntress’s statue.
By this time of day, the baker is largely done for the day. When they walk in he’s mostly cleaning and wrapping up for the day.
He suggests that their plan so far was ill-advised, since they are backing the houses into a corner. Instead they need to get arms. Head off House Phylund from opening their gates and releasing their exotics. Gain the goodwill of the blacksmith and the owner of The Huntress for starters.
The bigger question, though, is what’s the incentive of the rebels? Without the business from House Phylund, they’re isolated.
He kind of rakes them over the coals for not having a plan and stirring up so much more trouble than was necessary. Then he says there’s a family that will put them up, the Vicent family, but if they get them in trouble, he’ll disown them and they’ll be on their own.
They tell him about Mort’s ghoulish nature, and he says they may have to get into Dunmar’s stash at Malar’s Outfitter’s. Turns out Dunmar has an entirely different side beyond the dandy. There’s plenty of off-the-menu items, mostly involving silvered weapons. The baker is pretty sure that Mort has been to see the off-the-menu items, as he’s worried about some of the other members of the conspiracy.
Helm Kormallis is in town, and is more than likely a member of the black-talon vampire clan. Mort’s reunion with Kormallis and Phylund was likely an uncomfortable one.
They head out on several errands, the first of which is finding out more about the arch they came in on. As they’re heading towards the island, though, they hear the unmistakable sound of horses galloping. They turn, and several knights in orange and brown are levelling their lances at them and charging.