"You have rested eight hours. Healing spells cast until fully healed."
"Shane, why do clerics have to be so obnoxious?" Fluffy grumbled as the group arose with the dawn.
The skies were still clouded and gray, and the icy rain had yet to abate. After a meal of cold trail rations, they set off for the location where they had been ambushed by the wolf-creatures. There they came upon a corpse, but likely not the one they had been expecting.
"Where did this elf man come from?" Fluffy asked.
"Beats me," Shane replied with a shrug.
"He still has loot," Ed informed them as he pocketed the dead man's belongings.
The three debated on their next course of action, with many accusations being thrown at Fluffy for not being able to summon a creature that could track down Clarice.
"It's not that I can't," the tibbet grumbled. "I simply refuse to stoop low enough to ask a dog
"Hey look!" Ed said excitedly. "I see a piece of Clarice's armor over there on the ground."
He motioned for his companions to follow him off the road, where he stooped and picked up a scrap of red leather. Though tattered and bloody, it was still identifiable as a shoulder pad.
"These things sunder?" Fluffy scoffed incredulously. "What a waste of time."
"Regardless, it still gives us a direction to go," Shane replied.
"Fifty gold says we have to rescue her sorry ass again," the tibbet grumbled as they entered the woods.
"I don't mind saving her ass," the priest said with a cheesy grin. "Still, I put fifty on her being dead."
They pressed on through the forest for many hours, occasionally finding another scrap of bloody armor or tunic. At one point they found a single white-blonde hair caught on a tree branch. It was clear that Clarice had not gone quietly.
At last, the three adventurers came upon a small clearing with the ruined remains of a campsite. The ashes of a long-dead fire lay in the center of the clearing, a tent lay toppled over at the far end of the clearing, and Clarice's shredded and bloody equipment lay in a haphazard heap near the dead fire. Several empty potion bottles were scattered about the campsite. The Sunsword was stuck in the ground beside what little evidence remained of Clarice.
However, their attention was immediately drawn to the two dead elves that occupied the camp. Their bodies had been savagely torn apart, and a carrion crow was already showing interest in the cadavers. The bird was perched on one of the elf's heads and was contentedly plucking loose bits of flesh from the corpse.
"Any idea what happened here?" Fluffy asked.
"I'll take a crack at playing Grissom," Shane chuckled. "Looks to me like Clarice killed one of the werewolves that was back on the road, and when he died he turned back into his normal form. The other two killed her and dragged her back here. After they ate her, some other beastie showed up looking for food. Since they were likely tired and injured after fighting Clarice, they couldn't put up much of a fight and got killed."
"Nice theory," Fluffry replied, "but why didn't your other beastie eat the elf-wolves?"
"Maybe it found chickens!" Ed declared.
Suddenly, Fluffy arched his back and began to growl as he looked around suspiciously.
"I hear something," the tibbet hissed.
"You still owe me fifty gold," Shane said as he readied his mace and shield.
Several tense moments passed as the three adventurers stood back to back, weapons and spells at the ready. When nothing happened, they relaxed once more.
"It must not have been anything important," Ed said.
"If it wasn't important, why did we make Listen checks?" Fluffy balked.
"To keep us on our toes?" Shane suggested.
Without warning, a white blur lunged down from the treetops and slammed into the priest, knocking him to the ground with the creature atop him. The pale furred wolf-creature was more lithe and lean than the ones that had attacked them before, but that did nothing to lessen its ferocity. It savagely tore into Shane with its teeth and claws.
"Get it off me!" the priest screamed.
"Don't worry," Ed shouted, "I'll stop the Warwick!"
The wolf howled furiously at this remark. It rolled away from the Shane as Ed stabbed at it with his spear, then lunged at the rogue. It effortlessly avoided his second strike and sank its fangs into Ed's shoulder. It shook him savagely, then flung him into a nearby tree trunk. The rogue hit the tree with a sickening crack, fell to the ground, and did not get up again.
"Nice job pissing it off," Shane grumbled as he staggered to his feet.
"Prepare to meet your kitty doom!" Fluffy cackled as he called forth his horde of tabby cats.
They swarmed over the wolf-beast's body, but the creature was not phased by the scratching and biting cats.
"It has DR," Fluffy sobbed. "No fair ...."
Spells were exhausted. Wands were depleted. The party had even tried melee combat. Shane had quickly stopped wasting healing spells on Ed in the battle against the wolf-creature. Every time the rogue would try to attack, an aura of flame would burst from the beast and harm him more than he could wound the foe. Ed had been left on the ground unconscious after the third time this occurred.
"I suggest we run," Fluffy said. "Ed can roll up a wizard and we'll come back and kill this thing tomorrow."
"I have a funny feeling neither the monster nor the Sunsword will still be here if we do that," Shane argued. "No, we have to see this through to the end."
"Don't make this a total wipe," the tibbet grumbled.
The wolf-creature snarled as Shane stepped forward, his mace and shield at the ready. Both combatants were weary from wounds, but nothing seemed to deter the beast from its assault.
"What are you doing?" Fluffy asked incredulously.
"I'm taking this thing down," Shane replied. "For honor! For glory! FOR THE PLOT!"
The priest and the wolf crashed together in a flurry of fur and steel. Fluffy sat back and watched as the two combatants laid into one another with all they could muster. The sudden bursts of flame from the creature's body seared Shane's arms and face as he struck, but his mighty armor and shield stymied the beast's attacks. The priest's guard dropped for only a moment, but in that time the creature's claws tore through his breastplate and deep into his chest.
"If you drop I'm leaving you here," Fluffy warned.
"I figured you would," Shane grumbled, his body shuddering in pain.
As the wolf reared back to deliver the final blow, Shane let out a mighty war cry and smashed his mace into the side of the creature's head with every last ounce of strength he had. The burst of fire from the creature's invisible aura blasted him back and he hit the ground hard. He did not get up again. The wolf-beast reeled from the blow, staggered dizzily, and let out a long howl.
The howl slowly grew into a tortured cry of anguish as the creature shrank and contorted, its fur falling to the ground in clumps, giving way to the bronze skin beneath. The creature collapsed to the ground as the last of its pale fur fell away, revealing the naked and badly wounded form of a young woman.
Fluffy stared at Clarice for quite some time to make sure that she did not get up again. At last, he began to search through Shane's belongings, hoping that the priest's wand of healing still had a few charges left.