[Sunday, just after dark]
The fires were spreading throughout the village, and many of the villagers had fled to the fields to avoid the blazewyrms. At the south end of town, Darg and Shard immediately hollered to the bystanders to take stock of their town and urged them to help put out the fires south of the orchard, and Rache coyly shamed the fleeing townsfolk into helping. Lenora and Thea set up a bucket brigade from the water sump north of the orchard, and Rache ran up and down the main road through town blasting ice crystals at the still-smoldering flames. Terciel jogged out to the edges of the fields, looking for stray fires and trying to discern whether the wind was going to spread the flames through the wheat or rye fields.
The fires were quickly succumbing to the efforts of the adventurers and the odd motivated villager. Royce in particular was inspired by their efforts to save his tavern and brewery, and was doing a great job right up until the wolves burst out of the forest to the south.
They angled in from the south, eyes glowing in the darkness, led by a giant beast that had the shape of a wolf but was nearly as large as the alligator they'd seen in the sewers a few days earlier. Lenora and Thea heard Darg yell "wolves! to arms!" and they dropped their buckets and ran full-tilt to the south. Bree was having trouble seeing in the fading light, and noticed a large dead shrub between her position and the wolves'. She wiggled two fingers at the bush and it burst into flames, bringing the charging pack of wolves up short.
Rather than charge through the underbrush and pounce, they were forced to split and keep the burning bush between them.
Terciel feathered a few of them, nimbly falling back out of reach of
their snapping jaws and pulling at least one of them away from the
pack. Darg stepped in blasting with bolts of silvery light; in the
deepening darkness the prayers took on the shape of silvered hammers swinging fiercely at the wolves' heads. Shard snuck between two buildings and lashed out with his silvered short sword, plunging it deep into one of the wolves' flanks. The wound hissed and steamed, and Shard barked "lycanthropes! Werewolves!" instinctively. The giant wolf turned its head and regarded him with glowing red eyes, but he slipped out of view and back into the shadows. A scowl played across Rache's lips as she thought back to the wererats, and all they had done to Ilian, Zlata, and Shard's family… she clapped her hands and a cloud blacker than midnight drifted up from the damp soil and engulfed the wolves. Crackling violet bolts of energy illuminated the outer edges, but the pillar of darkness was otherwise impossible to see through. The wolves trapped inside yipped and barked in pain, and Bree giggled as a particularly appropriate spell came to mind. She clapped her hands, and the yips and barks slowed to groggy half-yelps.
They had been trying to drag Royce away, but the plan fell apart in
seconds as they found themselves caught in a darkness even their night vision could not penetrate, assailed by electric agony, and despite the pain, drifting into a heavy-lidded nap.
In the same moment, Thea and Lenora arrived at a dead run and threw themselves into the fray. Lenora picked up the wolf trying to come around the outside edge, while Thea laughed and brought her axe to bear against the giant beast in the middle of the pack. As each of the smaller wolves fell its body lay there, unaccountably failing to polymorph. The spells and the burning bush boxed them in, and soon enough even the biggest one was dripping its black blood from a dozen arrows with deep slashes from Thea's axe marring its dark grey pelt. When it fell, there was a loud crackling noise, like a bundle of twigs being snapped slowly from inside a barrel of blood. The wolf's skin lay on the ground, defeated, and under the huge pelt, Shard felt the telltale geometry of a human skeleton.
Royce wiped his brow and looked at them all in the firelight. "That's three times you've saved me and I didn't even know you at sunup. This might be the luckiest day of my life! Come in, take some hot grog and some venison, and I'll put you up for the night." They protested that the riders they'd chased off were certainly after Sister Marina, and Royce considered their situation. "They may be after her, but you'll get there first. Those fools headed due south. If they'd had a friend in the inn-keeping business, they'd know that the swamps south of here flood in the fall. Flooding's been worse than usual this season, and the only bridges out there are rope bridges. Can't ride a horse there. If they ride hard, they'll be knee-deep in mire an hour or two after midnight, at which point they'll need to backtrack. From
there, they'll need to either follow the swamp roads east to Coracle
Landing and south to Buckle's Ferry, or go west through the forests
back to Baerstun and take the Misty March overland. You could set out at sunup and go through the forests to the east; the goblins and kobolds won't be out in daylight, and even if they are, you'll outrun 'em easily."
They conferred briefly and asked if there was a faster way. "Well,
it's a little further, but heading to the headwaters of McGuffin Creek through fields would take you up to Trammel," and here he made a superstitious gesture, "and you'd get there about sunup. You could ride around it, turn south when you reach the creek, and make it to Coracle Landing well ahead of your quarry. I don't think they'd thank you for setting an ambush down in the Landing, though; they've had trouble enough with fires." Lenora consulted with the others, and asked whether they might trade their horses for fresher mounts. Royce practically jumped out of his boots to help, hollering for a stable boy to make the horses ready. In a few minutes, they found themselves around a thick wooden table scarfing down a hearty venison stew while the stable boy brought around fresh horses to replace the older tired mounts they'd worn out on the first leg of the trip. The younger horses seemed fine. While they ate, Royce bandaged their wounds.
When they got ready to leave they found Rache wandering near the orchard, absentmindedly stamping on and kicking at the embers that had fallen off one of the apple sheds. She was chewing an apple thoughtfully with a faraway look in her eyes, but when they asked what she'd been doing, she pointed to the last few fires and said that she wanted to be sure they didn't leave any trouble behind them here. When Royce offered her some stew, she declined, but he slyly passed her a hunk of hearty bread wrapped around a hot slice of the roast. They saddled up and looked up into the sky to get their bearings. Royce gave them a few perfunctory directions, and asked if there was anything else he could get them before they set out for Trammel, Coracle Landing, and points south.