South Downs: The Lair of the Beast. Beoraborn takes care of the wounded Salabon, whilst Eldacar and Hunter brave the repugnant cave, more a stack of immense, leaning rocks standing in stark contrast to the otherwise gentle, rolling downs. Within, a gruesome sight greets them, but they only make mental notes of what they see, for their minds are for Jack. They finally find him, bedded down in what is doubtlessly the Werewolf’s den, and carry the unconscious halfling back to camp. With their fearsome foe vanquished, they do not fear danger again this day, but still, everyone takes precautions. While Jack sleeps on, Salabon rests, and the others nurse their egos, Eldacar and Hunter rides out to search the odious lair more thoroughly. They have to leave their horses awhile away, for they cannot bring their mounts to approach the lingering horror, so they make their way on foot.
Within, they find many and varied treasures, doubtlessly accumulated over the centuries by the horrible creature. “I know these downs well,” confides Hunter in Eldacar. “I have traversed them time and again, and never did I see signs of or have reason to believe in the existence of such a monster living in these headlands. I have even passed close to these rocks, and never deigned reason to investigate them. No aura of evil emanated from them at that time. I believe this beast has slept within, perchance for a thousand years or more, and that some recent event has stirred it from its sleep. Some dark, ungodly power, with which over creatures and events we have many times witnessed the shadowy fingertips playing. It may even have been the power behind the Wargs of the Angle; verily, its location is near enough, and it is incidental enough to be a plausible presence behind them. We have vanquished a great and formidable evil here, my friend. This has been a major victory.”
It is therefore with hearts somewhat higher that the two allies brave the lair of the beast. And herein they find the legendary blade Dagnirdraug, forged for the very purpose of slaying this very dread beast. But the champion send forth to do battle against it perished at its hands, and verily it is his bones here scattered with blade and targe, a shield of some properties, for despite being made of wood it seems to be in immaculate condition. The two lay the lost champions bones to rest with whatever dignity they can spare, and also bury most of the treasure, as it is useless to them, and their more avaricious fellows are better off not knowing of it. They do carry with them an assortment of gems, and blade and targe: their uses will be paramount in coming battles.
Once returned to their friends, they see to their invalids. Jack is stirring, and Hunter and Salabon judge him out of harms way. They do deliberate on Jack’s gruesome phantasms, and Hunter questions how the amulet he found in his pack has seemingly linked him with the Hobbit for no apparent reason. Jack keeps his knowledge of the amulet to himself, and Eldacar begins to suspect the true nature of the medallion – a form of lesser and limited Palantír used by the ancient Númenòreans, and as such truly a formidable object, but he holds his tongue as he knows too little of it: he can only speculate.
The Companions carry on, across the South Downs. Hunter gambles that the desperate brigands will skirt the Barrow-Downs in a gambit to remain undetected by Ranger-friendlies about Bree-land, and they follow his own plan in crossing the Downs directly to Weathertop, and from there use the old Smuggler’s Highway to cross directly to the Greenway around Occum. And with fast horses and good weather, mere days later they find themselves on the headlands belonging to the Hills of Evendim, near Hunter’s birthplace, Nirmolian.
Hills of Evendim. Nirmolian is a friendly, warm and safe community, tucked away almost invisibly against a forested backdrop. The Companions ride in at a leisurely pace, and are greeted warmly by old and young alike.
Hunter succeeds in rallying the Rangers, and soon the Beacons of Evendim has been lit, calling all Rangers to arms. With experienced Rangers, they devise a plan to harry, take or destroy the enemy, but at no cost allow them entry to Annúminas for their own nefarious ends. Meanwhile, the entire village must evacuate, for Treadstone knows it well, and unattended by guardians it may fall again as it once did under Wolf’s Bane’s watch, when Orcs razed it and killed almost everyone, including Hunter’s parents.
So thus it comes to pass that a mighty column treads its way across the Twilight Hills, bound for Annúminas and beyond.
In the evening they set up camp on a hill overlooking the mighty Lake Evendim.
After a full days walk the people are hungry and the air is soon filled with the scents of spices and roasting game.
With a full belly, a majestic view of the lake and the clear night sky with all the stars of old, The mist on the lake moves in mysterious ways and Salabon and Feredir star to play their instruments. Children are running around dancing.
Mabs get a little tipsy and soon drags Eldakar into her tent. Salabon passes around the last of the good brandy from their travels. The night is magical and full of life.
Beoraborn and Baran escort the civilians to their secret refuge, while Hunter, Eldacar and Jack go with the Rangers to set their plots and schemes into motion. Jack will use his engineering talents to good effect, and Salabon is essentially coordinating and leading the healers and surgeons. Jack is struck by momentary genius, and devises a plan to raze an entire courtyard onto unsuspecting foes, and with those among the Rangers so disposed he sets his plan into effect.
Salabon and Eldakar takes a few moments from the busy preparations to walk about the ruins and admire the architecture. As they enter a small clearing in the ruins they both remark upon how this would be the perfect spot to hide the library when Salabon falls down a pit. The baffle Eldakar looks down only to find Salabon sitting at the bottom of the stairs leading into the ancient library.
Feredir and Eldakar selects to conduct their ambush from this location, it undoubtedly being where Treadstone and Caremnir will appear. They are joined by their friends for the night, and all four enter a restless and fitful sleep, anticipation almost getting the better of them.
Annúminas, on the shores of Lake Nenuial. While they sleep, Eldacar is watching over them. Suddenly a strange feeling takes hold of Eldacar, it is like the lake itself beckons him to come to it. And he does. As he reaches the shore a figure emerges from the lake. Infront of him he now sees a naked woman, long dark hair and dripping wet. She has an unearthly aura about her and she is the most beautiful woman Eldacar has ever seen. Unable to take his eyes of her he is rooted to the spot. Her voice is like her appearance, that of a goddess: “Soon you must choose, soon you must make the hard choice. It is not long left, before you must decide. To live for ever and go cross the seam or tie your fate to these lands and one day die.” She smiles and in a whisp of mist she disappears.
Eldacar remains by the water, still entranced by strange encounter. Lost in thought he gazes out over the lake. Suddenly his eyes catch some movement. Out on the water a small boat is headed towards the exact spot he occupies. Just then he hears warnings of enemy approaches. It hits him. They have been made. The attack is a ruse, and their enemy hope to sneak in by water and find what they are lookinng for in the library. Eldacar turns and runs, he must warn the others.
Hunter is awakened by birds: They come! They come!
He rallies his friends, there is no time for Salabon to get to the evacuation area, and from their vantage points the Companions can see the enemy swarming into the old citadel.
But then, from the lake behind them, they become aware of a presence, and from the mists, a small craft appears, bearing two figures. So the attack was a ruse! Here comes Caremnir and Treadstone the back way, the thieves that they are! However, something is amiss: They can all feel it, and soon they can see it: Caremnir is no longer himself, he has been transformed by some horrid spirit, his eyes a-glow, and his aura that of power, death and decay… Behind him, Treadstone seems visibly aged: instead of a youth of twenty-five, he seems to be almost sixty, gray-haired and flaxen-eyed. The Companions cannot afford to delay, and launch their attack, Eldacar and Hunter with bows, while Jack enters the courtyard, his new brand held high in defiance.
The arrows do nothing but irritate the fiend, and it strikes, almost killing with its first blow. Jack notices that its touch is Death itself, and cries a warning to his friends not to let the fiend touch them: it is likely to kill them by touch alone!
Suddenly the Companions fight for their lives in a much deadlier melee than they have ever before entered, and it is with despondency and pure fear that they desperately try to destroy the horror before them. They must – if they defer but a moment, they are destroyed! Their well-timed blows hammer the fiend, and their defences are supple and true, but still the thing persists! No words escape its pallid lips, no reason do they detect in the glowing eyes, save whatever is driving it to kill them and fulfil its mission. While Hunter is most heavily engaged, the shade of Treadstone decides to make the most of his hatred, and with a shrill scream he launches himself at Hunter’s back!
Salabon hides behind a rock. He knows that as the healer, his job is to stay behind and that this is what his friends expect him to do. He knows that the sensible thing to do is for him not to fight. Not to take the chance of getting hurt so he won’t be able to help his friends with their wounds later. However he can not sit still and watch his friends in peril and after hearing Jack shots of warning, Salabon gathers up his shield and sword and charges into the battle. Quickly warning Feredir of the approaching Treadstone and narrowly escaping a fatal blow from the ancient evil wight.
Hunter turns, a look of pure pity in his eyes, and strikes Treadstone down in the middle of his attack, knocking him out cold on the damp flagstones. He returns to the fray, and the four of them seems to be gaining the advantage, when both Salabon and Eldacar’s blades crack into a myriad of pieces while attempting to strike down the fiend! Dumbstruck, they must withdraw, and Hunter has his work cut out for him, when suddenly a small figure leaps from a fallen parapet, and with magical blade cuts the fiend down where it stands. It crunches to the ground, and the evil aspect that emanated from the risen corpse dissipates and vanishes. The Hero of Caravan Hill has risen again. Now, his moniker is Jack the Slayer.
The sounds of battle continue about them, and the Companions, weary and frightened, take a moment to consider their position. Caremnir is dead, Treadstone is captured, their nefarious schemes have been thwarted. But what were they, and to what end?