I was dead and yet I dreamed. I dreamed of Master Jager Treach.
Time runs differently in Treach's household. When he was with you, time dragged. When he was away time sped for his arrival.
It was dinner. The wind discomfortingly swept through our decrepit house with its hint of sea breeze. He had drawn himself up to his accustomed high chair, his gnarled club of authority resting among the other implements on the table. Tonight was not unlike every other, he was drinking.
There was 15 of us sitting on the sides of the great table. Those closest to him in chairs, the rest of us on low benches of rude wood. Three winters had past since I had first crossed the broken lintel of His house. Each season had seen our eyes harden. Many had passed through his doors. Few left alive.
Nica was a recent addition. A girl of possibly fifteen seasons, with dark hair, browned skin and shocking green eyes. Like so many she had been transported from an unknown destination to Luskan. Here she had been brought by Master Jaeger Treach.
She and a girl of 10, Anna, brought the pot of mutton from the kitchen. Anna was weak and showed the signs of a long term resident to his table. They placed the pot on the table.
We all eyed the pot with the hunger of bellies unfilled as it sloshed its hot contents. The mutton was pulled out from the broth and placed on the stained chopping board.
He eyed us with a theatricality as he picked up a knife from the table and sharpened it with his whetstone. He looked at us with that disdained eye of near boredom. He picked up a hooked fork and sunk its two steel prongs into the flesh of the haunch, slicing meat from bone with practiced ease.
He took the slab and placed it on his plate. And cut into its juicy part, his mouth sucking the fat. "Wine" he shouted as Nica picked up the pitcher and with trembling steps approached the proferred cup.
The wine sloshed in as she poured. She stopped just in time as he quickly withdrew his hand and greedily drunk the contents, some of it sloshing across his face and neck.
"Wine." He shouted and she poured again. This time she was not as quick as she spilled it across his hand.
The speed of Jaeger Treach was something of legend in the household as he cursed her in terrible ways for her spillage. His hand forgetting the sloshing wine cup as it splintered across the flagstones. His hand grabbing her hair. He pushed her face down on the meat on his plate.
In this manner he ate his mutton, his knife as the slicer, her face as the fork. All the time he berated her, her heritage, her virtues. Vile words came from his mouth as she cried and screamed. The argument from him rose as she sought to fight him off as his advances raised from verbal to physical.
The anger of Master Jaeger Treach was something of legend even on the streets of Luskan. To deny him, was to deny the gods themselves. In this case a sharp knife can be a great force for anger. She began to howl and he no longer liked the cut of her mutton. The knife held, but beyond some love nicks which we had all experienced, she was still whole.
When he says silence. We obey. She did not obey. He took her head in a vice like grip and forced her head into the pot of mutton soup. She struggled as he kept her submerged, the flagon was upended. There was the clatter of crockery as her struggles subsided into tremors.
Her body lay in a heap on the floor as he called for more wine. We had held each others hands palm down against the table as the episode subsided, I struggled with fear but my companions held my hands with their combined weight. A fresh flagon of wine and cup were brought.
We supped on the soup, the night's merriment over. I had a long dark hair in mine.
I was dead and yet I dreamed. I dreamed of Master Jaeger Treach.
The night's merriment was over, memories of Master Jaeger Treach being super imposed over the newer Barsch. Barsch was the villain, he was the monster in this world.
Forget about, kindliness of man, of love of family, of the sword of justice. These are words of power clothed. The naked power was that of desire for another, chains of fear, murder for enjoyment. These were powers I knew, these were the tools of tyranny - the hallowed blood and bone of humanity.
A voice echoed in my head. It promised me that this was my fate. The grist of the machines of humanity. I could lie down and be their plaything, but I would not be allowed to. For I was his hollow of earthly delights.
The blackness that etched across my mind receded. Heart burst, lungs exploded, eyes bulged, the stomach heaved as I wretched my blood stained contents on the floor of Barsch's cabin.
Surrounding me were my sword companions. Mighty Alek, a giant of a man - a warrior. Vivacious Ka'an, an elvish daughter of the forest - a bard. Concerned Io, an innocent elvish girl - an angel summoner. Intellectual Sari, a daughter of Waterdeep - a wizard.
Among their number was no wolifish Barsch nor his rat faced lieutenant. Breathing was difficult as I was forced onto my feet. What had once been crushed ribs were now mended whole by that which lived in me.
Barsch was gone. He had run away liked a whipped cur, his tail slinking between his hind legs under the bellow and up thrust sword of Alek. Now that adrenaline had lowered we were left with the spoils of Barsch's hut and the followers of his camp.
Some of Barsch's things were easy to collect, but the chest under his bed was another matter. Barred with four locks and long bands of iron, it would not open with force, but only under a careful touch of a pick lock.
I opened the first lock to be only pricked with a poisonous dart. Shadows formed across my eyes and I slumped down. I awoke again, lying next to the chest. I could feel a welt across my arm, the poison dribbling out of my arm. I could feel the being in my head, soothing me, I would not be allowed to die.
The last of the locks succumbed under my numbed hands, bleary eyed I crouched freeing the last one. Inside was the treasure Barsch had collected. Magical items usurped and gold hoarded.
As is usual Ka'an eagerly dived into the hoarde, for she is the one who wished the most pleasing, the greatly rewarding items. I was pushed aside as they looked over the spoils.
My spoils were 1 log cabin, 2 huts, 150 people. Most of those were the elderly and children. I had never forgotten the reason we had come.
I was dragged back into the conversation. I was handed an item from Sari's bag. A silver circlet. The disparaging remark was that I was always the one to die and they would have to come and rescue me.
I flung away the circlet and stalked from the hut. I was beside myself. I was black with rage. Sari was the one to rush behind me. She was the one who said something. I did not understand her words. I saw the circlet and snarled at her.
A strange thing happened. I did not turn into a wolf from mine then momentary affliction of lycanthropy. Instead, I saw the shadows of the world alive a veil lowered. The temperature of the spring evening was touched with a wintry pall. Frost collected on the circlet as I grabbed it from her outstretched hand as I fled on shadowed feet and tattered cloak into the forest. There in the darkness I cried in fear and brooded for strength as I cradled my threadbare soul.
In the morning, their Jenn walked back out of the forest. I had to have control. Emotions are weaknesses that would not function with them, I could not be a liability and could not portray myself so.
While I had been gone, guards had been setup and the camp had been counted. Dutybound I helped with the inventory. 3 huts, 10 tents, primitive tools, 50 men, 50 women, 50 elderly and children. For they were my secret treasure.
However, there was the great concern of us becoming werewolves and we also needed to know how many of the villagers were equally afflicted. It was my great fear, for not only was I bitten, but so was Sari and Alek. We did not know what would happen when the moon came out and we would turn. Something was pulling us, animalistic and vicious.
We had a ritual to see how many of us were afflicted. A stag was caught and ritually slaughtered, we and the rest of the villagers hummed the dirge-like words issuing from the voice of Sari and Io. We felt the pull closer, more apparent. Our nature came to the fore. Some of us howled at the moon. Others more deeply affected by the curse shivered through partial transformations.
All the children were unaffected, some looked on wild eyed at the transformations affecting their parents, their neighbours.
It had been five days since Io and Sari left for Loudwater. Six days from when the ritual had been conducted. Near three weeks to the full moon. Every night another passing to our encrouching doom. Every day closer to my last. Would death be preferably to monstrous transformation?
Alek had become the headsman of the camp. The adults turned to him for assistance, for guidance. Before Barsch decided on the minutae of the camp. Now Alek, the reluctant leader, had been thrust into this role.
I had taken upon myself to help the children. To protect themselves against their parents when they changed. To defend them against the violence of an adult like Master Jaeger Treach. Correction - Barsch.
However, my advise was not welcomed by the parents. They said that my behaviour frightened the smaller ones and they were afraid of what I might turn the older ones into. It was therefore better to meld into the shadows and wait for the inevitable.
Sari and Io arrived back with supplies from Loudwater today. An ox, a mule named Henry, knives, bows, blankets and other tools and sundries. Alek welcomed the arrival with great enthusiasm for he had requested wine.
The days to the full moon are hazy. We broke into different groups. Some parts are in better memory than others, my brain addled by what happened. My pen shakes with the thought of the days that came to the glistening moon.
There was the memory of Alek, his breath stinking of wine as he stroked my face, saying something indecipherable, before turning into Barsch's cabin.
There was the memory of Ka'an and Sari returning with water. The mule and cart laden with troughs of water.
There was the memory of going to Loudwater. The hollow empty room which I had vacated in the winter. The shadows clung to the dark stained elm walls darker than before taking on a life of their own.
There was the memory of Brother Gryffon sacrificing a strange creature a "white belly" to Silvanus. Of being told that the solution to our affliction of lycanthropy was hidden in Loudwater.
There was the memory of my skin crawling of panic, of the burst of shockwave throwing us against the wall as the flame of Mystra burst into white flame. Of it consuming the clothes of Ka'an the initiator of this most dangerous and imponderable artifact.
But these were secondary, simply memories that circle in random pattern the day before the transformation. I hold my pen and pause.
When we had returned from Loudwater I had carried out the request by Alek. He had requested more wine. I had brought back two kegs of wine.
As the moon started to wax in the night sky. Io and Ka'an had left to found a camp a days walk away from the camp. There tey brought the unafflicted - the children. Sari was away in Loudwater, consulting Kurufar.
This left me and Alek in the camp. Alek had taken to the wine keg. No longer was his wine drinking confined to the night hours, but now it sopped and sloshed into the day time. As the days crept to the fateful night of the eve of the full moon. His habitual drunkenness became worse.
My own nerves were becoming fraid, fear was building up. I could feel the changes coming over me. Soon who I was would be ripped apart by these two forces. I heard the voice in my mind promising that he would not lose me. He would not let me go. His vessel would not be touched by such a personally malignant force.
I do not remember what the fight among the camp dwellers was about, but it was some petty argument which forced me to being involved in. I snapped at them. My black gorge rising to my throat, a murderous rage swept before me as a black veil drifted over my face.
Alek found me in such a state, the ground under his feet touched with unnatural hoare frost. He was dishevelled from lack of sleep. His eyes red from too much drinking, he took another swig from the mug that had not left his hand for ere three days now.
I argued with him. I called him a drunk and other more foul words. I viciously mocked him, not with the wordsmithery of Ka'an, but terror lead hate. The frustration of the past few weeks taking control as I called him for what he was.
The strike that he did against my face. His gauntlets of ogre power smashing the mug against my face. I landed sprawled against the ground. It was inevitable, it was expected. It had been a long time since a man had hit me like that.
A side of my head hurt from where he had struck me. I could have been quiet. I should be a good little Jenn and have staid quiet. Instead I did not cry from pain, I laughed at his weak action. I laughed as he walked over and he landed more blows. I stopped laughing when he stomped on my knee. I stopped screaming when he kicked me in the ribs. I lay still when he picked me up.
Through blurred star studded vision I saw the entry to the hut and I fought him with all my ineffectual might as he threw me on the bed. Blessed unconciousness took me.
I was laying fully clothed in the bed in such a state when Sari arrived. Alek was drinking like a clockwork golem on the steps directly from the keg. I tried to move my body, but every sinnew screamed upon its impossibility. I saw double.
I drifted between wake and sleep. Night's cold saffron touch was up as the nightmare of the first change took over. The affects of it ripped my body. What was broken mended in horrible contortion into whole. Madness descended. The last sight was the face of Sari as the change sought to take over her as well.
We were currently in the forest. What happened during the change were only hazy blurs. I did not split myself in two. I did not die. I was cursed to dwell on this firmament called Faerun.
Every passing moon phase would cause the animal nature in me grow more powerful. The intoxication of the hunt, of a mouth full of red flesh, tasting the fear in the blood. To throw myself so fully into the heady blood drunkedness of being the child of Barsch. These were anathema to the very core of my being.
A cure could possibly be found in Loudwater. It's movement inexplicably linked to the artifact of the Flame of Mystra. A creation which could be our saviour with its power being so apocalyptic. The artifacts of stories such as the Nether Scrolls, which created Netheril Empire. These spawned such abominations as Karsus who in hubris sought to ascend to godhood by consuming the magic of Mystrul. Mystra was the catharsis of Mystrul.
Thultanthar, turned to the shadow weave, returning back to Faerun as the City of Shades. Such artifacts, relics had a terrible mind of their own, or so the stories warned. The stories told to fat children in warm homes to frighten them to be obedient. I had no need for stories. However, equally I had felt my fill of limitless power.
We talked for a long period of our options. We decided that we would seek to remove Barsch, for we could not look for a solution to our affliction of lycanthropy while Barsch could haunt us from the borders of the forest. A council of five was selected from among the camp members. Already a day after the ending of the apex of the moon cycle we had left for the darker regions of the forest. Another three weeks or so and the moon madness would be upon us again.
This was no pleasant pastoral forest but a primordial and brooding one. The thick underbrush broken by the occasional deer path hid cliff faces, rough boulders and burbling creeks that turned into cascading waterfalls. The trees gripped the ground with outstretched roots, their branches grappling each other for glimpses of skylight.
Every morning and every mid-day we would cast the magical hand. It would point us in the direction of Barsch. Every point of its hand led us deeper into the unforgiving environment. It no longer felt that we were at the point of the hunt, but as if we were being led. Branches would tear at our faces, roots would trip us up. Poisonous plants would sting us leaving reddened welts.
Without Ka'an leading us, we would surely be lost. Each step was becoming harder. The gloom of foliage was added to by the weight of being watched. This feeling was that the forest would eat us and swallow us whole.
In such circumstances sleep was a poor choice. We spent the nights awake as things crawled and eyed us from among the leaves and boughs. On the third day Ka'an saw marks of something 10 hands tall being hunted. The foliage was ravaged and deep gouges of some creature were across the root of a tree.
Emotions started to run over as we progressed. Alek sullen at first was now angry and indignant. Ka'an's dragon hound became more like a puppy at the heels of Ka'an than a war hound. Whatever the chase is about we are coming closer. Have we become hunted?
On the fourth night, Io and me were standing watch. We have not received any sleep, when sleep had come mine has been nightmare filled. So when we saw the light moving among the trees we thought perhaps it was a trick of light, a spirit. We never thought it could be anything worse.
The light creature awoke the forest. Strange twig things and a large forest creature formed from the vegitation lurching into deadly life.
It was a cold wet morning to which we found ourselves in. We had not slept and our nerves were frayed. An argument broke out at one point on whether to continue or not. I wanted to continue. Barsch and his death was close. I could taste it.
We continued on deeper into the forest. Trees crowded around us, bushes that had been previously only hip height were now 7 feet tall. Their thorns displayed to tear into our open unprotected flesh. We could hear something up ahead a flapping sound of leathery wings and the scream of a creature.
Behind the bushes and trees we spied a large green dragon and a selection of hulking forest monsters. It stopped toying with the wererat, raking its face and shoulders with its fore claws. Barsch growled at it. Words were exchanged between Barsch and the dragon. It cast a curse on Barsch, the muscles flowed, the body changed as what was once Barsch was being re-molded. The pain of Barsch its great pleasure.
I charged, we charged. I would not be denied my blood. It smiled at us crookedly. It lept away with the creature that was once Barsch and left us with its hunters - trolls and were creatures. We were denied our prize.
We were heading back to the lighter side of the forest. Away from it. I wished to continue hunting Barsch, but we were badly wounded and the trail had run cold. There was nothing we could do further. I cursed the gods, for the wicked in this world could go fat. Their destruction only important to the gods when convenient.
Only when we came back from the forest did I seek to speak to Alek. My words of daggers simply thudded into his dead heavy shoulders. I felt the worse for it, until I was reminded that his kind will always be like. I do not know why but my actions and thoughts made me sorrowful and bitter at myself.
Lady Moonfire's library was always a magical place of richly laquered beech paneling. The oak table burnished to a deep red. On top of our heads a large chandelier hung, the lights on it magical. She was talking about how a blight had taken over the Southern Forest. The same forest in which was had only a few days ago had hunted for Barsch.
Jun Haleck, a druid and sole survivor of an attack against his grove stood next to Lady Moonfire. His headress with great elk horns rested on the table. His news was dire, his four other companions had been slaughtered, the grove defiled by a greater green dragon.
The dragon's power was what I believe we had felt in the forest on our journey to hunt down Barsch. It was the dragon which we share as a mutual enemy. Ka'an explained that it could be the same one of our experiences in the forest.
The druids bushy eyeborws raise in amazement and lower in consternation. He praised and admonished us for being brave - if not fool hardy, for being lucky - if not fools lucky. He explained that he had heard of our afflication from Lady Moonfire. He offered to help us find a solution to our affliction in exchange of accompanying him to the grove.
Tomorrow we head into the forest to seek out the druid's grove. Death lives in the forest and into its maw we will be walking. Tonight I plan on drunken self-destructive revelry at the Green Tankard Inn.
I am Jenn. Once there was a longer name attached to it. Once there were ribbons in my hair. Once there was the laughter of running through fields, to the chuckling admonishment of my mother. Once there was being hoisted in the air by my laughing father, of being tickled by his orange beard.
That Jenn of the longer name, died a long time ago. Her recklessness died in the escape. Her laughter was buried with her father. Ribbons she had felt before, but not to tie the hair, but to bind the hands, to hold the tongue. Her childishness had died.
I am. I have become less, more. Dangerous in what I am. I no longer lead, I follow from the shadows. The shadows speak to me. Whisper half forgotten secrets, I bleed into them, they bleed into me. They pregnate me with their silence.
Perhaps it would come as no surprise to find out that I was sitting on a tiled roof. The sky black with rain. My body heavy with rain soaked cloth. I watched him lurch his way from the yawning light of the inn door into the street. Under one arm a girl of this town. The other hand holding the sloshing wine skin. The laughter of the girl piercing the night as they ambled to the corner. Her playful admonishments of his advancements piercing through my eyes and ears.
I stood in half crouch and walked off the roof. I hit the ground hard. Limbs creaking, sinews gasping. I did it for effect, the effect of striking pain into me. I stood and walked around the corner in the direction of his hearty chuckles and her loathsome titters.
I listened to their rhytmic breath outside their window. They lay in each others arms, sleeping the sleep of drink. I had listened to the words, the sounds, the unity of two as one. I felt the bands of my heart. I felt the nails driving deep in there bleed. My mind was unfettered, as I drank of my own flask.
The human in me yearned for that touch, screamed for it through a tear drenched pillow. The shade in me looked at this with the bored dispassionate attitude of the turn key, beholding the delusions of the love mad.
The human side touched the window carefully, the shade side turned me callously away, back into the darkness, away from the warmth of the rising sun.
In the morning of this spring, I was standing under the shade of an awning of a house. Already my companions were readying themselves.
There was the boistrous half-elf Ka'an talking in her hearty way with her adoptive mother Lady Moonfire. Both had their youth to them, taking them back to the cusp of adulthood.
There was Sari, bookish sorceress with her book imp. It chittered at her and she whispered into its ear as a mother would wont to do.
There was Io, she studiously nodded as the druid, Jan Halek, explained the finer points of the forest. His beard long and grey. The deer antlers on his brow long and crowning. His attitude towards her grandfatherly.
Then there was Alek. He had just arrived. He shared some words with the woman from the inn, the night before. She straightened out his shirt and kissed him deeply.
Lady Moonfire admonished the two lovers as a mother wont to, before guiding herself and the girl away into the town waving our party adieu.
The rest of the party turned to leave and I followed.
The experiences we had of the Southern Forest were explained to Jan as we moved ever increasingly close to the skirts of its northern tree line. Io talked about how she had lost some of her divine guidance, a rift from the divine creating despair and longing.
Sari asked Jan about lycanthropy, for Sari, Alek and I had been bitten. We had already experienced three nights of madness last month. When would the turning into a full lycanthrope take us?
Jan who had some knowledge of the affliction of Malar, the god of the Great Hunt, explained that it would be many moons until it would take full affect. He also told us that would be best that we did not mention our affliction among civilized society or that we had lived among lycanthropes. For after all that which is different is shunned and that which different and dangerous is expelled.
However, he would help us if we helped him reach the druidic grove. He was greatly concerned of what was going on. He had felt or seen his companions in the druidic circle dead. The grove was something he could only find. The nature of the magic around it, prevents the curious and the unattuned to enter the circle of the heart of the forest.
The forest had become darker. The shadows occasionally pleasantly writhe over my body. My companions have in turn become more edgy. The forest has also turned more wild. The leafy growths more diseased. A wet rotting smell had permeated the air. The limbs of the trees started to grow more twisted. The overhead canopy of intertwined branches deeper like angry fists.
The shadows claw at me, the brambled limbs rip into me. The wet moss licking me. Hours in, I am bleeding from the rips and tears of the angry forest.
A sound is heard from behind. Jan stopped us and he turned to investigate. A rustle of the canopy could be heard, the sound of a gigglish infant. The long glistening body of a snake, the infant like human head. It burbled in childish glee as it as it struck at Jan with viperous hinged jaws and teeth.
The snake with head of a child mewled with milky eyes as Alek finished it off. The tail still curling through the underbrush.
Jan leaned down next to it and muttered arcane words, slowly brushing the skin as it lay still. The deformed creature lay dead as Jan turned to address us.
We were close to the source of corruption. The snake was a manifestation of the twisting of nature to some malefactors will.
We all rested as he explained more about the deeper aspects of nature. Alek nursed a heavy wound. The poison coursing through his veins for some moments longer before, his vitality returning to him with the prayer of Jan.
In this state we rested. Jan admonished and requested us to be on our feet. For there might be a dryad in the grove still alive. It could be but matters of moments to save her. Bloodied mice among the curls of a dead snake we moved on.
Ka'an was singing, the rotten smell was now a taste. The west leaves of the trees hanging corpse like from withered branches. The carrion beetle and maggot were crawling among the underbrush. Once the yellowed ribcage of a creature could be seen through the foliage and black insect swarm. A green fog encircled our legs, lashing our hands.
Through the haze we stumbled into the grove. What may have once been a sylvan scene was only met with willful decay and wantom destruction breeding. Lilacs from the churned ground mixing. Memory and desire, in the burnt choked air stirring. Dull roots splashed with spring rain, fed by the burbling brook, the fat of corpse mountains long past twisting. A little life with dried tubers wilting.
Into this no mans land, do I crawl. Maggot-like do I slither. The careful extraction from tangle vine. The slow immersion in the sink holes of a createred landscape. The slow trudge through the mire until reaching the corpse of once proud trees. Their stumps in shattered monument of the one tree standing.
One tree stood in this fouled field. It's branches strong against the onslaught of nature. The roots deep in the flowing firmament. It too was dying, but like the face of an ancient soldier staring into the face of the enemy. It stood proud for the final plunge. Broken withered limbs bulwarks against the enfilades. Victory through death it cried.
I withdrew from its position and approach again with Jan, the last druid of this grove. He approached the tree, each foot step finding firm ground where all I could find was mire. Not a hair of dirt on his robes, while I trammelled through this mirk. His movement to the tree like that of a woman approaching the ancient soldier who in his infirmancy has withdrawn into the darkest regions of his mind.
Soldiers take on many forms. In this case the being emerged from the shaft of the tree was a green elf of exceptional beauty. Words would be awkward fledglings to describe the elegance and poise. I felt green eyed envy at her, a dark welling of bile that I will not spew on this ledger.
We were digging nde her direction into the loamy ground. Reaching for the white maggots of her former compatriots. The first to pull out was a woman, once maybe of indeterminate age. Her body showed the rose petals of the knife. The blood kisses of the spiked whip. The bite of the beast. All of her former beauty lay in the tangle of blonde scalp that lay on the jagged stump which was her headmarker.
Each of the four bodies so raised, showed equal marks of torture and defilement. Here was power, here was sadism, here was a cold purpose that drained it of its hedonism.
Sari was perhaps the only one who could talk with these creatures. The dead could be made to speak and perhaps the mind of the one behind could be encompassed. What manner of dark desire raised its hand so, what blackened power did they hope to grasp from these shattered stumps?
A riddle given and a circle of the dead to divine. We place the bodies at roots of their shattered trees. Each body having position. The two alive, the dryad and Jan take their positions.
With a grave voice Jan speaks the ancient tongue. Words of roiling reality, moving, mingling with the blasted landscape. Ghosts of trees of the grove appear. Spirits of the dead appear as time parts under its force. The ghosts are of two wolves, of one bear and one owl. Each representing and aspect of nature unsullied.
The conversation is heady as they speak in tha language of formation. Sometimes an errant word would roil to the ground causing marigolds to burst forth only to wither to nothingness in a heartbeat.
Words of knowledge etch themselves in my mind. A ritual to cure lycanthropy. A forest temple to Saha'annin, an altar to bend ones knee to, a cup to vow on, the blood and wine to mingle with. A celebration of a goodly god, with a godly ritual. It would be lightness and good.
I stumbled and sat down on the marshy ground. The ritual was reaching its end. What other knowledge had passed ahead of me as the turns of lightning, their meanings the rumblings of thunder. I am the child of shadows and loss. The frenetic blur of the tree of life blinding to me.
Something had been watching us from beyond the grove. It stepped out into the open. What had once been beautiful was now distracting. Every part beautiful but mis-proportioned. No part of her as a whole was in symmetry. Even her voice had that echo of misalignment.
She threatened us with promises of torture. While Alek promised to burn down her tree. Each threat and promise lead us ever closer to combat.
The hate pouring from them she was twisting to her purposes. The powers of creaton that were lying started to twitch. The spirits of the druids started to strengthen, her power growing with every vile word for or against her. Their bodies twisted to match the twisting of the spirits. Spikes burst from matted flesh, maggoty growth increased until they were great in size.
We had run, we had escaped into the forest. We plunged through the mist, Jan directing us out of the cloying green veil back into the twisted part of the forest.
We did not wait to see if they would follow instead we ran forward. There was a moment when dark shadows reached over us and I feared the great talons of the once spirit owl. Then the shadows were gone.
Eventually the false light of the decayed corpse of trees changed into the true light of the spring awoke forest. It would take the first light and hard travel until we were back in Loudwater.
We had the tools for one kind of solution to our affliction and those of our camp of refugees. However, many questions lay unanswered.
Would we ever see any quest answered to or would we slip into the reality of never finding a solution? I see no end, but the cruel taunting of the gods.
Perhaps the best solution is to refuse playing their game?
Edit: I received character descriptions which I ave woven into the story.
Days had passed since I had written in this ledger, since the events in the grove. Truth be told it felt more like months now. How sudden can the changes of thought make time stretch to infinity and back?
The hunger, the anger, the feral animalism, so alien to my mind is crawling behind my face. I want to use strength, to rip my enemies with my teeth, taste their pulsing blood in my mouth, their meat in my gullet. One side of me is disgusted with such displays of the curse of Malar. Of Lycanthropy. My other is filled with alien interest.
We had gone to the wilds of the forest with Jan in the lead, the druid of this now twisted forest. We met creatures, once forces of good now twisted into something else.
The grove was worse, the wantom destruction. The malforming of the wholesome into the unwholesome. I have seen the will behind such creations. I have a name for it as well. Master Jaeger Treach.
Unlike Master Jaeger Treach, this was for more of an alien purpose. The torture, the defilement was not for pleasure, but for a greater, unfathomable machination.
We conducted the purification ritual. That which was twisted was allowed to be untwisted - for a while at least. A tree spirit, the last guardian of the grove was made aware of our presence. The knowledge of the grove was stirred for a period of time, and we received the knowledge of the ritual of ridding us of lycanthropy.
An emissary of the force behind the twistage approaced us. It threatened us, promised us and then the puppetmaster stretched its hand to us. The grove became animalistic, wrong. The forest guardians turning into monsters reflecting the new power exerted over this forest.
We escaped, we ran as we listened to the once forest nymph rattle her wooden teeth in her asymmetrical face. We escaped the blackened forest to the lighter welcoming town of Loudwater.
The warmth of spring seeks to switch my face as the yawning window to the elements is open. Gone is the biting wind of winter. Instead a light patter of clouded rain-spray is lightly dripping down the mantle. I prefer to cover myself in the shadows of the room. I am a maggot, emulating movement in this dead carcass of my life.
The fellowship which existed between us as the Greyvale Guardians has dissolved. Io left this morning to fulfil a deeper meaning further away from Loudwater. Ka'an has been given an open inviation to study with deep forest elves in the North. To bend her knee to some sylvan god, whose name escapes me.
Sari has become obsessed with the artefact which we have found. She has become a follower of the dead goddess Mystra. Unbalanced and fanatical is what I would call it. An artefact which for so long has been lost, I fear it has become twisted like the spirit guardians. Feeding on the power leaked into it while tantalising others like Sari with untold, untapped power.
Who am I to know? I can barely write my name in common? And yet with the language of Shadovar my thoughts flow unaided, with careful cultured coaxing of my other into the curled cuneiformed symbols, I scrawl onto this page.
All I know now is that she is no longer Sari, but Sariella cleric of Mystra.
Alek is the last person of this band to perhaps adventure more. He has been drinking heavily though. Just last night he came knocking on my door. He stank of wine, sweat, vomit and possibly woman. He had been thrown out of the tavern again. He was drunk to where he could but lie in the gutter and slur words at me.
Such a sight we made as he drank from a bottle he had liberated from my recently woken landlord. She cursed my name as I sought to lead him away from the fight he was hungering for. There was no way I could carry this giant of a man up the rickety staircase to my room. Instead, I half dragged, half carried him to the barracks of Loudwater's militia.
The officer of the watch helped me lower him into a cot, from which he burbled like a child followed by the snoring of the heavily drunk man. He muttered the name of the serving woman from the inn as he smiled at himself, the empty bottle clutched tightly.
Walking home in the star-studded night made me feel in my second skin. The whistling of the wind across the battlements, the light patter of mist from the encrouchment of dawn. And yet I felt angry, I felt remorse. I felt like I had an opportunity for something which I had squandered. And yet, I do not know how to describe a yearning, the hunger of being close to someone - over the gulf of nothingness across which yawned my torn black soul.
The ritual against lycanthropy which we extracted from the grove nears completion. We have collected wolfsbane from the forest, the smith creating a silver chalice for the express purpose of holding the ritual material. A cask filled with alchemical unguents has been readied.
A notable traveler among the few merchants and adventurers drifting in has arrived. The priestess of Sahani, the presider of the ritual arrived into town this morning. Already around her children have flocked.
She is exceptionally tall, standing at twice my height easily. Eladrin, the progenitors of the elves, fey touched, from the immortal court. Wrapped in a white wool cloak, velveted with a pearled linen dress with intricately weaved images of Sahane, Selune and the moon. She had this otherworldly beauty to herself.
I, in my ratty, midnight ink oiled clothes was the cheap earthly replica of her casually turned out on a potter's wheel. Her holiness and splendor of light hurt my eyes, it made my skin crawl.
I saw her for a short time as she passed me by. My attention focused on the gestures the captain of the militia of Loudwater, who beckoned me over. He was searching for Alek and wondered if I had seen him.
I had not seen him from last night, but I already knew where to find him at this time of late morning. I believe the captain already knew where to find him, but I do wonder why he called me. Perhaps he wished not to deal with the shame of seeing a hero in such a besotten state. Suffice it to say, I met Alek and I experienced his angry drunkenness.
Alex gripped me by the front of my tunic in the middle of the Green Tankard Inn. His breath hot against my face. His armour reddening from the hate. Arm raised for strike. The fight from last night not subdued, just postponed.
I stood waiting for the strike. I did not flinch. I stood to look him in the eyes. I am not afraid of the strike of a man. That had long been beaten out of me.
The strike never landed. Our fight was interrupted by a singular half-elf. With sound reasoning and gilded tongue he stopped the fight and for once Alec heard the wisdom of a different way.
His name is Sha and he brought him back to the table, talked him out of his wine-skein, let me pour blackened tea down his throat. I was grateful to Sha. When he asked me about what I wished. I was silent. I do not remember what convenient lie I told him. For how do you describe the filling of the darkness that wells from my being? How could he grant a child's dream?
I do not know who Sha is more deeply than a merchant and minstrel. But I trust him greatly. For Alek's sake I asked Sha to join us. He said yes.
At the shrine of Sylvanus we kept our heads down in mock prayer. There was the eladrin priestess of Sahane, there was Jan the druid, there was Brother Gryffon - the keeper of the shrine. There was Alek, Sha and I. There were also two new faces among our midst.
We met another druid Dudenal and his ranger companion Gev. Dudenal is a human druid with a piggish attitude. Wild and unkept he behaves in some ways like a pig raised in the forest. The way he ate, the way his eyes roved across the room. The way he looked at me.
Gev was behind him. His half-orc shadow. He did not speak, but I kew that where Dudenal was the oaf, Gev was the terror. He wore skins, that covered scars. Over these a wicked spiked chain was wound. It moved with him without even a sound. I have seen his kind before. Not half-orcish, the look in his eyes of calm determination connected to no fear of violence.
Shortly after meeting the two new people. Already I could see their strands of fate threading inside of ours. They would become part of our band.
The stars like pinpricks of the needle would show our way.
Jan explained that the two companions had been called here to explore and seek resolution with the problems of the unhallowed nature creeping through the forest turning it into the fevered imaginings of some alien creature.
Shortly after the introduction Sariela, walked into the shrine. She had truly changed. There was the certainty, there was the power, there was the hint of the madness. Fanatic. Cleric.
She believed that the power of the artefact could be commanded to solve the problems. She was eager in tapping into the power, to forge it to her will. All problems including our lycanthropy could be resolved. All problems with the forest could be resolved. All problems could be resolved with the artefact. All problems.
It was evening when we were asked to come Lady Moonfire's manor. The richly oiled oak walls, the pleasant aroma of mulled wine, the peaty smell of a hearth with a reddish fire leaping shadows across the walls. I who stood in the shadows and felt at home, letting the flow and ebb of the conversation wash over me.
Lady Moonfire was a graceful hostess, she wore white with silver jewellery with the signs of the moon and the stars. She was always disarming with her politicking. Her smiles were quick, her delicate reproaches made sure Alek was not too drunk for this evening. She asked many questions from the minstrel-merchant Sha, the druid-elf Dudanele, from the ranger-half-orc Gev.
Mystrel, the eladrin cleric of Sahani was present. She smiled at everyone and stood by Jan's side most of the evening. She paid little attention to me, which is just as well. All which is light made me feel discomfort, and her goddess shed light into the darkness.
Before the light of dawn, we had assembled ourselves at the gates of Loudwater. Our band of four were with us. In addition, we had Mystral, Brother Gryffon and Jan Hardeck with us.
We also had collected money to buy provisions for the people of that formed the refugees from Llorkh. An ox hitched wagon driven by brother Gryffon with Mystrel sitting at his side started the long journey to the refugee camp.
The day was wet. The path had slowly unfrozen to create a mixure of hard packed earth followed by spongy clay. Many times we had to all push the wagon from the ruts, while the strongest heaved with the ox.
We were met by cheering children who thronged the cart. The stern eye of the disapproving elderly peered at us from the flaps of the tents.
The five heads, the elders of the camp came to meet us. They talked wit Alek, eyeing the eladrin cleric and the druid with obvious distaste and fear. They finally agreed to let us into the village, they muttered about our promises to free them from lycanthropy.
They seemed to be confused by our promise of release, and yet I knew that they were happy, for responsibility was being lifted even if for a mere moment. Tomorrow at the eve of the full moon Mystrel will complete the ritual. My hands itch from the beast in me.
The past night I was in my undershirt trying not to pay attention to the rhythmic breathing of the priestess Mystrel as she lay in the second cot of the cabin.
We had heard from Dudanel of something watching us that dusk from the trees. An unknown malevolent presence. I had felt it before, deeper in the forest, when we had come to the grove.
I had the leather wrap open. Across the face of it lay the dark black circle of Shar. The objects on it were a silver knife blood flecked. A blackened wooden chalice with the pungent odour of blood and herbs. With quietude I prayed to Selune's opposite - to Shar. When the Toreil was devoid of darkness, she brought the shadows. When man was fat with immortality she brought leanness and death. When I was a child she brought me to Master Jaeger Treach. She taught me the evil of man can wilt the bloom of womanhood. She seeded me with the roots of hate and vengeance. The still born.
I poured out my prayer into the shadows, for them to whisper their secrets barely out of my hearing. I smelled the darkness of crushed earth, saw it crawl past the haze of perception, tasted it's nightshade bloom, I felt the withering glide across my skin. It touched my hair.
The moment of prayer passed over me. The silence of the cabin was still. I picked up the silver knife for there was not the sound of a sleeping Mystrel. Taste, touch, smell are but some of the senses to feel for an enemy. Mystral stopped pretending, she turned over to look me in the face.
It was a long stare, it was a long sight. It saw through the mortal flesh of my being. It looked into the cellar of my mind, it saw the well that held there. It looked into the inky blackness of the deeper pool lying there-in. I let her see the stones of my suffering, I let her see blood-begotten mortar that held me. She found the oubliette of my childhood.
We stared like that until my eyes watered. Some words were shared, the hardest was that of the thanks of understanding. Then she closed her eyes and rested in bed. I stood there with my knife ready. I gathered my things and drifted to a black slumber.
My nightmare was that of being chased and the chasee. I was a child of five wearing all white, holding onto the mane of a unicorn. I was a plateclad adult, spear in hand, riding a black flaming nightmare. Innocence and sadism.
I cornered myself in a grove, the ground and earth twisting under my feet. I looked at my callous, sallow face as the spear was hefted, thrown to my heart. My body exploding with the red of fresh roses.
I stood in line for the ritual. During the morning we had gathered some of the leaders of this camp together and explained the reasons behind it. Without Sha's nimble wordsmithing, I doubt we would have reached the chance of all of the lycanthropically afflicted to be shepherded into the centre of the ritual. I who was ignored. I chose to do nothing.
First was Alek with his blood spilling into the silver chalice. Then was he followed by the five elders of the camp. I who had been scorned by them was last. I who once would have considered them my kinsmen now I scorn them. Finally after what felt like hours I stood in front of the chalice.
Sha had been careful in his clerical duties, notarising every name as it passed the cup. He asked me my name. I said Jenn as he asked me for a family name. I told him Jenn. This brought both eyebrows up to his hairline as he tried to puff on the stylus in his hand.
I could not remember my family name nor my full name for that matter. I am sure it was writen in some burnt piece of parchment in Llorkh or a dusty court record in Waterdeep. Like so many things it had been stamped under.
The ritual continued as I gave the last drop needed to the chalice. I wiped the blood that had fallen on the table with a clean handkerchief. I do not know what I will do with it, but I am sure of use it will be of use at some point. Salvation or damnation.
I stood by the priestess, by Alek and Sha as the ritual began to reach a turning point. A smell started to pervade the air of something rotting. Some of the crowd shied away as the chalice began to bubble and froth.
What came forth from the chalice could only be descibed as an abomination. It may have once been a wolf, but now its flesh was patched with mangled corpses. Fur hung in grizzly tatters from a skull lined with razor sharp teeth. When it bit savagely Mystrel we all understod that this was no part of the ritual, but something more foul.
It took what felt like minutes or hours as we hacked and slashed at the beast. I had my silver knife out and had slashed it across its haunches. It howled with pain as we stabbed into its butchered flesh. It rent and bit with tainted claws and teeth.
Alek dealt the most damage. Dudanelle with his animal companions dealt the telling blow. It's throat open it turned back into a man. Barsch.
I screamed and stuck at him as the last breath exhaled itself from his body. I was the on who slid my knife inside to grasp his heart. I was the one who hacked at his head. Alek was the one who stood over him and rained blow after blow on his corpse until it became protrusions of flesh in the soaked, trampled ground.
Mystrel after some healing magic had been cast on her, stood over the mangled corpse and pronunces that he should be severed from this plane. Or else he will come back twice as horrific from whatever dark and twisted place he had originally come from.
The ritual complete, the body burned sweet as the ritual of removal of lycanthropy continued. The feeling of animalism that once animated my body left me. The stiffness in Alek's shoulders relaxed.
The refugees from Llorkh are finally free from the taint of lycanthropy, free from the taint of Barsch.
In the glaring and harsh light of a spring noon, we told them of the good news, of the agreement we had with the new rulers of Llorkh that if so they wish they could now return to Llorkh, to be under the rule of a group who do not bend to tyranny. Grave warnings were given to them of the harshness of not obeying by the laws of the new masters in that town.
Somehow the fear that all would not be roses, was more certainty in my eyes. They spat on me. They jeered me when I stood in front of Barsch. I did not hate them, but I would not aid them in their future. Lonely I am, and yet do I spit in the hand of any who would help me?
A festival of sorts happened that night. Fathers and mothers united with children not under the fear of the moon, but under its light. I nodded to Mystrel and headed into shadowed forest to pretend to stand guard over that which was watching us. For as Dudanele had mentioned the night before, the roving eye of some malignant thought was peering at us from the tree line.
The next morning under the pressure of the druid and his half-orc ranger companion, we did not head directly to Loudwater, but instead passed through the forest. Mine and Alek's words drowned out under the certainty of the fears of city dwellers compared with the powers of the forest walkers.
The oppression of the forest grew from the first hour under the twined canopy of roots and branches. The mulch of leaves was thick. The undergrowth was brittle and dead. Strange yellow triangled leaves rippled through the undergrowth.
Soon the light of the sun was blotted out by a darkness. Heavier, thicker trees of the coniferous kind stood in mute formations to our left. I could hear a whisper, the thread of a song. Ancient, eldritch it clung to me. It called to me. It invoked ancient ensorcelments on my body. How can you stand a bloodsong of me and my other?
I walked into the darkness. The void of light caressed and delighted my other. I could perceive that the rest of the band were following me, soon they were not following me but the beat of the drum was driving me forward.
The siren song relented on my mind only once we passed through the forest into the fields south of the river Dembiya. We looked at each other, the sigh of relief on our lips as we walked closer to Loudwater.
Alek was civil to me on the road for the first time in ages. Some of the tension had been lost, but the anger was there, deeper, smoldering. How I desire to feel his fire, and yet I fear it's warmth.