Monstrous Births


ACT I


The Countess is on a night-time outing with her spirit minions. She seeks to gather rare widow cap mushrooms, and lichen known as the devil's down. She knows these grow in a hidden cave in Volovska Weald, a forest near Castle Waywode. She has visited that place several times before.


Creeping through the trees, the Countess spots what she was looking for: a dried-up, abandoned well stands in a small clearing, illuminated by cold, bright moonlight. The hidden cave should be nearby.


However, something is not right this time. The cave is no longer uninhabited: a pack of wolves has made it their den since the Countess' last visit. There seems to be a man with them. He is clad in rags, his beard long and unkempt. He carries carved shepherd's crook and a large hoop made of woven twigs. This all points to the strange man being one of the fabled wolf herdsmen, hermits who live in the woods among wolves, commaniding them and caring for them.

The pack caught the scent of the Countess and her spirit host. As she approaches, the wolves, visibly agitated, block the path to the cave's mouth.

The Countess will have none of that. She bleeds herself, and from her blood and a shard of her spirit an etheric projection forms right in front of the herdsman. However, she will soon regret her overconfidance; instead of cowering from it, the wolves throw themselves at the beast with the Countess' face, and tear it apart.

The Countess decides to advance more cautiously, giving orders to her etherial minions to draw out the pack and try to single them out. To bolster her retinue's numbers, she bleeds herself yet again and summons a second Crimson Sphynx from the spirit world. 

One of the Custodians manages to provoke the pack to attack him. The wolf herdsman himself gets into the fray. As he comes closer, the Countess can observe his eyes are wild and inhuman; they look much like the eyes of his animals. The other spirits circle the woods in an attempt to flank the wolf pack.
The wolf herdsman suddenly throws his strange twig hoop around his own neck, which starts a grotesque transformation into a large, snarling wolf. Aided by his wolf brethren, he viciously attacks the surprised Custodian and sends him back to the underworld. But then a Crimson Sphynx gives him a start, landing behind him from the moonlit sky.

The encounter intensifies, wolves and ancient spirits fight furiously. The first few wolves stain the forest floor wit their blood. From a safe distance, the Countess makes her Beast materialise again. She is beginning to feel weak; the summoning always takes a toll on her physically. Attacking together with a Spynx, the Beast manages to open the throat of the enraged shapeshifter hermit. The big bad wolf falls on the carpet of dry leaves, never to get up again.


Then another strange thing captures the Countess' attention: from the thicket to her left, a large figure emerges.  Even in this weak light she can notice features of a deer, but this animal has got way more legs than a deer should. Only four of them are actually touching the ground; the others are dangling from its sides uselessly. 
The creature's slow-paced movements look painful and unsure. Its head is hanging low under the weight of a mass of antlers, grown wildly asymmetrical and coral-like. Then she notices another head hanging from a crooked second neck. As the tormented beast shambles along, its second head sends out a wail that is bloodcurdling and heart-wrenching at the same time. 
It breaks into a run. It is heading in the direction of the well. 

The deformed creature pays no notice to the fighting going on around the cave. However, a Ravenous Bloodfiend stands in its path. The deer attempts to shove it aside with a prod from the overgrown antlers. Angered, the spirit retaliates; but the deer creature is tough.

In the meantime, the skirmish with the wolves continues. The flanking Sphynx ran into some resistance. It is slain, but the beasts are not without casualties, either.
The misshapen deer manages to tear itself away from the enraged Bloodfiend, and heads straight for the old well. The Contess watches in disbelief as it deliberately hurls itself in, and hears it land with a thud on the well's dry bottom.

By that time, the growls and yelps of the wolves and eerie shrieks of the spirits have died down. The forest floor is littered with beasts' mangled bodies. The last surviving wolf is pinned down by a Sphynx, bleeding and struggling to break free from it grasp. The Countess is victorious.
Custodians are sent into the cave to fetch the fungi their mistress needs. After a narrow hallway sloped downwards, the cave opens into a spacious room of irregular shape. The walls on the farther end are damp and covered in places with amorphous red-coloured mass. Slender and pale toadstools poke out of the ground in clusters. A strong musty fungal scent is permeating the room, fighting for dominance with odours of urine and rotting meat. There are gnawed bones scattered on the floor.
Concealed in one of the nooks there lies a litter of five wolf pups, a few weeks old by the looks of it. Three appear to be gone but two are clearly alive. Each of the pups is grotesquely misshapen in a unique way. 
The Custodians report their discovery to the Countess. 'Curious. So this is what the wolves were guarding... Similar to that deer-thing', she mutters to hersef while examining a two-headed pup. 'Can it be a coincidence? What could it be?' 
Intrigued, and mildly concerned, she decides to take the surviving wolf pups back to the castle.

Castle Waywode

*   *   * 

ACT II


In the days after the encounter at the cave, the Countess learns of more cases of monstrous wildlife. Not just that;  a rumour gets to her that in villages and farms neighbouring Volovska Weald, there has been an alarming amount of monstrous births among livestock in the past month. The horror does not end there, either. She visits some peasants with her men, and talks to the pastor and local woodsmen. The Countess learns that not only have the farm animals and wild game been birthing monstrous young, but several women, too. And people say their pregnancies are unbelievably short, lasting no more than a few weeks. Many were stillborn, but even those that survived were quietly disposed of by the family out of fear or shame or mercy. 

With great difficulty the Countess manages to find a girl who gave birth to a deformed child and is willing to talk to her. She tells her that she went to the woods one day to gather herbs and she believes she was assaulted there by some kind monster. She has no memory of the event itself, but she knows where it occurred and gives that information to the Countess. The peasants are growing increasingly scared and irritable, and wild theories abound of the cause of all this. Eager to solve this unnatural problem in her domain, the Countess decides to investigate further. 

The village Volovo.
The very morning after she has learnt of the attack, she sends a small contingent of spirits to search the crime scene for possible clues on what fiend violated the girl. Perhaps something can be found. From the safety of Castle Waywode, the Countess will lead the spirits seeing through the eyes of the Beast.


The Beast and her henchmen arrive to the spot in Volovska Weald where the heinous assault had occurred. Fortune is on their side, they have the cover of thick autumn fog to conceal them. On the other hand, it makes it more difficult to search the area. The spirits begin spreading out to cover more ground.


There is movement in the distance. A large shape bolts across a fairy ring and disappears into the trees and the mist. Might just be a common deer, but that recent experience puts the crew on alert.


A Crimson Sphynx first spots something on the ground a distance away, and stalks towards it...


... but it is surprised by a monstrous deer. As grotesque and sad as the one we saw lunge down a well the other day. Unfortunately for the Sphynx, this one is much more aggressive in nature.


The deer rams into the Sphynx and then immediately charges at the nearest Custodian, who was examining a set of tracks on the forest floor. Before the Sphynx can react, another misshapen deer appears from the fog behind it.


A bloody battle starts. Not much of those tracks will remain if the ground gets trampled by the fighters...


A bit further off, a Bloodfiend sniffed out something interesting, but it too is jumped by a monstrosity.


The Countess is getting more and more irate. She summons some backup for her spirit host, and the Beast gets full on into the fray. But just as one deer is killed or driven away, another appears from the woods...


Eventually they stop coming. The ground is littered with bodies of deer. Mounds of tortured flesh, tangles of crooked legs and overgrown antlers...
  

Four potential clues are discovered by the crew. There are tracks on the forest ground. On several bushes there are clumps of hair. A decaying corpse of a boar lies by a tree. Several piles of animal droppings can be seen on the leaf-covered ground. The Countess examines them one by one through the Beast's eyes. 


The prints do not look like deer tracks, but more like unshod horse hoofs. The hair is pale and fine, and feels like it came from a tail or a mane. The boar is a male, and was lanced a few days ago with some kind of piercing weapon, judging by the mortal wound. Some of the droppings indicate a larger herbivore, but, interestingly, contain bone fragments.


The spirits' mission is complete, and they are dismissed. The Countess now has a pretty good idea of what this attacker can be. And an even better idea for what to do with it...
     

*   *   *


ACT III

 




In Castle Waywode, the Countess is standing behind a reading desk. She is poring over her tomes and thinking again about the evidence she has found, while rain drums on the glass panes of the Count's library.

So, she is looking for something (or some things), with hoofs like a horse, long and light-coloured hair, that is an omnivore, and can kill a boar, leaving a stab wound... She remembers the first misshapen deer she saw in the woods - how it sought death in the abandoned well. That was unusual, to say the least. She had seen this symptom before... On people riddled with fairy taint. The Countess sinks onto a chair.  
 

'If I'm right about this, and I'm pretty sure I am, then I have a problem. That thing cannot stay here, terrorising my county. And what it does... absolutely appalling. No female creature would be safe. And someone from the other side could well be here, looking for their lost pet. The vile beast must die. But... why not have some fun first? Yes, we will capture him in Volovska Weald. And then organize a spectacular, bloody hunt for the others! Imagine that... His head will look great on my wall.'

The Countess stands up again, and promptly leaves the library. She must commune with the spirits.
 


That very afternoon, the Countess sets off into the cold rain, her henchmen in tow. A-hunting the fiend of Volovska Weald.


This ancient ruined arch could be where he came through to the domain of man. The Countess will start from there. Washed by the rain, the spirits and their mistress search the woods for a while. And then they hear a loud, deep, animal roar.


There he is, the fae abomination, with his unfortunate children. The Countess was right. And he won't be easy to capture... The spirits ready themselves for the attack.


The Unicorn wastes no time. He charges straight at the Countess, his bloodshot eyes flashing with violent madness characteristic for his kind. How fast the creature can move... The Countess can't help but retreat a few steps back, even though she knows a sheath of Gheists will shield her from the attack. The monster is stopped in his tracks, confused by the turn of events. Other spirits fly forward to stop the group of abominable deer from interfering.


The Unicorn launches an assault at the Countess once more, but the Gheists won't let him through. Soon, he gets completely surrounded by snapping Bloodfiends. The trap is working!


But the deer are beginning to come through! The Bloodfiends must break their line to stop them. The outnumbered Unicorn realises the Countess' plan is to take his freedom, and decides to make a run for it. One of the Custodians is still tightly latched onto him.


But the beast is strong, and somehow he still breaks free from the spirit's grip and gallops towards the trees!


The Countess thinks fast; tries to summon a spirit to appear in the unicorn's path. But no spirit comes.


The Countess screams in frustration. The monstrous deer are all lying on the ground extinguished by now. But their father has escaped...

The rain is dying down.


*

EPILOGUE 


After the encounter in Volovska Weald that ended in failure to capture the Unicorn, the Countess tried to find him again. But without success... It has been a week now without new monstrous births reports. It seems the nightmare is gone. Perhaps he somehow found his way home. Perhaps the Fae came for him.

The Countess makes sure all the aggressive deformed woodland animals are hunted out of the Weald by the Wayvodes' men, and their corpses burned. The farm animals are destroyed by fire as well. If they are children of a Unicorn, they will spread fairy taint, and that cannot be allowed. The Countess tells the peasants it was all a disease epidemic spread by forest animals, but by her hand it is now stopped. She is still in a foul mood, though she tries her best to hide that. Eventually everything calms back down and life goes on, the land a little bit more scarred than before.

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