I don't expect to be THAT late very often -- this is the first time the other group has gone past six in a long time.
It was the middle of the night, and they hadn't managed to trick the wolves into attacking their druid, who'd been disguised as a lame deer. So they tried to track them! The tracks were confusing, as the scouts had said they'd be, but they followed them for a while, until they lost them. Obviously the canid creatures were going to go a long way before reaching their lair, and the party wasn't up to the trask of tracking them all the way back [when you have to roll every five minutes and 27s aren't enough... no, a 3rd level party isn't going to manage it].
They found a tuft of fur, but it just looked like wolf fur. They kept it just in case.
They decided that they couldn't find the tracks, but they could go traipsing around in the wilderness at random to see if they found anything, so they went back and broke camp, then returned to the end of the trail and headed on from there. After a while of stumbling through the heavy underbrush, Gennal and Malik heard something, and Gennal was sent to scout it out. "I see a wolf!" he called, as it spotted him and bolted, and the whole party gave chase!
They chased for a while, occasionally getting close enough to fire an arrow to no great effect, and eventually someone up ahead barked an order (literally barked) and the wolf in back turned to fight them. It didn't take long for the party to finish him off, but the rest of the pack escaped while they handled the rear guard.
The wolf was scrawny and unhealthy -- it looked like it hadn't been eating. Between that, the not-especially-wolflike commanding bark, and the faint traces of *something* arcane that Rain kept finding but being unable to identify, it was obvious that some evil force had taken over this wolf pack and was using them as its minions.
But chasing them directly wasn't working, and they were getting tired, so they headed back to the path to rest, setting up tents on the road near where their lovely magical camp had been until they tore it down. Rain wanted to just head back to the fort, but was overruled -- it would have been another hour of walking.
Three hours later, they found themselves surrounded by deathjump spiders. Kalrea knew that they hunted by tremorsense, and must have felt the party breathing, but didn't have enough of a picture of their location to attack yet. She tossed a rock down the path (towards the fort) to distract them from the party's location, which worked on some of them, although the rock being a rock, it didn't distract them for long. Malik and Rain took the wolf body and tossed it, next -- and if Rain hadn't flubbed the throw, it might have worked better. As it was, it attracted the spiders for a good long while... to a place far too near the party for comfort. But since they were obviously meat eaters, Rain took some meat from his trail rations and tossed it to the remaining spiders, which bought them enough time to pack up their tents and run away.
It was a very long hike to the next town, since the spiders were between them and the fort. As the sun rose, they started to come across elven traffic -- a pair of kids, who asked them what they were doing in elven lands, curiously.
Rain: "Is there anywhere we can sleep?"
Kids: "The town's a couple hours down the road."
Rain: "I don't suppose there's any sort of sage in town."
Kids: "Probably, we never go there."
Rain: "Well, maybe you could help me. We were chasing some wolves, and there seemed to be a strange sort of wolf leading them. Have you ever heard of -- AARGH! What the fuck, Gennal?!"
Gennal: "Stop talking, idiot!"
Rain: "What am I doing wrong this time?"
Gennal: "What part of 'secret mission' do you not understand?"
Rain: "What do you mean? Our mission's not a secret."
Rest of party: "YES IT IS!"
Rain: "Since when?"
Well, everyone *else* remembered the guy who'd sent them had said that he wanted them to keep things quiet, to avoid a panic, and translated this as 'this is a secret mission'. Rain had apparently filed it away in the 'elves are stuck-up and keep talking in unnecessarily vague terms' file and forgotten about it. Oops!
The kids did tell them that if they *had* to be wandering around 'at random' at night, they should use spidersbane, which they described as a purple-fronded plant. Rain warned the party that they probably weren't telling the truth, since one of them had been snickering behind his hand as his friend told them that, but as they made their way back south (after resting, in another magical camp, during the day, until well after noon) they spotted plenty of the purple plant, and took some with them, just in case it was useful for something. Rain suggested that Kalrea rub it all over her body, to see if it would make her break out in hives or something, since the kids had surely had *some* prank in mind, but she declined the invitation.
Around dusk, they got back to the blood-trail where the last attack they'd known about had happened, and ran into the creepy elf chick again. She was horrified that they were carrying the purple herbs -- they would enrage the spiders! Not only did they need to get rid of them immediately, but they should all bathe to get rid of the scent! The real spidersbane looked like little spiky leaves with red highlites. Apparently, the kids had tried to get them killed.
Elf: "Do you know about this blood trail?"
Rain: "Maybe, but we can't tell you about it, it's part of our secret mission."
Rain: "What?! It's not a secret that we're *on* a mission. We've got these stupid pins that say we're on a mission!"
Eventually, they ended up hiring the creepy elf chick as a tracker, since their own tracking skills weren't good enough. As payment, she wanted gold (Loki was consulted about the standard price for a tracker, and he and Kalrea decided to lowball her) and to come with them outside the forest to see the world. She needed to prepare her things, and get some real spidersbane, and would meet them at the stream after they washed up. Malik went with her to her home, to keep her company. No one else knew what the two of them did with their private time together... just kidding, they picked up her stuff and headed right back.
After washing up and getting spiderbaned (Gennal and Kalrea found sprigs of it growing wild) the elf met up with them, and they talked about what to do next. They told her about the wolves, and how some evil force seemed to be using wolves as minions, and she said that she knew where the local packs had their dens, and could take them to the one that was nearby. That seemed like the best choice, so they headed out.
The den was empty, but not deserted -- the wolves who lived there were just hunting. There was no sign of anything strange. So they decided to try to cover their scent, and hide in trees across the clearing near the den, to get a look at the wolves when they returned from the night's hunt, to see if they were ragged and emaciated.
It was a long wait, but hunting is all about patience. Eventually the wolves returned, and sure enough were ragged and emaciated. They smelled something, though, and one of the wolves went into the den to check it out, after ordering the other three to seek out the source of the scent with the same kind of weird barks. Yes, this was the pack they'd been chasing earlier.
When the wolves were close enough, Gennal and the Creepy Elf Chick fired some arrows at the biggest one, and Malik and Rain leapt down out of the trees to challenge them to a fight and lure the wolves out into the open where they could be shot at more. They never managed to get them in range of Loki, and Kalrea had to drop out of the tree and chase after them on foot, but Gennal was able to do some serious damage, and they weren't all that dangerous. Soon, the whole pack (including the one who'd gone into the den, who came out to help when he heard his pack being slaughtered) was dead.
And around the alpha's neck was a strange, magical amulet. Rain tried to identify it during a short rest, but that required putting it on, and if it was cursed, he might be in danger. And it was cursed! But the curse was the sort that would only really affect an animal -- it spoke to him in whispers and told him to kill. He declined its advice, and took it back off.
But this was clear evidence that the wolf attacks were someone's deliberate ploy, and the party was unanimous that it was time to return to the fort to consult with the guards about what they'd learned, although they weren't confident that this was the end of their task.
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Afterwards we played one game of Dominion, then headed out to Denny's for a very late dinner. MY GOD, it was FREEZING in there! Remind me never to go back to Denny's without a coat.