As the trio sets off in search of the final ingredient they need for the lycanthropy cure, Vlad surprises them with horses on loan from the militia. They set out across the rolling hills toward the Tusk Mountains. Their first night passes without incident and the following day’s ride is met with an unseasonably chill day.
On the second evening, as the final night’s watch is almost over, several pairs of yellow eyes emerge from the darkness, reflecting the firelight. Emitting an ominous, guttural growl, the alpha male of the hunting wolf pack begins to move in as the rest of the pack surrounds the encampment.
Kicking his comrades awake, Serin strikes first – perhaps out of fear, perhaps because he knew it was inevitable. A bloody battle ensues, leaving Serin and Ivan scratched and beaten and Vlad seriously injured, but they are victorious and able to route the beasts.
Continuing on their way, they make it into the foothills and come to a massive gate, guarded by a score of gruff, heavily armed and armored, dwarves. With Vlad’s help, they are able to secure an audience with the Dwarflord and request permission to pass into their lands. They are granted this permission with a stern warning: stay away from the mines under penalty of death.
Accepting the condition, the three travelers ask to see the Hall’s apothecary before they continue on their way. They are escorted to a small shop at the edge of the market where they can inquire where the orchid may be found. The apothecary, a scraggly old dwarf named, knows the orchid well and would be willing to pay for any they find and do not need.
With the information that the orchid can be found in the next valley, they travel through the mountain pass where they spend their first night just below the summit. The night is quiet and chilly, but as they break camp, they see a solitary figure standing at the summit of the pass. He doesn’t move to approach or strike out, only watching as they gather their gear.
Serin, Ivan, and Vlad all approach cautiously as they head toward the summit and the next valley. Getting closer, they become even more cautious when they realize the long figure is an orc. He stands, barring their path.
“What business have you here?” the orc asks in guttural common. He is dressed in simple earth-tone robes and carries massive black staff, but continues unthreatening.
They explain they seek the orchid and the orc leaves them with a single warning: “Very well, but do not disturb the balance in this valley.” With that, he stands aside and allows them to pass unhindered.
They arrive in the valley just as the sun begins to settle low in the sky. They set up a hasty camp, then begin their search. They travel west for a time, finding no trace of the orchid. The forest grows thick on the floor of the valley and their only company is the hooting owl and the sounds of scurrying rodents and crickets. Turning south, they come across their first orchid, growing on a vine spiraling up a tree. Searching the area, they uncover several more.
Remembering the orc’s warning, they take only three of the eight orchids. As they head back toward camp, they hear only animal sounds – the owl and an occasional caw of a raven.
That night, while Vlad and Serin sleep, they both toss and turn. At first, Ivan ignores it, then Vlad begins to toss more violently. Ivan kneels over Vlad to shake him awake. Lightning quick, Vlad’s hand shoots out and grabs Ivan’s throat. Vlad growls and his eyes are wide open, flashing yellow in the firelight, he bared teeth seeming almost pointed. Ivan pulls at Vlad’s iron grip, jostling the ranger awake, but Vlad has no memory of what happened.
Unable to sleep, Ivan stays awake with Vlad, noticeably keeping the fire between himself and the ranger, and wakes Serin for his watch a few hours later.
As morning comes, Ivan wakes from a fitful sleep and the three break camp for the return journey. As they leave the valley, they see the orc kneeling atop an outcropping overlooking the trail. He makes no move to attack them and the trio pass out of the valley unabated.
Setting a brisk pace, Ivan pushes the group to return to Lepidstadt sooner rather than later. They bypass the Dwarven hall and exit their lands as well, riding out onto the open plains.
Vlad agrees to be tied down and Serin takes the second watch. As Ivan keeps watch, Serin begins to toss and turn. Ivan, not wanting to chance it, tosses a small rock at Serin to stir him awake. It works and Serin jumps up, hair bristling, eyes wild. He begins to circle the fire, stalking Ivan. Ivan circles with him, keeping the fire between them. Picking up a more sizeable rock, he throws it at the snarling man. His aim is true and he clobbers his friend, but doesn’t deter him and Serin snarls in response.
Ivan heaves a second rock, striking Serin’s head again. Serin shakes it off, but bolts into the night in search of easier prey.
Serin awakens the next morning at the edge of a field, half naked and cold, his hands covered in blood. Ivan remains awake the remainder of the night, freeing Vlad in the morning. They hastily pack up camp and search for Serin’s trail. Picking it up, they track down the young sorceror. They catch up to him, only to find, not only his hands, but his face as well, covered in blood.
Ivan pushes the group even faster back to Lepidstadt, not willing to spend another night in the wilderness with these two. They arrive back in Lepidstadt just before dusk and head straight to the University. Collaborating with Professor Niven, they concoct a potion.
They return to The Maidenhead to confer with Calina and to get some much-needed sleep. Ivan disappears into a room immediately upon receiving a key. Serin convinces Calina to chain Vlad and himself in the cellar for the night.
The evening passes without incident and the pair appears to be rid of the affliction. That morning, they rise late and confer on their next course of action. Deciding they need to somehow draw out the werewolf and, if possible, locate this “Longstride” fellow. They decide to return to the ruins where they were both first encountered.
After resupplying, the three companions set out into the swamps, crossing the tribal territory of the lizard men without incident. They leave the trail and enter the bogs, coming to the site of the standing stones. Searching the area, they discover a large number of footprints coming to and leaving the stones. They track the prints through the bogs, quietly approaching a small compound.
Surrounded by a low wall is what appears to be a simple village. Two large building on opposite sides of a central courtyard and several smaller buildings are erected in the swamp. Black-and-crimson robed figures mill about and perform tasks, before starting to file into one of the larger buildings.
Vlad covers Serin and Ivan from the wall while the other two check out the two larger buildings. Serin investigates the building on the north side of the courtyard, peering in through windows to find a large banquet hall. Ivan checks the other building and sees a large gathering, but is unable to hear what is being said.
The cultists all have their hoods drawn except for the speaker – an aging human with an ornately designed robe. To his right is a hooded figure adorned in full plate and carrying a black morningstar on his (or her) belt. To the orator’s left is a robed figure, with brown locks of hair flowing from under the hood. Her curves suggest femininity and her robes are nearly as ornate as the speakers.
Ivan and Serin return to Vlad’s side just as the cultists begin to exit from the building. They disperse around the compound and go about their tasks. The three figures from the dais all stand and converse at the front steps of the building. Deciding now is a good time to leave, Vlad, Serin, and Ivan try to stealthily make their way back into the swamps.
They reveal themselves with the crack of twig. Looking over their shoulder, they see the unhooded woman sniffing at the air. Cursing their luck, they bolt into the swamps, the cultists in pursuit…