March 2, 1224
It was a stormy night like many of the nights these past few days. The flickering light just behind the dark clouds promised rain and thunder for the remainder of the evening, lasting well into the night. Unlike other nights, this night we would all receive a summons to meet with Countess Liriana Ducharme – one of the most prominent and wealthy merchant houses of Couer au Soleil and a member of the court nobility.
I, Morgoth Manhue, was the first to arrive at the stylish dining hall, set with old Soleilan antiques and imported art and wood work. I paused to consider my reflection in a pane of costly mirrorer glass – a gracefully aging elderly man, with hair more white than grey and crow’s feet at the edge of his smiling eyes. I entered the room and sat at my appointed place to the left of the Countess. I wore the simple robes of a scholar with plain medals to denote my appointment as the Estate tutor and Advisor to the Countess Ducharme. Greeting everyone as they arrived was Cyril Nedeau, a young, well spoken gentleman who served as personal secretary and steward to the countess. Next to arrive was the mysterious blind mendicant, Brother Cedric, who had become the talk of the Estate for the past several weeks. His claim at receiving visions from God was taken by most at face value, enamoring the soldiers and staff almost immediately. He wore the classic brown monk's robe, but telltale bulges indicated armor underneath and he sported a dangerous-looking dagger at his hip. Arriving next was the Knight Templar, Sir Bernardine, an olive complexioned young man with dark brown eyes and an eclectic accent that suggested he was well-traveled. His large, strong blacksmith frame belied his somewhat nimble and graceful movements. He was stylishly dressed in his Knight Templar uniform, a white tabard with a kite shield design emblazoned with the Sun of Eru.
Right on his heels was Lucius Valerius Avitus, the recently appointed Assistant Sword Master of House Ducharme. Master Valerius was not as lightly-complected as most Soleilans, but he did have the characteristic blond hair, slightly silvery in his case, and blue eyes. Sir John Rouleux, the Ducharme Sword Master and his son, Thomas arrived next, followed shortly by Abelard Du Chevalier D’Sancres, an ordained priest and minor nobleman currently visiting the estate on behalf of his brother. The final two to arrive were Betrand Morel, a ward of the Countess, and the Countess’s lovely child Elionore, eldest of the three sisters and heir to the family fortune.
I must say the meal was remarkable in its 12 course array and the company, if not mysterious, was pleasantly stimulating. But soon the niceties of the evening were brought to a close by the business for which the Countess had originally summoned us. Introductions were made and then it was down to business. Francios Durand, a factor in the Countess's employ, was savagely murdered several days ago in the seaport city of Blamont. The circumstances surrounding his death were strange, even foreboding. The Ducharme Factor was looking into a missing iron shipment. Apparently, his investigation cost him his life. His body was recovered, but his head had been removed cleanly and was thought to have been spirited away by his attacker – a sign that Necromancy might be involved. The Countess asked each of us if we would be willing to put our unique skills to use and investigate his murder for her. She made arrangements for our horses and any supplies we would need to make the two week journey. She didn’t put any one person in charge of the team, but asked all to work together. I assumed my role in all of this would be to serve as a consultant and scholar, given my expertise on flora, fauna and the surrounding geography of the land as well as the roads we would be traveling. We took a few days to prepare and then left early one morning for Blamont. The Journey would not be as uneventful as I had hoped.
March 6, 1224
Today we set off for Blamont. The weather was nice, if not cool and spirits were high. I am optimistic and eager to see what we will find.
March 12, 1224
Today brought to us calamity in the guise of a mysterious clue.
At high noon odd tracks were discovered just beyond the road where we were taking our noon nourishment and rest. Several barefooted human tracks lead off the road heading in a Northwesterly direction. Most were normal, but one curious set was slightly larger than the rest with sharp impressions at the toe marks, giving the impression of clawed feet. Abelard advocated ignoring the discovery in favor of proceeding directly to Blamont, but I suggested an alternative course of action that would allow us look into the tracks for no more than two hours, then return. We had made good time in our travels and could spare a slight delay. Something in my inner being screamed that this was not just an isolated occurrence, but instead in some way linked to the investigation we were committed to in Blamont. After two hours, if we found nothing, we would continue on to Blamont as scheduled. We successfully followed the strange tracks off road for an hour but found nothing obvious. The tracks simply continued on their path North and West. However, we did notice something unordinary. When following the tracks, Sir Bernardine had an uncharacteristic sensation… an almost unperceivable discharge of static through his body. We stopped to search the area for the cause as Brother Cedric cast a spell to check for magic. Nothing additional was discovered. I did note a slight change of the flora… the grass and foliage was at least 2 inches longer and the flowers were in full bloom, unlike before. There was a clue here but it was just beyond my ability to piece together. Deciding to turn around and head back to the road we ran into calamity… Ambush!
A band of Wild Men waited for us, hiding cleverly in the surrounding high grass and foliage. Most were armed with sling stones and crude weapons, but the leader, a monster of a man, half again as big as the others, swung an oversized maul with devastating effect! Just as the Wild Men attacked, I initiated an old arcane writ I had stumbled across in my studies that called forth a mist to obscure us from our enemy. Many of the sling stones missed their target, but some found their mark. Sir Bernardine, Thomas, and even Father Abolard & Brother Cedric took the battle to the Wild men. They attacked from the edge of the mist, using it as cover when they could. Sword Master Valerius took a defensive strategy and stayed back to protect those of us staying away from the mist borders.
Although we were vastly outnumbered, our warriors and warrior-priests made quick work of the Wild Men, their skill and training beyond what the Wild Men could hope to stand against.… all except the Leader. His blows were mighty, with even a glancing blow from his massive maul enough to drop our heartier companions. Brother Cedric was the first to fall, and soon Sir Bernardine fell to this monstrous Wild Man. I used a few Divine writs acquired via Ducharme resources to keep the fallen from dying, but the healing was a mere shadow of the sheer destructive power unleashed by the Wild Man leader. But Eru’s smile was upon us and with a collective effort, we finally dropped him, Father Abolard landing the blow that sent the crazed leader crashing to the ground and to his next life; may heaven have mercy on his soul.
Beginning to dress our wounds, and pick through the Wild Men’s belongings a reality settled upon us that caused more than just a little concern. Both of our trackers were unable to find our trail back to the road. We were injured, tired and hopelessly lost deep within the Wilds….