As Astryos follows the faint footpath farther away from his companions on the main trail, the odor of death and decay grows stronger. He soon reaches a point where, should he continue on, he will loose sight of Varius, Faria and Cassandra. Even though it's not that late in the afternoon, the day seems to be giving over to twilight, or maybe it's just the cover from the branches overhead. In either case, tones of gray are starting to replace the colors in the elf's vision.
Faria and the others stood waiting while Astryos wandered a little off the beaten path to the side. She thought she saw him stop and look back for a moment as if he had seen something but then continued a bit forward almost out of sight. When he returned he spoke of wolves and she tensed. Faria clutched her weapons with white knuckles. Her eyes darted furtively around to the trees around as if trying to spot a herd of wolves. "W-wolves?" she asked a bit shakily as she continued to move alert. She followed swiftly behind wanting to get to the Wizard of Wines much quicker now.
"Be vigilant, certainly, but do not worry. Unless they are injured, sick, or otherwise driven to desperation due to an inability to hunt their usual prey, they will leave us alone if we extend to them the same courtesy."
Cassandra can't help but doubt the validity of Varius's claim. Under any other time that probably would hold true, but this place seemed to thrive on the worst case scenario. "Right, vigilant." The half elf catches sight of Faria's sudden nervousness. A less kind part of the monk almost feels pride in not being the nerve-wracked one for once, but Cassandra pushes the thought aside and follows the others, being watchful of her surroundings. "I'm sure we'll be there soon." she manages as a half hearted attempt to console.
You turn away from the footprints leading into the forest and resume your southward journey. The light was already fading while Astryos explored the woods near the path. About fifteen minutes later, it can appropriately be called twilight, though you never really saw the sun all this cloudy day. Astryos, Faria and Cassandra are seeing everything in shades of gray, while Varius strains to make out the trees just a few feet off the side of the trail. It's been about an hour and a half since you left Krezk.
As the day grows dark, Astryos lights a torch and hands it to Varius. He lights another for himself, "We should make camp at the next clearing. With wolves about, we'll need watch shifts. Hopefully the fire keeps them at bay."
With the torchlight to guide you, you travel about ten minutes more along the trail before Astryos finds another likely turnoff. It's not a path per se, but a thinning in the trees on the left side of the trail where the ground slopes down into a sheltered divot.
As you pause to consider the prospect of spending the night here, Cassandra hears a faint but rapidly growing sound like the whipping of wind through the trees, coming from somewhere off in the darkness on the right-hand side of the trail. Whatever the source of the sound is, it's farther away than the sixty feet Cassandra can see into the woods.
Faria's golden eyes scan the trees to the sides of the road. She had also grabbed one of the torches provided, and seemed to be intensely aware of every sound being made in the area. When Astryos speaks up she turns to him quickly as if it was a warning shout for an ambush. Faria found her mouth too dry to even attempt a swallow at his words and instead nodded hesitantly. "Than we should so so quickly, not much light left."
Astryos leads the party into the divet, "Collect wood as you find it." He sets his pack down by a log and looks about for some stones to make a ring for the fire. "In hindsight, I might have grabbed a bed roll..." he laments aloud, "This cloak ought suffice until we get to the winery."
Cassandra turns towards the source of the noise, squinting in the direction of the sound. She frowns, unable to make out anything. Perhaps it was just the wind? Then again...
...Careless... the word echoes in her head. She looks back at the others. "Do you all hear that? I'm not sure what it is, but there might be something else out there. It sounds like it's getting louder too." She turns her gaze nervously back to the direction of the noise, feeling herself tense at the prospect of a potential danger.
As Astryos steps off into the woods on the east side of the trail and starts making plans for a camp, the whipping, fluttering noises from the west crescendo to a level that everyone can hear. From where Cassandra and Faria stand, still on the trail, their darkvision sees dimly out past the light from the torches to where, about sixty feet into the woods, a riot of movement suddenly crowds around the trees. Wings, hundreds or thousands of them—a veritable tide of bats flying this way in a wall that stretches into the darkness on either side. Varius, with his blunted human vision, sees nothing yet but hears the approaching roar.
Faria hears the noise eventually too and looks to the others for a moment she had wondered if perhaps it was a sign of the wolfs but no that sound was too dissimilar. Upon seeing the bats, and lots of them the faint pricks of curiosity was beginning to set in. "I'm not sure that's a normal amount of bats at night, do you think they were sent for us to follow?" asks Faria holding up her torch trying to get a better view of them. She walks towards them cautiously to see if they rear back, or begin to head off in another direction.
Astryos turns his eyes from the ground looking for stone, to the sky, looking for bats, "It seems strange, but this is a strange land. Perhaps there is a cave near by and they are all exiting to feed for the night."
Varius doesn't even bother looking up, knowing he won't see anything against the blackened sky. "Not a normal number for what we know to be normal. But who is to say what is normal for this place? Like the wolves, I doubt bats will cause us trouble. Just be sure to remain alert, in case things aren't what they seem."
The mass of bats , a twenty or thirty-foot-wide column now, pushes forward among the trees, flying just a few feet above the ground. Having reached a point just twenty feet west of the trail, the vanguard of the swarm is clearly visible in the torchlight. At this rate it will be mere moments before thousands of bat rush across the path where Cassandra, Faria and Varius are standing. As the foremost bats enter the brighter area of the torches' light, a sort of faint, grayish haze is visible around among them, as if their passage through the trees is shaking loose dust and pollen.
Seen at this distance, there's something strangely sluggish about the movements of the individual bats: Wings flit sporadically in jerky spasms. Several of the creatures will drop down a foot or two and then flap rapidly to regain altitude, while others simply fall to the forest floor and convulse there. The collective whirring sound is almost deafening.
Faria saw even more of the bats flit into view however some of them were moving sporadically. "I'm going to check out one of the fallen ones, something odd is going on here," shouts Faria over the swarm as it continues to approach, and she keeled down and began to make her way slowly forward torch leading the way. 'Why were some bats dropping dead...? Was there something in this swarm? Only one way to find out.' She gritted her teeth trying to ignore that her group kept mentioning wolves, and instead focused on the task set before her.
Faria is able to scuttle out to the front line of the onrushing bats and hold her torch over one of the recently fallen animals that still twitches and jerks its wings. Up close, it's clear that this thing is not what it appeared, but rather a dry, dusty semblance of a bat shot through with threadlike gray filaments. The animal itself has been dead for some time—tiny mushrooms grow from its eye sockets and mouth—but the fungal filaments permeating its body seize and release, providing an animating force that mimics the motions of the former creature.
As the colonized bat corpse spasms on the ground, gray powder from its fur forms pasty clumps on the damp leaves. Another fungal bat drops nearby. Thousands more swarm just overhead as they continue towards the trail.
Back on the far side of the trail, Astryos is unable to pierce any arcane deception that might be behind the appearance of this swarm. As he scrutinizes the tiny creatures thirty feet away, the whirring of their wings is met by a similar sound behind him. At least when he whips around to look, that turns out to have just been the wind. The bats remain, nearly at the trail where Varius and Cassandra wait.
Confident that they are not an illusion but indeed simply dead bats, Astryos turns to return to the road, "I for one have no intention of camping where dead bats lay. Let's head down the road another mile to get away from the corpses. They might be diseased."
She takes a curious look at the bats and then shakes her head barely containing the jerk reaction to pull away. "They're dead, some sort of... fungus," says Faria as she scoops up the Bat in front of her carefully and puts it into her bag for later examination. She starts to crawl back, and silently agree's they should keep moving.
Cassandra quietly follows Varius, keeping a wary eye towards the bats when she is able. It seems to the half elf that every time she thought she had reached a peak for disliking this place, a new and unique trouble would introduce itself to the group.
The fungal bat continues to twitch weakly inside Faria's pack as she turns to crawl back to the path. But a large contingent of its compatriots from the swarm above seem to have developed an interest in the elf's movements and leave the larger group to swirl down and around her. Dozens or more of the creatures buffet against her, releasing stinging, burning spores on contact. It occupies all of her attention just to fend off the tiny creatures.
As Astryos backtracks from the woods on the opposite side of the path, the approaching tide of bats seems to adjust course to meet him about twenty feet down the path and swirl around him, releasing burning spores where they collide with the monk.
From where they started, already on the path, Varius and Cassandra have moved about sixty feet, putting them well ahead of the bat vanguard.