DAY 38 (cont.)
The scroll turned out to contain a list of ingredients with accompanying directions for brewing a potion of some kind. As the party contemplated this list together, a man-shaped figure emerged from a nearby shed and vanished again among the bushes and trees close by. Moments later, as Mabe moved to investigate, it lunged forth to attack, revealing hideous, ghoulish features similar to the creature Mabe and Fugly had encountered at the underground lake in Nuromen’s Maze. This new threat, however, was soon neutralized by a quick few strokes of Mabe’s sword.
At this point, the tiny figure of a halfling emerged from hiding from among the bushes. He introduced himself as Thrum, explaining that he had been wandering the forest for some time and was drawn to investigate the smoke he saw rising from Ka’s funeral pyre. He also admitted to overhearing the conversation between Ona and the adventurers and expressed interest in helping the party confront the evil threatening Wodfeld. This offer was soon accepted, an the newly expanded party commenced first to explore the shed from which the ghoul had emerged, where they discovered a disgusting cot along with various gardening tools and a bag of oddly fragrant soil-like material.
Continuing to explore the grounds around the house, the party next discovered an outhouse and a dog house, the latter of which was inhabited by a wild boar that did not seem inclined to leave its shelter. Over the futile protestations of Mali, the other party members concocted a plan to slay the beast for food. Once provoked, the beast proved harder to put down than they had assumed and Fugly was much worse for wear by the time it was accomplished. As Thrum expertly butchered their prize, Mali and Elessar maintained a lookout and spied the movement of some wolves entering the clearing. The party quickly withdrew into the house with the intention of preparing the boar meat in the kitchen.
When Mabe saw the jar still resting there on the table, he was immediately inspired to smash it with his sword, under the unfortunate assumption that he would be safe from the potential threat of Brayden the Most Black if he avoided direct contact. This proved to be an ill assumption indeed, and the evil and insane spirit of Brayden easily took hold of the impulsive warrior. When the other party members realized what had transpired, they fled the house in dismay, realizing that they would be no match for Brayden this time. Thrum’s short legs would only carry him so fast, however, and he proved unable to hide himself quicky enough to avoid Brayden’s relentless pursuit. Seeing the halfling quickly cut down, Fugly interrupted his flight toward Ona’s tree in order to come to his aid, knowing full well his dim prospects for success. Seeing the heroic action of his colleague, Elessar did likewise, and the two rushed forth to meet their doom.
Ona responded quickly to Mali’s summons and once again exercised her mysterious power over Brayden, banishing him from Mabe’s body, but it was too late for the three fallen comrades. Ona, shaking her head in seeming disgust, retreated once again to her tree, leaving the horrified Mabe to ponder the consequences of his hasty action.
While Mabe is nearly senseless with grief, Mali raises concerns about the wolves recently seen in the clearing and urges him to help her move the bodies of their fallen companions in doors. Once this is accomplished, the two agree to spend one last remaining night in the parlor, bury the dead in the morning. In the hours of remaining daylight, the two share some personal stories and begin to form a friendship.
After the burials are completed in the morning, Mali offers to guide Mabe through through the Tanglewood back to Wodfeld, but on one condition… that he abandon the matter of the missing livestock, assuring him that it has nothing to do with the supernatural evils threatening his village. She refuses to elaborate on her certainty for the present, but Mabe agrees and the pair head off into the forest, where they spend the night. Mali urges Mabe to rest as easily as he can, mysteriously assuring him that their camp is quite safe.
By late afternoon the next day, the pair arrive on the outskirts of Wodfeld. Mali expresses her desire to remain behind for the present, but suggests that she may seek Mabe’s companionship once again in the near future. As Mabe begins to head into town he turns back suddenly to give a final wave goodbye and encounters a bewildering sight! A great cat – a kind of panther never before seen in these parts – now stands beside the druid. A moment later, the creature has undergone a startling transformation into a powerfully built, strangely hirsut man. In a flash, Mabe realizes he is looking once again at the face he had seen through the parlor window at Shadowbrook Manor several days before. The two figures wave back to Mabe before disappearing into the trees. The astonished warrior trudges forward into town…