The night air was filled with hot ash, smoke, and screams of the dying. Thorn remembered that night all to well, hard to forget something you relive every godsdamned night. Neither he or his brother were past their thirteenth nameday. He remembered all too vividly hiding in a ditch along side his brother and a half-dozen so odd corpses of neighbors and friends, the smell of blood and smoke, the sounds of passing footsteps, screams, and far too joyful laughter for what was happening. They had been hiding in the ditch for what felt like an eternity, but what was more likely a few hours. Night had finally come, and so to, Thorn and Ed’s chance to escape.
“Where are we gonna go?” asked Ed, still fighting back tears.
“We’ll go to father’s shop, he’ll know what to do.” said Thorn, trying to put on a brave face.
They crawled slowly out of the ditch and made their way through the small town towards their father’s smithery, staying off the roads and clinging to the shadows. The screams were now much less frequent, the bandit’s slaughter was just about finished. Past burning homes, corpses left to rot in the road, the Halfhill brothers made their way across the ruins of their hometown. Their father’s smithery must have been one of the last buildings to be raided, a fire was seen atop the roof, but it hadn’t consumed the building as of yet. They darted inside the cramped shop and found a few corpses of the marauders that had sacked their home and their father slumped against his anvil, a sword in his chest. Blood slowly seeped from his wound and a spreading pool had formed beneath him. His eyes were closed, yet he still clutched a blood coated longsword and his trusty smithing hammer in his powerful hands. The once neat and tidy shop where their father had taught his sons his craft was now in shambles. Weapons and armor once displayed on the wall were either taken or discarded, the scarce furniture and the workbench had been tossed aside.
“Father!” Ed cried out.
He opened his eyes and a weak smile came across his lips. “Boys, thank the gods you’re alright.”
The once vibrant and strong man now took a great deal of effort to speak between coughing up blood. “I had feared the worst when I heard the screams. Where is your mother?”
Thorn and Ed both hung their heads, biting their lips to fight back the tears.
“I see…” he said, tears welling up in his eyes. “Boys, listen closely. I’m not long for this world, but you must leave this place, you must make your way to your uncle’s house in Absalom. Do you remember where he lives?”
“I do,” Thorn said, “but what about you? We can carry you and-”
“No!” their father wheezed,“I don’t have much time left, and I would only slow you down. You must go on your ow-” he coughed, blood and spittle sprayed from his lips. “…before you go, under the mat… behind the counter.”
Thorn rushed behind the counter and lifted the mat to find a long chest. Inside were two works of art, a silver scimitar and a silver hammer, both as ornate as they were deadly. He brought them back around the counter and laid them at his father’s feet.
“I was gonna give ‘em to you on your namedays, but you’ll need ‘em now more than ever… poured my heart and soul into ’em I did” he smiled, looking at his creations. “Take ‘em and go, now.”
“But fath-” started Ed.
“Go!” their father was not to be argued with.
Thorn took up the scimitar and Edgar the hammer. Both turned and ran out the door, tears streaming down their faces. Thorn heard his father saying something as they left so he stopped. He only heard his father say “I’m so sorry Shylah…” And then silence. The last known words of Caleb Halfhill. Thorn bit back more tears and continued running. They avoided the road where they could and ran until they couldn’t run anymore, but kept pressing south until morning, when the grand city of Absalom and their salvation came into view.
Suddenly, Thorn was awake again, ripped from his memories and flung back into the present. “You alright man?” Dean and Edgar were on either side of him, looking concerned.
“I guess so, what in the seven hells happened?” said Thorn, sitting up in bed.
“That spider bit you the other night, the venom nearly killed you. You’ve been out all night and day. Thankfully, Ivania gave us a scroll to heal you with.” Ed told him. “While you were out, Ciles was killed. Turns out Estovian possesses the spirit of an ancient werewolf named Valcris, and he’s been sicking it on people.”
“We don’t know yet, we think he is trying to kill off people who may know about the spirit. We’re gonna set up watches tonight, are you up for it?”
“Kidding me? Of course I am” replied Thorn with a grin.
“What watch do you wanna take?” asked Ed.
“I’ll be up all night, got plenty of sleep today.” He said.
What was left of the day passed uneventfully, as did the first shift of the night watch. The second shift, one Thorn shared with Luna, was not so. Thorn and Luna were patrolling the grounds when they noticed an eerie glow coming from the tower, seeming to head down to the second floor of the building. As it passed a window, they got a good look at it.
“Holy shit, did you see that Luna?!” exclaimed Thorn
“Yeah, looked like some kind of werewolf. I’ll check it out, you go warn the others.” Luna directed.
“On it.” Thorn ran inside and dashed up the stairs to the suite they shared. He kicked the door open and yelled, “Wake up, bastards!”
“Wha? What’s going on?” a half asleep Ed mumbled
“Werewolf!” was all Thorn said
Without another word, Dean, Hal and Ed gathered their equipment and made for the hallway with Thorn, meeting up with Luna.
“It went in here,” she motioned towards the door nearest to her. “Ready?”
They nodded, and Luna kicked the door in, nearly knocking it off its hinges. Inside, they saw the spirit of a werewolf forcing itself into a man, Ostivoc, who began to change. He grew bigger, his fingers turned into claws, and his mouth into a fanged snout. He even grew hair all over. Ostivoc had become a werewolf in a matter of seconds, and let out a howl as it charged. Luna was quicker though, landing a solid blow with her trusty lucern hammer. Hal created another of his magical pits at its feet, but it deftly jumped away before the pit could engulf it. Dean leapt into the room and shot it in the chest with his gun, as Edgar rode up on Rush. He swung with Maxwell, one of his father’s masterpieces, but hit air. Rush bit the beast and tried to bring it to the floor but it shrugged Rush off. The werewolf formally known as Ostivoc took swings at both Luna and Dean, raking both with its claws. Luna dropped her hammer and retaliated with her hand axe, which seemed to be hilarious to the creature, because it dropped to the ground and started rolling on the floor laughing. Dean, possibly unsure of what to make of this laughing werewolf, smacked it with the butt of his pistol. Thorn tried to stab it with his father’s sword he had since dubbed Light’s Razor, but ended up stabbing the floor due to the wolf rolling.
Suddenly, the werewolf started convulsing and changed back into a human. The glowing werewolf spirit pounced from Ostivoc into Luna, who immediately changed into a werewolf and turned her new-found claws on Dean, thankfully slashing at nothing but air. This spirit must have had an odd sense of humor, as not hitting Dean filled werewolf-Luna with uproarious laughter, dropping her to her ground. Edgar came up to Luna, his hammer glowing with sacred light, and smote her with the power of Erastil, which didn’t seem to stop this whole situation from being hilarious to her. Dean and Thorn both landed hard blows with their respective weapons, and to that the spirit responded by leaping into Dean, who swung at Edgar, but he deftly parried and retaliated with his glowing hammer. Thorn rolled behind Werewolf-Dean, dodging his claws, and stabbed him yet again. Hal shot a beam of magic from behind Ed, but the shot went wide. Edgar slammed his glowing hammer into werewolf-Deans chest, and hit him so hard the spirit flew out and hit the wall, dissipating on impact. Edgar, the hero of the day, channeled the light of his god to heal the injured party members, and was suddenly distracted.
“You hear that?”
“Yeah,” Hal responded, “footsteps.”
“Let’s go boy!” Ed said, charging out the door.
The party tried to keep up, but Ed and his dog were in quite the rush (rimshot).
They chased Ed and Rush into the tower and up the stairs, and entered a strange room, filled with ritualistic markings. Ed was in the middle of destroying some kind of ritualistic circle.
“Where’s Estovian?” Dean asked
“He used a scroll and went through a portal.” Ed responded.
“Judging from the evidence we’ve collected, there are only two places he could be,” Hal said, “Either here, or the Stairs to the Moon. Or anywhere in between. Or anywhere else.”
There was a silence for a moment as the party digested what Hal had just said.
“Well, thank you for that Hal,” Thorn said, “We should check out the Stairs in the morning.”
Edgar brought Ciles back from the dead, and Thorn headed off to bed. In the morning, Hal, Ed, and Thorn called a meeting in the lodge, asking for volunteers to hunt down the werewolves and the bastard aiding them. Several people volunteered, including Ciles and the resident werewolf hunter, Duristan. The small army then made their way to the Stairs of the Moon lead by Ciles. Not much was said along the way except for a brief conversation where Thorn told Ciles that he too was a general, one who had forged a great deal of victories on the battlefields of the Riverlands. Ciles was dismissive at best.
Arriving at the stairs, the party spotted a great number of werewolves patrolling the grounds. The party stayed out of sight in the forest, developing a plan.
“If you guys can create a distraction, we can get in there, get Estovian, and get out.” Hal suggested.
“Sounds like an excellent plan.” Said Ciles, who seemed quite pleased.
“You’re okay with that?”Asked a puzzled Luna
“Of course! We no longer have any reason to fear death, right lad?” he declared, clapping Ed on the back, who responded with a nervous chuckle.
That was more than enough for the volunteer army, they were ready to lay down their lives for the cause.
With that, Hal began mumbling something, and suddenly he, Ed, Luna, Dean and Thorn all began floating. Thorn held up a hand and said “Skadoosh,” and suddenly became invisible, “I’ll go find the bastard.” And with that, Thorn flew to the second level of the tower where there appeared to be a stairwell leading to an entrance to the tower. Thorn entered the tower and became one with the shadows, gliding across the floor without a sound. He came upon on hallway with two doors, and entered the closest of them to find a room barren aside from some old furniture. Taking a closer look around, he found a hidden door along the wall, and as he cracked it open he was suddenly filled with an excruciating pain.
“Who’s there?!” a voice called from the room
Opening the door all the way, Thorn saw the bastard himself, Estovian, in some kind of laboratory. Thinking of all the people who had suffered because of this bastard’s actions, Thorn was overcome with rage.
“You whoreson dog!” He shouted as he slashed at the fiend.
Bloodied, but now cornered and desperate, Estovian began to mumble some words. Thorn’s rage grew, blinded him, making his next attack swing wide. Before he knew it, his friends were behind him, joining him in battle against the whelk of a man. Estovian’s mumbling stopped as he made a sudden hand motion, and out of the darkness spawned a direwolf, then lightning shot out of his hands, only landing a direct hit on Luna, but grazing Ed and Dean. Thorn tumbled to the other side of the room, taking a weak hit from Estovian, then mumbled “Skadoosh,” instantly turning invisible. Luna then brought her hammer down on the direwolf, reducing it to a splatter on the floor.
Then Hal jumped in and said “Hey! That’s how we get ants!”
Estovian found that to be the most hysterical thing he had ever heard in his life and dropped to the ground laughing. The rest of the party did a collective shrug and took turns taking attacks at the fallen man until he was good and dead.
“We’re running out of time,” said Edgar, hoisting Estovian’s corpse on to Rush, “We need to get out of here before we’re overwhelmed, not to mention check on Duristan, Ciles and the rest.”
With that, the party quit the tower. Thorn, however took the opportunity to stuff as much stuff into his haversack as he could. On his way out, he noticed the other door, and ever the curious Halfling, he decided to see what whas behind it. Inside, he found a corpse of a woman, bearing an iron ring with an odd sigil, a sack of onyx gems, and a map of Ustilav. Satisfied, he whispered, “Skadoosh.” and began to creep back into the daylight.
To be continued.