The adventurers gathered around the fire as the haunting wails of the beast in the darkness rang out. Each grabbing weapons and trying to hover near their only source of light. Herbert ran to the tent and grabbed an oil lamp, lighting it with a phosphor striker. Emily Shaw shouldered her rifle but lifted her head, canting it into the wet marsh breeze, spinning about to aim away from the sound of the wails "There's another one this way.. I'm sure of it." Montjoy but his back to Lance Weston's aiming into the shadows between the tent and the wagon.
They all saw it at once, cresting a ridge about 100 feet in front of John Henry, easily 9 foot long and slender as it's silver fur slid between the waving sheathes of grass, almost seeming to glow in the moonlight. The Cowboy lifted both of his revolvers and fired, burring a shot into it's chest, dropping it in a dramatic struggle. Lance saw the next one, a shadow in the dark near where Lady Shaw pointed her rifle. He balled his fist crackling with energy and shot forth a bot of lightning that singed a line down the monster's back as he bolted out of the way, running behind the wagon where the horses were kept.
Patrick realized all at once that the wild beast could cripple the horses and strand them deep in the wilderness and he charged around the back of the wagon shouting "The horses, it's after the horses.." Quite suddenly something came out of the darkness between wagon and tent in front of Mr. Montjoy and jerked him into the shadows. Lady Shaw, her heart racing in panic, stumbled and fell into unconsciousness from the abrupt terror of the moment. Herbert shrieked with the ferocity of a terrified girl and began flailing at the head of the beast that had just yanked his friend into the darkness with the shillelagh handed to him by Patrick. Lance spun about, confused to see the beast that had vanished afield appear behind him and, chanting the ancient words of power, hurled a bolt of electricity into the shoulder of the beast, driving it back into the darkness with a yelp of sizzling pain.
John Henry had looked away for an instant at the melee behind him, noticing the movement out of the corner of his eye as the beast he had shot down abruptly pushed nose-down into the thick grass and began to run at him. He shouted "NOOOOOOOOOOOO" shooting wild shots at the beast as it charged, missing all but one shot, not enough. So John Henry kept shooting, punctuating each shot with a shout "Why!" bang "Won't!" bang, the beast reared up lashing it's fierce teeth "You!" and the slug to it's chest dropped the silver monster dead "DIE!" putting one last shot into it's corpse as angry good measure.
Patrick launched himself after Montjoy and the retreating beast, leaving the relative safety of the firelight. In the darkness he found not one beast but two, charcoal fur with black eyes and glistening white teeth, one dragging struggling Montjoy away by his ankle in what appeared to be a claw-like hand. He swung into Montjoy's captor with his axe and the beast dropped the explorer as it bolted away, the other turned and reared at Patrick. Lance leaned over Patrick's shoulder and, with shouted arcane words of power, pounded another hot bolt of electricity into the beast. It turn and bolted up the hill, collecting the last two shots in John Henry's revolver's as he shot the beast twice through the fabric of the tent and it slumped down halfway up the hill.
Lance went to revive Lady Shaw and Patrick checked on Mr. Montjoy to see if he was badly injured. The young explorer had a lot of scrapes from being dragged and his shoulder was sore but other than being a bit rattled he was fine. They examined the silver-haired beast's corpse, deciding the creature was more bear than dog with claws made for digging and a prodigious scent organ. Patrick began to skin the animal with Herbert's assistance. John and Lance climbed the hill in the dark to find the other beast only to discover it's body was gone. The drew weapons and slowly stalked forward until Lance noticed a strange patch of grass was actually the charcoal colored beast dug deep into the dirt of the hill with it's fur turned a dark green. They dragged the dead animal back to the campfire and studied it's remains as well. Patrick fleeced a decent amount of the meat from the hind of of one of the beasts but it didn't end up cooking very well, gamy and tart.
The adventurers settled down once more, taking watches fearfully in the cold quiet night. Lance and Wells taking the first watch, waking John Henry for the next but the cowboy asked them not to rouse Patrick for his watch and let him rest instead. As John Henry paced around the encampment to keep awake, guns in his hands he spotted a cloaked figure that had mysteriously appeared and was stroking the horses thoughtfully. As John Henry raised his gun and told her to turn around real slow the beautiful woman turned with her elegant brow raised at his gesture "Your horses are so big.. is this your art?"
The woman introduced herself as Auren, and as she spoke with John Henry he realized that the movement of her mouth didn't match the sound of her words. She explained she was speaking through her art. John Henry tried to explain horse breeding to her but it's unclear if Auren understood. At his insistence Auren waited for John Henry to wake Lady Shaw and Lance Weston. Lady Shaw instantly recognized the fey features of her guest and she was beside herself offering her tea and struggling not to bombard the unspoken woman with questions. John Henry offered her a cup of his Kentucky Bourbon. She didn't like the smell of it but had a sip before returning the cup to him "No, this isn't to our liking.. we'll not have it.." Lady shaw gave her a cup of Purejoy's Black Breakfast Tea which she seemed to like more "This pleases us.. what is it's name?". Lance Weston woke to the conversation in the night and found one of the fey in the camp and politely asked if he could talk about the art she was using to which Auren thrust her hand at him without making eye contact "Come no closer, I do not welcome your art mixing with mine..". The rebuke was shocking, especially given how curious the fey was, but more curious rather than angry or disapproving, Auren sounded afraid. As he examined her warily he could see a ridged pattern that emerged from her hair just under her hood, maybe horns? John Henry showed her the skin of one of the beasts they had slain and she nodded placidly "We know.. it is why we are curious.. Worru-worru is very dangerous." She continued to wander about their camp picking up things and examining them. When she was satisfied she announced her departure "We will have another cup of this 'tea' then we will return to my mist-covered wood, you may not follow.." she drew a beautiful book adorned in stitchwork and gilt and handed it to Lady Shaw. As she opened the book and looked through it she found it full of an alien script "How do I read it, is there a cypher?" Auren smiled smugly "You wanted to learn our words, learn them.." Lady Shaw pleaded "I don't know how to start, please, some help.." Auren signed and flipped the little book to the first page, reading across the characters with her fingertips "I was born in snow and hazy stars. The path swept white I inherited all ways.". The curious fey took the camp cup full of tea and just walked out across the misty marsh in the dark. For the last hours of the night they slept restlessly.
As the sun rose Sunday morning they struck camp after another failed foray into cooking the Worru-worru. They packed the wagon and hitched the horses and got back on the King's Road. The trip took them across rocky scrublands dotted with distant ruins. Travel took them over a second lake, up and down elevations, the road unchanging stretching over their horizon. Late in the afternoon they saw the first exit to the road they had found since they started their journey for the day and up on the hillside was a small village. They decided to stop for the night and see if the village would trade with them.
As they approached the low-walled village things went into a tizzy with peasant farmers running to their houses and village guards running around with wood spears and pot helms pulling on their heraldry and rushing to the entrance of the village. Montjoy dismounted and spoke for the party in the New Crown language "We mean you no harm, we are tired travelers hoping to trade for food and a place to rest.." Montjoy explained that the guards seemed anxious to know which King they served. Lady Shaw said to tell them "We are travelers from a far land and our Queen is Victoria". The village guards wanted to know what they had to trade and Lance Weston pulled a handful of the iron chits he took from the men who ambushed the excursion in the woods and showed them. The guards seemed impressed and told Montjoy that they could camp on the green in the center of the village and use their well but they would not be allowed to harass the villagers. So the adventurers pulled their wagon into the tiny town of Carmine and set camp in the middle of the ring of their poor homes.
As everyone was settling in for the night an old man cautiously walked into the light of their campfire. He told them his name was Alejandro, speaking in New Crown. Alejandro had a bottle of wine to trade with the adventurers and after some negotiation he traded them for one of the extra iron pots in their camp box. He sat and talked with the adventurers a while, Montjoy translating the pleasant older man's words. He said that he had lived in Carmine village since the time of the Unnamed King and his village struggles but it has done much better under the King in Yellow. Alejandro talked about the nearby village where the wine came from and mentioned a logging village to the East, warned them about the beasts that live near the lakes and the 'forrest children' to the South. As the night wore on Alejandro thanked them for their hospitality and returned to his home. They took watches but felt very secure in the tiny village.
Monday morning they woke lazily and made breakfast while curious villagers went on about their day all around them. The broke camp and returned to the road for another long day's travel Westward. They passed the logging village Alejandro mentioned but drove on, only stopping once they ran out of daylight. The pulled to the edge of the road and made an improvised camp, no tents or fires just the howl of the wind and the flapping of the flags long the endless King's road.
Tuesday found the adventurers facing a long climb as the road pushed up into inhospitable rocky lands. Poor sleep and humid conditions made the trip the worst day of the journey but they forged onward. By midday they came through the highlands and were greeted by and endless blue ocean. The black road turned to the South and as they traveled it the flowing yellow banners turned to flag pole after flag pole of white flags bearing a rampant horse on waves. Their 6th day on the road introduced them to the only other traveler they encountered on the massive black road, a pair of wagons loaded with tradeware and a guard on horseback travelling the opposite direction. They greeted each other anxiously in passing.
As the sun set they still hadn't found an exit to the road but ahead were the lights of a large coastal town so they pushed on into the dark. The drove into a large walled town built below the level of the road so that the entered the town over it's rooftops. The center of the town was raised to meet the road with a small market and a busy tavern. The pulled off onto one side of the town to discuss a plan for the night while inhaling the scent of hot food and watching the glow of an open fire from the Tavern. As they stood around the market square they were approached by a group of men wearing loose white clothes, carrying staves. One of them spoke in an oddly accented New Crown "Strangers to our land, what is your business in Seaholm Village." Montjoy translated between the men and the part members as they explained they were tired travelers just looking for a place to rest as they move through. The men who seemed to be some sort of authority gestured at a narrow road leading downhill and explained that they were welcome to camp outside the walls in the field. Then he advised them that all travelers coming through the town are to be searched and they should get out of the wagon. Lance produced the invitation scroll and explained that they were on a diplomatic journey. The man with the staff seemed to not entirely trust Lance but held out a hand for the scroll and read it over, commenting that the party was traveling to "Petero". The man in white handed the scroll back to Lance and explained with some translation "You have a long ride ahead of you, pull your wagon up to the side of the inn and I'll speak with Marja about rooms for you.
They followed the men's instructions, and the barn door on the back of the inn was opened where a young boy came out to show them where they could store their goods. From the stables they followed the sound of drinking into the warm crowded tavern where an older broad-shouldered brunette greeted them with a broad grin and tankards of beer. She greeted them warmly and introduced herself as Marja and her grunting husband working behind the bar was Lutipold. She told them there were rooms upstairs for them when they're tired. When John Henry asked her about payment she explained that the 'Arbitory' have paid for their rooms and drinks and care of their horses and they should just relax and make themselves comfortable. John did just that, drinking the warm gritty beer and flirting with Marja in his clumsy grasp of New Crown. Lady Shaw convinced Montjoy to try to strike up a conversation with the locals to find out more about the lands they were in but the tavern folk seemed a bit unnerved by questions from strangers. Patrick was still suffering from the beating he took in the fight so he crawled upstairs and got into a soft mattress bed for the night. Slowly the rest of them piled into the rooms reserved for them, gentlemen sleeping in chairs or on floors to allow Lady Shaw the respect of a room to herself.
They all rose Wednesday later than they would have liked on Tuesday. John and Montjoy hung over from too much of the shady beer. Herbert had woken early and was working on a bowl of warm breakfast porridge while writing in a book. Slowly the all gathered themselves and filtered into the stables to find their horses had been washed and groomed and their wagon was loaded with their things. Marja showed up to wish them well on their journey. It was an almost unstintingly welcoming stop.
The day's ride took them away from the shore and deeper into lands as rocky peaks gave way to wet marches. The road curved towards the mossy woods below and eventually ended. The flags on the last pair of flagpoles long blue banners with black crosses, the heraldry of their guests. In the distance across the canopy was a massive structure that looked like giant balls stacked atop one another in a cube. Lady Shaw examined it with her telescope but couldn't make any better sense of it for seeing how it was scaffolded or assembled. They rolled off of the wide black road onto a narrow dirt road and pushed onward into the woods.
About a mile down the road they noticed that overgrown swampy trees had given way to over overgrown crumbling buildings. The further into the ruins they traveled the more a town began to look like a dead city. Ahead they could see the structures of a large town through the trees and a troop of mounted soldiers in black armor with helmets with white skull facemasks riding towards them.
As the riders pulled near they spread out across the road with hands on their swords, huge men, thick with muscle. One of the faceless soldiers rode closer and called out to the adventurers in Old Crown "This is Petero land, disarm yourselves, name your business.." John Henry raised his hands "We're not enemies, we've been summoned by your count." he nodded to Lance who once more withdrew the silver scroll. The rider pulled off a fighting gauntlet and collected the scroll with a clawed hand, delicately unrolling it and reading it through. He glanced over the group "Is this all your number? Do you all solemnly swear your business is as stated?". The adventurers looked among themselves and nodded. The rider rolled up the scroll and handed it back to Lance "Select one of your number that will come with us.." his face unreadable behind the white steel skull mask. None of the adventurers knew what to do. Patrick volunteered immediately but everyone decided his wounds would have to exclude him. Herbert volunteered but nobody was comfortable with this either. Lance eyed the strange warriors and said "It has to be me.." He looked back at the rest "I can barely speak the language and I'm not a diplomat.. it has to be me..". The others agreed. One of the skull-face riders maneuvered against the side of their wagon and helped Lance onto the back of his horse and the soldiers began to escort the adventurers into the setting sun, towards the city of Bridgeport.