The cast of characters:
- Julia Maxima, the Bearded Lady (Dwarf Cleric 1). Stern leader and cook of the circus.
- Pointy Kid, the Knife Thrower (Halfling Thief 1). Sly acrobat with a pipeweed addiction.
- Callisto, Master of Illusions (Human Magic-User 1). Archmage of the Highest Order, Keeper of Forbidden Knowledge. Obviously, he has a creepy ventriloquist dummy.
- Sheila, the Odalisque (Elf Fighter/Magic-User 1). Exotic dancer and all-around cool girl. She won’t agree to be sawn into two halves.
Day 6 [travel from 3508 to 3408 (barren hills on west bank, lightly forested hills on east bank), weather worsening, no random encounter]
The terrain on the east bank of the river becomes less rugged, more of a hill than a mountain. The weather, however, becomes worse: the first cold of Mid-Winter sets in. The first snowflakes also appear – early scouts of the oncoming storms and impassable roads. So, the Circus tries to pick up speed.
They get their hopes up when they see the outlines of buildings in the distance at the bend of the river – but as they get closer, they notice, that there is no smoke rising from the chimneys. It is just the ruins and remains of an abandoned hamlet, half a dozen empty, dilapidated buildings. Most are beyond repair. Some might be restored to livable conditions.
The deserted place gives everybody the creeps. It’s that uncanny feeling, when a place that should be “lived in” instead stands empty. “I feel like we are being observed,” shudders Callisto, and glances backwards, but can’t see anybody. The party decides to not search the buildings, and instead roll on towards a hopefully populated settlement.
+ [travel from 3408 to 3509 (barren hills on west bank, densely forested plains on east bank), weather worsening, random encounter: the Lycanthropes, party not surprised, creatures surprised)
The terrain on the east bank evens out, but the forest gets thicker. The snowfall intensifies. The branches of ancient trees look like skeletal arms outstretched against the gray, clouded sky.
Pointy Kid drives the wagon. Griswold volunteered to be on watch – which means sitting on top of the wagon – not the most pleasant position in the winter. The others huddle in relative “comfort” inside the cabin.
“I tell you, I don’t like this Griswold fella,” Callisto grumbles. “His words are pleasant, but his eyes are just not right. I recognize this type… He is a liar and a con-man, that’s what he is.”
“Birds of a feather, aye?” Julia pokes him in the side.
“First of all, I’m not a con-man, I’m a con-artist, and a master of illusions, not a liar. But yes, I’ve seen people like him before. I bet that tale about his traveling companions getting killed by monsters is a great big lie. They are either following us, or, hell, for what we know, he killed them himself and will do the same to us! And why did he volunteer for watch duty?! In this damn cold?”
“All right, all right, I’ll check on him, just stop nagging me!” Julia Maxima gives in.
A little trapdoor built into the ceiling leads to the top of the wagon, the “sentry post”. Julia Maxima climbs up the ladder, and emerges from the hatch, but not completely yet. She looks around.
Griswold kneels on the roof of the wagon, with his back to the trapdoor. And he is… waving? Gesturing? Signaling to somebody in the distance behind the wagon! Julia Maxima barely makes out three figures trotting after the wagon. Three dark figures… Wolves? WOLVES!
Julia drops back into the wagon and secures the trapdoor below.
“You were right, Callisto. I’m sorry. To arms, everybody! There’s a pack of…”
Her words are interrupted by a blood-curdling howl from above --- which is answered by a choir from the distance.
“…wolves. Or something worse,” Julia Maxima finishes the sentence and starts donning her chain shirt.
There’s another howl, and the sound of claws scraping against the roof of the wagon.
“POINTY! Pointy, look out! Behind you!” Sheila screams, hoping that her voice will penetrate through the wall of the wagon.
Pointy Kid turns around just in time to gaze into the gaping maw of a gigantic wolf perched behind him over the driver’s box… Instinctively, he hits it with his only weapon at hand – the whip! The leather strap would scare any other creature – but this monstrosity doesn’t even flinch – and it lunges forward – and misses! The sudden movement brings the creature dangerously close the edge, but it stays on top of the wagon. Pointy throws the reins and stands up to face the monster. Bamboo the horse needs no urging by this point, as she feels the horrible smell of the werewolf. She strains to go as fast as possible.
Meanwhile, below in the wagon Julia Maxima is still struggling with her chain shirt. Sheila grabs her scimitar. “I cannot let Pointy fight that… thing… all alone!” She opens up the back window of the wagon, crawls out, and pulls herself up onto the top. As a trained dancer, she manages this little acrobatic feat alright… But she also sees that the three wolves are gaining. Callisto watches in horror at the pursuers and tries to come up with a clever idea.
Up top, the monstrous wolf prepares for another attack. But first, Pointy Kid lashes out with the whip once more – this time he tries to hook it around the creature’s leg, but only causes some mild annoyance. Luckily, he doesn’t lose his balance. Griswold (or rather, “Griswolf”…) charges again – but Pointy Kid sidesteps, and the wolf jumps straight off the carriage!!
Callisto tries to use his only trick, and “throws” his voice, towards the approaching wolves. On a hunch, he imitates Griswold’s monotone speech: “Fall back! This prey is no good!” And, to the Grand Illusionist’s great surprise… the trick works! At least, the three pursuing wolves stop and look around in confusion.
Sheila and Pointy look below and try to find the wolf.
At the same time, Griswolf “resurfaces” from under the speeding wagon and snarls at Callisto (who is still standing at the open back window). And then the monster jumps, tries to latch onto the vehicle – his vicious claws miss the window just by a couple of inches.
Pointy climbs back into the driver’s box and takes up the reins. Sheila stays on top of the wagon to see how things unfold.
Griswolf snarls angrily, shakes himself – and turns back into a person! “You haven’t seen the last of us, carnies!!” he shouts after the wagon, then, butt naked, runs off into the snow-covered forest to find his pack.
Julia Maxima finally finishes putting on her chainmail. “I’m never taking this off again,” she says.
The wagon speeds on, pulled by the panicking Bamboo, in an unknown direction…
|Cool Michael Stroganoff wolf encounter diorama by Taipeh|