Aa' lasser en lle coia orn n' omenta gurtha.
(May the leaves of your life tree never turn brown.)
Previously in our story...
We stayed with the dwarfs helping them around their city as we could for a few more weeks, and then made our preparations to depart towards the enchanted forest and the home of the Crescent Witch. I found out that the Crescent Witch was rumored to live about 5 miles around towards the enchanted forest, so that is the direction that I recommended we travel once we decided to head out. As the Summer Solstice was near, I also spent some time in meditation and ritual for the sacred space. During those meditations, I asked my god and goddess what I should know about the dragon that we faced. A young dwarf child wandered over to me and sat down beside me. She played with her little doll and began speaking to me about the boogeyman. She showed me her doll and told me that the boogeyman had yellow eyes and walked around wearing a green robe. She said she was afraid of the boogeyman, and asked if I were going to get rid of him.
I reassured her that we were going to do our best to get rid of the boogeyman, and she nodded once and then continued to chatter and play beside me for a time. It was only after she had wandered away again that I realized that I should not have been able to talk with her at all, since I do not speak any form of the dwarven language. I ruminated on what I had been told, and later on that evening shared the knowledge that I had been given with the rest of the party.
Osman spent some time praying to his god as well, in a supplication for more living animals to leave with the dwarfs here. His god answered him and another goat appeared. The one he had previously called forth wandered over to him to greet it's companion, and then suddenly went into labor, delivering 12 healthy kids, much to the amazement of any who witnessed the births.
Shalev also prayed, and was also gifted with a new spell. His goddess granted him the ability to see the measure of a soul. He told me later on over our afternoon tea that it was his hope to be able to use this ability to help Fife with his curse. He asked if he could try the spell out on me, and I agreed, though I warned him that because of my long life, and because I was an elf, he might not be able to get a read on me as he would a human.
On a whim, Shalev donned his white dragon armor, and discovered that it would allow him some additional perceptions. He was able to clearly see the dragon flying overhead in the distance, and discovered that the dragon always flew in a counter-clockwise pattern. As we were planning to head to the forest, that would mean that we traveled opposite the dragon's flight path, and would also mean that we would perhaps have some extra time before having to deal with the dragon face to face.
Hearing that bit of information, Lan looked closer at the giant mushrooms that grew along the edge of the bowl shaped valley. After a few moments of examination, she told the party that the entire valley was one gigantic fairy ring, with the mushrooms acting as a border. She also said that the dragon was of fairy origins, and was likely trapped inside.
As we were packing our things, Ishmael approached the party solemnly. He told us that he wished to retire here and make a life and a home as the Forgemaster, as the dwarfs currently did not have someone to act in such a capacity, and he felt like this place had been waiting for him to arrive. The dwarfs accepted his request to stay with much enthusiasm, and agreed to help him set up a house near the great forges.
The party accepted his decision with some sadness, and that evening we held a feast in his honor, toasting his accomplishments, and giving what blessings we could for him. He gave us three of the water skins filled with the restorative waters from Martek's tomb. He also requested to keep the layan chain mail rings that Lan had, in order to try to find a way to craft them into something, and she agreed to let him have them. Ishmael offered to watch over the bulk of our supplies and belongings so that we could travel minimally encumbered, and we agreed, consolidating the necessities down to a single cart and our individual packs.
The following morning we set out, and it felt strange to leave Ishmael behind. I am sure that he will be happy there, surrounded by accoutrements of his faith. I hope that he lives long and his fires never die out. I cast my Whispers of the Way spell to see what the road ahead might tell me, in hopes that I can continue to refine my understanding of the spell, and also in hope that it might give us a fraction of a warning of potential fores. Travel was somewhat subdued, but after about a day we managed to make our way over to the Crescent Witch's house without incident. The house was actually a massive tree, stretching nearly 50 feet across and 250 feet high. Awestruck by the giant, I touched the bark to feel it humming with life. I could also feel some kind of enchantment, but could not discern what it might be. The door to the dwelling was 12 feet tall, and located in the center of the trunk. I looked back at the part members to see that they were nearby, and then knocked on the door. I glanced at the window near the door to see an orc peeking through the window at me. He opened the door and asked something in an odd gutteral language.
Seeing that none of us understood what he asked, he repeated the question in a language that sounded much like the one that I had heard the dwarfs speak in the city. When Shalev stepped forward and answered the orc in the same language, it confirmed to me that it was indeed dwarven, as I knew that he had been studying it fervently while we were staying with the dwarfs.With Shalev acting as translator, we found out that the orc was asking if we wanted to come inside and eat. He seemed desperate for an answer, which made us all extremely wary of the circumstances. Fife, not understanding the language, and seeing the orc in front of Shalev, reacted as a trained bodyguard would, and leapt in front of Shalev to try to tackle him out of harm's way.
Or that's what he would have done, had he not still been affected by the bad luck curse. Instead of tackling Shalev out of the way, he lunged off to the far left of the tree and fell to the ground, landing on his face. Thankfully the fall did not do any damage to him, and as he lay there for a moment to catch his breath, Lan peered around Shalev and noticed that there were brownies working frantically inside the tree. She warned us all in the party common language not to accept any offer from anyone, and to let her do all of the talking for the time being. She then turned to the diminutive fae inside the tree and began speaking to them in their own musical language.
As they conversed, I notice that the orc tried again to convince us to come inside and have something to eat, and when we again ignored his request, he attempted to intimidate Shalev into doing what he wanted. Shalev looked at him once, and then shrugged off the glare as if it were nothing, turning to the side to look more directly at Lan. The orc seemed taken aback by the casual dismissal and visibly slumped a little, finally resigned to the fact that we would not cross the threshold of the house, nor eat anything he offered.
While Lan continued to converse with the brownies, I helped Tobias move the cart off to the relative cover of the giant mushrooms growing nearby. We disguised the cart as we had been practicing, and once that was done, we set up a basic camp. After another few moments of rapid dialogue between them, Lan turned to us and said that the brownies had been cursed to work for 10 years making baked goods that were addicting to consume. If anyone ate one, they would immediately crave more and more, and if they could not pay for what they consumed, they became indentured to work along side the brownies in servitude. She then turned to KelLyn and asked her to confirm the nature of the geas on the fae, and she verified that it was a spell that had been cast by a secular druid, but that the power level was impossible to overcome in it's current state.
I made a note here of the power levels that I had seen before, with the ever-growing grass, and wondered at just how much the crescent witch had done to the balance of this place in her efforts to make things as she saw fit. I also began to see why the secular druids were seen as a menace, and contemplated further discussion with my god and goddess about the differences between secular and sacred. Those prayers would be for another day, however, as my mental reverie was broken when I heard Shalev began speaking once again in the rumbling dwarven language. He asked the orc at the nature of his debt to the fae, and then handed him 9 gold pieces, declaring in dwarf and then again in common, that his debt was paid. The orc cheered and promptly handed the gold to the brownies before stepping out of the house with an audible sigh of relief. He told Shalev that we could call him Jaeger, and Shalev offered him a space in our camp, should he wish to travel with us for a time. He accepted, and the rest of the party warily welcomed him to the group.
I cautioned Shalev to be wary, and to remember that none of the rest of the party could understand their conversations. Just because Jaeger seemed friendly at the moment, did not mean that he could be trusted immediately. Shalev noted my concerns, but I know that he is instinctively trusting, and expects others to be the same way. Time will tell with Jaeger.
During the third watch that evening, Osman encountered two ragged looking dwarfs coming from the direction of the gnomish city of Ehru in Damazen. They were wearily making their way towards the dwarven city in Quadling, and seemed surprised when Osman called out to them. They drew weapons, not understanding, and Osman called out to Shalev who then woke Amit and I. The three of us went out to greet the weary travelers, and seeing that they were sore in need of some rest and some healing, we escorted them back to camp where we offered them bread and salt, a meal, and what healing we could provide. They gratefully accepted the offer and as we tended to them, the apparent leader of the two spoke to us. He told us that they had come from the war, and that they were all that remained of the forces that had been sent out.
He went on to say that they had been fighting against the Ros Babans, and that the city had fallen. The forges were cold and closed, and the outer walls had been destroyed. I hear Tobias curse under his breath, and remembered hearing about the Ros Babans in descriptions of some of his previous adventures. While the dwarf spoke, Lan worked at healing him and his companion, and she asked him about the fairy ring and the history of the valley we were in. He told us that the fairy ring had been here for 400 years or more, and that the dragon had been here long before that. The dragon arrived shortly after the death of Savoyez - the duke of the central city who had tried to keep everything running after the second wizard of Emer, Liamond, had blown everything up. Liamond was Deuxson's grandson, and had been known to meddle with magic that was beyond his capability to control. His greatest desire was in striving to revive ancient orders, and at that statement, I heard KelLyn snort softly under her breath. He had been attempting to craft an artifact when the power went out of control and exploded, causing all of the walls of the city to shatter. In order to contain the energy, he summoned a great one over the well in the center of the city, and the great one surrounded the city making it a sacred space.
After they had been healed, fed, and moderately rested, the two dwarfs said that they would take their leave and continue toward the city in Quadling. We told them about Ishmael and they seemed surprised that the city once again boasted a Forge singer, saying that they were keen indeed to meet the newcomer. We wished them well, and they departed to complete their journey. We continued on as well, at first light.
Seeing that we were making slow and uneven progress on the remains of the path, Jaeger stood on the cart and made hand motions as if he were casting a spell. Shalev quickly reassured us that he was not attacking but was attempting to help move things at a more efficient pace. KelLyn looked on in amused disbelief, saying something about watching an orc try magic being good for a laugh. She swallowed her words quickly, however, when after a moment, the ground beneath the cart rose up in a gentle swell, and our rate of travel noticeably improved.
With Jaeger's aid to our travel, it only took us another day to reach the edge of the enchanted forest. I recommended that we make camp here, and I offered to scout ahead into the forest. The trees here were unusual in their enormity, and I had never seen anything like them in all of my years. The outer ring of trees had bark that peeled away like paper. I got an overwhelming sense of enchantment here, and the moment I stepped foot into the shadowed depths of the trees, my skin began to prickle as if a thousand ants were crawling over me. It was not painful, but it gave me an urgent sense of warning about this place that I heeded warily. There were wide avenues between the strange trees, but aside from those I could see no path. I noted that the second layer of trees was different than the first, with shredded brown bark. The ground here chattered away at me, but I noticed with some interest that it was in a language that I did not understand. I decided then to make my way back to the camp, lest Shalev and Tobias grow concerned by a longer absence. Distance was not what it appeared to be here in this place, and when I finally emerged from the odd forest, I found myself 300 feet away from where I had originally entered the grove. I made my way back over to the party and told them about what I had observed.
Once I was safely back with the party, I decided to cast my druidic power out in an attempt to call the keepers, but it seemed to have no effect. KelLyn offered to cast her Nature of Things spell to tell me what she could find out about the forest. After a moment or two of concentration, she informed me that the forest here had a massive Create/Modify Spirits and Demons enchantment over it. I tried again to sense where the keepers might be, but once again only got the general sense that the lived here.
Shalev insisted that if we were going to go into the forest, that we should all be tied together, and immediately began working to secure everything and everyone with rope. Tobias and I took point and gave ourselves an extra measure of rope so that we could continue to scout ahead. The ground here was still chattering away in that odd language, so I paid it no additional heed. We scouted ahead about 100 feet or so, and I noticed that each layer of trees was different than the one before. None of the trees were familar to me at all, and when I used my druidic powers to try to tell me what they were, I got very strong sense that I should actually taste the tree in front of me. Confused and extremely wary about this, I tried perceive again, and again got the sense of "taste and see." So I stepped up and tasted the tree.. only to discover that it was not a tree at all, but rather an enormous stalk of celery. The entire forest was actually a vegetable garden of gigantic proportions.
Alarmed at the realization and what it might mean, I quickly found Tobias and told him that we needed to find the rest of the party. We followed the rope only to find that it had been chewed through by a white deer. It bounded off gracefully, and Tobias tried to go after it, but the rope that tied him to me prevented it. We knew then that the rest of the party had been separated, and we began making our way back the way we came. We heard a crashing sound, and saw a 9 ft tall white rabbit with a rope tied around its neck come stumbling into the area where we were. Fife was holding on to the other end of the rope, wide eyed, and Tobias shouted at him to let go of the rope. Seeing us there, he tried, but ended up falling into the trunk of the celery stalk and getting stuck. Tobias climbed up and managed to cut him out successfully, and Fife was not injured, though he said that he could not feel his arm at all. I took a look at him, and could see no injuries at all, but his entire arm was completely relaxed and numb. We gave him some water to try to wash the sap off, and I took a closer look at the excretions from the celery stalk. I could not discern anything specific about it, however, but bottled a small amount of it for later study, making a note of it's apparent numbing properties and being careful not to touch any of it myself. I said a quick prayer to my god and goddess to ask them if there was a specific way to call to the keepers, and they answere me telling me that the keepers can be called by doing something exceptionally good, or exceptionally bad.
I tired to use my ability to destroy plants to create a safe path for us out of the garden, but the grass immediately grew back in. I noticed that the trunk of the celery stalk where Fife had landed had not repaired itself, and so I decided to try to heal it as a way to draw the keepers attention. I created a spell that allowed me to heal the plant successfully, at least partially, and with that done, we decided to make a basic camp here and try again to make our way back to the party after some rest. As we settled in, I performed a ritualized blessing of the garden area in general. As soon as I had completed the prayer, I felt a minor earthquake, but could not discern the source or reason.
During first watch that evening, Fife fell asleep briefly and woke up to see a large white boar staring at him. It headbutted him unconscious and he woke up later screaming about a large pig. During second watch, Tobias encountered a group of very large birds. They were completely silent, and had no heat signature at all, and after watching for a moment flew away on soundless wings. On my watch, the birds returned and perched on one of the giant vegetables. I greeted the bird, but got no response at all. As we broke our camp the following morning, I felt another earhquake, and then suddenly we were all picked up off of the ground by a tangle of green vines. It felt like we were flying in the air, and then at the apex of whatever had lifted us, I looked down to see the enormous hedge maze of vegetables stretching off in the distance. Then it felt like we were falling, but being gently held by whatever this tangle of vines was. We were set gently on the ground next to the rest of our party, and I realized that a giant green man had picked us up out of his garden like weeds.
I looked up at him in wonder, for I had never seen such a being before, and I heard him tell Shalev that he had a strange association. I realized then that Shalev must have encountered the giant and asked him to retrieve Tobias, Fife, and myself from the gardens. Shalev responded to the giant that he was on a last adventure before going home to get married. The giant then asked him to wait a moment, then walked away, returning a few moments later with a pouch which he handed to Shalev. The pouch contained a green gemstone earring which was described by the giant as being able to strengthen his personal resolve. He gifted the earring to Shalev as a wedding present, and then blessed him directly with fertility. Shalev thanked the giant for the gift and the blessing, then asked him if he would like any additional plats for his garden. The giant accepted one of the strawberry plants that I had been cultivating, and I asked if there was anything that he needed. The giant replied that he had lost his fork some time ago, and went on to describe a trident like object. Tobias offered him the trident that he had taken from Sacatha's tomb, and the giant accepted it gratefully, giving Tobias a large box in return. I asked him if he could tell me anything about the druids that had been here once, and he said that while there used to be druids here, he had not seen any in a long time. He then bade us farewell, and walked away with the minor earthquake following his every step.
I was disappointed that he was not able to tell me more, but resolved to continue my hunt for more information about this place. We gathered our things, and started traveling once again. The orc made that same motion with his hands, and the spell that he used before started up again, making our travel much easier and faster. After a while, we stopped to camp, and covered the things per Shalev's request. He asked KelLyn to take a look at the earring, and she said that it had a powerful protection spell for vitality on it. He asked about how it was worn, and she offered to pierce his ear. He agreed to let her, and she did so quickly, placing the earring in the lower lobe of his right ear. I did a minor healing spell on the wound to prevent infection once the earring was in place, and taught him how to care for it until it completely healed.
Shalev asked Jaeger if he knew of any enhancements to the senses, and Jaeger did something which improved Shalev's eyesight for a time. Watches all happened thankfully without incident, and we continued to make our way aorund the forest. Shalev, acting as a translator between KelLyn and Jaeger, asked KelLyn if Jaeger could look at the staff pieces that she carried with her. KelLyn, suddenly realizing that her goddess was the goddess of orcs, said a prayer to Leilanna in hopes that she would be able to learn how to speak orc, and be able to communicate directly with Jaeger.
Leilanna actually manifested in front of KelLyn, and said quite sternly that she was very cross with KelLyn about things. They got into an argument with one another, and as a result, KelLyn's request to learn orcish was granted, but her magic was partially blocked for a time, and she was geased into killing the orcs that are doing bad things in Leilanna's name. As they argued with one another, I saw Tobias make a rude gesture at Leilanna, and wondered at why he would dare such a thing. I then looked over and saw Shalev step in front of Jaeger, and say something in dwarvish. I heard Leilanna's name, and Jaeger suddenly lunged forward to attack Shalev. Amit immediately picked Lan's body up, as she had fallen over dead when Leilanna manifested, and moved her over to the cover of the first row of trees.. onions.. in the garden to protect her. Shalev tried to stop Jaeger, but ended up being knocked over. Jaeger tried again to attack, this time by beginning to cast something, and Fife threw a spear to stop him. It bounced harmlessly off of the base of Jaeger's neck, and Osman also tried to shoot the orc in the foot. His arrow also bounced off, and Shalev managed to move out of the way and over toward Amit and Lan.
Jaeger's spell completed, and suddenly 22 oak trees sprang up in a circle 100 feet across. They grew up 84 feet tall, some of them emerging in the middle of the giant's vegetable garden. Leilanna and KelLyn continued to argue with one another and Jaeger moved to attack again, but suddenly stopped when he realized that they were speaking in a language that he could now understand. Leilanna tuned then to the orc, and cast something over the entire party, saying that we all needed to just chill out and relax. Then she disappeared, and Lan woke back up, seemingly unaware of what had just occurred.
Shalev, Amit, and Lan appeared to be unaffected by the spell, but the rest of the party was in an almost drugged state of euphoria. KelLyn and Jaeger seemed to be best friends now, and were chatting back and forth in orcish. She cast her spell that allowed her to talk through fires, and the trees all fell towards one another, crashing together and igniting into one giant bonfire. An orcs face appeared in the flames, spoke to KelLyn briefly, and then disappeared. Jaeger looked awestruck by what he had seen, and he and KelLyn then started reading books to each other. KelLyn read her book of Fyrewerian to Jaeger, and as she read, the stumps of the trees turned into deep metal and sank into the ground. Realizing the dangers of having two apparently drunk mages reading from a magic book, Shalev handed them both a drink that he had spiked with the powerful sleeping potion he had picked up several months ago. They both slumped over in a deep sleep, and Tobias and I decided to separate ourselves from the party and spent some rare time alone together.
The next morning we woke up still feeling the effects of the spell that Leilanna had cast, though not as strongly as before. We broke camp, and moved out toward the ruins of the gnomish city. Another two weeks of travel passed uneventfully before we were finally able to make our way around the edge of the vegetables and back to the ring of mushrooms on the outer edge. As we made camp that evening, we examined the box that the giant had given to Tobias. It was unassuming on the outside, being only about 2 ft across. When we opened it up, however, we saw two metal rings with a rope ladder strung between them leading down into a 10 x 10 x 10 room. Only Fife and Tobias were able to fit through, and they climbed down inside to see that it was a large, empty space. They asked us to try moving the box, and we could do so easily. There was no change in weight or mobility, and we all instantly realized the benefits to having such a container with us. After a brief discussion, we moved the box up onto the cart, and then transferred all of our most valued things down into the room for safe keeping.
Shalev took the time to ask KelLyn to look again at the piece of paper that I had snagged from the lizard king's temple for some reason. She agreed to do so, and confirmed that it was most likely the name of the demon that she had imprisoned in the gem. She pocketed the piece of paper again, and went back to studying her magic. A moment later, she looked up with a huge smile on her face and said "that's it! I know them all now!" and suddenly a raven appeared in front of her to squawk "We are watching you arch-mage. The council of Fyrewerians does not appreciate your presence on this contin..." but it did not finish the declaration, as Amit pounced on it at ate it whole almost as soon as it had appeared. He swallowed the mouthful of bird, then spat out feathers in distaste and looked plaintively over at Osman who laughed and created some goat meat for him instead.
We continued to travel, and we observed the large birds we had seen in the gardens flying in groups of 10. They would fly into the mountains, and then fly back, carrying animals of various kinds which they would haul over towards the broken city of Emer. When they left the city, they did not carry the animals with them, and we speculated that they were bringing food for the dragon. I made a mental note then, of the white animals that had watched us in the gardens, and thought that this was probably how the dragon always seemed to know where people were on the roads.
After a few more days of travel, we finally reached a huge stone gate much like the pass through the mountains at the dwarf city. There was no city here, however, only large carved figures and battlements. The entrance was completely sealed off, and the statues were wearing battered gold crowns that looked like they had been chewed on and clawed at in an attempt to remove them.
We paused here, and found some cover to make camp while we discussed whether or not to attempt to go into the gnomish city. We recalled what the two dwarfs had told us about the Ros Babans, and the constant battle that was waged behind those doors. After much discussion we decided that it was not worth trying to break through the doors, and that we would continue on around the circle of the valley in the morning.
So KelLyn is an arch-mage now. She seems quite pleased with herself, and as powerful as she is, I have no doubt that this will only fuel her desires for knowledge. I still do not trust Jaeger yet, though he seems to have mellowed out considerably. Having another competent magic user in the party has definitely been useful, though I can not overlook the apparently causeless attack on Shalev, depsite Shalev's reassurance that no harm was done. I am still wary.
The dragon knows we are here, and knows that we are coming. It would be foolish to assume otherwise. It is possible that the dragon simply longs to return to the fairy realms, though I do not begin to think that it would be that simple.
I am no closer to discovering anything about the druids who were here before, but the more I learn about them, the less I am liking what I hear. Either they were not druids at all, though the spells I have sensed here have a secular druidic cast to them, or they were druids who were so power hungry that they did not care about the repercussions of their actions.
I still need to talk to my god and goddess. There is much that I do not understand about sacred vs. secular, and much more I do not understand about what can be done about our present situation. I am still awestruck at having met the Keeper that the dwarfs told me about, but can not deny that I am disappointed at myself for not knowing what questions to ask him. I have been feeling rather useless to the party as of late. I do not know enough about sacred druidry to provide more than minimal help there, and even my archery skills pale in comparison to others. The adventures ahead still call to me, the desire to see what lies ahead is still strong.
Much to do. Much to learn.
I just hope that it will be enough.