Searching the Forests
Uneven ground provides for rough footing, and the thick maze of trees limits the field of vision for all, even with the aid of lanterns, flashlights, head lamps, or other tools. The forest floor is treacherous, with thick protruding tree roots and rises and falls in the landscape rendering maneuvering around much more difficult than it would be elsewise. The sound of wildlife, the fluttering sound of birds and bats, and more menacing sounds, accompany the crunch of snow underfoot.
It is night, about 41F(5C) degrees, and there are a few dark grey stormclouds in the sky. Waist high mist flows through the town. There is a waning gibbous moon.
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Dale is standing here. Sumner is standing here. Anwulf is standing here.
The Haven Sheriff's Department received a report this evening of a missing person, an elderly man living on the north end of town. His daughter came to visit and found the house empty, and a series of footsteps indented into the snow leading out into the woods behind the house. The man's dog was also missing, and though the trail in the snow goes cold a short way into the woods, the Sheriff's department has organized a search party and requested for volunteers to join in sweeping the woods in search of the elderly man, who has been missing for at least two days. The man reportedly has memory issues consistent with the early stages of Alzheimer's, and fliers have been passed out picturing a bald man with liver spots atop his head, and a steely gray goatee. The chill air fogs the breath and stings exposed skin, as you each group together where the trail runs cold.
Dale looks down at the end of the trail, asking Anwulf while buffing his hands together, "Well, what do you think, Anwulf? How do we have a trail that ends here?"
Sumner loiters about the area, occasionally glancing at the ground and past trees in hopes of spotting some sort of new trail or tracks. He does his best to stay mostly out of the deputies' way as the converse over the situation.
"Hard to say," Anwulf replies to Dale with a furrowed brow, eyes locked onto the footprints in the snow. "Does not look like fight. Does not look like he is anywhere near here. Maybe could have covered tracks in the snow, but that would not make a lot of sense..." He lets out a thoughtful sound as he tries to look about curiously.
[Private to Anwulf] Though the trail of footsteps seems to have come to a halt, where the snow is melted, you spot some vaguely canine footprints are imprinted in a muddy section of the grass.
[Private to Dale] Where the trail of footsteps comes to an end where a patch of snow has melted, you spot some vaguely canine footprints leading north-by-northwest. As eyes follow the indentations in the muddy grass, you spot a booted humanoid footprint where the icy snow resumes.
"I do see some animal tracks here... looks like dog or wolf or something," Anwulf mutters as he suddenly points out in the mud where the snow melted away from. "Maybe could be related if..." His voice trails off at that, giving Dale a bit of a silent glance.
The trail runs cold where snow seems to have melted away to a muddied clearing. A nearly vertical bank of ground rises to the north and east, with a seeming path to the west, circling northwards, with snow and ice yet again covering the ground.
"Perhaps he flew," Sumner offers as he inspects the footprints as well, pocketing his hands for warmth. "Or shrouded." He glances down the western path, brow furrowed. "If neither of those, there's pretty much only a few other places he could have gone."
Dale nods, looking on with interest. He casts a glance over to the volunteer, twisting his lips to the side. He looks back down at the tracks. A deeper frown takes over his features. "Okay. A man and his dog take a walk, disappear for two days into the cold of the forest, with no tracks back. How good is your tracking, Anwulf?" he directs towards Anwulf. "It's either that, or we're going to be out here all night."
As the swirling of the mist gradually starts to thin, the canine imprints Anwulf and Dale make mention of become more visible to all. The heel of a single booted print is indented into the icy, compacted snow to the northwest, leading deeper into the woods.
"Well, am a bit out of practice. A lot of the hunting here is much easier than back home," Anwulf admits with a low grunt. He reaches up to rub at the back of his neck and shrugs a little. "The deer here is just a matter of sitting around and waiting." The primal man lets out a heavy sigh before raising his head back up from the snow to look over at Dale.
Dale nods, "All right. Anwulf, you keep following this trail. Myself and," here Dale looks over at Sumner, "Got a name?"
[Private to Sumner] As, presumably, a supernatural -- or at least a member of the Hand -- the timing of the disappearance, and the circumstances themselves, seem suspicious. What, with the recency of the full moon, and all. Especially when you hear the wailing sound of a wolf howling.
In the chill night air, the ambient sound of wildlife stills suddenly into silence in the wake of a wailing howl that reverberates through the woods -- though it does seem to be coming from the distant side of town.
Anwulf gives Sumner a long, expectant look as Dale speaks to him. With no response coming quickly, he shrugs and nods over at Dale. "Alright, will follow tracks," he replies as he follows the trail with his eyes to the northeast. Slowly, he begins to carefully make his way through the snow, ice and foliage as he starts to follow the trail, leaving Dale and Sumner as requested.
When it seems evident he may not get an answer right away, Dale tells Anwulf, "Well, you'll follow the main trail. I and the other guy will follow alongside ten paces to your left and right. If you lose the trail, we'll forty-five degree it to your front and see if we cross it. If we meet in front... we'll readjust our search pattern from there."
Anwulf pauses at Dale's words, nodding.
Sumner inclines his head to Dale. "Sumner," he introduces himself.
Dale gives a brief nod, "Dale," and upnodding towards Anwulf, "And Anwulf." Looking out into the dark, he pulls out a headlamp. "Well, let's get started. The night isn't getting any younger." Hand on his gun and light shining out in front of him, he paces out his ten and turns and looks towards Anwulf, ready to follow him.
"Careful," Sumner calls out after Anwulf. "There was recently a full moon, what, about two days ago? The disappearance of the old man coincides with that. We may very well have a werewolf."
"Would not be the first animal I handled tonight," Anwulf replies confidently to Sumner before turning his back to him and starting to follow up the trail, revealing that the seat of his pants had taken quite a mauling earlier, it seems. "Alright, am starting. Come to my other side, Sumner. Other side from Dale, and head same way I am going."
Sumner does as he is instructed, moving to the other side of Anwulf with a rather tense expression apparent on his face.
As the group spreads out their ten yards, the mist does them the small kindness of thinning and then dissipating completely, allowing them to keep each other within sight radius as they start to travel along the path. The sound of nocturnal wildlife occasionally can be heard, either scurrying atop the trees overhead, or flapping through the air above.
[Private to Dale] Taking the route you do along the tracker's flank provides little within your range of sight by means of tracks, proper, aside from the occasional and light indentation from squirrels or raccoons, though as you step further and deeper, the vantage point provided by the elevated ground and a coincidental gap between trees allow you to spot something further ahead in Anwulf's path, likely obscured from his own sight by banks of snow. It could be a large tree root, and it's hard to really make it out in the dark and distance.
[Private to Anwulf] As you follow the path, you find the resuming prints of booted feet occasionally imprinted over the canine steps, indicating that the man was likely moving -after- the dog. The spacing between prints, where you can find them clearly, indicates that both were moving at a fairly hurried pace.
[Private to Sumner] As you take position on your own flank alongside the other trackers, and start to head deeper into the woods, you come across some larger tracks in the snow, too distinct and clear to miss. The impressions are vaguely canine in feature, clawed, and much, much, much larger than those you'd seen before where the snow was melted, indicating a larger, heavier animal. The path of the tracks seems to be headed towards where Anwulf follows the others, likely intersecting somewhere ahead of him.
Sumner grimaces slightly. "This is indeed most certainly a werewolf. My doubts are cleansed."
"Hold up, Anwulf," Dale calls out, looking out in front of Anwulf. "Proceed carefully, there's going to be something in your pathway. Looks like it might be some kind of tree roots."
Following the path, Anwulf' eyes carefully appraise the tracks along the way. His icy blue eyes gaze heavily and thoughtfully. "Is starting to look like maybe the man tracks are covering the dog tracks," he suddenly explains, countering Sumner's declaration. "There are two sets of footprints at times, but not others. The dog got free, and the man was chasing it, if I had to make a guess." He glances over to his left side, looking over at Sumner as he comments, "The man is not a werewolf, but they could have been being chased by a werewolf." He then darts his head to his right and pauses at Dale's words. "A tree?" he asks as his gaze starts to drift forward more, peering out for the said tree in his way.
"Ahead of you," Dale calls over once again, peering through the gloom with squinted eyes. "I can't really tell, which is why I'm advising caution."
Sumner sighs. "They were indeed chased by a werewolf. From how the tracks of the werewolf appear soon ahead they will have crossed over with the tracks of the man and dog. Possibly signifying their end. Or that they were just being tracked."
As Anwulf's eyes scan through the treeline, searching for the obstacle Dale had warned him of, they find no such thing. At least, not at first. But as the group's steps bring them deeper into the woods, the tracks that Sumner follows aside of the group converge upon those that Anwulf has been pacing along. What, at first, may have seemed to Dale to have been tree roots protruding from the snow is revealed by the beam of flashlights up close to be the battered and bloodied corpse of a canine. Tracks in this area are thicker, scattered in circles to indicate some sort of conflict, with both the smaller canine prints, and ones much larger, and deeper set into the snow.
[Private to Anwulf] As before, the humanoid boot prints in the snow seem to be over those of the two canines, indicating a late arrival to the scene you now behold. The lack of them being scattered would, at the very least, demonstrate that he was unlikely to have been involved in the unfortunate bestial skirmish.
Dale looks across the twenty feet of distance towards Sumner. He frowns, shaking his head. Soon they come upon the scene, he pauses, looking towards the other two before glancing about, "You two keep an eye out, I'll see if I can get anything from the corpse real quick."
A heavy sigh escapes Anwulf' lips as he visually inspects the scene, having stopped once he spotted the corpses. He looks at the carnage for a long moment before moving out a little past Dale and the bodies, carefully trying to scout ahead as he takes a moment to reach up and pull his crossbow out of the top flap of his backpack, pausing for a brief moment to check that is is, in fact, loaded with a bolt.
[Private to Dale] Coming closer to the corpse, the snow is stained brown with blood spilled nights ago. Careful inspection would reveal a collar wrapped around the dog's throat, identifying it as 'Babe'. Taking but a cursory look at the dog's body would show that it had been disemboweled with by a powerful ripping claw. The indentation of sharp teeth around its throat would indicate that its neck was then snapped in a beast's jaw. A glimmering hint of metal catches your attention, once inspection of the corpse has finished, and a red more vibrant than that of the brown stains in the snow -- a shotgun shell casing, and beyond it, the resurgence of humanoid footprints leading yet deeper.
"As expected," Sumner mutters as he surveys the scene, glancing about the area otherwise for any sign more of the werewolf or the old man.
As Anwulf starts to head deeper, he would soon find the humanoid footsteps emerging past the carnage set before him. A mixture of the larger canine prints, and those of boots, lead deeper into the woods, and the snow is flecked with brown spots that would seem to indicate he was chasing a bleeding beast.
Dale pulls his pistol from it's holster, looking grim. "Our man is armed. Shotgun. Keep an eye out for more shells, just in case we miss the footprints." While obvious that the larger canine prints might be hard to miss, he gives what info he has. "Dog went down pretty quickly. Might be looking for either a cold corpse, or a very cold man hiding in his predator's stomach for warmth."
Sumner chuckles, as if recalling something, but only briefly.
"No," Anwulf replies after a bit of deep thought as he spies the tracks going deeper. "We are looking for a man that was out for revenge." He turns back to face Dale. "I believe that he is chasing the werewolf, who is injured. We will either find a werewolf that was the victor, but injured, or a man that very well be hanging onto life by his last bit of strength."
Sumner thinks; 'Like Luke in the... Whatever the fuck it was' stomach.'
"I don't recall a second pair of tracks," Dale says, shrugging and nodding in the direction of the tracks. "So either he came out here armed for a walk on a full moon night, or he found another way to get home. Either way, we're here to find a man who's missing. Let's get to it. Same as before, but five apart. I don't want this thing, if it's alive, ambushing us bunched together, and we're close enough to be able to help in any event."
The wailing sound of another yelping series of howls can be heard shattering the comparable quiet of the night air once again, coming from somewhere distant and far to the east of town. There's a pause, perhaps a few seconds of space, before there's another in answer, nearer, but still fairly distant and to the west. Following the tracks deeper would show booted humanoid imprints atop the deep and clawed canine prints, with the occasional brownish fleck of blood staining the snow. There's a steep embankment of snow directly ahead, preventing view beyond, though it seems sparser of tree cover than the forest has been thus far, perhaps a clearing of some sort on the other side.
Anwulf sighs and points over at Sumner. "Sumner found werewolf tracks, followed to where they met up with me," he begins to explain to Dale. "Man had his dog, and werewolf. Looked like fight happened there. Right there is where the fight happened, and am guessing that is where the dog died. However, I am tracking two tracks this way now. A man, and the werewolf. And it looks like the werewolf was injured." He shrugs and starts to walk, following the tracks deeper until he finds the embankment of snow, pausing a bit before trying to climb over it. "This... feels wrong suddenly," he admits quietly.
Dale tightens his grip on his gun, headlamp placed atop his head even as he pulls out a second pistol, a revolver. He scans the darkness. "It is wrong, Anwulf. It's possible they're going to be converging here. I can't recall how far away the first one sounded, but I think those two we just heard are closer. I'm no expert on that though. Right now, it's fight or flight, and there's possibly a live man on the other side of this embankment. What do you think?"
Anwulf continues his climb, shrugging faintly. "Only one way to find out," he admits quietly.
"Oh?" Sumner utters when the howls reach his ears. "It's still around, it seems. How unfortunately fortunate... As it happens, I don't carry much in the way of weaponry on me, so if the werewolf strikes, it's all yours."
Cresting over the rise of the embankment would reveal a fairly clear and even expanse on the other side, an almost basin-shaped bowl in the landscape devoid of trees -- though not entirely devoid of features. As before, the footsteps in the clearing are scattered, indicating that some sort of tussle had taken place. A bronze shimmer reveals another shell casing in the snow, the vibrant red rubber looking starkly different from the dull brown of aged bloodstains in the snow and ice. The sweeping of flashlight beams reveals a smear, redder than the brown of the blood flecking the clearing, but likely only due to the quantity spilled, rather than a sign of its recency.
Dale takes the revolver and tosses it in Sumner's direction. "Well, if it does come at you, aim for the nose. Or where ever you think you can hit." Whether the guy takes it or not is up for interpretation as he pulls a silver kris from the back of his belt, fitting the handle with the blade pointed down against the handle of the pistol, close quarters combat style.
[Private to Sumner] Given the age of the tracks, the timing of the event that happened here, and the full moon's passing, it would seem unlikely that the werewolf responsible is yet lingering in the woods, and that the distant howls are but a coincidence. Such attacks are scarce outside of the rise of the full moon itself, and the werewolf was almost certainly under the effects of lunacy. Though, there's never any harm in playing it safe, and the revolver tossed your way certainly /feels/ safe.
Sumner takes the revolver appreciatively, but watches on gravely, as if expectant of the outcome.
Sumner thinks; 'It's gone, or it's dead.'
Anwulf sighs heavily and shakes his head as he stands at the crest of the snow embankment, peering down the bowl shape. "Have a feeling I do not even need to see the tracks on the other side," he murmurs as he spies at the vast amounts of blood. "There is a lot of blood, but no body. Which means is likely the werewolf won, and took the body off with it for a meal."
Sumner thinks; 'Unless that werewolf was simply mad regardless of lunacy.'
Anwulf grunts a bit to himself, starting to head down into the bowl shaped expanse, trying to get a bit closer to the scene to pick up the trail from there, and to inspect the snow to determine the victor for sure. "Do not come down here," he offers as he tries to make his way down. "Circle around, instead. Just in case."
Dale does as instructed, eyes peering out away from the bowl, periodically looking back for a brief second before keeping his eyes trained on the darkness away from the bloody ground. He keeps his pistol at the ready, trying to be ready for anything.
Closer inspection of the bowl-shaped clearing would reveal a second shell casing near the center, where the two sets of tracks diverge. The canine footprints lead off to the northeast, with the occasional fleck or spray of brown staining the snow in the wake of heavy clawed feet, whereas to the northwest... the smearing of blood seems to start where the boot prints grow scarce, instead replaced by what seem to be indentations left by fingers from a man scrabbling and clawing his way away from the clearing, leaving the bloody mess behind in his wake, which would become clearer to Dale and Sumner as they start to circle around.
Moving around the east side of the bowl, Dale comes up on the tracks of the canine-like paws, calling out after kneeling down and giving the briefest of inspections before training his gaze back out into the darkness, "Got tracks from the canine leading this way. I don't see any others. How are you guys faring?"
"Well, maybe was wrong. Looks like they both got hurt much more here," Anwulf explains with a quiet grunt. "May still have a man fighting after all. Looks like they went in different directions. But the man was on hands and knees, crawling. Do not imagine he is in good condition." His eyes visibly inspect the trail on it's way up to where Dale and Sumner are circling, pointing in their direction. "Watch back, yes? Not just in here. Man seems to have crawled off in that direction," he further explains as he points to the northwest, then he points with the other hand to the northeast. "Werewolf went that way..."
Sumner stalks about the west side, glaring down at the crawling marks of the man. He frowns ever so slightly. "Hm. No clear victor, apparently. Unless the werewolf decided to double back and get the man while he scrambled to his end of the line."
"We're after the man," Dale states, "We follow those tracks. We can let the yellows deal with the predator when... well, if we make it back." He carefully makes his way over towards Sumner. "You guys willing to do that?"
Anwulf starts to climb his way out of the bowl, heading to the far north of it, trying to get a view outside from between the tracks. With the extra height, he scans about, furrowing his brow. "We will see how things turn out, Dale," he mumbles as he inspects as far as his eyes will spy. "Is too early to worry about not worrying about the werewolf. It may be us or him out here, and we may not get a choice."
[Private to Anwulf] As far as the eye can spy, you can just barely make out the tracks continuing in each respective direction. The blood smeared path to the northwest is much clearer to make out, whereas the wolf's path to the northeast quickly fades from sight as you scan the tree line.
"I have no complaints," Sumner agrees with Dale. Anwulf receives a sigh. "The full moon is done. The werewolf is more than likely long gone by now. What lunacy overcame it is pacified. Unless the werewolf was rabid from the start, if it's still out here, it has a brain that works."
"Hence the 'if', Anwulf," Dale says quietly. He begins to crunch through the snow, following the trail of scrambling bloody man, eyes scanning the darkness ahead in a ninety degree sweep, checking to make sure he's on the trail after every two turns.
Dale amends that with any snow left, along with the mud.
As Dale makes his way over the blood smeared trail leading to the northwest, sweeping and scanning the tree line, the silhouette of a lumpy shape at the base of a tree seems suspicious, and coincides suspiciously with the aged stain of blood leading into the distance -- and its ending.
Dale stops, pointing his head towards the lumpy shape, "Got something." He keeps checking the vicinity as he moves closer.
Anwulf keeps his perch for the moment as he stands there, eyes thoughtfully lingering on the tree line before he hears Dale, glancing in his direction. "What do you see?" he asks from his lookout.
"The end of the blood stains," Dale calls out. Getting closer, he finally just lets the beam from the headlamp shine towards the lumpy shape.
Suddenly brought into the light as the beam of Dale's flashlight finds purpose on the once lumpy and indistinct silhouette at the base of a tree, it becomes equally visible to Dale, Anwulf, and Sumner. Garbed in a bloodstained and thick coat of flannel, a bald man with a steely grey and whiskery goatee is collapsed with his back to the trunk of the tree, the culmination of the blood stain, and their search. Clutched in a cold dead hand is a shotgun, and in the other is his midsection, which has been ripped asunder by the disemboweling swipe of a powerful claw, tattering his clothing, and leaving bloody rends and rips in his torso, from which intestines drape outward, despite the efforts of his hand to keep them in. The man's eyes are pale, and his face is frosted with snow.
"Well, Anwulf, up to you if you want to carry him back..." Dale says, a little shocked but not looking too shocked. He scans the trees about them as he begins to back towards the road. "I'm not strong enough to carry him back to the road and keep watch for any more wolves coming for a free meal, even if it is a meat Popsicle.."
Sumner crosses his arms, closing his eyes and releasing a deep sigh. "As is to be expected. It was an old man with a shotgun..."
"The answer is clear. He deserves not to lay out here alone," Anwulf replies to Dale as he makes his descent, heading in his direction and frowning deeply once he gets a closer view of the man's form. He drops to a knee and bows his head in a respectful manner as he mutters something in his tongue.
"Anwulf, while I respect the dead, I'd rather not wait around in case those wolf calls were heading /here/," Dale insists, still looking out into the darkness. "He can be given rights when we reach the road."
Anwulf says in Wildling, murmuring somberly, 'The hunt has not been kind. May your death have purpose, and may your prey die from it's injuries. May your best hunts lay ahead of you in the life after.'
Anwulf glances up to Dale, grunting and carefully slipping his arms under the frozen corpse of a man. He starts to slowly lift him up into his arms, managing to easily pull him upwards and to his chest as he rises to his feet.
Dale gives a quick survey of the area, "Anwulf, take point. I'll follow along behind, make sure we're not being tracked. If I run past you, you might want to consider what I'm running from." he gives a glance in Sumner's direction. "If it comes to it, can you run?"
The remains of the man are easily lifted up and into Anwulf's powerful arms, remaining stiff from days of cold set into the man's savaged flesh. The shotgun remains clutched in the steely grip of dead and frozen fingers, draping against Anwulf's shoulder as the body is hefted respectfully up against his chest. The trek back to town proves uneventful, despite the lingering shadows and the occasional startle of wildlife near the funerary procession as the dead man is brought home.
Rest in Peace - Davis Halliwell, 65
The Haven Courier bears the obituary of Davis Halliwell, and his dog Babe, found after an exhaustive search by members of the Haven Sheriff's Department and a local volunteer. Mr. Halliwell, age 65, was found savaged by an animal attack, along with his beloved dog, in the woods north of town. He is survived by his daughter, Beth, and two grandchildren, and funeral services will be on Wednesday. The family offers their gratitude to the volunteers and deputies responsible for finding him.
"The hunt has not been kind. May your death have purpose, and may your prey die from its injuries. May your best hunts lay ahead of you in the life after." - Anwulf
Rest in Peace - Babe, 8
Posted with permission of all involved parties.