The party started their long walk back down the mountain towards the village, leaving the light of the wolf behind, all lost in thought of what they had just witnessed.
After a day of treking through the woods, they see the first few buildings of the village. Although it is dark, everyone is busy, going about their business, and don’t pay much attention to the new arrivals as they walk by. It suddenly becomes obvious that the only people living here are grown men and boys, there are no women. Morwen pulls her hooded cloak further over her head upon realising this, unsure of what to expect, as the party make their way to the central square.
Sitting there is an elderly ranger, who has clearly seen battle judging from the numerous scars across his face. With a nudge from Morwen, Alistair steps forward and they acknowledge eachother with a familiar ranger greeting. The ranger then turns to the rest of the party and with a grand gesture welcomes them as well.
“So, what’s the rest of you doing here? Who are you? Whats your business?”
“We came to seek your help. Within a year there will be an attack on Bree…”
The ranger stops Alistair abruptly.
“I know of this attack, and you know why we can’t help.” The noise of men preparing their weapons and training can be heard in the outskirts of the village, readying themselves for battle.
The party informed him that they were told by Gordon and Findall of the ever growing presence of an invasion in the forest. This seems to put the ranger at ease slightly, it seems he may be able to trust these travellers.
At that moment, a yell from in the Village, followed by cheers comes to their attention. A boy rushes past a number of rangers in the square to the elderly man, yelling “Arasuil!” excitedly, and hurridly speaks Elvish before running away. Arasuil turns to the party, and asks of them what they have been doing in the Forest of Evendim. It was almost certain that the return of the Moongari had something to do with the arrival of this band of fighters.
“We’ve been doing some favours for the forest”, Morwen announces, deciding that being the only woman is nothing to be concerned of.
Arasuil looks pleased, and graciously thanks the party for returning the wolf to his resting place. Without enough people to hold back the attacks and to restore the spirit of the forest a decision had to be made. But now that the wolf was at peace, this meant they could return their rangers to the front lines.
“I presume you know of Angmar. Then you should know that you are here in vain. We can not send any help.”
The party offer their assistance, in hopes that they may receive something to help against the invasion on Bree. The thought was ever present in their minds.
“So far we have only been responding to the attacks from the forces of Angmar. We do not know its purpose. All we do know is that we need to defend this forest. It is our job as Rangers of Evendim (he waves his hand towards the rangers in the square, some sitting nearby, some walking through, some preparing for the next attack) to protect the people form these evils. But we have yet to send out any form of offensive. We have our theories of where these attacks are coming from.”
At this, he brings out a map and lays it out for the group and the surrounding rangers to see. He spared a moment, remembering the men who risked their lives and died to find out the information he was about to share.
They all croded round as he pointed to a place across the lake, north east of the village, where they suspected was the source of this “many legged invasion”.
Arasuil notices the woman in the group squint at this moment. With the slightest of smiles, he comments,
“Does the young lady not enjoy the company of spiders, perhaps?”
Morwen looks up, avoiding the looks from her companions, stating plainly that she was a capable fighter.
“Past experiences in the Black Forrest have not done me any favours”
She catches one of the younger rangers raising an eyebrow at her comment on her prowess in battle, with a slight grin on his face. Before thinking about it, she winks with a slight smile before returning her gaze to Arasuil.
It was obvious that she had earned their respect. The dangers of the Black Forrest, they all knew, was not something to be taken lightly.
“If you truly wish to aid us, you can join the next expedition. There are also our ships if you wish to travel across the lake instead.
Everyone nods their agreement. Tholar holds the shoulder of his axe, eager to get into battle, Tholee resting his hand on his loaded crossbow.
“My bow shall strike for y’all” Alistair proclaims to Arasuil, solemly.
Arasuil shows the travellers the village. The shop to restock on supplies, the tavern if they wish to rest before they set out in an few hours time…
The dwarves notice that part way round, Morwen gets pulled to one side from the group by the younger ranger from earlier. She seems to be smiling as they talk, causing them both to mutter to eachother as they follow behind Alistair and Arasuil. Morwen joins up with them again soon after, and does not meet the gaze of the dwarfs as they continue being shown around.
The hours before the expedition, the group mill about town, purchasing and replenishing any arrows and equipment they need. The rest of the party didn’t really notice at what point Morwen disappeared, but as soon as she had returned, Arasuil called the rangers to meet at the village square.
When they got their, there was only five rangers, not the 12 as originally planned.
Arasuil walked up infront of them, his voice echoing around the square.
“You are all to be on an expedition to the heart of what we believe to be the Angmar force.”
Mumbling spreads around the rangers. Arasuil raises his voice.
“I know this might be a shocker, but the group that was supposedly twelve has been reduced to a mere five. We have reinforcements from the outside, but the men from the front have returned, less than we had expected.We’ve lost over three hundred men.”
The hearts of everyone sunk. Everybody knew what must have happened. Almost half the population of this small settlement….gone. But every ranger had a set, grim face, filled with anger and determination, ready to seek revenge on what the invaders in their forest had done to their comrades in arms.
“May the forest guide your steps, may your return safe. Above all be careful. Take the utmost care to return alive. If you can not succeed in your mission…come back alive.” Arasuil’s voice trembled ever so slightly in these final words.
All the rangers slapped their chests with their fist, ready to do what must be done.
Alistair spoke to Arasuil openly, confidence and conviction in his voice, letting it be heard by all around him.
“Fear not, we shall return alive, after our brothers rest in peace!”
Admiration for these words from a outsider and fellow ranger was felt by every Dunedain.
Arasuil stared with pride at the people infront of him.
“Then be on your way!” he announced to the square, before turning away, not wanting to think of how many of them he would see again.
The young ranger, Banlin, who had taken an interest in Morwen had stepped forward to Alistair. Tholar and Tholee started muttering among themselves out of ear shot of the rangers, but Morwen who was hiding at the back of the group heard them whispering intently, talking behind his back about the age of this “doe-eyed” youngen. Morwen crept behind them, and banged their heads together, just enough to give them a shock.
“What was that fer!” Tholar snapped indignantly, crossing his arms over his chest, glaring up at her. Tholee stood there rubbing the side of his head. Morwen leant forward and whispered, “Sorry, but you’d do the same to me if I made such comments”. She smiled at them both while they were rubbing the sides of their heads, before standing straight, readjusting the hood over her head, and turning her attention back to the rangers. The dwarves looked at eachother sheepishly.
“Well you seem to be the leader now. How do we go?” enquired Banlin to Alistair.
Alistair looks intently at the rangers.
“Well for starters, our numbers are a lot smaller than what they were going to be” he stated gruffly.
Banlin nods grimly.
“How do you want to travel?”
Alistair considered this for a moment. The boats would mean going through the enchanted waters of the lake, not a safe choice, and it would be difficult to encourage most of the rangers to travel that way. And this is not to mention any rocks hidden by water and the islands in the middle, according to the villagers, were dangerous. However this route would shorten their journey considerably. Then there was the journey by land. Longer, but everyone would be more comfortable. But coming into conflict in the forest would be almost guaranteed.
“We will go by land! And if we see any of our brothers, lets put them to rest.”
They made their way through the forest. Morwen silently running ahead, keeping her eyes open for any immediate dangers. Alistair with the five rangers, running along side, keeping morale strong. Tholar and Tholee following behind, their axe and crossbow at the ready. Two of the rangers had lit torches as they went along as it got noticeably darker. They ran, dodging through the trees, determined, but cautious of their surroundings.
They came across a clearing, and as they made there way across, they slowed. Opposite them was a tangle of spider thread, making a huge web, stretching across the trees, glistening in what little light there was.
Morwen halted abruptly, she noticeably shivered at the sight. These webs seemed very familiar, but they seemed to be very faintly glowing a sickly green.
The rangers set up a perimeter around everyone, weapons ready for any danger that lurked beyond. At that moment, the rest of the party notice small splashes of green falling from the branches around them. One splash falls on the back of Morwen’s cloak, burning a whole through and dripping onto her neck. She hurriedly drops the hood of her cloak, reaching through her dusty grey hair to the stinging sensation, and the blister that was forming, her fingers tingling. Fear on her face, she slowly looks up into the branches above her.
Suspended in a web, was a giant green spider as big as a man’s chest, leering down over one of the branches, poison dripping from its clicking mandibles, its many eyes glistening with hunger. It worked its way down a delicate thread, towards the pale woman beneath it.
Morwen jumped back, visibly shaking. Four more dropped around them. Two clambering down towards Tholar who glared yelling “Come to my axe, vermin! Don’t quite on me now, lassie!” he called back to a trembling Morwen. She steadied her footing. One dropped between Tholee and Alistair, snapping menacingly at their ankles, and one more falling between two rangers who were ready and waiting.
“Alright, lassie, may the best dwarf win!” Tholar’s voice echoing across the clearing. Morwen, couldn’t help but smile ever so slightly. She was ready this time. She had her friends.
All of a sudden the air was thick with the noice of metal and spider screeches. Morwen stabbed a spider hurriedly before she gave herself a chance to change her mind. It retailaited, biting Morwen on her sword arm. This skin began to boil and burn around the puncture wounds, but she grits against the pain. Alistair, reassuring her that she was with company and had nothing to fear, slices through the spider nearest him and Tholee backs away slightly, preparing to take aim with his crossbow. Tholar, outnumbered two to one, avoids one spider’s fangs, before getting bitten by the other. Shrugging off the poison, he shakes the spider away. And then everyone sees it.
Four long string-like lengths of spider silk shoot out of the forest. One grabs hold of the face of one of the rangers, and before he gets a chance to respond, a sickening crack can be heard as he is ripped into the surrounding forest. Then Banlin looks at Morwen who has just turned around from her attack. She sees the panic in his eyes as a web rope sticks to his back, and watches as he screams, gets flung into the treetops, and suddenly goes quiet. Before she can even react, a web attaches itself to her too. She squeals, fighting back, the web stopping her from moving away. Alistair suddenly feels the webs wrapping around his torso and it starts to drag him towards the line of trees. He sees the briefist glimpse of Banlin, unconcious, as a spider is methodically wrapping spider webs up his legs, wrapping him in a cocoon, a glimpse of green on his neck.
Tholars eyes grow dark and fearsome as he roars against the pain from the bite, veins pulsating, his knuckles white, and in a rage, swings his axe recklessly at the nearest spider, sweeping off 3 of its legs.
“This dwarf won’t go down that easily!”
The fighting carried on in earnest below him as Alistair fought, tooth and nail, against the web as a spider came towards him, his eyes glistening in the dark. A web starts to form in its jaw, when a bolt jams into it’s side, making it squeal in agony. Alistair looking down, sees Tholee, reloading his crossbow. Determination on his face, Tholee trys to step forward for his next shot, but his boot gets stuck. He had stepped straight into a mess of spider webs. Managing to pull one foot free, he looks up, and sees the spider, making its way down the tree trunk towards him, snapping it’s pincers menacingly.
The other spiders started to lunge. A rangers high pitched squeal echoed in the clearing, but suddenly turns to a gurgle as a spider bites at his throat. He collapsed on the floor, motionless, as the spider started to wrap him in silk. Another ranger gets a web shot straight at his back, wraps round his chest and mouth, a murmur being heard from him before also being yanked into the forest. Two down…
Morwen struggling against the web shot against her back gets dragged backwards, but not before she drags her dagger through the spider next to her, ripping it’s body apart. She gets yanked back into the edge of the forest, and straight into a giant web between two trees. Her feet barely touching the ground, she starts to get flashbacks of her encounter in the black forest. Trembling, very pale, she looks up, and sees a spider right above her, looking down at the “prey” that happened to appear in his web.
One ranger notices, but concentrates his anger on the spider about to lunge at Tholar. His sword was going to count! He sliced the spider clean in two, green oozing across the grass. Tholar, with mild annoyance of not dispatching that spider himself, suddenly gets a web shot straight to his face. One eye stuck shut and web clinging to his beard, he rips himself free with a huge roar of rage. He looks over and sees the silhouette of Morwen, stuck under the trees, a spider looming. A spider bites at his leg as he rushes past, but he shakes it off, rushing off to Morwen’s aid, remembering the terrified look on her face when they last dealt with these eight-legged monsters. He swung his axe up above Morwen’s head, missing the spider by inches as his boot gets stuck in the same web.
“Stay with me, lassie!” Her face had gone a nasty tinge of green, her breathing rapid, shaking violently. Her eyes closed tight, as if willing this to all be a very bad dream.
She feels the vibration through the web of the spider above her moving down. To get to her or Tholar? She doesn’t know and doesn’t want to find out. Without looking she waves and stabs wildly abover her head. One of her stabs attacks the underside of its carapace, squelching as the scream of the spider’s pain echoes in her ears. She feels the spider fall from her dagger as it falls to the ground with a thud. She can hear a cheer from Tholar, shouting “Atta girl!”. All she can do is mutter “Tholar!”, desperatly wanting to rip herself free of the web.
She could hear hurried footsteps coming towards her. She winced as she felt something touch her arm, but it wasn’t a spider. She relaxed ever so slightly as the hand pulled her free from the web. She landed on all fours on the floor, gasping, getting up unsteadily to her feet. The ranger looked at her concerned. It was one of Banlin’s friends. They had trained together earlier that day.
“Are you alr…”
Then in a flash, Tholar and Morwen watched with horror as a web sucked onto the rangers face, and with a sickening crack, his head was wrenched from his neck and was flung into the trees. His body fell backwards, landing with a thud onto the ground, a pool of blood forming around his neck, staining the grass a dark red.
Alistair was getting tired of this. With a swing of his dagger, he managed to cut himself free of the webs, falling to the ground, landing in a crouched position, looking eagerly for his next target. He saw Tholee take careful aim for the spider who had trapped him. Tholee aimed and heard the satisfying thud of the bolt hitting the spider square in the carapace. He hurriedly reloaded his cross bow, keeping a careful eye on the spider as it squealed and scrambled its way down the tree. At this moment, a web smacked him on the side of his face, but it didn’t stick. As he turned towards it, he saw a pair of spiders scuttling towards him. He pointed his crossbow at them, but he knew it was too late. He moved an arm up to protect himself as they both attacked him, one biting his arm, another biting at one of his knees. His legs buckled with the pain and he fell on all fours, trapping himself in webs while trying in desperation to throw them off of him. Alistair seeing this, made to attack, but got stopped short as the spider that was coming down the tree attempted to leap at him, flying right past his shoulder towards Tholee. Alistair hurriedly backed out of the way. He was sick of these eight legged monstrosities, and he was more than happy to finish them off. He glared with loathing at the spider, clenching his shortsword tight in his hand, anger flowing through him. At this moment, a warcry of “DUNADRAK!” can be heard echoing throughout the clearning, as the enraged form of Tholar comes barreling towards Tholee and his attackers, his axe raised, his eyes burning with loathing. He was missing a boot that was still trapped in the web next to Morwen, but this would never stop Tholar Dunadrak from defending his brother. The spider on Tholee’s arm spun round onto the dwarves back, and took a leap at the enraged Tholar. Tholar however saw this coming, and aimed his shoulder at it, knocking the beast flying. Knocking the spider prone on the floor, its legs squirming desperatly, the furious Tholar took aim, and sliced the spider clean in two before it could utter a sound.
He turned towards the other spider on his brother, noticing a spider scuttling towards him. Tholee escaped from the web holding him down, hurried away, and shot a crossbow bolt over his shoulder at the spider right behind him. Once again, the familiar thud of a bolt hitting its target. Then suddenly he felt a bite on his shoulder, felt the poison seep into his blood, as everything went blank. Tholar watched with fury as his brother fell to the floor unconcious, breathing shallowly, looking very pale. Tholar glared down at the nearest spider, seeing red, stamping his bare foot into the grizzled corpse of his last kill with a sickening squelch, he lunges recklessly with his axe, slicing into the side of the spider, now squealing in agony, retaliating against him. But he didn’t feel the pain, all he could think of now was saving his closest kin. There were no rangers left to help them now.
Alistair spun around from Tholee and the spider above him as he heard more clicking. There he saw Banlin. He had fallen out of the tree, and he wasn’t moving, wrapped still in webs. A spider lurking over him, clicking its mandibles threateningly. In a few quick strides, he made his way towards Banlin raising his shortsword above his head. He sees out of the corner of his eye the black cloaked figure of Morwen running towards him, a spider following after her menaicingly in the distance. He focused back on the spider and threw the blade down onto it with such force, but the spider was ready. It deftly kicked the sword away with one of its many legs, snapping and hissing at him, sending a very clear message…..don’t get between me and my food!
Morwen suddenly belted past him, slicing through the spider ontop of Banlin, rage burning inside her. She was scared of spiders, but that wouldn’t stop her defending those she cared for! Alistair ducked out of the way, and as he turned, he saw a spider scuttling towards the prone form of Tholar. Turning briefly to Morwen seeing her slashing at the spider, he turned back brought his shortsword up into the air and in a few hurried strides, sliced down at the abdomen of the charging spider. Green liquid started to ooze from the wound as the spider clicked its mandibles ferociously.
Meanwhile, Tholar watched as a spider started to clamber ontop of his brother’s lifeless form. He wasn’t thinking now, this was pure unadulterated fury pulsing through him. Within a split second, he had heaved the spider onto his shoulder. With a nasty crunch, he ripped it’s mandibles from it’s head, and now armed with pincers, dripping with poison, he slashed and teared at the underbelly until it’s flinching ceased. He through what was left of the body to the ground.
He looked around, two spiders left. One remained by the side of the forest, gauging the situation, whereas the other was snapping fiercely at Morwen over the pale form of her young ranger friend. turned back to his brother. He was safe for now. He sighed reluctantly, focused his eyes on the arachnid, and marched towards it, raising his axe as he went. Meticulously (and without a sound, Morwen noticed) he slashed down at the spider, chopping off part of its leg, the clicking and squealing of the spider echoing around them.
“That haircut is free of charge, laddie!” Tholar mutterd disdainfully, as he noticed his axe had gone clean through the ranger’s hair as well, which now had splatters of spider blood on it.
Morwen swiftly moved back out of the way of the axes blow, got out her dagger, and brought it straight down onto the spiders head. But the spider was too quick for her and doged out of the way. She watched in horror without time to react as her dagger sunk into Banlin’s thigh. As quickly as possible she pulled the blade out, but the webs wrapped around Banlin were already going red around the wound. Relying on instinct, but panic beating in her veins, she grabbed one of the spiders legs with her dagger hand, flipped it over onto the ground and skewered it with her shortsword, her blade sinking into the muddy earth beneath as she pressed the hilt of her sword down onto the punctured spider beneath. Morwen stood up, yanking the sword back out of the spider with a squelch, she turned to look at Tholar. He was weary from battle, but his determination to finish the battle was blazened across his face. He turned towards his brother.
There over the form of Tholee was Alistair, hastily patching up the wounds and giving him medicine, when the final spider leaped towards the unconcious dwarf. Alistair hurriedly swung at it with his blade, but hit nothing but air. The spider landed on Tholee’s chest. For a moment Tholee’s eyes opened, seeing only blurred shapes when he felt the slightest of pinches at his neck and suddenly all went black again. The spider was preparing to wrap him up in webs, when it was startled by the yell of “May the best dwarf win, lassie!”, as Tholar came barreling towards it and slashing his axe in an upward swing at it’s many-eyed head.
Morwen looked up towards her companions. Tholar and Alistair protecting the unconcious and pale Tholee as best they could from the last spider. She then looked back at the lifeless form of Banlin. She didn’t want to but she had to choose. She shook her head suddenly, shaking herself to her senses. Her friends came first, they had fought together to protect eachother. This time was no exception. She ran towards the spider, raising her shortsword in the area and bring it down sharply onto its hide. It glanced off. With anger, she swung her dagger in her other hand down point first towards its head. Without warning, the spider jumped out of the way at the last moment, and Morwen’s dagger sunk down into Tholee. With a squeal of horror, she hurriely pulled the dagger out and sunk to her knees next to Tholee who was now bleeding out at an incredible rate.
The spider clicked its pincers menacingly at the attempt on its life, but before it could react, a boot, Alistair’s boot connected with its underside and with a squeak it landed on a nearby by web, now winded and a little dazed. It shook itself, hissed, spitting drops of poison before rushing at the hooded woman who was now trying to apply pressure to the fresh wound on the unconcious dwarf. When suddenly a shriek, uncharacteristic of the large Dwarf it came from, rang in its ears. The broad side of an axe slammed against the body of the beast, ripping the poison-dripping maw clean off.
Without a thought, as soon as the spider was ripped in two, Tholar dropped his axe, and shouting with unbridled fury, rushed down to his brother’s side, cradling his brother’s head in his blood soaked hands. Everyone rushed to Tholee now. Morwen ripped the web from his chest and saw the wounds and knew exactly what needed to be done. Between herself, Alistair and Tholar, the hurriedly started patching Tholee up. Removing the webs, cleaning and applying medicine to the wounds, preventing more loss of blood, nobody saying a word, but all hoping desperatly that what they were doing would be enough.
And then Tholee opened his eyes, to see three faces staring down at him, all three of them with tears in their eyes, but all smiling with relief. He felt sore and weak, but he was alive….
“Tholee…” muttered Alistair “…you were the one closest to death out of all of us!” A grin was spreading across his face as he finished attending to one of the wounds. Tholar had Tholees head resting on his lap now so he could breath a little easier. Tholee could see splashes of red and green in his brother’s tangled beard.
Morwen rested a hand on Tholee’s shoulder, kindness in her eyes, when she suddenly realised…..Banlin!
She got up, her cloak splattered with mud and blood as she rushed over to Banlin a few metres away, under a tree at the side of the clearing. She looked down and saw his eyes were moving. She skidded down onto her kness at his side. His lips were shaking as if he was cold, and a small trickle of posion was dripping down his neck. She hurriedly removed her cloak, and covers him up to try and keep him warm. Tholee, Tholar and Alistair watched from a distance. They could hear everything, and they knew that Banlin would not survive. They watched in sorrow as Banlin shakily lifted a hand up to Morwen’s face.
Morwen looked down into his brown eyes as she placed her hand ontop of his. His hand was cold against her cheek. She saw him trying to say something, lifting his head slightly for her to hear. She lowered her face closer to his to hear, her grey hair resting on his wounded chest, as tears start to fill up in her eyes.
“Be good……and fight your way, to freedom…..”
His arm went limp in her hand, his head fell back, and a small smile appeared on his face, so like the one she saw when she first met him in the town. His eyes glazed over and as if in slow motion, his chest sank one last time, and he stopped breathing….he seemed now completely at peace.
Morwen slowly rested Banlin’s arm back at his side, tears streaming down her face, upset and distraught, her breathing ragged. She had gone numb…
Something then glistened from around Banlin’s neck. Morwen reached down, tears dripping on the wounds in Banlin’s chest, and gently removed a necklace. A silver chain, with a small wooden pendant handing from it. A wolf’s head, its teeth bared, and shiny, glistening red stones for the eyes. She looked down, and saw tree roots now slowly wrapping themselves around Banlin’s body. She grabbed her cloak, shock in her eyes as she clambered to her feet and stepped away. She watched as the forest enveloped his body. She saw a glimpse of white out of the corner of her eye. Looking up, she saw a white wolf passing between the trees in the distance, watching briefly, before moving on into the shadows. She looked down and the body had been taken by the forest…..there was nothing left. She looked back to her friends. They were bowing their heads solemnly in respect, and as they looked up, they all knew knew what the others were thinking. They had no rangers to help them now. They were on their own…..but they were determined to see this through, and find the evil that had caused so much pain in this sacred forest…..and to defeat it!