Later that day, Thorn stood under a large tree and looked down the length of a long valley. At the end he could barely make out a series of cliffs rising up to the grey blob that was Greymane Keep. Between him and the castle lay almost ten miles of thick woods broken by a meandering river. The relatively close forest he had been walking through seemed to give way to old growth in the valley, and tracks of large wolves quickly became common.
Despite the tracks, he saw no wolves, and even Akira, who had been talking non-stop, sensed nothing. Sniffing at the tracks, Akira wrinkled her nose and jumped up on Thorn’s shoulder.
“Master, those tracks smell awful. There is no way I would allow such big stinky creatures in my forest.”
Getting down, close to the ground, Thorn tried to pick up a scent. Ever since he had become an Avatar his senses had grown increasingly sharp, but he couldn’t pick up any smell apart from the loamy smell of soil.
“Can you tell what sort of creature it is?”
“It smells like a timber wolf, but really sour and bitter.”
“Hmmm. Like this?” Thorn pulled a corrupted wolf’s tail from the depth of his inventory.
“Phew! Gross, gross, gross!” Akira burrowed into the back of Thorn’s shirt. “Put it away! Bleh, bleh.”
“Haha, okay, okay.”
Putting the tail away, Thorn walked down into the valley. The forest was still quiet, though Akira’s mental muttering provided a break from the silence. Curious at the lack of creatures, Thorn could only assume that it was due to the presence of the corrupted wolves. He continued on his way until the forest began to thin out a bit. Akira had left his shirt and bounded ahead, zipping from tree to tree faster than Thorn’s eyes could keep up, and now she ran back.
“Master, master! There are people ahead. It looks like they are hunters! Should I steal their food?! Can I?”
“No, wait til I catch up. I want to talk to them, and stealing their food will make them mad.” Akira pouted on his shoulder but begrudgingly pointed him toward the hunters.
The group of hunters noticed Thorn about the same time that he saw them and warily readied their weapons. Dressed in rough leather and tattered fur armor, the human hunters were dirty and covered in grime, but despite their bedraggled appearance, it was evident by the amount of game at their feet that they had experienced a bit of luck in their hunt. Now, hard faced, they watched as Thorn walked forward until he was about 30 feet away, bows at the ready.
“Hold there, traveler. Who are you, and what business do you have in this forest?” The lead hunter was obviously unsettled by Thorn’s size, nervously resting his hand on his sword.
“Hello, I’m Thorn, a traveler, and I’m looking for Greymane Keep. Would you be able to direct me there?”
“Greymane?” the lead hunter’s eyes narrowed, and he shot a glance at his companions. “What business do you have there?”
“I need to go there for a quest.”
“I can direct you there, but I must warn you, it is infested with werewolves at the moment. Have you received the quest to recover the Statue of Hati?”
“Is there a quest for that? I don’t know anything about a Statue of Hati. No, I was heading there for a different reason, but I would love to get the quest, if it is available.”
“Hmmm, I think you could get it at the town hall.” The lead hunter relaxed his guard a bit. “I’m Charles Mallard, Captain of the Watch in the town of Greymane. Follow us back, and you can pick up the quest.”
Walking back with the hunters took a couple hours, and while at first they watched Thorn closely, by the time the wooden palisade of the village came into sight, they seemed to have accepted that he was what he claimed. Akira was much to be thanked for this change as she lost no time in making herself acquainted with the hunters and, within a short amount of time, was trying to con them out of snacks.
The village was a shabby affair, comprised of one main street with houses on either side. In the center of the village was an empty forge, a tavern covered in peeling paint, and a small building that housed the village leader’s office and the jail, all arranged around a little town square. It looked like the village had been larger at one point, the broken remains of houses among the weeds silent testament.
Charles brought Thorn into the center of town and stuck his head into the jail, calling, “Thomas, we’ve got a traveler who wants to challenge the castle.”
“Huh, another fool?” responded a grumpy voice, and the door pushed open to reveal an old man leaning heavily on a cane. “Ho, traveler. I am Thomas, head of this pile of excrement they call a village. Want to challenge the castle, eh? Can’t say it is a smart idea, but we all have the right to choose our own death.”
Stomping over to Thorn, he pulled out a weathered piece of paper from his breast pocket and shoved it in Thorn’s face, growling, “Please, kind traveler, help our poor village. Our poor village has come under a curse because we lost the statue of Hati from our temple. Go to Greymane Keep and get it back from the evil werewolves that live there. I know it will be hard, but our lives depend on it. Blah blah blah.”
Hearing Thomas’ totally out of character tone, Thorn couldn’t help but chuckle. “So, tell me. What do I get for clearing out the castle?”
“Our eternal gratitude,” responded Thomas, a mocking look in his eye.
Greymane Village: Lesser Curse
Thomas, the head of Greymane Village, has asked you to retrieve the statue of Hati that once stood in the village Temple. The statue was stolen away during a raid by a group of werewolves, causing a curse to settle on the village. Returning the statue will break the curse, allowing it to be used as a respawn point.
After looking over the quest update that popped up in front of him, Thorn dismissed it and carefully considered his next course of action. According to the information that Velin had dug up on the area, Greymane was the only village in the valley, which made it strategically important. The village was located near the entrance to the valley, while the keep stood against the cliffs on the other side.
While his current goal was to clear the keep and claim the throne of the Wolf Lord, Thorn did not know what to expect after that. Undoubtedly, this adventure wouldn’t end with assuming the position of the Lord. Thorn had not shared the specifics of his quest with Velin and Mina, but the more he thought about it, the more likely it seemed that this was going to be a quest chain. After a moment of consideration, Thorn looked at the old man and held up his hand, showing the dark ring he had gotten off of Gargish.
“Thomas, I will not conceal my purpose from you. I defeated Gargish, the Blood Hunter, in battle and have come to claim the keep as my own. I can break the curse for you, but I need some information about the castle and the werewolves in it.”
“Eh? You killed that monster?!” gasped Thomas. A flame sprang into his eyes as he looked at Thorn intently. The longer he looked, the happier he got. “Well, who knew? You might actually be able to do it, traveler. Talk to Charles. He has some supplies for dealing with the werewolves that might be helpful. And before you go, come talk to me.”
Charles was behind the faded inn, working with the other town guard to clean and dress the three deer they had brought back from their hunt. Seeing that one of the deer was still waiting to be processed, Thorn offered his help. After the work was done and everyone had washed the blood from their hands, Thorn brought up his objective of clearing the werewolves from the keep and retrieving the statue of Hati.
“That is quite the task you are taking on, traveler. Hold on one second, I might have something that will help you.” Charles rummaged around in his bag, pulling out two colored bottles. Shaking the blue one, he said, “This is a scent neutralizing potion. It should help you get close to the keep. You’ll drink it, and it should last around four hours. This green potion is the opposite. It will attract all the werewolves in a certain area. You just pour a bit out on the ground, and they’ll gather. Should be enough for five uses in there.”
“Thanks. Can I get more of these potions? I have some friends who are coming to help me, and it would be nice to get some potions for them.”
“Sure, we can make some more, but you’ll have to collect the ingredients yourself. Here, let me write you a list. You’ll need three Blue Bells, one Wolfsbane, and a Zimph root for each scent neutralization potion. The attraction potion is a bit harder to make. For that you’ll have to find seven Silverleaf and one deer heart.”
“Thanks.” Thorn looked over the list he had been given. “Would you be willing to sell the hearts from the deer you brought back today? I have three companions, four if you count Akira here. I’d be willing to pay well for them. Say, 10 silver per?”
“I think that should be okay. Let me check with the others, but I don’t see why that wouldn’t work.”
“Excellent. Just let me know.” Just about to leave, Thorn turned back at the door. “Oh, I wanted to ask, do you know where I can get a map of the area?”
“Talk to Markus. He has the little general store at the end of the street.”
The next task was getting a room for the night, so after thanking Charles for his help, Thorn found his way to the front of the inn. The receptionist, a thin bespectacled elf, assigned him a room with the largest bed the inn had and invited him into the common room for a meal, where he found the locals enjoying their evening repast. The food was hearty, if plain, and Thorn was careful to control the amount he ate, lest he eat them out of house and home.
After he finished his meal, Thorn retired to his room and sent a message to Velin, Mina, and Oberlin, letting them know that he had found the keep, and they should all gather here when they logged in. The trip from Berum took about two days, so he had plenty of time to look for potion materials.
Thorn had a good sleep, despite the fact that he barely fit on the bed curled up, and woke refreshed. One of the things he appreciated the most about Nova Terra was that any sleep was good sleep. Unlike the real world, where he would often wake up throughout the night, he had never had a bad night’s sleep in Nova Terra.
Eating a quick breakfast of ten eggs, two loaves of bread and a giant bowl of oatmeal, Thorn decided to visit the general store as his first stop. The valley was pretty large, so a map would be helpful if he was going to be wandering all over.
The general store was just as run down as the rest of the buildings, but as Thorn squeezed inside, he was surprised to find the small room meticulously cleaned and well organized. At the tinkling of the bell on the door, an older man limped out of a back room and took a seat on a stool.
“Afternoon, sir. What can I do for you?” The old man eased his leg and scratched his grizzled chin.
“Hi, are you Markus? Charles sent me down here. I’m looking for a map of Greymane Keep, as well as one of the surrounding area,” responded Thorn.
“Greymane Keep, huh? That is a pretty dangerous place. Quite a dangerous section of country in general. Try the second shelf up on the left. There should be a green scroll. Bring it here, would you?”
Finding the appropriate scroll, which seemed to be made out of dyed leather, Thorn brought it over to the shopkeeper, who spread it out on the table next to him.
“This is a map of the land around the castle, though you’ll notice the castle isn’t filled in. Never made it inside, you see. There is a ruined village right near there, about seven miles from here. The village was destroyed by the wicked werewolves who live in the castle. In fact, this whole area is dangerous because it’s their hunting grounds, so I’d be careful if you have a quest over there. Maybe find a party before you go.” Sniffing at the map and scratching his chin again, the shopkeeper continued. “Anyway, if you want it, I can copy the map to you for 2 gold. Oh and 40 silver for a general map of the surrounding area between here and there.”
“Yes, please.” Thorn pulled the money out of his inventory. “Did you make all these maps yourself? They have a ton of detail.”
“Heh, you bet I did,” replied Markus proudly. “I was quite the famous cartographer before I took an ogre’s mace to my left hip. But I don’t regret it. Those were good times but certainly not comfortable times.”
After thanking the talkative shopkeeper again, Thorn took his leave and headed out of town. Finding a rock to sit on, Thorn pulled out his updated map and beckoned his battle pet over.
“Alright, Akira, let's make a plan. We need to find 12 Blue Bells, 4 Wolfsbane, 4 Zimph root, 28 Silverleaf, and one more deer heart. I’m going to rely on you to help me scout for this stuff, okay?”
“Of course! I’ve got the best nose!” Akira jumped up and down in excitement before leaping into the branches and bounding off.
“And…” before Thorn could continue, she was gone, leaving him with his mouth open. With a shrug, he put away his map and stood up, dusting off his pants.
Accepting Mina’s call, Thorn walked after Akira while chatting.
“Hey, Thorn! We’re on our way, so don’t get too excited and run ahead without us! It is only Velin and me coming right now, Oberlin said he had something he had to do down to the south. Something about a deal with snakes? I don’t know. He’ll probably send you a message about it. Velin dug up some really interesting information about the keep; apparently it used to be something else? A temple? I don’t know, I wasn’t really paying attention. Haha. Here, let me add her, she can explain it to you.”
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Bio: My name is Seth Ring and I am a writer. I create worlds and tell the stories of those who inhabit them. I love exploring these new worlds with other people. I post a chapter every Friday around 12 pm EST. To get advanced access to chapters you can support me on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/SethRing.