A Withering Cackle

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The series of events that led to the troupe marching through the forest isn't too important. Poster, word of mouth, nature march - all managed to be approach and briefly speak with a rugged elf, who dresses the part of a ranger and with a sharp intense stare that explains in quick, distracted manner that yet another problem had sprung forth in the Felwood. This time, it would seem, that the Elves from the Mythwood claim that they have many reports of the hyena cackle. Evidence leads one to believe that it is a small warband, but the sheer amount of reports of these nighttime hysterics suggest something more is amiss. They are led, quickly, and with very little conversation, to a small glen south of a pond where they come upon a murder scene.

A family of deer, ripped apart gruesomely, and with tracks leading every which way. Still, mangled or not, the corpses might have clues that will point our party in the right direction and give them answers that the still wood and stale air does not.

Is this as simple as a gnoll band, or is there something more going on? The Felwood's wicked claws scratch at the afternoon air, black talons against a dreary sky, and even the occasional raindrop taste acrid on the tongue and oily to the skin.

GAME: Karasu rolls Heal: (1)+6: 7 (EPIC FAIL)

Not an expert on biology or methods of death other than causing it herself... and a city girl who has never needed to learn how to track anything, Huian finds herself remaining mostly silent as she observes from a mid-distance. She is mainly keeping on alert to make sure nobody is watching -them-....

GAME: Ravendar rolls perception: (2)+10: 12

Ravendar is in the middle of this group as they march through the wood. He has heard rumors about the Felwood ever since he got to Alexandria, but he hasn't had to go in there yet. He has his fiddle tuned for the weather and out as you never know when some musical inspiration is going to be needed. He resists the temptation to play as they walk as he doesn't want to give away there location. He stops as they get to their destination and he wrinkles his nose. He starts to look around at the body of the torn up deer, but at a distance as he doesn't want to get too close to the mess.

With cowl pulled up against the rain that is inevitable, the xian man who sits in front of the corpses of the deer far longer than any other might have considered it necessary to do so. He examines the corpses without a trace of emotion on his features, the raven that perches on his shoulders stares as well. Not looking hungrily at the corpses, but rather keenly at the animals. A too-intelligent expression in the eyes of a bird known for its cunning.

Seeking further answers the man draws closer and grimaces subtly when suddenly a boil on the creature's body bursts and stains his cloak with foul-smelling ichor. He drops back finally and rises to his feet, looking around the area and shaking his head. "Not gnolls or a hyena. These creatures are... badly damaged. Stricken with something before they died." He glances at his cloak and begins to shrug it off in spite of the rain.

GAME: Fidget casts Detect Magic. Caster Level: 3 DC: 14
GAME: Huian rolls perception: (9)+8: 17

Not the best at detective work, Fidget readies her magic sight to see if there's anything magical about the corpses or the area, and while she's looking around for something that glows - she finds a stick to poke at a former deer with. "So... what tears apart deer other than that? I hear there's a werewolf problem some places. Anyone brought any silver just in case?"

GAME: Fidget rolls perception: (3)+5: 8
GAME: Fidget rolls knowledge/arcana: (6)+10: 16

Dark eyes flickering about, Huian pauses and turns her eyes without turning her head. She looks up into the branches of the nearby trees. She doesn't speak since it's just a furry little thing. She is on alert however, slowly sliding her straight sword out of the scabbard that is tucked into her crimson sash.... and unlimbering her small buckler shield. Just in case of course.

The stillness of the air hangs after the xian man's autopsy. The soft patter of rain their only solace. As Fidget mutters her incantation, she confirms, not a curse nor spell laid them low but the faintest hint of magic lingers in their bones, their guts, their blood.

GAME: Ravendar rolls knowledge/nature: (1)+7: 8 (EPIC FAIL)

As Fidget casts her spell the raven makes a low croaking noise and the xian man turns toward the woman, noticing her spell and moving closer to her after the cloak falls to the ground in a puddle of useless cloth. "What do you see?" He asks curiously. "Do you need assistance?" He doesn't look much like a spellcaster, but then, the only weapons on him seem to be the crossbow hanging from his hip.

Ravendar catches something quick darting from the trees and he tries to look quick to see what it is. He misses it and he shivers as he pulls his brand new cloak close to him. "Well I don't think it was hyenas unless they learned how to climb trees and then jump from trees." He says as he will point out at least where he saw the movement. "Ah hey Fidget, I know I thanked you before in the city, but thanks again for this magical cloak. I've gotta feeling I might be putting it to good use." He says as he shifts the fiddle into a more comfortable position.

Still silent, though now armed fully, Huian spreads her feet to shoulder width as she continues to perform the only duty she believes she is good for here... picket watch duty. Her eyes keep roving about, seeking movement.

Fidget squats on her ankles, or you assume so, since her legs disappear into her petticoats entirely, and they are certainly dragging in the dirt. She doesn't seem fazed. "I'm sensing magic in them, faint, might be something they ate or some trace of what killed them." Her eyes remain locked on the corpse she's poking with that stick while she replies to Ravendar, "No problem! It was fun making it, and the coins help too! I'm impressed you're excited to use it, most non-Goblins prefer not to be nearly on fire, or dodging acid, or all of the things that cloak will be needed for. But maybe you're braver than most." she says with a hint of teasing in her voice.

Fidget's concentration pays off. Her intense, magical and most importantly safely out of range of any more weeping sores, investigation is a quiet but fruitful inspection. She does think the magic irradiated from the gut outwards and not the wounds. These boils and tumors grew inside out. Something it consumed? Ate? Even more alarming idea slithers its way into her thoughts.


A small furry rabbit hops out into the glen, its fur dull and patchy. The Felwood is not kind to creatures this is known. Its eyes set upon the party. Then it's jaw distends and almost dislocates, and its cry is not what one would expect.

The cavernous mouth of this hare ejects a cackle that curdles the blood.

"Or dumber, but as much as I love playing in taverns every night for the adulations of drunken crowds, it's nice to get out and see the sights..." Ravendar says jovially before he is interrupted as the bunny hop into the glen and let loose it's blood curdling cackle. He pauses for a moment, "How much are we getting paid again?"

Right eyebrow raising of its own accord, Huian bends her knees just a bit, weapon and shield coming up defensively. "This is not normal." she says, her first words since arriving on site.

She takes a moment to look about, seeing if it is just the one killer bunny, or a whole pack of them.

The sound draws the crossbow from the xian man's belt. He stares at the rabbit with confusion, and his eyes narrow. "Did you say something about something in the trees?" This is directed at the bard. "Was it this thing?" A bunny in the trees? The idea doesn't seem to surprise the xian man however. He's curious if there's more enemies above them. Or if this is their lone assailant.

GAME: Fidget casts Magic Missile. Caster Level: 3 DC: 15
GAME: Fidget rolls 2d4+2: (5)+2: 7

Spooked by the sudden cackle in the distance, Fidget hops back from the corpse and stumbles a little, whipping her behatted head towards the source of the noise - and whatever *that* was is clearly something murderous or evil, or at least gross. She figures it either deserves to get blasted, or that's what apologies are for, right? With a clear voice incanting, she points a single hand like a finger-gun at the demonic bun and sends two bright flashes of light streaking through the air towards it, lighting up the dreary evening for a brief moment before they impact.

A small, glowing dart thrusts in the opened mouth of the hare and its violent disgorging is hideous to watch, death flails that strangle off the first notes of the laugh and send juices that sizzle when they land to the earth. DEAD.

A small, furry head pops back around the tree. It was a squirrel. It picks up the song. A pair of rabbits, behind the first, come into view. They echo the beat. A distant thump, and another small critter races in, mouth twisting open and cackling in tune.

They seem to thrive off the haunting noises, as if going into a rage. The party realize the last creature is a Bambi. Perhaps the missing child of the frenzy victims, if its weeping sores are any indication. They charge without discipline or much thought beyond these...

Feed, rip, tear, cackle.

Ravendar sees the denizens of the forest, all covered in sores and other nastiness, charging towards them. He hears the horrible cacophony of sound coming all around them. "That's enough!" He calls out as he brings his fiddle up and tucks it under his chin. He starts to tap his foot and beings to fiddle, the sound cuts through the air as he tries to drown out the screeching of the animals. The music is uplifting as it bolsters the courage of all those around him. Ravendar moves as he plays, so that he's not in the direct line of any of the animals.

The small, furry beast they spotted earlier leaps and soars on veiny wings. Correction, flying squirrel. It almost snatches a finger off Karasu in passing but they are quick to pull their hand free. It skitters to the ground still laughing.

GAME: Huian rolls weapon8-1: (10)+10+-1: 19
GAME: Huian rolls damage8+4: aliased to 1d6+5+4: (3)+5+4: 12

Things are starting up in a way that is dangerous to people in the Felwood. Exploding bunnies, bloodthirsty flying squirrels. Huian sums up the situation and is in motion before she can finish thinking. She can see that the rabbit is about to make a move, and so she surges forward.... she steps onto a fallen tree to leap into the air where she spins about, her tunic flaring out about her waist as she comes down. Her sword blade causes what might be called a low-end subsonic predator's growl in the air as the white runes glow... and the blade enters between the rabbits shoulderblades, stabbing into the ground beneath it before she yanks it free... and the wretched animal falls limp to the ground.

She turns to face the others and suggests, "I have a feeling the more of these we kill, the more will show up. We should perform an organized withdrawal."

GAME: Huian rolls bluff: (5)+11: 16
GAME: Karasu rolls 1d20+6: (5)+6: 11

Karasu quick-steps backwards from the squirrel, loosing a bolt at it and glancing toward Huain. "If you can keep them off of me for a moment, I might be able to communicate with them. Learn what is wrong." It's a slim chance, but it exists.

GAME: Ravendar rolls Knowledge/The Planes: (15)+7: 22
GAME: Fidget rolls 2d4+2: (5)+2: 7

Brushing her fingers against an orb that's strapped to her belt, Fidget draws new magical energy to replenish that she just spent, and sends two more bursts of light from her fingertips into another mutated rabbit that was getting too close, the first bolt knocking it back and the second piecing through the beast to deadly effect. "What even are these things?" the goblin asks, reaching for the second orb at her waist, "I could try to charm or distract one, but I wouldn't count on it working. Depends how much mind they have left to enchant." she makes a quick dash backwards, to keep herself out of easy reach while she can zap from the sidelines.

GAME: Carver rolls 1d20: (7): 7

The rabbit is ferocious, and frenzied, but alone? It is no threat to Huian. She dances and skips and tucks away from its bites, and though desperate and mad, it can't match the swashbuckler's speed.

GAME: Carver rolls 1d20: (20): 20
GAME: Carver rolls 1d20: (4): 4
GAME: Carver rolls 1d8+5: (1)+5: 6

The deer charges and uses its body like a battering ram, while Huian is distracted by the first beast. It shows zero concern for personal safety, full tilting right into the Xian woman's back, sending them both skittering and sliding and bruised.

Ravendar continues to play, improving as he goes, the melody still uplifting and energizing. Now that he can see the creatures up close, something is nudging the back of his mind. Some small piece of lore that he had tucked away. He’s heard stories of something like this and he shares what he knows with his companions. “I’ve heard of something like this. So about a hundred or so years ago, a warband of Gnolls, had one of their own elevated by some demonic figure. The Witheringhowl tribe as they came to be known, used to deliberately poison the water supplies to invoke madness and rage. They were known for bringing plague and sickness in their wake. They were eventually wiped out in the Dran territory and no one’s heard of them ever since. The story I had heard was that they were led by hexer, some sort of witch.” He thinks for a moment, “Our guide he said there was a pond not far from here right? We should probably to check that out after we deal with these animals.”

GAME: Huian rolls weapon8-1: (9)+10+-1: 18
GAME: Huian rolls damage8+5: aliased to 1d6+5+5: (2)+5+5: 12

Bump! The deer rams into Huian's back and she stumbles forward. She lifts one foot and braces it against the vertical trunk of a tree, using that foot to push off and twist about in a defensive manner. She also uses the momentum of the spin to add power to her sword thrust.

The very air feels chilled for -just- a moment while a tiger growl can be heard just before the sword skewers the last rabbit. She flicks her weapon... discarding the impaled animal off to one side as she turns to step away and face down Bambi there.

GAME: Karasu rolls Diplomacy: (7)+6: 13

Karasu quickly focuses on the last remaining wild animal - the deer. "Stand back!" He commands. "Do not attack it!" He focuses more intently on the deer and something leaves his mouth that is not human. It doesn't sound like anything human, but it does sound like... deer noises? The deer stands and responds, bolting into the forest and... Karasu follows.

GAME: Fidget rolls athletics: (2)+0: 2
GAME: Karasu rolls Athletics: (2)+6: 8
GAME: Ravendar rolls athletics: (6)+1: 7

They chase after the deer through the twisted trees of the Felwood, a mad chase in its wake, the creature haunted by something they don't fully understand. It's a feverish thing if they want to even remotely keep wake for though the deer is swift, it is erratic and often slams into debris or even trees before recovering and stumbling off once more. It collapses, falling down as they come out of the tree line and to a pond. The feverish, bruised beast does not seem to have the strength to rise. It can only hope for relief from the madness as it wheezes more of the haunting cackles.

They see a dark-haired woman standing on their side of the pond, gazing out. She looks back to them, dark eyes ringed in coal like a raccoon and at first they think she might be the nefarious figure, but a dead gnoll at her feet suggests perhaps more is going on here. They look past and to a totem that stands in the lake... wait, not a totem...

A malformed, hobbled creature, whose back is hunched forward and teeth shattered and rotting out of their gum. A gnoll, whose features are so twisted by sickness that identifying them as such beneath their mantle of broken branches and filth takes a bard's intuition leers at them from the lake, as they pour a vial of something thick and syrupy into the water before them. They speak and their voice carries magically.

"Go, man-things. Tell creatures wide. Felwood is the home of the Witheringhowl. Tell man-things, we take from them. First meat then water. Then children and loved things. Then their blood and minds. Feed bodies to pits, feed souls to master. Run-Run, make stories to scare others or become whithered husks used to scare others."

GAME: Huian rolls ATHLETICS: (9)+0: 9

Karasu is little protected by the thorns and trees, running almost as heedlessly through the forest as the deer is. It's clear that he is running as fast as he can, and he's winded by the time he reaches his destination. Weary in every limb from the chase which has led to this point.

He doesn't seem surprised by what they find, and he approaches the deer even as he is spoken to. It almost might seem as though he is ignoring the woman, the gnoll. Only... he isn't. He is listening to every word as he cuts the throat of the deer, spilling its blood down its hide and watching the gnoll as he does so. With that done he rises to his feet, his eyes black and fathomless. Unafraid.

"They will be told." He says, backing away slowly. Steadily. No sign of the weapon which he used to kill the deer in evidence. "Come allies, let us leave this place in peace."

Running.. running.. running. Huian doesn't like this sort running. Long distance running may be good for cardio, but it's not her specialty.

Entering the clearing, she skids to a stop. Nope. She looks to the others and jerks her chin back the way they came.

Chasing through the trees and brambles after her companion and the deer, Fidget takes this opportunity to give them all a comprehensive education on Goblin vulgarities, as each new whipping branch, each tripping root, each sharp rock finds itself inevitably in her path and she curses about it loudly. She's definitely running low on energy by the time the deer slows. She holds up a finger as if to say 'one moment', while she pants out of breath and tries to clear some of the plant debris that got attached to her along the way. After the witch's threats, she bares her sharp teeth and says "We'll pass on your message, and then we'll be back to deal with you."

Ravendar is surprised as one of his companions seems to speak deer. He looks to the others are Karasu follows the deer as both dart into the forest, in the direction of the pond none the less. He stops playing as he too takes off in a run, although he's not as fast as the others. He plunges head long into the forest and he uses his body to protect his instrument as the forest seems to be full of thorns. He makes sure to keep his face shielded as well. He winces as he takes a bad tumble and gets scratches all along his arms and legs and back. He winces as he has to try to push himself up to continue on.

As Ravendar catches up with the others he sees the sight before him. He skids to a stop and almost falls over into a pile of what looks to be poison ivy. He looks first to the woman with a bow and a dead raccoon, "Who are you?" He manages to get out before the creature-thing in the middle of the pond speaks. Before he can say anything it looks like the rest of the party is making ready for a strategic retreat. "Ah...all right I guess so. We'll be back to stop you though." Ravendar says and he looks back to the human woman, "Hey you better come with us, it's dangerous out here. Maybe you can tell us what else is going on." He says as he moves to join the others, as it appears they are heading back.

The woman seems to agree, for she shoulders her bow and jogs to join the others. As they all depart, a great cacophonous laugh boils out from the vile creature in the lake and then picked up by a horde amidst the trees, dogging their steps in spirit if not with teeth and blade.