“The third is at the spring of blessed life, where the haunters protect and the protectors haunt. The water runs on, of course, and must be freed for all.” – The Madman’s Prophecy
The following morning the party found themselves on the edge of the Cormanthor Forest, at the headway of the trail that led into the forest and to the Spring of Blessed Life. The trail was well marked and clear, as it was frequently traveled. They found the walk pleasant and the trail easy to follow. However, that soon changed.
As the canopy got denser and the sunlight failed to filter through, a sense of darkness or foreboding filled the area. The chirps of the smaller fauna disappear, and a humid haze covered the ground. Ahead of the party a human man was sprawled on the ground just off the trail. He moaned and tried to push himself to his feet, but then he collapsed again. Nearby a cart with a broken wheel lay next to a tree, slightly off the trail.
The party rushed to his aid. He was conscious but in a bad way. More goodberries from Cundall helped him recover somewhat. He told the party his name was Wittel, a teamster who transfered goods from the farms around Hillsfar into the city. He and his wife, Dottee, just learned she was pregnant with their first child, so they came into the forest to drink at the spring. He remembered traveling up the trail but then several figures leaped out of the forest and attacked. They looked like wild dogs, but one of the attackers was definitely larger than a dog, and was wielding a weapon. When questioned he described it as a curved blade. During the one sided fight Wittel was bitten and struck, and fell senseless to the ground. When he regained consciousness, he found he had been left for dead and his wife was gone.
Wittel showed them an old silvered shortsword that belonged to his father. He brought it for protection, but he didn’t know how to wield it with any skill. Minimus’ eyes lit up.
“Would, ah.. would you consider selling that blade?” he asked.
“Uh, I guess,” considered Wittel. “It’s not like I can use it, and any money would really come in handy for building our house. How about 20 gold pieces?”
“Done,” said Minimus. Then he realised Cundall had all the money they had gathered so far.
Cundall was more in mind to barter. He was sympathetic to Wittel of course, but money was money.
They came to an arrangement of 15 gold pieces, which Wittel was less happy with. However he perked up when Zelda gave him 5 gold pieces out of her own belt pouch.
“Finish your house,” she said, smiling.
“Thank you,” said Wittel. Smiling back. Then his face clouded. “But only if we can rescue Dottee.” He went and retrieved a large mallet from the wagon, one used to bang wheels onto spokes. “I feel more used to wielding one of these,” he said.
Wittel insisted on accompanying the party to look for his wife, and he gladly accepted his place at the rear of the party marching order. Despite the goodberries the teamster was still in rough shape. However he refused healing, saying that he would be fine and that Dottee might need it more than him.
Moving deeper into the forest, the party began to realize something wasn’t quite right here. The sun appeared briefly to guide their travels toward the spring, only to appear later in the wrong place, showing that they had somehow got turned around despite Zelda’s best efforts and expert navigation. She frowned. She never got lost. Magic was at play here for sure.
Sudden unearthly shrieks rang out from behind trees, but investigation showed nothing there. Strange lights draw them down a side path, only to disappear just before they were close enough to find their source.
It was shortly after the last strange phenomena that Minimus at the front of the party, discovered a pit trap. By falling into it. He discovered an old elf skeleton at the bottom, which also spooked him. As he was climbing out with assistance, he felt breath near him and his head was enclosed in a gas. He quickly held his breath and moved out of the cloud, feeling light headed from just a whiff of it and somewhat panicky, which was unlike him.
“Something invisible!” said Cundall, casting faerie fire hoping to illuminate whatever had attacked Minimus. It didn’t work, whatever it was had moved quickly out of the area.
“This is strange,” said Zelda, looking at the pit trap. “The trap is newly dug, but the skeleton is old. And look here, there are drag marks indicating it has been dragged here and placed in the pit.”
“As if to scare us,” said Maire. “Just like all of the other weird things we’ve seen.”
They continued on, Cundall taking the lead this time, and his knowledge of the natural world helped him spot another pit trap before anyone tumbled into it. They skirted around it and continued.
The strange lights, sounds, and unnatural effects increased the further the party traveled into the Cormanthor Forest. Spectral shapes occasionally floated at the edge of the mist-shrouded path, only to melt away upon closer inspection. It was difficult to tell even what direction they were traveling now.
Unexpectedly, the trail opened into a small clearing. The center of the cleared area contained a grisly scene of dead and mutilated bodies, all human. Their wounds look like a multitude of bite marks made by small canine creatures. Just as the party started to investigate, a noise interrupted them. Coming into the clearing from a different direction were two humans, a male and a female. They were covered in sweat, are breathing as if having run, and had a wild look in their eyes.
Immediately the party were on guard. The newcomers told them their names were Francesca and Voltz, and that the six of them, indicating the four bodies on the ground, were followers of Mielikki, and they came to leave offerings at the Spring of Blessed Life. Some dog-like creatures attacked, but the couple escaped into the fog.
“Beware,” whispered Maire. “They hold scimitars, similar to the wounds that we found on Wittel.”
Francesca and Voltz approached smiling, and then a cloud appeared around the head of the male. Instantly Cundall cast another faerie fire spell, this time catching the outline of an invisible flying creature in the shape of a very small dragon with butterfly wings. However before they could take action on that, something was happening to Francesca and Voltz. They growled and burst out of their clothes, taking on the aspect of some dog headed humanoids.
“Jackelweres!” said Maire. “Kill them, they are evil. Leave the fairy dragon alone!”
Battle was joined. The jackalweres were immune to normal weapons. Zelda’s first arrows did not hurt the creatures. She took the offered silver sickle from Cundall (the one Beralt had given him, stating that Nymarrath had foreseen it would be useful) and attacked hand to hand. The jackalweres summoned jackals who joined the fight. The invisible faerie dragon, clearly outlined by Cundall’s spell breathed a colour spray spell on the jackalweres, blinding one of them. Minimus leaped forward, wielding the silver shortsword that had once been Wittel’s to deadly effect.
The battle was soon over. Two jackalweres and six jackals lay dead. Cundall had received some injuries, but he healed himself.
The faerie dragon became visible and flitted down to talk. Only Marie could understand her, and they spoke in both Sylvan and Draconic. Through Marie, the party learned that the faerie dragon’s name was Zook, as well as the following information;
The jackalweres are part of a group of four who have been using the Spring of Blessed Life as a lure for prey. Zook was a good creature, but was not strong enough to tackle the jackalweres on her own, and so she used magical illusions to try and scare people away from the Spring. She had placed the skeleton in the pit as well, anything that she thought would warn people away. These two jackalweres were going to try and lead the party to where the other two jackalweres and more jackals were waiting, and then attack by surprise. Sensing this was her best chance of being able to defeat them, Zook had intervened, causing the jackelweres to blow their cover and change. The silvered weapons were no doubt a surprise to them, they had been used to being immune to harm.
Wittel asked about Dottee, and Zook told him that she had been taken to the Spring where the other evil creatures were waiting. The party set off at once. At the Spring they were able to turn the tables on the jackelweres and their servant jackals. It was a tough battle, but the party were victorious. Dottee was not badly hurt and she was reunited with a thankful Wittel. Then they both drank the waters of the Spring of Blessed Life together.
Afterwards Zook also told the party that she was affiliated with the Harpers, and provided them with information. Now the Spring was safe again, the faerie dragon thought she would be able to leave the area and report to Elanil Elassidil in Elventree.
The party added up all the loot. The jackalweres sported thick golden ear rings, and they had accumulated loot from their victims. There was even a scroll of comprehend languages which Maire took. Cundall pointed out there was no way they could ever find out which victims owned what loot, so the party should keep it all. They burned the bodies of the jackalweres and jackals, and buried the bodies of the pilgrims. They escorted Wittel and Dottee back to the wagon and helped them repair it. The couple headed back to their home.
The party camped at the Spring of Blessed Life for a day, recovering and enjoying the sounds of nature returning in full force. The read the madman’s prophecy again. The next clue spoke of rothes and a place of ancient elven evil. Maire and Zelda both knew something of this and together they worked out that Allano’s rothe farm would be the best place to start. A rothe was a hardy cattle like creature, used for meat, fur, as beasts of burden, and sometimes for mounts. Near the farm Zelda knew of some ancient ruins that she believed were once populated by fey’ri, the ancient enemy of elves, but were also from elves, much like the drow. This then, would be their next stop.