Episode 28 - The Druid's Warning

...evil? Did someone use detect alignment? Nah, he's just crazy...

Before setting forth to investigate rumors of a Swamp Witch haunting the southwest shores of Tuskwater Lake, Vincze asked Skylgannon and Khrystos to accompany her into the basement of the Stag Lord’s fort. She’d been wanting to find a possession left behind by the Stag Lord’s father—the old druid that they had set free, months before—in order to enhance a scry spell, should she want to keep tabs on him in the future. (…Even though she was not yet powerful enough to cast a scry spell, she explained, she was preparing for the eventuality. After all, the Council was planning on using the Stag Lord’s fort as the base for building Baron Khrystos’ castle… And once they did that, there was no hope of recovering any of the druid’s possessions…)

As the three descended down the dark basement stairs, Khrystos and Vincze were reminded that the Greenbelt Defenders hadn’t yet cleared everything out of the basement: there were still boxes of things lying around—mostly sundry supplies, and other non-valuable things. They made a mental note of that, and then began exploring the parts of the basement that comprised the druid’s lair. They didn’t find much, but tracing the seams of the walls with magical light eventually revealed a long crack along the floor. There was air flowing through—as if there was a room hidden behind the wall. Vincze pulled out a scroll of detect secret doors, and cast it; but no secret doors came into view. So she asked her familiar, Trixie, to burrow deeper into the wall. After a minute of digging, the rabbit was able to access the hidden room. When she returned, she told them the room contained a lantern, with a sack next to it. Skylgannon and Khrystos both set to work, excavating the room with any tools they could find.

The room turned out to be a small alcove containing exactly what Trixie had described. The sack, they discovered, contained a dried-up, blackened husk, which Khrystos identified as a dead will-o’-wisp. Vincze cast detect magic, which indicated that while the sack and the husk were both non-magical, the lantern radiated a strong aura of divination magic. The spell also told her that, in order for the lantern to work, the husk needed to be placed inside it.

The wizard carefully placed the husk inside the lantern and ZOW! a blue beam of light shone forth. The beam pointed west, unwavering, regardless of which way they turned the lantern. Seeing this, they immediately tabled their investigation of the swamp witch and instead focus on the new quest in front of them. They mounted their horses and headed west, following the lantern’s blue light deep into the Narlmarches.

By late afternoon, the trio found themselves in a wooded area, far to the west/southwest of Nettle’s Rest. The sky had clouded over at that point, and it was beginning to rain. The lantern’s light led them to a ring of stone towers surrounding a central tower. The towers’ ancient stonework was covered with moss and undergrowth, partly obscuring the symbols and runes carved into them. The strangest thing about the towers, however, was that the Greenbelt Defenders had already explored this section of woodland, and no structures of any kind were noted on their map! The towers, in other words, seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. [Chris: Or perhaps they just missed it last time, because they were not as perceptive as they could have been…]

As they entered the ring of towers, they noted that the blue beam of lantern light was fixed upon the central tower menhir, which was tallest. Vincze approached the central tower menhir and tried reading the runes on it, but couldn’t make sense of them. Meanwhile, Skylgannon and Khrystos made a slow sweep of the area, when all of a sudden, one of the other towers menhirs—the northern-most one—fell forward, pinning Khrystos beneath it! Skylgannon and Vincze rushed to his aid, and after an hour of digging, they managed to free the injured Baron. Khrystos healed himself with his wand of cure light wounds, while Skylgannon unsuccessfully attempted to scale the central tower. As their Warden was unsuccessful, Vincze cast a levitate spell and rose to the top of the central tower; she carried the lantern with her, and they all watched as the lantern continued to shed light down upon the top of the tower, bathing it in an eerie glow. She saw that there were more runes on top of the tower; but, try as she may, Vincze couldn’t decipher them.

It was raining steadily at that point, and getting dark, so the group decided to set up camp, choosing a spot about a hundred feet from the ring of towers. They took the dried-up husk out of the lantern, and built a fire to warm themselves. Vincze had first watch, and used her time to study the runes on the central tower more carefully. Slowly, she began to make sense of them. Apparently, she read, if the lantern’s light was cast on the central tower stone at midnight (“when the moon was high in the sky”, the runes seemed to indicate), a door would open into another realm: a world filled with druidic lore and magic. Vincze quickly woke the others and relayed this to them. As it was very close to midnight, they hurriedly returned the husk to the lantern’s core, and cast its light upon the central tower.

Vincze cast another levitate spell, and ascended the central tower stone to once more bathe it in the lantern’s eerie blue glow. Suddenly, BAM! She, Sklygannon and Khrystos found themselves in another world: it was daylight, and they were in a different forest entirely. The towers single menhir was still there- (Vincze was still floating about the central one)-, but the surrounding forest had changed dramatically. For example, a wall arch stood before them, with doors set into it [Chris: there was no wall, just an arch with the doors in them]. The doors were elaborately decorated to look like a flower that might open; there were petal-like decorations surrounding it, and wooden tendrils that snaked towards them.

The self-appointed protector of the group, Skylgannon bravely strode forth and, seeing no knobs, hinges or other hardware, simply pushed upon the doors. They opened easily, revealing a long, wooden bridge, about 20 feet wide, which spanned a forest down below. They could see the forest canopy around them, beyond the bridge’s edges, and it was full of life: all manner of birds and insects buzzed around them; some giant-sized and strange, while others, more familiar. The bridge spanned hundreds of feet before them, ending at another set of flower-bud-like doors. The lantern’s light shone forwards, over the bridge, and the group had the distinct feeling that whatever the lantern’s light was seeking, it was just beyond the bridge, just beyond those doors! [Chris: you had remove d the husk from the lantern as teh light was not pointing anywhere.] They followed it, Skylgannon leading the way; Khrystos taking the middle rank; and Vincze bringing up the rear.

Before they reached the bridge’s midway point, something happened. Skylgannon heard a buzz, like fluttering wings—yet saw nothing. A little while later, Vincze cried out in pain—she felt like she’d been stabbed—and she was bleeding! Turning to see what had attacked her, she noted a shimmer in the air in the nearby forest canopy. She felt her wound go numb, as if she’d been poisoned. Suspecting foul, fey magic,[Chris: the characters had no reason to suspect fey magic; this was player assumption Lomindor’s Grand Vizier fished into her pack and found her scroll of see invisible, and cast it.

Vincze’s eyes narrowed as she spotted a small, winged, cherubic-looking fey-like being where the shimmer had been. It had a large head and a dagger in one hand. It scowled and rushed at her, stabbing her again as it moved past her. Once again, her wound went numb, and she felt her strength being sapped. She shouted to Khrystos to give her his potion of lesser restoration, so he sent his owl familiar, Skyduster, to her with the potion in his talons.

The wizard downed the potion and instantly felt better, though still weak. It was a struggle to produce her wand of magic missiles, but she did so. As she did, she felt herself covered with what felt like tiny bites, and itchy welts! Vincze recalled that the last time she was poisoned (see Episode 27 – Wolf in the Fold), it had a very similar effect. What foul itching poison was this?

Regaining her composure, she spoke the wand’s command word, surprising the little- fairy- creature [Chris: the creature had not bee identified as fey at this time] (it didn’t expect to be seen), and wounding it slightly. It flew off, away from the party, and hovered in the forest canopy.

Just then, Skylgannon caught sight of it, and fired an arrow at it, grazing it. Khrystos spotted it as well, and tried to get a bead on it with a magic missile spell—but, due to its shimmering [Chris: concealment], he couldn’t. So the Baron threw his dagger at it instead. Unfortunately, the dagger bounced off, ineffectively falling away into the tree branches below.

The creature once again drew its poison dagger and flew at Khrystos, injuring and weakening him. Vincze then described the creature to Skylgannon and Khrystos. From her description, Khrystos recognized it as a rare, Unseelie fey creature called a Lurker-in-Light. He explained that it can be rendered visible in dim light—so Vincze cast a darkness spell (which, fortunately, she had memorized) on the edge of the bridge closest to it. Unfortunately, the spell didn’t darken the bridge nearly enough, so the Lurker was still invisible.

The nasty fey launched itself again, this time at Vincze, slicing into her torso and poisoning her once again before flying back into the canopy. Catching sight of it again, Skylgannon fired another arrow at it, hitting it—but the arrow just bounced off. Khrystos took the opportunity to remind them that, like all fairy creatures, the Lurker can only be injured by [Chris: are resistant to damage from all weapons but those made from] cold iron- weapons-.

Vincze considering drawing her cold iron starknife, but decided to try another spell. Struggling against her waning strength and burning skin, Vincze managed to cast a fireball at the Lurker—setting it, and the trees around it, on fire.

The monster grew enraged, and made a horrible face at Vincze. It appeared to be attempting some sort of spell-like ability, but to no effect. It tried this same trick on Khrystos, also to no effect! The poison in Vincze’s wounds was nearly overcoming her, but she struggled against it (and her itching skin)— and successfully lobbed another fireball. As the severely scorched fey fluttered above the bridge, trying to collect itself, Skylgannon spotted its shimmer. Exchanging his bow for his cold-iron axe hammer, he charged the creature—and drew blood! The winged menace slumped lifelessly onto the wooden bridge, blackened and bloodied. [Chris: before their eyes, the creature crumbled to a faintly luminescent silvery dust][Chris: I had forgotten to add this detail]

Unfortunately, at the same time, Vincze also slumped onto the bridge—the Lurker’s poison finally overcame her. The trio realized they had no choice but to turn back, take a few days of rest, recover from their injuries, and regain their strength. They left the bridge and set up camp among the circle of towers.

Two days passed, and Vincze slowly recovered her strength. As she did so, she studied the towers’ runes more carefully, and discovered how to return home: the runes indicated that the teleportation could be reversed by smearing the blood of a fey-blooded king upon the tower. Khrystos looked skeptical, but noted that fey magic worked can indeed work in strange ways…

After Vincze was strong enough to walk, she, Skylgannon and Khrystos once again set forth across the bridge. They noted that it looked like it had recently rained—perhaps someone had wanted to quench the fires set by Vincze’s fireballs? When they reached the end of the bridge, Skylgannon pushed open the second set of doors, revealing a large, bright room beyond. They noted two entryways into corridors leading away from the room, but their searching eyes were soon drawn to a dark alcove directly across from them, where a robed figure beckoned them. From the alcove came a familiar voice: It was the Stag Lord’s father, the crazy old druid whom they’d set free from the fort’s basement, so many months ago.

“You have found me, my old friends”, it said.

Khrystos addressed him, asking him about his life since his son’s—the Stag Lord’s—death. The old man answered that the Stag Lord “did not survive because he was unfit. It’s all about survival of the fittest”, he quipped. He then admonished the three of them for vanquishing the bridge’s guardian—one of his “pets”, he called it. But, Skylgannon commented that the Lurker must have been “unfit” as well. The druid just laughed in response: “Hmmph. Well, there’s plenty more where he came from, right? She will see to that!”—and looked behind him, into the shadows.

Vincze then asked the druid: “What do you mean? Of whom do you speak? Nyrissa?” The old man’s eyes grew wide and he said, “Do not speak her name, or she will notice you. You have spoken her name far too many times, child, and she has noticed you…. Trust me!”

“Nyrissa, Nyrissa, Nyrissa!” mocked Vincze, unphased by the Druid’s warning. “What’s she going to do, send her big, bad fairy army after us?”

The druid scowled and Baron Khrystos stepped in, silencing Vincze with a look. He questioned the druid further, asking him, what shall we call you? “Nargush”, he answered. What was his connection to the fairy queen? “I am her herald,” he replied. Khrystos questioned him further: The fairy queen rules her own First World realm, he argued, so why would she want to interfere with Lomindor? “For her, it is a stepping stone”, he smiled. Khrystos shot a worried look at Vincze and Skylgannon. Clearly there was more to the story, but Nargush was being cryptic—picking and choosing his words with care.

Vincze spoke up again: “Would you like your lantern back?” Nargush said yes, he would, and asked her to bring it to him. She strode warily towards the Druid, and gave the lantern to him.“Thank you for returning my lantern. I have something for you, too”, he said, and handed her three, ice-cold, jet-black stones. “Thank you”, she replied, and put them in a pouch on her belt. Then, the three heroes bid the druid farewell, and headed back to the circle of stone towers. Khrystos cut his hand with Skylgannon’s axe, and smeared his blood upon the central tower. In a flash, POW! they were instantly returned home, to Lomindor.

They journeyed home to Nettle’s Rest, their minds troubled. Clearly, Nargush had gone out of his way to warn them. But why? And, what were these ice-cold, black stones he’d given them? Vincze studied them as they traveled, and cast detect magic, which told her they had a strong aura of necromancy. Upon returning home, she cast identify on them, to find out their origins. She shuddered, and tears welled in her eyes, when her magic spell told her why the stones bore such a strong, necromantic stench: each had been forged from the souls of 3,000 innocent babies. What sort of fairy queen would commit such abomination?

Next Episode: The Legend of the Tuskwater Swamp Witch



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