A Pack of Wolves
There is no way to frame a tale that ends with the death of a child, so I will simply begin.
Pellam had found enough evidence of a trail that we felt confident that we were moving toward civilization. Since we had never traveled together as our own little group, we spent a little time thinking through how we might make a formation to maximize our protection should we run afoul of any number of animals, beasts or even a hostile patrol. Pellam, our human ranger, and Silas, our wereleopard fighter, took point. Anna, our human knife specialist, and Salivaar, our half-elvish cleric, and Gabrell, my half-brother the bard, formed the first rank with Bell, the fetch sorceress, and myself as the second rank. Julien, our kindred rogue, followed as our rear guard.
We talked over a few scenarios, especially meeting patrols from domains we thought might be near. This idea that we are on our own is very strange and unnerving. We had our patterns while moving the circus, each of us with our role. But the size and recognizance of our group made travel an entirely different thing that what all of us now had to do. I'm sure that Pellam or Silas ranged around point once in a while when we traveled before, but my role was more to support Miranda or Fortunato as they dealt with anything threatening. Now, just at a glance, I am the senior arcane caster. What a difference one night has made.
Our formation was tested later in the day. We detected a pack of eight wolves shadowing us on our left flank as we moved through the woods on our tiny path. The wolves appeared to be gauging us and I must remark that I am at a loss for why they suddenly decided to attack. While it was true that we had no real weapons or armor--my crossbow bolts were in my wagon wherever that was in this world or some other--it is not usual for a pack of wolves to notice a sheathed sword or strapped on crossbow. And, the pack looked well fed. Perhaps they were emboldened by our equal numbers, but there were surely more easily vanquished prey.
As they began to charge, I threw a web into their midst. Four were held fast. One charged Pellam who climbed a tree to get out of its way. Three charged our first rank which formed up around Bell and me, with Julien closing the gap. Salivaar also looked like he was attempting to climb a tree, but he was not as successful as Pellam. With the wolves nipping at us, Bell fired off magic missiles and I, one ray of frost on a weakened wolf, while Anna showed us what daggers can do. At first, she flicked one dagger into a wolf; but later, she closed with a couple of wolves and became a flurry of blades striking with practiced accuracy. Pellam launched an arrow or two against the wolves attacking our ranks. Salivaar gave us a scare when one wolf managed to wrestle him to the ground with one wolf near and one wolf charging in. Julien raced into combat and slammed one as Pellam shot and Anna carved. Between the web and Anna's daggers, the combat was over quickly.
I was reminded that I was the senior arcane caster and the only caster with tactical training when Bell looked as if she might launch magic into the web at the held wolves. As a group, we have things to learn from each other yet and I reminded the group that my web would last for a half hour or so. Three of the caught wolves were dispatched and then I dismissed the glistening webs I conjured. The remaining wolf fled.
We took just a moment for Salivaar to perform a little healing, calling on the Morning Lord and knitting to worst wounds closed.
There was no reason to stop at that point, so we continued. Not a half hour passed before I noticed Pellam was listening very carefully for something. He was listening so intently that he had forgotten to signal that he had stopped. Anna made her way to Silas and stopped him and I tuned all my senses and listened.
The bird songs around us sounded more like children crying than like birds sounding an alarm or attracting a mate. I listened and found myself repulsed and fascinated--I could hold the sound in my mind and hear it as a cry or hear it as a song--a wicked illusion to hold too long. Not everyone in our band could hear the cries in the birdsongs, but from the looks on some of our faces, each of us that heard it was not alone.