Sar, Dravago 21, 993 YK
The day of the first trial, the party made their way to the village surrounding the Great Crag. There, they rented a set of three wyverns to ride to the northern edge of the Watching Wood.
Arriving shortly before dusk, the party found the Dark Pack at a small outpost camp site. They were told that the Great Hunt would begin at a sacred place that outsiders weren’t allowed to know the location of. The party was blindfolded and led through the forest. Ixen opted to leave his pack at the outpost to retrieve it when he returned. After some time walking, they found themselves in a small grove, surrounded by large menhirs positioned in a circle around an even larger monolithic stone. All of the stones had druidic carvings on them, but Ixen also noted a binding seal on the central stone. Zaeurl told the party that while they were accompanying the Dark Pack on the hunt, they are not hunting… but are, instead, the hunted. She tells them there are other things as dangerous as the Dark Pack in the forest and that surviving them is as much the trial as escaping the werewolves. Her rules are simple: stay within the confines of the forest and last until sunrise.
At this, a haggard-looking woman approaches the stone circle. She’s stopped by one of the werewolves, but in a blaze of motion, tears his heart from his chest. In a moment, she enacts some ancient law of the hunt, joining it and having her choice of prey: Gin. No werewolf will touch Gin through the night. Zaeurl reveals the woman to be Sora Maenya and the hunt begins. Each party member is separated in the forest and chased away.
After escaping a short fight with two werewolves, Siegfried tried to locate his companions. He failed to notice a large hole in the ground before it was too late and fell a great distance into a buried temple. Taking some time to explore it, he discovered it was a temple to the Dark Six and, more specifically, was a place where individuals had worshipped a creature known as Camazotz Sun-Eater, a massive and fiendish vampire bat that awakens under six full moons and feasts for three nights before returning to a deep slumber. He found the skeleton of a long-dead follower of the Silver Flame that had tracked the creature to the temple and had a plan to trap it within the temple until a way of killing it could be devised. A series of mirrors had to be repositioned to reflect light onto a refractive surface and a crystal had to be swapped to produce the right kind of light. His life was cut short before he could set the trap, but all the components were still accessible.
As Siegfried decided to leave, Camazotz returned from his nightly feast. Using the knowledge he had gained from the corpse’s possessions, Siegfried confronted Camazotz. He used a lantern that produced true sunlight to hold the beast at bay and took advantage of the creature’s hypersensitivity to sound to disorient it. Camazotz was intelligent, however, and spoke with Siegfried briefly. During this conversation, Siegfried discovered that the Orb of Dol Azur once rested within the temple. He had little time to learn more as Camazotz intended on devouring him. Siegfried set up the trap, but found he had no means of escape, the ladders that once hung down from an occulus in the temple’s ceiling having long since been shattered. Feeling a strangely familiar warm sensation within him, he called upon this wellspring of power. Two blazing wings of fire sprung from his back, allowing him to fly out of the temple before it was too late. He completed the trap and caught Camazotz within the temple.
The monk dashed through the woods, pursued by Zaeurl herself. Surprisingly, he stumbled across a woodsman that directed him to a sanctuary a short distance away. He shouted a warning to Volik, but Volik was unable to hear the whole message. Zaeurl caught up to him before he reached the sanctuary, but drawing on his monk teachings, Volik managed to supernaturally frighten Zaeurl away long enough to reach the sanctuary. The place was a large clearing surrounded by a wooden palisade wall. An open archway led beyond to a longhouse, the dull glow of a fire visible through one of the windows. Above the arch was a sign that was carved in Sylvan that read: Welcome are all those who seek sanctuary. He who sows discord may not tread on this hallowed ground. The design of the arch and the positioning of the longhouse made clear to anyone who understands Druidic that the place was built as a ward against evil.
Upon entering, Volik found five individuals already within: A mother, father, and daughter, an older man in a cloak, and a middle-aged dwarven man. They were apparently being hunted as well, but seemed a bit wary of trusting him. Before he had much of a chance to get his bearings, the sanctuary was surrounded by dozens of Silver Flame Templars. The leader threatened to burn the longhouse down, even killing innocents within, unless they handed over the werebeast within. Though Volik tried to reason with the man, he found himself in combat and quickly outnumbered. He retreated into the longhouse and attempted to figure out which of the occupants was the lycanthrope. The dwarf swore it wasn’t him and seemed particularly concerned with his own safety. The older man not only denied it was him, but pointed to the family of three. Volik could tell he was hiding something and was probably just passing blame off on whomever. When Volik spoke with the family, he found them defensive and uncooperative, thinking they were being accused.
The mother questioned where the sanctuary’s guardian was, which reminded Volik of the woodsman. He dashed out of the longhouse and bypassed the Templars, making his way back to where he had seen the man. There was no sign of the woodsman when he arrived, but he found his massive axe buried in the ground. Taking the axe, he returned to the sanctuary, making as much noise as possible on the way in the hopes of leading the werewolves to the conflict. On his return, a couple of the knights came after him, but as they left the sanctuary exterior and entered the forest, their visages changed. Their knightly images crumbled to ash, revealing the twisted skeletal and wooden forms of undead that had been consumed by nature. Volik quickly realized that all the knights were undead creatures. He darted past them and back into the longhouse, where he found the occupants already fighting amongst themselves. The cloaked man strode out of the house and yelled to the knights that the lycanthrope was the little girl. He said he would bring her to them as long as they let him go. At that, Volik struck the man to subdue him. In doing so, he found the man was also undead, but this time a ghostly apparition. There was little time to analyze what had happened, as the act of violence appeared to break the sanctuary’s ward, allowing the undead knights to approach the longhouse. The dwarf fled out the back, but found there was no escape at the back wall. As the attack began, the guardian returned. The mother and father gave him their daughter, “Zae”, to keep safe. He transformed into a werebear and barreled out of the sanctuary, protecting the girl with his own body. On the way out, she dropped a small toy: a wooden carving of a wolf. Volik picked up this keepsake and helped draw the attention of the head knight.
Once the werebear was out of sight, he followed, but found no trace of them. He did, however, find an old human skeleton buried near where he’d found the woodsman’s axe. As he inspected it, an arrow embedded itself into the tree next to him. Zaeurl had returned for her prey. Thinking quickly, Volik held forth the wooden toy he had recovered. Hesitantly, she took it and told him to show her where he had found it. When they returned to the longhouse, Volik found it in ruins, having long-since burned to the ground, the forest having reclaimed it. Zaeurl followed him in silence. She turned away from him, telling him he had earned a reprieve for the night, and then left.
Always curious, Ixen managed to hide from his pursuers a short distance from the camp and lose them temporarily. He doubled back and inspected the starting camp, still guarded by two werewolves and the Dark Pack’s druid. Ixen was able to gather that Zaeurl had used the binding seal on the monolith and was channeling the abilities of the Lord of the Hunt. With his newfound information, Ixen stalked back into the forest, eventually being rediscovered by Zaeurl’s son. Failing to make the werewolf fetch a stick, he dimension doored away, stumbling across an abandoned mill fort, on top of which slept a massive spider known as Tauler. He managed to sneak into the fort, avoiding the spider and drawing its attention to the approaching werewolves.
After Tauler chased the werewolves into the forest, Ixen investigated the fort, locating a locked chest within and a small hoard of dragonshards on the roof. He returned inside the fort to find a bag, having left his at the outpost, when Tauler returned. Ixen used a simple illusion to draw the spider away, affording him enough time to steal the dragonshards and get a short distance away. Using a bigger illusion, he tricked Tauler away, allowing him to return to the fort and open the chest. Inside it, he found a magic staff with orcish runes and an outdated map of the forest that indicated there were six stone circles within the forest like the one they had started at. Ixen decided to follow a dried-up streambed to the closest.
The stream opened into a valley that split in two. Down one of the valley branches, he could hear Ekhaas calling for help. When he approached, he found Ekhaas caught in a large, black spider web amidst a sea of smaller webs. Cutting his way through, Ixen made it to Ekhaas only to find she was an illusion and he had been walking through fine spider webs, entangling himself in the process. Descending from one valley rise was Tyulqin, the sibling to Tauler. Ixen quickly extricated himself from the webs with a Wand of Burning Hands, hiding himself in the forest as Tauler came striding in to pick a fight with his sister. Ixen soon came to the stone circle he had been looking for. As he approached, he could feel the staff he had acquired begin to thrum with energy. As he pointed the staff at each menhir, the silver circle carved into the stone would gleam. He touched the staff to one circle and became immediately dizzy, as though the world was spinning. When it stopped, the staff seemed to have lost some of its energy, but he had found himself transported to a nearly identical stone circle.
Believing himself to have little ability to escape from Maenya, Gin climbs a tree a short distance from his starting point and awaits her arrival. She finds him in due time and makes her way up the tree, while he chooses to stay put. Unsatisfied with how quickly she discovered him, she tells Gin that she wants fun and flings him from the branches. He begins to run, not knowing what else to do.
At one point, he saw lantern lights in the distance and approaches, only to find that the lights were actually Will-o’-the-Wisps. They swirled around him for a moment, apparently communicating with him in a language he did not understand, then began to lead him through the woods. They brought him to a hidden and shaded grove with one tree much larger than the others. A humanoid figure began to crawl down it. Its limbs bended backward and its pale skin was covered in patches of dead, grey feathers that molted as it moved. The creature’s head was that of a barn owl, stark white, with deep black eyes. As it turned its head to Gin, it sounded like the snapping of a bundle of twigs.
This is Deadfeather. He thrives on riddles and will engage any travelers in a test of wits. He had six riddles, one for each full moon. For each riddle answered correctly, he would reveal a truth to Gin. If he answered all six correctly, Deadfeather would grant a wish. Gin was unable to answer the first two and felt his health sapped with each correct answer. Deadfeather, sensing his trouble, offered him the ability to contact one creature of his choice and consult on the riddle… for a price. He asked for a memory, for Gin to tell him the tale of something precious from his past. Gin chose to relate the story of Hohenheim setting himself on fire in the Darguun arena, as he felt a sense of companionship with his friends at the time. As he finished the tale, he found that the memory faded from him, but only enough that the details were blurry and that he could sense he had lost something that once gave him joy. It was a nagging sensation at the back of his mind.
Having given the memory to Deadfeather, he chose to contact Ekhaas. Though she was hiding from werewolves, she managed to help him solve the next three riddles. He used his questions to learn that Deadfeather is a fey from Thelanis, that there are six sanctuaries within the Watching Wood and that the laws of the Great Hunt prevent anyone from harming a creature within the circle for the first hour after they enter it, and lastly that Sora Maenya’s greatest fear is Sora Teraza. For the last riddle, Deadfeather offered to place the wish back on the table… for a price. If Gin chose to forgo a truthful answer after the riddle and gave Deadfeather “one minute of his time”, then the wish would be the prize for a successful answer to the riddle. Gin agreed and answered the riddle correctly. Thinking carefully, he wished to have “a vision of the past that has information that could help stop the Day of Mourning”. Deadfeather stepped up and tapped Gin’s forehead, the vision coming to him.