Shadows Over The Nentir Vale
The Lurkers of Cloak Wood
A heavy storm blew over the Cloak Woods. From dark skies rain lashed down hard on the tall oak trees filtering down through the leaves to fall on the wet soil below. Bergen Hillsbrow let out a deep sigh and reclined in his solid oaken chair. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to be fully present in the moment. Rain crashed loudly on to the thatched roof of his small log cabin. Bergen sat and listened to it, he found the sound of rain soothing even given his current circumstances.
Bergen was a woodsman and made his living felling huge timbers which he sold on to the craftsmen of Fallcrest. He and his small cohort of fellow woodsmen had been busy lately until one of their colleagues had gone missing unexpectedly only two days ago. The woodsmen had been working deeper than normal in the forest; a place where the trees were so dense that only small amounts of sunlight shone through the upper canopies. Bergen’s friend Thom was supposed to meet them there that morning but never arrived. A visit to his cabin revealed no insights into where he had gone; Thom was simply not there, his cabin appeared as it always did with no evidence of looting or anything else out of the ordinary.
He let out a second deep sigh and glanced over to the windowsill where a white tallow candle burned providing dim illumination. Judging by the amount that had burned since he had lit it Bergen approximated that his companions were already an hour late. How often in the past had his woodsmen friends been late he wondered to himself.
Bergen stroked his bushy red beard with one of his giant hands; he used his thick fingers to comb his beard tugging on knots as he found them using the sharp pain caused to try and distract himself. Bergen was anxious. Suddenly, agreeing to sit with his fellow woodsmen and discuss the situation over stew seemed like a bad idea; you can’t think up a plan of action on an empty stomach he had rationalised to the others earlier that day. He found himself regretting having not set off for town there and then to ask for help finding Thom.
Sitting up sharply Bergen rose to his feet and looked around for something to take his mind off of his predicament. His cabin was of sturdy if small construction, simple but practical furniture dotted the living space; chairs, drawers, cupboards and a small table. Two large doors placed at opposite ends led out of this room, one led into Bergen’s bedroom where a second door from there led out to the back of his cabin, the other, his front door, led out to a path he used to walk into the woods proper. Still looking around he fixed his gaze on the stew quietly bubbling as it hung over a small cooking stove.
Bergen picked up a large wooden spoon he had resting near the stove and plunged it into the stew, stirring the stag meat around inside he fished up a large chunk of it along with the steaming brown stew. Blowing over the stew he sipped at the spoon through pursed lips testing how hot it was before opening his mouth and swallowing the lot. Rich savoury meat flavours mixed with the sharpness of the thorngrass he had used to season the stew made for an interesting combination of flavours. Bergen’s own father had taught him the recipe years ago and it was still a firm favourite of his.
The stew was nicely cooked and about ready to be served he thought to himself before suddenly feeling very anxious and afraid. Bergen set down his spoon and stood up. His stew was cooked and his woodsmen friends were over an hour late. They had never been that late before he realised at that moment. He was stood alone inside a dimly lit cabin at least half a mile into the Cloak Woods whilst a heavy rain storm crashed down hard all around him.
Before panic could grip him fully Bergen became aware of noise coming from outside just audible over the harsh rain; it sounded like something shuffling through the undergrowth. He wondered to himself if his friends had finally arrived, perhaps they had simply been waylaid by something. He dashed over to the windows and opened one of the slats a tiny fraction.
It was dark outside, he could barely make out the first sets of trees through the rain and darkness. He heard the shuffling noise again; Bergen knew then unmistakenly what the noise was, having spent years in the woods; footsteps crunching down on wet foliage. The sound came from just off to the side of his cabin. A terrible feeling of dread came over him at that moment. There was no light from outside and someone stirred in the brush. His companions would not have travelled through the undergrowth; they would have travelled by the path and they would have done so by lantern light at this late hour.
Bergen slowly closed the slat on his window and walked quietly over to a drawer on the far wall. Slowly and without making a sound Bergen opened the top drawer producing from it a large, wood-handled meat cleaver. A heavy knock sounded on the back door. Bergen walked silently to the centre of the room and turned to face the door leading into his bedroom. He held the cleaver tight in his hand, the skin covering his knuckles now white. He became aware of a dull pounding noise inside his ear; the sound of his own heartbeat. The knock came again, louder and slower. Three consecutive bangs. Bergen felt his chest tighten and breathing seemed more difficult. The sound of rain was louder all of a sudden. At that moment Bergen became aware of a chill breeze that blew around him. Someone had opened the front door behind him without his notice.
Bergen gripped his cleaver even tighter; the tips of fingers began to tingle. Bergen stood paralyzed with fear. A moment passed and nothing happened. He turned around slowly and looked towards the front door. It was indeed open but no one was stood there as he had expected. Outside he could just make out the first trees through the darkness. Rain fell heavily and splashed into puddles that had formed on the path leading to his cabin. Bergen began to walk slowly towards his front door when the door behind him leading to his bedroom crashed open. Bergen flew around and let out the beginnings of a terrible scream that was cut off abruptly. A short while after the rain stopped beating down. Soon after the sounds of something being dragged through the undergrowth faded away into nothing.
In Fallcrest a large wooden notice board stands just off the footpath that passes the road leading up to the Moonstone Keep. Several pieces of yellow parchment hang from it protected from the elements by a slanted wooden roof fixed above the notice board. The various parchments are mostly advertisments of various wares and products. One piece of fresher looking parchment may catch an adventurers notice, it reads; “WOODSMEN AND TRACKERS OF CLOAK WOODS MISSING. PLEASE PASS RELEVANT INFORMATION ON TO SERGEANT THURMINA. REWARDS AVAILABLE.”