The Book Of Willow
"The Book Of Willow"
A simple notebook, bound in soft tawny leather, bears the inscription above, written in a sprawling style and framed with ornately drawn leaves and vines. Its owner - a tall and lanky young woman in simple brown clothing - is propped up on her elbows, belly down in the dry moss and grass of the Pixie Roost, high up amidst the Gypsy Cliffs.
A brisk northern wind blows, whistling through the stones of the U-shaped shelter and tugging at the woman's sandy hair. She smiles, closing her eyes and breathes the breeze in, lightly pointed ears listening keenly.
"Alright, alright!", she says to no one in sight, laughing as though at some private joke, then cracks her eyes open, waggles a quill in her long, thin fingers, and begins to write.
"I thought I was going to Myth Drannor, but you had other plans for me, didn't you? Boy was I surprised when suddenly - while the chasing wolves were closing in around my treetop perch - my hands turned to mist. Then my arms, my legs, all of me turned light as air, a swirling, billowing Willow clutching in vain at the tree's branches. I heard you laughing - don't deny it - then the wind outhowled all the wolves of the forest, sweeping me irresistably up, up and away!
Words won't cut it, but you know and I know - it's the best feeling EVER.
I rode the wind, far sooner and far further that I could ever have hoped, until your gentle hand set me down on a flat grassy field, a rural town sprawled out around me. The sun was setting, and the first shy stars of the evening were twinkling hello. You tousled my hair one last time, then my Windride was at an end, gravity resuming command as I turned back to a disappointingly solid, earth-bound me.
But a me in a strange new place - Narfell!
Since that day, I have:
-Helped stop a rain of manure over a place called the Silver Valley (almost becoming Poo Valley after being pelted for days by the snot-faced goblinoid mastermind's inventive catapoo'lt)
-Recieved a gnomish enchanter's idea of a 'reward' for said manure rescue - my Whip Of Willows is er.. special. Morrie calls it possessed, Jorg thinks it's alive, and I? I've decided to love it the way you would an ugly, wayward child. It's a nightmare to aim right, it trips me and throws me off balance, and once it coiled around my neck when I was sleeping.. but.. it IS special, and mine.
-Explored woodland, two caves and a crypt around Norwick and the Valley, fighting goblins, hobgoblins, wolves, bugs, snakes and undead!
-Seen all three major settlements (and their shops and watering holes)
-Experienced the local cuisine: Bodak Wings for the win, Chutuuloo Jelly for the dare!
-Explored ruins and caves near Jiyyd, a settlement blasted in a not-too-distant war. I fought fiends! And scavengers, bugs and creepy shadows. Shar can suck a lemon, I'm not scared off that easily! Although having my foot stuck when spellunking alone was kind of gut-freezing.
-Explored an abandoned Gypsy Camp and the woodlands around it, including a partially collapsed mine with huge shrieking (!!!) mushrooms and a cave full of cats of different shapes and sizes. Lots and lots and lots of spiders, but also cliffs and ravines of outstanding beauty.
-Been menaced by pink bunnies and rescued by a demi-godess (really!)
-Found my high place. You are near here, I can feel it - that's why I found words to call the lightning in this very spot! I also heard there's an actual shrine somewhere in the Pass, but have yet to find it. It's on my to-do-list!
-Called down the lightning (that's so cool that it deserves it's own line)
-Explored the sewers of Peltarch and the hills and swamplands around the city, including FOUR caves (one full of orcs, the other full of kobolds, the third a nice Eldath shrine and the fourth a smuggler's nest, empty of habitation). P.S. Sewers stink.
-Explored underground caverns near Oscura, fighting Kuo Toa and Ettins (Ettins hit HARD)
-Visited the Fugue Plane (too tranquil and boring for a return visit anytime soon!)
-Saved lives and limbs of my fellow adventurers - no one's died on my watch yet, though it's been really close a few times!
-Helped miners - though just the once. It's as if all the delving dwarves sneak off to the deep mines when I'm not looking, but that's ok too!
-Made friends! …more about that later, the wind is changing"
With that, the woman blows on the ink, snaps the book shut and sticks it in the inside pocket of her dark, ragged cloak. The whip hanging from her belt writhes spiritedly as she springs to her feet, hair tossed westwards in the quickening breeze. Laughing to herself, Willow trots up to the edge of the sheer cliff, grabs a sturdy looking vine and slides down. Adventure awaits.
At Heroes Bluff, a reedy figure sits at the very edge of the cliff, dangling long legs down. The wind gusts, billowing Willow's cloak out into angel's wings for a brief moment, whirling her sandy hair across her face. She sits there with her eyes closed, for once quite still, but for the movement created by the breeze. Later, over a roasted apple in the light of a small campfire, she writes:
"Baby steps, eh Willow?
It was better this time, catching a small group just heading out to explore ticks all the right boxes to start with, and I could just about feel a lil' wind at my back. We roamed the old battlefields near Jiyyd, where more powerful undead have risen, driving off the scavenging drifters. It's a great deal more dangerous now, and part of me laments my old playing ground turning too rough to skip and jump through at will, stopping whenever I pleased to dig up something curious from the ground, so littered with remains of battles past. All things change though, and we with them.
The orcs were tougher too, I mean ~sheesh~. Followers of Baghtru, seasoned warriors, heavily armed and NOT very welcoming of visitors! I guess they were protecting their females, of which there were many way in the back, all significantly weaker than the fellas.
Ugh, orcs. That's typical of their kind, isn't it? That whole obnoxious machismo chest-thumping, war-mongering, woman-get-thee-to-the-kitchen mindset, tch. Okay, so I really don't like orcs! I guess I have a lil' elven side of me, after all. Not that I mind Erurk, he's pretty cool despite being all pro-orc and stuff. Each to their own, yeah?
We even found some treasure, bits and bobs of a pretty unusual nature which I suspect the orcs might've come across in raiding. There were some neat things, but none I felt the urge to possess but for my first pick - an orb crackling with lightning trapped inside it! I swear, there were dark clouds swirling about too, as though a thunderstorm had been condensed into that small sphere. It's a one off, obviously - once released, the storm will BOOM and CRACK then pass. But that's as should be.
I'm not sure about possessions, anyway. I seem to be collecting way too much of it, boots and cloaks and even multiple sets of armour, 'cause I can't seem to get rid of the one Beorn made me. I even considered enchanting it with that green gem's aid, but it wouldn't be nearly as light as the one I'm already wearing, even so. And should I really let sentiment weigh me down?
The stories of each object is why I keep most of them. But even if I rid myself of the physicality of them, the memories would still remain. So why can't I just shed the weight?
I dunno. If I could MASH all my boots into one single set, my armours or my cloaks, that'd be a fine thing - but that's not quite how enchantment works. You can't just chuck it all into a pot, simmer and dissolve it and form a whole new from the old. When it comes right down to it, the things I 'really' want, the things I like to dream of in a one-of-these-day daydreamy way, they're pretty far-fetched, wild ideas that involve elaborate quests to far off places or planes!
I'm not very good at being practical and pragmatic, when it comes to myself anyway. With my patients, if I'm treating someone, sure. No-nonsense Willow central, that! But when it comes to the things I'll do just for me, practicality bores me. I 'should' just make something useful and sensible of this gift, shouldn't I?
But everytime I look at the gem, I'm stumped.
Perhaps part of me feels I didn't deserve it, considering it all. Perhaps part of me feels that because it came from you, it should be something 'perfect' and fitting and it leaves me stumped. Because perhaps, just perhaps, I no longer know what that is.
I'll figure it out though. Don't give up on me, Shaundakul! I'm still trying."
Sprawled out on her back on the weathered grey planks of the old shipwreck by the cliffsides of Peltarch's farmlands, Willow watches the clouds pass across a pale moon in a wisp of black. She reaches her fingers up to the sky, as though tracing their passage, then flops over onto her belly with a sigh, opening her journal to write in the faint light of the moon:
"I'm still not feeling it. That gusto, the irrepressible urge to go forth, to flow through all the nooks and crannies of the land, to delve, discover, explore. I used not to mind so much, going to the same places every now and then, 'cause I thought even so, you can still experience something new, find something unexpected and thrilling. It's not just about the where, but the how you do something that makes it an ~adventure~, I thought. But now I'm simply not feeling it.
They called it 'patrolling'. That should've been my cue to leave, I knew it even then. The very word implies a certain attitude, a chore, a routine task instead of excitement. The elf reinforced that fully with her blunt and joyless attitude, but I thought I should at least 'try', try to forcibly shake out of this slump that's sunk its claws into me, leeching me of my usual drive. Maybe, I thought, maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Maybe we'd find something cool, some secret passage or unexpected twist on the otherwise beaten path through the lizardmen caverns. I told myself this, I tried to lay on the optimism, but I wasn't feeling it.
It's my own fault, Shaundakul. I tagged along when my heart wasn't in it and I ended up half-assing my way through the winding caverns, content to sit back and watch, granting all your protections to the other two in my party as though I wasn't really 'there' and so could not be harmed. It left me unprepared, when real danger suddenly stirred. I was lackadaisical with your magic for inwardly assuming it would be just as dull and predictable as I'd feared, wanting mostly to just get it over with 'cause the effort to maintain even a semblance of cheer was exhausting.
When Fabian noted he'd never seen the intriguing caverns below, the so called Smugglers Cove, I couldn't say no, even so. First times are special, they're what I like best and out of our whole little party, he was the only truly enthusiastic soul. I wanted to give him a first, and bucked up my spirits as best I could as we delved below.
There, things can get interesting. Sometimes the place has been completely deserted, other times overrun by smugglers or backstabbing Yuan-ti, but this time the lizardmen themselves filled the cove. It's a cool place, I usually love poking around the various curious chambers. I wanted to show him the shipwreck, so curiously stranded, the hotsprings and the large but shallow pool. 'The sacrificial basin', I joked, not knowing how close that would come to be to the truth.
Because as we entered that room, lizardmen stirred at the very back of it. Lizardmen, tch - so what, right? We'd had little real problems so far, but something about the fighters now approaching was different. Half-way across the room now, closing in fast - ehhh, wait a minute, is that the insignia of their elite guard? On one of their numbers, no two... shit!
I'd found my something unexpected at last, but to the devestation of the small party, caught off guard by the sudden acute threat of death bearing down on us. Time swiftly ran out on formulating any sort of plan and knowing I had no magic to shield me, I hopped into sanctuary, hoping to simply support the others. But I must have panicked, or stumbled, or maybe things just happened too fast. The elf didn't stand her ground for long enough for me to heal her - using her speed to good survival advantage, but also negating my ability to help her. And Fabian... he took a brave stance, but it wasn't enough. Not when that second lizardman came bounding back to slice into his flank. I got off one healing spell, two - but in what appeared the blink of an eye, the guy was down and out.
My fingers shook, but I found the potion of invisibility after some searching, huddled into a corner. I couldn't save Fabian, that Heal spell came too late, when he'd already collapsed. Even trembling with fear, that sluggish feeling wouldn't leave me, that slow heaviness of body and mind. I could have called on aid, it struck me later - an air elemental, a temporary ally to tip the odds. But there and then, all I could think of was escape.
From the corridor came more fighting, the elf rejoining the fray. A gutteral cry as one of the lizardmen drew the shorter straw, while I forcibly heaved Fabian's entire bulk into my bag of holding. Sorry man, but that's the only way I'll be able to haul ass out of here with you along, I murmured inwardly, while the elf appeared around the corner, covered in blood.
'Invisible. Get out now', she said tersely, and for once we were of like mind.
We made it outside, faced with a golden, glorious light shimmering across the swamplands. Fabian heeded the call, a willing spirit still hungry for life, guided by your outstretched hand. To see a chest so still suddenly rise with fresh breath, to see eyes devoid of life flutter open, that 'is' and remains miraculous. But did you have to almost knock him off the ledge after, Shaundakul? Come on man, gentle winds after someone's just died, it takes a lot out of you.
The inevitable what if discussion sparked, on the return journey. What if we'd done this or that different, what were the mistakes, the tactical error to be corrected to next time, the lesson learned. I was too tired to listen to the others, the lethargia I'd been fighting the whole way through overwhelming me now. That was 'my' mistake, at least - to think I could force myself into the groove, into that free-flowing, energetic mindset that continues to elude me. If this slump could be shaken off, the oh my god noooo moment of today would certainly have done the trick!
Maybe what I need is the exact opposite, though. Maybe I need to simply accept that yeah, I am tired. I am listless, out of sorts but the remedy isn't to force myself to buck up, it's to rest and reflect. That winter-long hibernation thing my bear likes suggesting might not be such a bad idea, after all..."
Dawn breaks across the northern swamplands, swathed in soft mist and glittering with countless drops of dew upon leaves touched with the first gold and red of autumn's kiss. Out by the Scar sits a solitary figure, right at the edge of the sheer cliff face, skinny legs dangling down. Willow listens to the hiss of the waterfalls, the early morning breeze just barely stirring her tangled, sandy hair. She watches the sun rise, and then she writes:
"I've been thinking.
Soul-searching, perhaps, as big and self-important word as that may be. Worrying, teasing at that knot inside me that wonders if I got things all wrong, lost my way or failed some unseen test. You know I struggle, sometimes - you've told me before, not to let my spirit get dragged down by others, bogged down by the same old things that always got me down: being told what to do, being ignored or looked down upon. Feeling inadequate, frustrated and sad - I know it's a downwards spiral, I know it's a pattern I have to break.
I know, okay?
It's just easier when I'm not around other people. Easier when I can pretend it's just you and me, and all the living things around us that simply are, without judgement or opinion. Maybe that's why I find it so hard to accept you taking actual shape? Maybe part of me likes it better when it's just the wind talking, and I can fill in the blanks with whatever it is I'd like you to say. I like to pretend I'm as important to you as you are to me, see - as if I'm still a child, happily content with her invisible friend, her BEST friend in all the world.
But a god is SO much more than that, and of course I know I'm just one of a thousand and more followers. I've always known that, really - but we all like to imagine that we're special, that we're chosen. Am I actually such a baby that I'm jealous that you'd show yourself to others, to those that rightfully quested but didn't particularily care for you? Maybe.
Maybe it's time to grow up, finally.
I 'championed' the cause of freedom recently - through some fluke, a card drawn from the hand of a mysterious hooded stranger, we found ourselves smack bang in a Zhentarim keep, home to a captive dragon and her followers. I say home, but y'know - it's the Zhentarim. It was a barbaric dragon-breeding prison, with a tortured bronze dragon kept in chains.
We freed her, though not without a whole lot of blood spilled. I know it's the price you pay for causes and I suppose that's why I never persued them much before - being a healer, curing ailments, patching wounds and saving lives is in my bones, it's how I was raised and it seems no amount of adventuring conditioning can make me much of a killer.
But look beyond individual lives, and you might be pleased. Freedom over tyranny's bond, right? For all that, I can't stop thinking about that one Zhentarim officer, arms ripped clean off by a righteously pissed off dragon. Principles are all fine and good, 'til someone's life blood runs out across your hands, 'til you hear their tortured cries. Then I'm ready to abandon the cause and save the life, because when it comes right down to it, that's what I do.
That's who I am.
I'm staring at this gem now, wondering. Should I be the champion, should I strive to become strong enough to go whereever I wish, stand up for what I believe, come what may - or should I be the sheltering hand, the healer and supporter, the wind at someone else's back?
The reedy half-elf reclines against the half-crumbled stone wall in the Pixies Roost, the small campfire nearby burnt down to embers. Night has fallen, a thin half moon spreading a faint silver glow to the treetops of the Gypsy forests. Willow is focused on a worn leather satchel, which she opens to spread a variety of small knick-nacks out before her. The embers paint her narrow face in a soft, forgiving glow, but for all that she still looks weary, jumbling her little treasures with a fingertip and picking them up, one at a time.
There's an irridescent seashell, a mishapen pearl and a battered gold button, cracked down the middle. An ancient coin, a tiny antique silver fork with broken prongs, a rust-encrusted key and a small bone carving of a bear, worn smooth by time and loving fingertips caresses. A lump of amber with a tiny leaf stuck inside, and finally two gemstones, one red and round like a pea, the other seemingly shifting in both colour and shape, boggling the eye and mind alike. To these, she adds a third, green gem from her pocket, staring at the small collection in thought before writing.
"'You don't want to stay out here in the cold, do you?" he asked cheerfully, gesturing invitingly to the cave mouth. But I did - oh I did.
There we were, at the top of the mountain, the jagged, glorious peaks of the Giantspires sprawled out around us. The biting northern wind howled through the stones drilled in the throne of the shrine where a man had just appeared, long cloak billowing. A bearded man, a rugged wanderer with a greatsword strapped to his back. He looked just like you, a textbook example - some claimed later that it 'was' Shaundakul himself, appearing with a continued quest for the weary travellers.
But I can't believe that. I can't - because then I'd have to accept that I stood in your very presence and felt a stranger to you.
You, who I speak my innermost thoughts to, you who I feel in the wind, in the rustle of leaves, the salt spray of the waves when I travel - in all the wild places, wherever my journey takes me, you're with me and I'm never alone, never the outcast, the failed ranger, the crazy woman. Because you chose me, because you 'get' me. So please, PLEASE tell me I'm not talking to thin air.
I was so very tired. I am, still. It wasn't the trek itself, the miles walked, the snowy drifts to plow through, no: it was a weariness of the spirit, all the heavier for feeling so wrong, so at odds with the nature of our quest. To seek your shrine, it's a sacred thing, joyous even when the journey's long and hard. It should be amazing, the journey as much as the destination, but instead I felt increasingly drained, whittled down by the endless fighting, the violence, the blood and death everywhere along our path. Ogres, ogres, ogres, dead pilgrims, hostile natives and even fellow travellers with nothing but murder in mind.
I could smell nothing but blood, by the time the first of ours hit the ground. Though we got her up and walking somehow, the smell of it lingered, filled my nostrils despite the hard, icy winds lashing us. A trail of red in our wake, death and destruction, and ahead worse awaited us. I ran out of blessings, then balms, then even bandages, while around us death kept lashing its greedy claws.
I'm the failed ranger who cannot find the path nor calm the raging beasts. The failed healer, as death strikes our party again. I fire my bow as if it would make a difference, wondering what good my presence does, wondering if you're testing me. Wondering for how much longer I can stand being in this bloated party, where each person's individual brightness seems swallowed up by grey group lethargia.
We stretch out, cohesion threadbare and spirits low, a crotchety, weary, disjointed bunch of travellers. Somehow we push on. Fight, fight, fight - an endlessly repeating loop, long since having worn down even the fear of death. So of course it strikes again. When the mammoth earth elemental comes into view, it's almost as though I summoned him myself, so heavy did I feel, so shackled to the cruel earth, to gravity's bonds.
Earth is not your element. I long to take flight, but instead we pay our way past with treasures of the earth, gems and minerals, a gold ring.
Everything feels wrong, but all we can do is push on, raise our dead and hope beyond hope that around the next bend, up the next slope, there we'll find it; the shrine, the shattered lance. More fighting, creatures of snow and of ice, polarbears and penguins, multiple snow weirds freezing limbs and twisting heads. I slog through, trying to be of help but always a step too slow, legs leaden, mind numb. But once we reach the top, once we find the shrine, it'll all be worth it.
I stand there mute, while the bearded man talks and gestures to the lance, to the bones of the knight who held it long ago. The skeleton is sprawled at the foot of the throne, the scene looks as though he fell from the heavens and tried to use the lance to cushion the fall unsuccessfully. The wood is in splinters and fragments, scattered all around. People are talking but it no longer means anything to me, I'm retreating within myself, wishing only they'd go away so I can try, 'try' to feel what I ought to be feeling in this holy place.
The clouds clear overhead, a pale moon shines over the Giantspires. The wind whistles through the stones of your shrine and there, ~there~ you are. The man that looks like you left with the rest, but now I finally hear you."
((reposted from the Wolves forum - it's not so much a journal entry proper as it is Willow retelling the tale to her fellow Wolves, but I thought it might make a nice read for those encountering said beetle again. Enjoy!))
"The Wish Beetle
'Kay, so like, I was offering a helping hand to crafters as I like to do, and they were dealing with this outside company extracting rare minerals, mithril specifically, deep in the Rawlinswood. To be precise, the vein they're following is like thin, but stretching real far. And they had just hit a snag in operations.
The snag being like.. a lost abandoned mine, fulla vicious backstabbin' svirfnerblins and biting, crawling, beetles, oh and some sorta nightmarish spider thing too! But that's just in a day's work, at least with the sorta party we had rockin' the fighting. What was really 'interesting' was this:
A humongous beetle, kinda 'sweating' out more beetles in turn… turned out, when liberated, to be a Red Wizard. He was an arrogant ass sort, as one can expect I guess, but his story indicated he'd run into another powerful entity down there, hence his transformation and captivity.
This being was called a Wish Beetle, and I'm guessing the guy wasn't real careful what he really wished for! The bugger had been trapped there for what musta been centuries, easily, but was still just as high an' mighty as ever in attitude, suggesting we should find the beetle and give 'em what's for. But instead, a couple hothead amongst us proceeded to kick the wizard's ass instead!
Unfortunately, that only served to trigger a contingency spell and POOF! Off he went, to possibly plot vengeance or just shrug and get on with scheming for power, oppression, enslavement and so forth! I dunno if he'd bother holding a grudge, but fair warning just in case yeah?
Some time later, the 'other' appeared - the Wish Beetle, a large, black and yellow striped thing with a distinctly unhostile attitude. In fact, I'd go so far as to call it mischievous, playing a lil' game of hide and seek with us! I even got to pet it, after which it kinda just decided to tag along after the group.
I figured it would be unwise to make any wishes of the beetle - if it's true that it's powerful enough to entrap a wizard of no small accomplishment for centuries, then it stands to reason you gotta be 'real' careful about how you make your wish. I don't doubt the guy thought only to use the beetle to further his own power - and really, isn't it enough to just let it 'be', as rare and wonderful and curious a being as it is, without making all these demands of it?
It's prolly had more than its fair share of being 'used', and should just get to enjoy life without all the hassle, yeah? But Anna was curious, and couldn't resist making a wish anyway - if an unselfish one, wishing it a happy life and stuff. When she did, a voice BOOMED out suddenly, tolling the words out like some cosmic bell: 'WISH GRANTED!'
There was a swirl of magic in the air, and then the beetle shrank in size, to something like a lapdog's size (from about pony-sized). It seemed as good-natured and curious as before, and I dunno quite how to interpret what happened - or how to feel about making a wish that controls the life of another, even if it is for their happiness sake. It's still kinda... 'unfree'. I mean, I wouldn't want anyone else's wish to dictate my continued existance right?
It could be that the beetle shrank for being happier in that size - it could also be that the number of wishes it is capable of granting is finite, and each takes a toll on the creature. Regardless of which, it's like, my totally strong recommendation that you don't make wishes of it, 'and' that we protect it from those that would abuse it so.
I kinda already offered it to come stay at the Den if it wants, so be cool with beetlebummy visitors 'kay??"
With a big, child-like grin plastered all across her face, Willow sits on the top of the hill overlooking Norwick at day's end. The view of the muddy hamlet sprawling out below doesn't quite explain the half-elf's elation, but on closer inspection, there is an open bag infront of her, into which her feet are currently inserted. Willow giggles, wriggling her toes and then dips her hands down too, up to the elbow. Then she tries wearing the bag on her head, laughing even harder as her face reemerges. Night falls before she even begins to tire of the game, sticking an ever-burning torch into the ground to write:
"Awesome! The Bag of Holding is completely awesome, light as air no matter what I chuck inside it - and boy was I light-headed, literally, when I stuck my noggin in! Actually, if I could fit all of me inside, would I finally win my on-going battle against gravity? I'd prolly need to dislocate my shoulders to fit, but it'd be way cool if it worked! But the thing is, what's the point of being weightless if you can't go anywhere on your own? And is anything ever worth being stuck in, contained even by something as cool as a true Bag of Holding?
Maybe I should explore the mysterious dimensions of the bag in pixie form? Then I could easily zoom in and out, though the contrast wouldn't be as drastic 'cause pixies weigh very little to start with… hmm... and if the potion wore off while I was inside, would I be able to get out on my own?
Totally gonna try it! Just... maybe keep Llama on stand-by, just in case.
Also, Helena and I could now find out what happens if you put a Bag of Holding inside another Bag of Holding... teeheeehee!
As to how I got the bag, well! You must be pleased with me or something, Shaundakul, 'cause it involved a huge deal of luck both in survival and the dice afterwards, for sure. I'd signed on as a volunteer to the Legion's escorting services to some merchant woman, 'cause it seemed like a good chance for a trip out to areas unknown and hopefully some adventure while at it.
First time out, Rasuil and Leena tagged along too, which is prolly the only reason why I didn't completely freak out when this nasty ol' undead captain and his crew took us prisoners, meaning to make undead of us all. We woke up in a crowded cell, robbed of our gear and with a half-rotted guard on watch, stinking of rum and putrification. Locked in... stripped like lambs to the slaughter!
The Kraken who had nearly dragged us down to the depths hadn't freaked me out, nor the fighting of the undead pirates while still onboard the merchant vessel. But the Captain... all I remembered was a sudden sense of dread, then a flash of light and the lingering pain of the back of my head hitting the deck. And now, stone and iron bars on all sides and the too close proximity to too many sweaty bodies. I could feel the air run out, I was gasping for breath, hyperventilating before Leena snapped me outta it. Rasuil, just by being there, made me chill further. He's just that cool!
When the zombie guard staggered off for more rum (can undead get drunk, or is it just a craving that lingers in the mind?), Hen got to work on the lock, using some manticore spikes from Leena's wristbands. Click!
I was just ~dying~ to get out of there, but nooo, we had to be patient and pace our movements, making our escape excutiatingly slowly so as not to alert the entire fortress and it's dread captain. Being without weapons and armour, yeah... that was a factor. We scavenged as best we could along the way, until finally we found a chest containing all our own stuff. I never considered myself one to be overly attached to things, but boy was I glad to see my sweet lavender-scented armour and Beorn's steel shield again!
We slogged through the last bunch of undeadites and caught a glimpse of sunlight, sweet, blessed sunlight, through a window looking just about big enough to climb out of - but that's when the coffin in the middle of the room started rumbling, the whole fortress shaking... the Captain had finally noticed and was about to wake up...
I all but threw myself out of that window, legging it madly down the beach as the sun set. Just when we'd scrambled onboard, we saw him approaching the shore with death in his cold, cold eyes. The Captain stood on the beach, just staring at us, as if tallying us up for future destruction. I had chills all over and summoned your strongest wind to make a hasty get-away, hoping to never ever return!
But I did. Against my own instincts, I gotta say, 'cause every fibre in my body screamed that this was a bad idea, and now there was no Rasuil or Leena present to soothe my doubts. The ship we'd recovered, the ship Ras had so happily claimed after our return, was our ride back to the Island of Doom. It was now repaired and refitted by King George - who apparantly means to claim it for the Jewel as payment for it. What the blazing hells, Georgie? Not cool! SO not cool! I dunno what Ras has got to say about this yet, but that got me so peeved that I almost let my fear win and didn't come onboard.
Helene and Hen convinced me though, and I know You'd been disappointed in me if I'd chickened out, wouldn't you? They needed a helping hand, and though I was shaking inside and moping on the outside, I still offered it.
We were expected.
Three ships rolled through the lightning-crackling fogs surrounding the island, catapults blazing. Boom! Boom! Boom!
Sprays of water washed across the deck, the ship rocked and jolted. A glancing hit, and fires sprang up! But the tub we were on had a catapult too. with fair range and a Hen aiming it true. Boom!
Two of the oncoming ships sank, the third we sailed up alongside to rough it up in closer combat, but still the catapults wouldn't cease. Boom! Boom!
High up on a hill, well protected from any retaliation, the undeadites had set up long-range catapults. We'd sink before we even hit the shore, unless we could find a way past them. The beaches were crawling with armed forces too, bony arms waving scimitars and axes.
Solution: one very large water elemental, creating a tidal wave to wash the worst of the opposition away and beach our ship with enough speed to get past bombardment. I thought we'd have nothing but splinters to hang on to for our journey home, but amazingly it worked!
We fought our way past the beach and up the hills to take the catapults, turning them on the fortress itself before disabling them. Daylight was fading through, and our dread Captain soon to wake. The island rumbled with foreboding as we pushed on, into the dark, dank fortress of DooOOoom.
My skin prickled with discomfort, and though I tried to reserve my waning spellpower, each fight seemed to demand nothing less than our best. With gritted teeth and steps growing heavier by the minute, we delved deeper and deeper into the fortress, to where we knew the Captain's coffin stood. Every now and then, the ground shook and his chilling voice echoed through the narrow stone corridors.
The final show-down was sheer panic and mayham. If not for the Misty Crystal in my pack shielding me somewhat from harm, the resourcefulness of Helene and Hen who kept their distance and their cool throughout, and a big dose of luck, I'd have been deader than a lamb in the wolves den.
I had a plan though, starting out! I'd kept one big spell for last, and one shout to turn a few scaredy-undead. The Captain himself was a vampire, and I knew from experience that even the toughest bloodsucker ~can~ drop dead from a holy shout, if you're really lucky that is. But we weren't.
I caught the Captain's gaze for a too-long second and suddenly all I could think about was rattling those iron bars, being caged and helpless. Fear overwhelmed me and I just ran, right past skeletons with axes, right through rows of archers, ran madly to the nearest corner and cowered, until they found me and the chase lead to the opposite corner of the room.
Helene tapped me with a wand of healing, keeping me on my toes, and Hen lifted the fogs of fear at last. But even so, what could I do now that my arsenal was all but spent? All around, people were running, screaming, fighting, dying. Silver went down, followed by Romulus, while Alvaniel's sword still swung and Theaon held his ground - but the Captain, oh dear Shaundakul, the Captain was a ~monster~! So fast, so vicious!
Theaon was shoved to the floor, struck so hard I thought him instantly dead. Holy batcrap, we're all gonna die, I thought, even as I forced my legs to do another lap around the room, dodging for dear life. But lo and behold, Theaon scrambled up to his feet, stealthy Hen having slapped him with a balm at the last second, and now the rest of the undead were all but whittled down. Alvaniel and Theon, against the vampire captain.
I used my every spell, I spent my balms and dug around for scrolls long since collecting dust, doing my damndest to keep those two standing, 'cause without them, it was all over. Helene, Hen and me, we could only be useful (and remain breathing) while that sword swung at someone else....
The Captain was no fool though, I was forced to make panicky lap after lap to avoid being cut to slices, while Hen set hasty traps in our path and Helene's wand sparked. Alvaniel and Theaon fought and fell back, bleeding and limping, we ran and we ran...
When at ~last~ the Captain went down, after what musta been an actual eternity, I felt like I coulda dropped dead too, just from the exhaustion! His hateful scream when stabbed through the heart was horrific, ear-piercing agony - not even graceful in death, that bastard!
We collected our fallen as the Legion troupes placed kegs of black powder thoughout the fortress, the whole place turned to a smoking pile of rubble as our ship sailed off into the softly welcoming light of a new dawn.
Slumped against a stone wall in the Roost, Willow rubs at her slime-encrusted armour, wrinkles her nose a bit and then gives up, tucking a blood-darkened strand of hair behind her slightly pointed ear. Helping herself to a hefty mouthful of Romani wine instead, the bruised and battered half-elf opts for relaxing by the crackling fire as night begins to fall, draping the cliffs in indigo velvet.
Half-way into her bottle, Willow flips her journal open, perusing the following loose note in between pages:
"The Quasi-elemental plane of Lightning is a universe of flashing bolts of electricity, in an atmosphere laced with ozone. St. Elmo's fire abounds, and rims all solid things, making 'invisibility' impossible. Without 'lightning protection' or 'positive plane protection' or earplugs, visitors will be permanently deafened if they stay for more than a minute. That's also roughly the time it will take for an unprotected visitor to get hit by lightning. Visitors will be permanently blinded in one minute unless each brings special sunglasses or a modified 'darkness' spell. The Tower of Storms is a refuge at the border of the positive energy plane."
She smiles, excitement shining through her exhaustion, and writes:
"Em came through, the page she stole from whatever poor book it once came from is just what I need for the Wish to come true! Though given the dangers, some more preparations are probably in order too. I've asked Ras about making some sort of eyewear, if he can't swing it himself then surely someone in the Union can! Earplugs should be easy peasy, bees wax is simple enough to aquire and works pretty well - unless of course it gets all melty when lightning hits? We're gonna need oodles and oodles of elemental protections, and I'm thinking of borrowing some wolfish leather, 'cause a metal suit? Oww!
And! I've got to actually get around to rallying my lightning-lovers for the trip, Em and Llama, Leena, Lightning Lad and Cormac! If they all come, it'll be like the ultimate dream team! BZZT!
It's all perfect in my head, though the actual work in preparing and organizing it all is yet to be done. 'cause, you know… that's the boring part! Plus I've been all busy adventuring, playing good luck ore charm for Buffy (seriously, iron, opal AND gold!) and experimenting with some awesome new blessings - Shaundakul, you are SO the man! The Windy Lady you send me now is like a whirlwind, beautiful, terrifying and irresistable! And don't even get me started on your Word of Faith, 'cause that's SO the word to outdo the might of any sword!
The rush of power going through me in casting such spells is deeply thrilling and at the same time humbling. It's as though I'm holding myself up to You like a lightning rod to the sky, a small and frail thing through which something far greater is channelled. To get to feel that, the touch of the divine... if I ever get ~used~ to it, start taking it for granted, then take it away from me! It's completely a boon and not my right, no matter my devotion.
I'd be yours regardless, we both know that! Actually, maybe if I'd aced the ranger training, you wouldn't have held out your hand the way you did, knowing I needed help to be able to explore the wild places of the world? It's a funny thought, to think I won so much for having failed.
Wow. You know, I meant to write about my most recent adventures, with the experimental goblin gassings, the giants, the ogre mage icings and the sticky icky Ropers, but it kinda turned out differently, didn't it? Like a declaration of love, which I guess it is! It's hard not to feel overwhelmed by that feeling when you show me so much grace and let me do the coolest things. So if I'm gushing, you've only got yourself to blame, Shaundakul!
Also, I'm trying ~really~ hard not to think about naked slimy Brumir."
As a wan sun begins to set, Willow makes her way up the vine to the Roost above, her face pale and her hair matted with sweat. The sky turns from salmon to pastel pinks and blues, before sunlight departs, leaving the scene open for a spectacular display of northern lights above, waves of irridescent green and sparkling yellow washing the sky with colour.
The half-elf sits with her skinny knees drawn up to her chin, watching the drama unfold on the night's dark canvas. Once the chill begins to bite, she shuffles a small fire together, light green eyes lost in thoughts as she twirls a strange new gem against the flickering light.
While the fire still burns, she writes:
Someone has stolen the presents, the elderly mage with the fine robes and staff said, the presents for the children, toys and sweets and all the things neat that to a child equates happiness. The douchy thief is a Nightmare, a creature feeding on sadness and despair, ancient beyond belief, immortal as fear itself.
We were to enter the mage's tent (bigger on the inside!) and bring back as many of the presents as we could for the kids to get their one day of jolly holiday, no matter their station in life. What red-blooded goodie-two-shoes hero could refuse? Indeed none of us balked at the challenge, though protests of the notion of heroism were uttered left and right. Riiiight.
Stout and stalwart Silver and Brumir, iron maiden Alvaniel and sweet Helena, plus a windrider Willow - there's at least a ~couple~ of heroes in that mix, for sure!
Inside the tent was a whole dungeon, a wide stone-clad plaza in the middle, with numerous side doors leading off to untold horrors hiding beyond. A booming, sinister voice warned us to walk away, or else - typical villaneous rant, distinctly ignored by all five. Full of hero juice and spiteful defiance, we fumbled our way through the first door, ending up knee-deep in trouble.
We faced an assortment of baddies in that first room, as though whoever planted them there had thrown a monsterpalooza to test which one would scare us the most. Brumir got pretty mangled, true to form, but mid-swing at the smallest of the beasties, I realized it wasn't a chicken with anger issues, it was in fact a cockatrice. Yikes!
It wasn't until the dust had settled that we noticed our fierce warrioress was clad in stone, distinctly statuesque and still. The cockatrice had given her the evil eye, and all my bravado just melted away at the sight. Petrification, the anti-thesis of all that I strive for in life; freedom, lightness, movement.
The effect was reversed through some mojo or other Silver dug out of his bag, while I suffered a case of the dumbs and voiced my fear out loud. Of course, someone was listening.
And in the next room, while I was mouthing off to the villain, I froze in my tracks and turned to stone, mid-stride.
No words can properly describe the panic I felt as that cold, leaden feeling spread like poison through my limbs, sealing me off inside myself while I screamed, raged and rattled the cage of my own petrified bones. It was like being buried alive, trapped, crushed, suffocating but denied the grace to die, fossilized in the earth and forgotten by the wind and the sky up above.
While the voice droned on about my impending fate, stone forever more, the rest of the party cluelessly wandered on, as though to actually leave me behind. I felt the stone grow harder, crystalizing as my fear swelled - but slow though my valiant party members may be, they are also true. They returned and with another dash of unspecified mojo, I was made flesh once more.
As soon as I could move, I ran. I ran as fast and as hard as I could towards the stairs, intent on only one thing - escape. But once I had the stairs up in sight, something else caught up, a hot and unfamiliar sensation bringing salt to my mouth and sulphur to my nose. Anger.
I was so angry that I was quivering, angrier than I've ever been in my entire life, my words seeming to bubble and boil in my mouth before spilling out in a poisonous flood of profanities and curses. I don't remember what I said, only that Alvaniel gave me a look like she'd never seen that Willow before (and would rather not again).
Of course, Douchy Nightmare was not impressed.
It ~claimed~ to know our fears whether spoken or not, claimed that whatever we encountered was dredged from the pits of our own darkest imaginations, but I suspect that's a truth with modification.
Still, the range of scary presented throughout was at the very least diverse, everything from slime to spiders and twisted renders, with even a goodie-good panic attack thrown in - the bodies of monsterous giggling spiders turned into the sad mangled corpses of innocent children, once felled.
Silver must have a poker face as hard as stone, 'cause I thought for sure that causing the death of innocent kids was the stuff to turn paladins into angst-ridden self-blaming gloom-balls. It phased me less than I thought it would, but perhaps knowing I didn't do a single bit of damage to those things - real or not - helped some.
Clinging tightly to the illusion theory was the second crutch, the notion reinforced as a group of trolls turned demons got the better of Alvaniel, leaving her for what seemed very much like dead. But when I checked on her, I found it was in fact a state of severe shock. She was catatonic, but snapped out of it like a champ at my insistent nursing nudges.
Near the end, we found ourselves in a room past bridges spanning a sea of boiling lava, fires beginning to spread to trap us in what seemed an inevitable fiery ending. The heat was intense and though I suspected this too was likely illusion, nothing felt certain in this strange place. We backed off, again and again until we found ourselves completely cornered.
Fire, while not an enjoyable doom by any means, is still fairly quick and could do no more harm to me than to kill me. Proper death, I'm not afraid of. I mean, I'm not in any rush to die, the world's still got plenty more wonders to see and I was thinking that one day, it wouldn't be half bad to try the kids thing with my Llama - but I'm not afraid.
Once this certainty took hold of me, I knew the fire couldn't hurt me. I took one step into the flames, then another, untouched. Sweet, water-worshipping Helene was another matter though, one step in and the fire started to devour her, greedy and scorching as though feeding on her fear.
But what if I could help her keep a clear mind? I rummaged in my bag and found a scroll of Clarity, read it and whoosh! Helene's eyes popped wide open and she took my hand as we walked through the inferno without harm. One by one, the fires fizzled and died out. Victory!
But the big bad remained, still as mocking and as confident as ever. At long last, it called for us to meet it directly - or at least as directly as a thing of nightmares can. Doors unlocked in our path and then the Nightmare loomed before us, large as a building, clad in dark shimmering scales. A dragon!
Silver and Alvaniel charged into melee (not heroes, pff!). I poofed the dragon fear effects away from the elven swordswinger, got a few shots off from afar and pondered my options - spells almost spent, but a few good potions and scrolls up my proverbial sleeve. I yanked a couple of emergency aids into ready reach, knocked another arrow and then… then I felt my hand stiffen and stone spread across my skin like the opposite of wildfire, cold, bleak and inevitable doom.
All around me, people turned to stone while the dragon preened and puffed, self-satisfied to have stopped us moments before his own defeat. But this time, I was too angry to panic, l wasn't stone but a volcano, about to erupt.
As the Nightmare monologued, I honed my rage, collected my thoughts and made my plan. Already stuck into my belt pouch was a potion of Tenser's Transformation, because I wanted nothing more than to get the satisfaction of smacking the stuffing out of that smug bastard. Oh sweet Shaundakul, how I wanted that, to be strong and fierce for once!
But Alvaniel was already within reach, her blade halted at the top of a mighty swing that ought to land juuuust about at dragon neck height. The Clarity scrolls I'd dug up for Helene were also in my belt pouch. If the same trick worked again...
The stone melted away with my resolve and before the Nightmare knew what was coming, I made my move. Alvaniel's sword completed its arch in a perfect, fluid motion and BAM!
Off with its head!
I swear the thing looked surprised, though of course the strike didn't really kill it. Instead, the dragon itself dispersed, turning into nauseatingly billowing black smoke. In true sore loser style, it vowed to haunt our dreams and wreak horrid vengeance on us all. For all its braggery, I doubt it's an idle threat. Perhaps I should be afraid, but I'm not.
It's not that I'm without fears, today made that abundantly clear if I ever entertained any such delusions about myself. It's more like... well, knowing I can overcome my fears. Perhaps I'll find myself overwhelmed again, but all things are passing, fleeting, and I'll ride it out with Shaundakul as my guide! I have faith.
I'm not angry either, not anymore. I was never very good at keeping grudges, they are hard and heavy, one more ball and chain to restrain true freedom. I'm not gonna let the Nightmare anchor me, not to fear and not to rage - but if I get another chance to thwart the stupid thing, I'll totally take it.
In the end, we came out victors, laden with presents for the children and handsomely rewarded with gold and with a strange gem each. A Wish stone, the mage called it, and I can sense a lot of power stewing inside that gleaming little gem.
I'm not sure what to wish for, though. I got my fanciful little dreams and desires, like anyone else. I could go for something like magic gear, something to boost me so that I could potentially sock a dragon in the snout and not get squished at some future point, but... I dunno. I don't think I wanna be that person, even if it might feel satisfying when really, really pissed off.
I think I'd rather go somewhere new, somewhere otherwise inaccessible and completely unexplored, somewhere like that plane of Lightning that Em ranted about before. Or Air, whoosh! I could bring Llama and some friends and it would be completely awesome!
Of course, I dunno how this stone really works yet. I should probably find that out first, but now it's time to catch some z's. Tomorrow, I'll go searching for the Bear. I miss my grunt-grunt-grunts!"
On a solitary high peak in the Coldstone mountains, what at first appeared little more than a thin streak of cloud begins to take solid shape, mist turning back into flesh and bone. White cloak whipping behind her in the freezing wind, Willow twirls around, light green eyes squinting in the pale pastel morning light, reflected on the snow and ice around and below her.
She studies the breathtaking view as she turns a second time, slower now, seeming to scrutinize the surroundings with great care. Nodding to herself, Willow then makes her way to a rocky outcropping, jutting up towards the sky. She gently brushes the snow off the stone, seeming pleased to find a small flat surface near the top.
With great ceremony, the half-elf then lifts a lump of stone from within her pack, heavy and flat at the base and sharper at the top. The rock seems to be rough-hewn granite, shot through with thin strands of iron and a cluster of rose quartz in the middle. More surprisingly, the rock has been inscribed with the dethek rune "B", the markings soft and round as though someone had drawn the lines with their fingers. Forming the points of the rune, small round holes have been bored right through the stone.
Willow puts the rock down, turning it slightly until the wind whistles through the holes with a sorrowful keening sound. The same wind whips long hair around her head and brings tears to her eyes as she takes a seat nearby, long legs crossed. She sits there for a long time, staring out across the magnificent mountain range and listening to the wind's lament.
Later, she writes:
Endings are a must for new beginnings, ever a part of the cycle of life and not something to fear or attempt to avoid. As a traveller, I'm more than used to the fleeting nature of most friendships formed along my journey's meandering route. People come and go out of my life, always appreciated in the moment but rarely missed or mourned when I move on to the next horizon and the next after that. Exploration and discovery is all about the new, afterall, so you can't let the old take up too much luggage space.
I've known some great people whose faces I can no longer recall, even their names whisked away by the wind. I don't find this sad, nor do I regret the myriads of goodbyes I left unspoken throughout the years. We're leaves on the wind, dancing and departing, we're ships passing in the night - it's futile to try and hang on to the moment, and if you try, you're bound to miss the next one. And new, unknown, is always better!
For all that, there are some people who make such distinct impressions that you carry them with you, wherever you go. Something about them reaches deeper inside you than others, nestling right into your core. I'm not sure how or why that is, whether it's simple liking, similarities and contrasts, or more like certain notes resonating with each other? With some people, the music changes, grows louder, becomes a melody forever stuck in your head. Those are the ones you remember. Those are the people whose absence leaves a hole inside you.
I meant to write about completely different things today, about my recent whirlwind adventures and the strange new fact that I have a family of sorts now, a handful of rascally wolf brothers. But all of that was swept away by learning of Beorn's passing.
Beorn, my dwarf of all dwarves, my big stout back to hide behind, dead, past the point of all return, gone, never to return. What the hell!? I found the news so hard to accept, at first denying it outright, 'cause Beorn's like a force of nature to me, he's a roar of defiance, never giving up, never surrendering. For him to kick the bucket and NOT just claw his way out of the beyond with his bare hands was unfathomable - until I heard the how and the why.
The why, I totally get. For all his meticulous work at the forge, for all his love of ale and plump-bottomed ladies, his competativeness, fierceness in battle and temper both foul and fine, the core of Beorn's being was his care for kin and home. Much unlike me, he had one single place of deep belonging, a home for which there is nothing he wouldn't do. When that home was threatened, he gave his life to defend it, and I'm absolutely certain he did it gladly.
I get that, I do. But the how… I'm ~trying~ to see the bright side, going out quite literally with a bang, but the way of events was that the dwarves faced such a lot of foes that the only way to keep the Hold from being overrun was to collapse the mines ontop of them. Beorn lit the fuse, covered the others retreat and... and damnit, is now buried under countless tons of rock.
Trapped underground, relentlessly crushed under all that weight. The thought was unbearable, I could barely breathe myself, though I know full well Beorn's spirit is surely where he deserves to be, and that stone is a resting place well suited for a dwarf. After beating around the bush for days, my stomach full of knots, I finally went knocking on the door to the fortress, asking to see the grave and say my farewell.
I'm not big on farewells, generally. It's awkward and full of sentimentality or sadness which I don't handle very well. But sometimes, in order to let someone you care for go, you have to say goodbye.
It felt like the right thing to do, but when I got down to the collapsed section of the mines, I couldn't. I just couldn't say what I needed to say in that broken place, where everything was so heavy with grief and with gravity. I couldn't breathe, couldn't think, couldn't stand that this was where he'd rest forever more, cut off from sky and wind.
I think I cried, I must have, for the dwarf on guard to look so discomforted. He looked at me as though I was stark raving mad when I clutched a nearby rock, the glimmer of rose quartz at it's center like a heart, but didn't object. 'Something to remember him by, certainly miss Willow...'
Llama helped me shape the stone, B for Beorn, holes for Shaundakul to speak his blessings through, for the wind to share with him its tales of the world, and for Beorn's spirit and memory to ride it, going as far and as wide as he would have it. We chose the Coldstones, despite an angry dragon and Willow-breaking frost giants, because that's the Beorn-adventure most dear to my heart.
My first trip up, but mostly down the mountain, fighting snowgoblins and giants, spending every last healing on keeping a mirthfully roaring Beorn alive infront of me. That strange pillar, releasing undead giants... oh man! Those were good times, with good friends, and I can't help but think Beorn will like it here, shaking his spiritual fist at passing frost giants as the stone whistles profanities!
I will say my farewell now, dear friend. You may be bound in stone, but I would give you the wind, the ever changeable sky, that your spirit may soar. I release my sorrow, but never the fond memories.
Your hatchet-chinned friend, Willow"
The reedy half-elf screams out her frustration in the once cozy, now long abandoned Gypsy Cave quarters, kicking futilely at the heavy stone door that somehow locked shut behind her.
She paces like a wild animal, trapped and cut off from wind and sky, suddenly rushing at the door to try and shoulder it down, to absolutely no avail. After another bout of shouting, screaming, cursing and even whimpering, Willow takes a very deep breath and holds her hands up infront of her.
"Okay, okay… not gonna panic, there's always a way out. Just gotta find it, gotta think outside the box..."
She rushes through the small cave home, tapping at walls and shifting cabinets, hoping for a trap door or a hidden exit of some sort. Eventually, exhausted, Willow slumps on some mold-eaten pillows, summons some light and flips her journal open, writing:
I've done freaking out about it to exhaustion, so maybe it's time to chill - I mean, it's not like You'd abandon me here, yeah? Though I know you're not the kind of god that comes to hold my hand, you expect me to be able to handle myself and whatever messes I end up in by using my own head and the gifts you have granted me! So, that's what I'll do.
There's a pond here, large and with a freshness to the water that suggests it's connected to something else. I'll ask for a Waterbreathing blessing, and go under the surface to see if I can't squeeze through some opening to whatever's below.
If that doesn't work, I'll try to blast the door off its hinges, and if that doesn't work, I can summon an Earth Elemental to do a little digging for me. And if ~that~ doesn't work, guess I'll find out if it's possible to Windwalk through a keyhole!
It'll be alright, I know it will. I've got faith in you and actually in me too!
As it's not time for prayers yet, I might aswell use this break to write a little about the stuff that's been going on since I returned to Narfell, and it's pretty cool stuff! Well, minus stumbling over that rock down in the Spectres Cave and running headlong into the Blade Barrier of DooOOom. That was just clumpsy and dumb, totally my own fault!
Even with the shredding though, I've had this light and tingling feeling throughout, adventure- and wanderlust surging through me. I've met some new people and some old friends, seen familiar and unfamiliar sights, with a whole lot of very weird surprises along the way!
High on the list of awesome is my new armour, which we stole from a tentacle-faced monster-herder in Ormpur. I didn't think I'd exchange Beorn's work for anything short of a cloud armour, but this one's pretty brilliant! It's seriously ultralight and actually smells of lavender, how cool is that? I do kinda miss my comfy and more flexible leather pants, and the windchimes Beorn added to the wire armour, but… this one's sooo light, I bet even leather weighs more! No gravity-resisting girl could possibly resist that!
Also awesome is finishing my polarbear head gear project without a hitch, and seeing Llama wearing it, the fit just peeeeeerfect! I feel all proud and pleased when I think about it, like I just drank a big cup of tea and have a warm glow inside.
On the weirder side of things (yeah, a tentacle-faced monster-herder is by no means the weirdest encounter), I ran into a headless guy in the Nars pass one day, almost literally so! I was skipping along without a care in the world, trailing this particularily puffy cloud when I heard a wet shuffling close by, and a weird groaning noise.
Not three steps away from me, Mr Headless stands, a pale and bloated manshaped thing, thick arms outstretched. I stopped, apprehensive.
'Foood...', groans Mr Headless, somehow. I mean, I could hear it, but from where!? The guy was undeniably missing a head, but that didn't stop him from trying to eat me anyway, and not in the good way!
He made a grab for my arm, and if I hadn't guessed before, I knew he was undead now, 'cause ~EW~! So cold and clammy! I shrieked and pumped him full of positive energy, while he started snapping at me with this weird, ropelike whip! It stung like a sonnova, but two hearty doses of divinity and Mr Headless went down like a moldy sack of flour. Victory!
I did a little dance and then I searched his pockets for shinies or clues. Finding nothing, I stripped him of his clothes instead and booted his flabby, naked corpse off the road, pale buttocks shining in the moonlight.
....hey now, don't look at me like that! So I stole the guy's pants, so what!? It wasn't ~dirty~ or anything, I just wanted a trophy, something to show off while telling the tale! Uh.. though the pants were all heavy and moist, smelling of death, decay and Mr Headless' distinct lack of personal hygien. In fact, they were so gross that I ended up selling them for the low-low price of one gold, not long after (and I really had to haggle for that one coin).
In retrospect, I'm not entirely sure why I stole the pants, I just did, because I could! Serves him right for trying to nibble me with his lack of mouth anyway!
That's not the end of the tale of Mr Headless & Pantless, however! A while later, I was idly chit-chatting at the south gates of Norwick with Cormac and a couple of others (Cormac's this big butch warrior guy, lewd, crude and the very opposite of boring).
There were no gates at the gates, and again I barely even noticed H&P until he was nearly upon me, this time moaning pitifully about his pants and snapping that awful whip. I snapped back, and got a lucky break as a nearby horse freaked out and trampled my nemesis under mighty hooves, hooray!
Headless & Pantless, now with iron-shod hoof imprints, lay defeated once more. The only thing left that I could take from him was the strange whip, looking for all the world like a hangman's noose with bits of glass and metal shards stuck to the length of the rope. A little nasty for my tastes, but hey, I like whips. I took it, again with the same peevish serves-you-right feeling inside.
At first, I was well pleased. The whip was clearly magicked, and had some rather nifty qualities at surface glance. I snapped it once, in experimental glee, feeling giggly and lightheaded. Whee! But then I started noticing the way it cut into my hand. Ow.. OW!
I was definitely dizzy now, and as I tugged at the whip to free myself, the barbs seemed to dig in deeper. The feeling of light-headedness grew worse, and was no longer just a feeling - it was the very real, immeasurably surreal realization that my own head had separated from my shoulders and begun to float freely, a balloon without so much as a string to hold it.
Everyone around me seemed to stand frozen, gawking in disbelief and shock while I struggled to to tear the whip free and keep my head on straight - a fight I was rapidly losing. It was the weirdest feeling, I still don't quite have the words to describe it! My head floated off, cut adrift on the currents of air, while the earthbound me flailed helplessly.
The whip's gotta be cursed, this has gotta be how the Headless & Pantless Guy lost his head, I thought, though where the thought came from, head or body, I really can't say. But if it's a curse, then there's a counter.
I shouted for curse removal, while Cormac finally sprang into action, chasing after my fleeing head. Stumbling after, my headless self followed, ending up flat in the grass in my flailing headless chicken impersonation.
I could feel my face being man-handled quite brusquely as Cormac caught my runaway head and pinned it to the grass, but it was a strangely muted sensation, as though most of what was ~me~ was in the larger part of me - the part that now frantically rifled through bags, fingertips searching for a potion-cap with the right shape to be Remove Curse.
'Pour this into my mouth!', I shouted, from what end or orifice I again can't say, tossing the potion in what I hoped was the right general direction. Something wet my lips, a cool liquid running down my... oh hey, my throat!
Suddenly it all connected, head to neck to shoulders, I was whole! The whip came loose from my hand and I tossed it as far as I could, into the tall grass where it coiled with a serpentine hiss.
I dashed towards Cormac, who caught me running and heaved me high into the air before squeezing me into a hug (it was a good hug, hearty and strong-armed!).
Purple Elf, whose frail sensibilities I had apparantly injured with a joke about her and Headless & Pantless going for a snuggletime (but seriously, seeing a poshly dressed elf drag away a naked headless guy was just too hilarious!), kept grumbling, having been absolutely no help during my headnessness. I would totally have apologized, if she hadn't been such a passive-aggressive bitch about it! I suspect she may have the hots for Cormac, even though he's a 'lowly' human!
I soon decided to let it go and just play nice regardless - if she wants to carry a grudge, then that's her problem, not mine! Life is much more fun when you don't spend it bickering and wallowing over percieved slights, or worrying what other people may think of you!
So, I had defeated Headless-Pantless-And-Now-Whipless Guy, all his parts either scattered or downright burnt (probably - it depends on what Purple really did to the body, dun dun dunn!). But if his head had floated off in a similar way to mine, where was it?
Weeks and weeks later, again alone and skipping through the Nars, I found out!
'PaaaAAAaaants...', cried the hovering head at the Nars bridge, gleaming bone-white in the faint, dying glow of twilight's end.
The head repeated its demand as it flew towards me, teeth clattering and snapping at my arms, my face, my midriff. Gah, get off me!
I tried to douse it with the same shower of positive energy that fried the body, but nothing - my spell just slid off like water off a goose, and the head bit my fingers hard.
This means war, I thought, calling on your powers to beef me up to almost warrior standard, and wham, whack, smack! My katana cut through the air, cut into the head, through what little tissue still clung to it and all but clove the skull in twain (I love that word, twain.. it sounds like an arrow released from the bowstring!).
Victory, once again!
Something caught the last rays of fading sunshine as the head tumbled to the ground, something other than bone or matted hair. A gleam of brilliant pink, brighter than the first star of the evening. A gem, and a big one! With the edge of my blade, I managed to pry it loose and man oh man.. it's a beauty! Rasuil's gonna drool when he sees it! It's magic too, some sort of mind-twisting, dizzying feeling seems to tug at you when you stare at it, and as I held it up to the light, I had the nearly overwhelming desire to cackle madly. Muahaha, my own, my preeeciouss!
It sure beats the moth-eaten pants as a trophy!
Oh, I just realized... I left the Froglet playing up on the waterfall. That crimson slaad is still just as tiny as the day it sprang from my neck, but Llama and I are trying to teach it to hunt for itself. I think it's learning, it's not entirely dumb despite its stunted growth! Maybe, just maybe it'll realize I'm missing and sproing up to the Roost to get Papa Bear here..."
Willow circles the stone shrine, high up on a peak in the Giantspires, turning her head this way and that while she walks, light green eyes fixed on the hollowed out polar bear's head resting upon the shrine. Brisk northern winds toss her hair this way and that, sending her white cloak flaring out into angel's wings as she turns her heel, lifting her face to the sky and taking a deep breath, eyes closed for a moment.
"Is it time, then?", she asks out loud, eyes flickering up to the sky in question. Small clouds race across the blue sky, puffy one moment and tugged into thin streaks the next. It's a windy morning, heralding a day of opportunity and change, and a sudden gust tosses the skinny half-elf's cloak up and over her head.
"Alright, alright! I'm not trying to procrastinate, I just really want this to work! He's great, you know?"
She looks over to the small icy brook, where a large man in a bearskin armor is fishing with a spear. Upon him landing a fat trout, a broad-backed brown bear lumbers over, nipping deftly at the catch. "Hey!", Llyran exclaims. "Burt, that's my fish… MINE!"
The ensuing tug-a-war between man and bear, seemingly doomed for the poor fisherman, soon sees the odds evened as Llyran's body distorts with a series of sickening cracks and snaps, white fur covering his increasingly large shape. Burt huffs out a misty breath, giving a sullen shake of his head as he sizes his new opponent up. Pollyran, the white menace, is nearly twice the size of the brown bear.
On the other hand, that's a very fat trout that could soon be in Burt's belly, making him bigger and stronger for it…
As the two bears wrestle spiritedly in the icy waters, Willow just laughs, dancing around the altar while adding the components of her enchantment to a small black cauldron on three legs - dry sweetgrass and long, curling peels of willow bark, white moss and purple heather. Her slender hand pauses, considering adding a sprig of lavender, then she looks off to the big burly polar bear, which has just slammed the smaller brown bear nose-down in the water.
"Okay, okay! That settles it, nothing too flowery for the Bear! Always with the cheerful machismo… teehee."
With a smooth round rock, Willow breaks six amulets of animal musk open, mixing the results with the greenery and gives it a careful sniff.
"Pha-yuhh… okay, a liiittle on the strong side, think it might need something sweet to balance it out after all..."
The sprig of lavender already forgotten, tucked behind Willow's gently pointed ear, she ponders her choices, eventually opting for a spoonful of liquid honey, drizzled over the dry and leafy contents of the pot.
Over by the water, Pollyran chews on the fat trout with clear contentment, though as Willow's preparations grow nearer completion, the big bear lumbers over to watch, or possibly to steal the remaining honey.
Fragrant cedar sticks are placed under the pot, and the hollow polar bear's head hovering of it all, propped up by four sturdy stones, each with a few holes bored through it in differing patterns.
Using a fat beeswax candle to light the small fire under the tripod cauldron, Willow can't help but let out an excited little yelp, leaving the candle burning next to the pot and clapping her hands together.
"Come on Big Guy… let's make this completely awesome!"
As the flames lick the bottom of the small cauldron, the contents inside smoulder and give off a white, fragrant smoke. Pollyran sniffs, then huffs out a deep bearlike cough, while Willow skips around the shrine with increasing excitement, chanting and waving her arms about like a madwoman:
"Come East Wind, come fresh new day and brand new sights! Come birds in flight, come feathers bright!"
The wind whirls through the holes of the easternly placed stone, making a sharp whistling sound as the white smoke billows out in feathery plumes, for a moment looking like the wings of an angel.
"Come South Wind, come summer's warmth and leafy whispers, flowers soft and berries glisten! Come swaying willow's branches, come taste the wild life's chances!"
The southern-most stone makes a softer whistle as the wind passes through it, the white smoke whirling out into branchlike tendrils, swaying like a willow tree on a warm summer's eve before dissolving into a shapeless cloud.
"Come West Wind, come blessed rain and misty sky, come rainbows shimmer! Come stormy weather, come wild free runs through dewy heather!"
The western stone gives off a howl as the wind rushes through it with wild abandon, the smoke billowing out like a herde of running buffalo, then changes into a flock of birds in flight as the mist disperses.
Giving a quick, immeasurably fond look at the shaggy polar bear nearby, Willow smiles, adding her final plea to the Windrider:
"Come North Wind, come snow-capped peaks and wuthering heights! Come taste of winter, crisp, come rosy cheeks, frost-bit - come power of the north, come rest in your abode!"
The northernly placed stone makes a clean, sharp sound as the wind whirls through it with force, and for a moment, the white smoke forms the shape of a polar bear. The smoke billows and the bear rises onto its hind legs, seeming to roar before the shape twists and distorts, the smoke thickening and filling the helmet's inside completely. For a brief moment, the eye sockets flare with white light, then the smoke begins to trickle out in slow snaking tendrils.
The wind picks up as the chanting fades, now seeming to gust from every direction, making Willow's messy hair swirl all around her head as she dances around the shrine, whooping and howling like a madwoman, soon joined by the polarbear.
Only after they're both exhausted and panting, Llyran now once more in human form and holding his Willow close, do either of them think to check on the polar bear's head.
The fire has died down and just the smallest puff of smoke comes from the eye sockets of the great beast's head as it is gently lifted off the stones by a reedy arm.
Willow slides the helmet down over Llyran's head, then taps it on the nose and smiles, curious green eyes staring in:
"Do you love it or do you LOVE it?! I poured all the things I like best into its creation, so you can't not love it!"
"It's perfect!", the big man responds, his yellow eyes gazing down at her warmly before thick, fur-clad limbs envelop her in a bear hug.
Description of The Bear's Polar Bear Head Gear:
While fully functional as a helmet, this is in fact an actual polar bear's head - and it shows. The head, carefully preserved and treated against decay, still has the lush, shaggy fur of the great bear, complete with attentively perked rounded ears and a ferocious, snarling maw. The sharp-fanged jaw can be opened or closed, allowing the wearer the option of complete protection or freedom to enjoy a lick of delicious honey wherever he may find it.
The inside has been carefully scraped clean, the bone smoothed into a comfortable silky sheen by loving hands. The scent within carries a pleasant mix of sweetgrass, willow and moss, the light and green notes mingled with a deeper animal musk.
In a hollow under a great big fir tree, the bearlike druid Llyran lies curled up and sleeping soundly, a thick arm wrapped across his willowy companion. She in turn lets her light green eyes gaze up at the early morning light filtering through the dark green canopy, a sleepily content smile on her face. The morning sun grows warmer, and though Llyran snores on, Willow eels out of cover to enjoy a solitary breakfast under the open sky. Picking a few fir-needles out of her messy hair, she writes:
We're finally on our way to meet the folks, Llama and me, and though my stomach is just a ~little~ fluttery at the prospect, I can't get too nervous. I mean, they made him… they can't be all that unlike him, right? And he's totally awesome and completely mellow!
They're gonna like me. How could they not? I mean, well... I guess they could think I'm too flighty or something but... but that's part of my charm! I'm not gonna be all girly-wirly woe and worry... 'cause I'm awesome too!
I managed to squeeze a few more adventures in before we set off at a nice and leasurely pace, opting to take the long and scenic route (which is so the best so far! Llama showed me this amaaaazing waterfall cave, where we spent a night so glorious that you really don't want to hear any details of it... seriously, you'd be blushing if you were peeking in!).
In Narfell, it seems that winter's coming has attracted a completely opposite element in the arrival of the very big, very bad, very old scourge on the land, known as RASS! The same Rass that people still tell scary stories of to scare their kiddies, the same Rass that used to collaborate with the also scary Eastlander Chief Atol, according to local folklore.
She's an ancient red dragon... and oh yeah, did I mention she almost ate us?
See, one day the Rawlins was beset by fires all around, burning hotly and with magical reinforcement all around the lake. No amount of dousing would see them put out, no prayers for blessed rain seemed to help - I thought fire would claim it all! Animals fled for dear life, smoke hung thickly but we? We, fool adventurers, naturally marched straight into the heart of fire. It's what we do!
The way the magic pulsed and throbbed from within the cave, I thought for sure we'd find something there, and sure enough, we did. Llama roared defiance, Lainie (who really didn't like her forest burning), yelling beside him as we stormed through a wall of fire and got inside, finding a bunch of half-dragons and wyrmlings stirring the proverbial fire pot.
They didn't really wanna stop and chat, so we had to fight! But luckily, Lainie turned one to stone and this turned out to be our salvation. Becauuuuse... next thing you know, a certain ancient dragon lands with an earth-shaking thud outside, asking for her children.
I peeked outside and MAN! That's a big dragon! Me and Lainie tried to parlay a bit, but I was shaking in my boots - I think she would be too if she hadn't put on her protective halo! Luckily the dragon was well versed in common, not surprisingly 'cause she used to hang with humans before yeah? So my draconic stuttering wasn't really necessary.
I'm actually hoping she found me completely forgettable and won't even recall I was there, 'cause Lainie claimed the spotlight with our one way out - the half-dragon, returned to flesh and now under her spell to be all cozy friendly. That was our trick up the sleeve, our ticket to freedom, though after the spell fades, she'll remember what we did and probably tattle to mommy... I'm hoping we're all weeell out of the way by then!
I think Lainie got a bit of a dragon-crush, despite her forest burning... and I sorta get it, I do! Rass is huge and old, beautiful and deadly, magnificent and malicious - but I'd still rather admire her from a looooong way away. Say, like Lethyr!
We're not running away though! Well, we kinda are, but we're also going to somewhere we've been meaning to for a good while now.
One last adventure before departure though, and it was a classic spellunking miners-assistant gig, just the sort you love and in a new place to explore at that - the duergar maze! We of course got lost in it, repeatedly, and even trapped behind enemy lines in a horribly predictable manner.
Some people just don't know to quit when they're ahead, you know? I ~told~ them, snatch mithril from duergar and they're gonna get pissed, but what do they do? They stop and mine some lesser ore on the way back! Seriously, we could and maybe should all have been wet patches of blood on the ground, but in the end the only one that fell was Beorn.
Beorn.. on my watch! That stings. He's my go-to-guy, my huddle-heroically-behind dwarf of dwarves! But the strangest part is this… in the midst of battle, a peculiar ally turned up, as if out of nowhere, and fights alongside us a while. Then, when we try to get Beorn's body, it's nowhere to be found.
All the people who were so reluctant to leave when we still had time, they sure had fire up their asses in getting the hell out without Beorn. I wasn't a happy camper, but what could I do? I had none of your blessings left, and I'm no match for even one duergar warrior. So I trailed along at the back of the party with Ras' buddy Albryanna, a tough cookie if ever there was one.
Anyway, moping and grumping was all in vain... because when we got out of the caves, there was Beorn, alive and positively kicking! He brought with him the strangest tale of being scooped up into a pocket plane, mistaken for the dwarven Senator Heffa by some Snydders fellow... there was talk of Cyricists, a conspiracy that's tied to Peltarch somehow. Just the sort of thing I oughta tell Jonni about...
...but later. First, I've got to meet the folks."
Up in the Roost, a bitter wind blows, sending tiny razor-sharp flakes of snow whirling around the stones, where Willow huddles near a sputtering fire, bundled up in double cloaks. Her sandy hair whips around her head in the occasional icy gust, but the half-elf stays stubbornly in her chosen location while she writes:
I've said it so often of late that it's turning into some sort of cliché to my own ears, but it's true and recently, I think I figured out why. It's not a natural change, and nothing that that druid fella on the Mountain intended.
-You've sort of pulled me in that way for some time now, haven't you? The Coldstones…
Since that first time with Marthammar Duin's dwarves, things have changed quite dramatically there. The wall of ice that we climbed to get back down to Ormpur is gone, but that's got nothing to do with it melting in warmer climate, for sure! It's much colder up there, much much colder.
Where before there were patches of grass and moss, there's thick frost and ice, where there was frost and ice, there's veritable glacier - and all the creatures of winter, none of them friendly. There's barricades and fortifications I never spied the first time too, and a huge fortress of ice, at the summit. With frost giants stomping irately about, I might add!
I've been on three exploration trips out there now, not counting the first visit, and I've seen some pretty wild sights - no shrine still, not out there, but how about a humanoid lizard creature, frozen in crystal clear ice? That guy gave me the serious heeby-jeebies too, I can't believe Jimmeh and Elaine actually tried to thaw it out! I could practically hear you screaming 'Bad Idea!' into my ear the whole time, but as usual no one listens to me!
That's actually annoyed me of late, that feeling of being dismissed as an airhead loon who doesn't know what she's talking about. Though, I know my mind tends to whirl and skip a few middle steps in explanation sometimes, and I don't always have the patience or the will to get all serious and lecturing about stuff, not even the important things. I guess at some level I feel that if I'm ignored, then it's their loss - I'm not bound to any place or anyone here, except my Honeybear. And he'll follow me wherever I go. Or I him!
Still, I've seen so many warning signs that something's definitely UP, capital letters merited. The roaming ice trolls and yetis, even past the river, the ice hag (oh such a good story, gotta write that one up on it's own or I'll forget to taunt Salin about it eventually!), the snow lady with the whirling legs and the big ice bug of dooOOoom...
And then the menhir stones, high up in the Coldstones, glowing brightly.
It's never a good thing when those things are lit up, as I've learned the hard way along with Llama already. Add to that the incidents of frost goblins tampering with Narfell's other menhirs and the picture starts to look pretty darn bleak. In Norwick, blood sacrifice, lights shooting to the sky and a snowstorm rolling in - at the Icelace beach, a baby Roc (!!!) sacrificed, lights flaring, snowstorm. Snowgoblins, snowgoblins and who do we meet in Jiyyd, after running after a mysterious light in the sky, but for a snowgoblin?
I was totally suspicious, so was Ras, as it fed us a story about a big bad ritual at the menhir out on the plains - supposedly started by orcs. We get there and sure enough, small lights are already glowing there, energies are set in motion and the mage in our midst declared it conjuration magic. Like, maybe a portal or something, which I have heard the menhirs can be used for. But still... snowgoblin.
'Use lightning, lightning from the sky will stop the ritual, hurry hurry!', the damned thing insisted, but I definitely felt we were being played and Ras growled, threatening the goblin with bloody murder of a slow and gruesome variety if he was trying to trick us. But the lights were growing stronger and if there ~was~ a portal, there's no telling what sorta gruesome things it might spit out at us. So I figure we try to undo the whole thing instead, dispel the magics.
I guess that was a predictable move though, 'cause while Rasuil dug around for a scroll, the increasingly nervous goblin bolted and ran for the broken tower. I dashed after, but he wriggled and legged it pretty fast with those stubby legs, and I couldn't catch him. Just as I wondered if I should follow inside, the ground shook and a bright light shot towards the sky.
I ran back, cursing all the while, sputtered out where the goblin went and then tried to make sense of what had happened. I shoulda known to leave well enough alone with the menhirs, I don't know nearly enough of how they function and when I settled down to focus, to try and make sense of the magic still lingering in the air like fumes, the icy realization hit. Our spell had been the catalyst, the spark that set the prepared ritual in motion... and it was a weather-changing ritual. I could feel it, I could almost smell it on the wind, the scent of winter.
Bugger bugger bugger!
Winter isn't just coming, it's being ushered in, encouraged, amplified and accelerated through the menhir stones, affecting all of Narfell. It probably started up in the Coldstones, and just as you'd expect, the goblins trail lead that way when we eventually began to follow after spending way too much time talking to a dumbass orc. The only thing I don't get is why we had to set this one off... but maybe whoever is behind this just thought it would be more amusing that way.
Ras wasn't happy. He doesn't want this someone to be Ky, but I think he's starting to have some serious doubts about the dragon's innocence in all of this. The snowgoblins are obviously just pawns, but I don't know if frost giants make such docile followers - and we saw a LOT of those up on high in the Coldstones. And that snow spirit was pretty darn powerful too, the one in the swamps.
I never met Ky myself, not unless being pelted with frost by something suspiciously dragonlike in the sky that first time counts - but there's such a definite sense of planning about all this that someone quite a lot smarter than snowgoblins has got to be behind it.
And there's frost giants in the Pass, supposedly helping to fight the gnolls! I've got a bad feeling about all this, a baaad feeling.
I'd better finish Llama's polarbear helm before my fingers freeze to icicles..."
In a howling, whirling gust of wind, two white-cloaked travellers tumble down into the soft moss of the Roost, breathless, dishevelled and laughing, clutching each other tightly as they descend. More laughter, deep rumbling grunts and the odd squeal of sheer delight follow through the night, until morning's pale pastel light shine down on Willow and Llyran, nestled happily together. With a huge smile and a very messy head of hair, Willow wriggles free from the druid's thick-armed embrace, draping his warm cloak around her while she prepares breakfast. As the water slowly warms, she writes.
"My bear awoke!
All the adventure, all the sleuthing, all the riddles and death-defying acts of daring-do of the past few weeks or month will have to excuse me but none of them can hold a candle to the sheer joy of getting some quality time with my Honey once more! Though having done and seen all that I've seen, I had lots of stories to tell him, which is always a plus!
There isn't anyone I'd rather tell stories to than Llama, who smiles so warmly and chortles so heartily. And he makes the ~funniest~ comments, even while always really listening! He always gets it, he's always on my side, though that's not to say he agrees just to agree, far from it. But you know… he ~gets~ it, and whatever joy I felt in doing or seeing something new is doubled from sharing it with him!
I told him about the Mad Mad Mage and her Dungeon of Sin and Punishment, about Scales and my swooping, diving swallow flight, about the plump peaches, the fishmen and the hag, the awesome cave bears that I ~know~ he'd have loved! The ghost, the duel, the bat wing and the torch-wielding mob before we rode the dragon home again...
Then the sleuthing about, my Awesome Hunch proving right and then the frustration of the slowness of going by the book, being questioned because I hadn't filled in form A, B or C, wore this or that uniform bla bla BLA! But ultimately investigatory success, followed by that very omnious uh-oh... yeah. This demon debacle feels WAY above my head, but we agreed that we can but help in our own ways, and trying sure beats giving up! Just, you know.. leave the wrestling of poisonous things to me, he said with a grin.
Done and done! I aaaaalways get poisoned, it's like my thing, and you'd think I'd grow afraid of snakes and spiders at this rate. But I'm not, I think they're amazing creatures in their own right. If I could convince them not to keep poisoning me though, that sure would be great!
I've taken several tours of the docks since we learnt all the omnious stuff, but all the people, sick and healthy, that I've met on my former rounds, their faces blur and mesh in my head. I just can't remember them that clearly, and it's so frustrating 'cause maybe, just maybe there's still a few I could actually help! I really don't know what to do next - perhaps I could do the same rounds, offering free check-ups? But the problem is of course that those that are possessed wouldn't want help, and I'm in no position or inclination to force them... hum drum! I suppose for now, I'll settle for simply being around.
Unless I'm not, I mean, who can say where I'll be from one day to the next but for you, Big Guy? I trust the wind to take me where I need to be though, like it always has.
Llama ate all my peaches, and the chestnut honey too... he'd sooo have failed the Gluttony test and he rumbled with laughter when I told him so. That I fell to Sloth was more surprising, though I chalk it up to his bad influence! We all have our vices, it's just a matter of balancing them out, the wise bear retorted. So that's what we did, all night long!
I have some eggs though, and a pinch of tea leaves I tucked aside for a special occasion... and I deem this morning completely special enough. Let's see if the scent awakens the bear once more..."
The sky is deep indigo blue, studded with glittering stars and a round silver moon shining down on the Roost, nestled snugly into the dark grey of the Gypsy Cliffs. A small campfire still burns, the usual willowy vagabond seated there with a look of content exhaustion on her face. She takes a careful bite from her grilled apple, smacks her lips, waggles the quill and then puts it to paper.
Your holy day started with a cool crisp dawn, the air full with tingling anticipation and playful gusts of wind. I couldn't help but wonder what you had in store for me this year, while also refusing to wonder too hard - I mean, I want to be surprised, to be swept away and surrender to the unknown! But this time, I thought it would be cool to share the experience with others - if they were willing to take the same leap of faith!
I found myself in Peltarch, running into Lainie, Hen, Gnarl, a mute stranger in white (dubbed McHelmet as I never saw his face), McHelmet II (elven) and… possibly others! To be honest, I was so giddy that it was hard to keep focused on irrelevant detail, I felt as though I was dissolving before I actually turned to mist!
That first time will always be special, the glorious flabberghasting surprise of it all as you plucked me right up into the air to carry me far, far away to this land of danger and adventure. But it's no less amazing now that I can call on you, and choose when I wanna go... but I still didn't wanna choose where!
High, high above Peltarch we drifted, misty white figures tossed this way and that by the winds which began ever so slowly to usher us south. A gorgeously winged Avariel dropped by, celebrating as well, and looking very amused at our wobbling amateur group of Riders. But I like amateur, I love first times though Hen seemed a bit embarrassed, like she wanted complete control. But no go, missy!
Riding the wind isn't about mastering it, anyway! Sure, you ~can~ steer, but.... I love it best when the wind just carries me along and there's no control, no questioning, nothing but the sheer thrill of travel, of lightness, air and motion. Ohhhh, Windride!
We picked up speed, crossed over the vast Rawlinswood and continued south, faster and faster until I thought we'd speed right across the sea, but by the coast, one airstream met another, swirling and slowing us down. Which one to follow, ho hum... isn't Lethyr's fabled forests somewhere near here, where a certain Bear's family roams? Yay!!
We veered sharply, tumbling down into the deep forest as we descended. It smelled green and fresh and wild, the chirp and flutter of little forest birds above our heads in the recently disturbed canopy. I closed my eyes, breathed Lethyr in, then opened them to take in the fresh sights as acutely as possible. Ancient fir trees, huge gnarled oaks... a skittish deer giving me the doe-eyes from afar! So beautiful!
I think I musta been lost in the moment, because somehow I failed to notice that Lainie also got lost, a bit more dramatically. Curious as ever, she'd spotted a stone statue and skipped closer to take a look. But as she did, the stone crept up to cover her too, turning her into a very pretty, but none too pleased stonElaine! Before I even noticed though, Hen had her turned back into flesh through the use of one of those nifty stones. (Note to self: always pack one of those, just in case!)
The brief notion struck me that it might be good for Lainie to know what it feels like to be turned to stone, seeing as how that's one of her favourite tricks - but no sooner had the thought struck my mind than it was discarded as mean. I can't imagine ~anything~ more horrific than petrification myself - even Hold spells are a horror to me because if I can't move, I feel as though I can't breathe! Not that you need to breathe when you're stone, but... you know! Stone is heavy, unfeeling and unchanging, the opposite of everything this day was about, so it's great that Hen got to saving her right away! I'm hoping the hatchet from Chult is properly buried now, between them.
Ahead, there was a small clearing and several figures there, dancing merrily on cloved feet. Satyrs! Man oh man oh MAN... if I ever felt tempted to frolic with someone other than Llama, these guys would be it. I mean... you just ~know~ they know all the tricks in the book and then some, right? Eyes all a-twinkle and that raw sex appeal, almost animalistic, RHH! One of them asked me for a 'walk in the woods', but I could tell it was only half-hearted which made it easy to say no. Besides, I couldn't leave my Riders alone when I was their ticket back home, right?
Suddenly there was a stir amongst the furry Satyrs, a smaller figure appearing from behind. A Nymph, lovely beyond compare, wearing nothing but leaf and flower. I felt about as attractive as a garden rake next to her, and can't blame the Satyrs for feeling the same! (and send a whole heap of blessings for Llama's selective blindness when it comes to me)
The Nymph smiled prettily, even her voice sounding like flowers and nectar. Hen froze, her eyes going first very wide as she stared at the Nymph mutely, then they rolled right back into her head and she fainted dead away, crashing into the soft moss floor! It was very cute, actually! Particularily 'cause when she came to, it's about as flustered as I've ever seen her.
When the Nymph asked for help against the meanie Minotaurs that were loitering around her tree, Hen, the usually self-professed coward, all but leapt at the task, stalking off right away! Only... the wood was charged with magic, a dizzying heady magic which was obviously a little too much for us travellers to bear. It twisted our heads about, made us see enemies in friends... I swear I even saw some rainbow spirits of DooOOooom in a horrendous déja-vu-life-flashing-before-your-eyes!
Somehow, through miraculous luck, a bit of Clarity in places and Your friendly nudge I bet, we still managed to beat the minotaurs. But I can tell you, there isn't a single of of those that come close to being as terrifying as a wild-eyed Gnarl, coming at you with axe swinging! Yikes!
We returned to the clearing triumphant and bloodied, the Nymph waiting. So yeah... I might have painted a strikingly heroic image of Hen to her, because I thought the whole thing amusing... and the Nymph decided to reward the hero with a kiss! Hen looked all torn between embarrassed and really REALLY looking forwards to the kiss, when the lovely Nymph approached. One step, two, three...
...and then Hen fainted again, sprawled out bonelessly in the moss. She got her kiss anyway, but doesn't remember a thing!
The rest of us all got to gather around the sweet thing though, our arms around her like we were embracing a tree. But she didn't feel anything like a tree, she felt soft and silky and smelled so nice! Like maple sap, wildflowers and cinnamon buns!
Green flashed before my eyes, a rich vibrant chorophyll green rising like sap, washing over us... and then poof! We were in Peltarch, the Nymph giggling in farewell before she vanished, leaving a few trinkets as reward for our help. I poked Hen, she mumbled incoherently and then started cursing.
Sweet nymph, sexy satyrs, wild woods of Lethyr, goodbye! I'll be seeing you again, though perhaps not that particular neck of the woods!"
It's a cold, crisp day, thin wispy clouds streaking across a clear blue sky and the Icelace glittering like beaten silver. A brisk wind blows north-west, tugging at Kala's hair as she sells her apples at the marketplace, ruffling ladies petticoats and sending a portly gentleman huffing and puffing down the street after his runaway feathered hat. At the top of the wall, a lone figure stands, skinny arms outstretched to the wind. She shouts, twirls around and then seems to dissolve into a ghost, a cloudy white outline soon snatched up by the wind.
Northwest of the city, on a snowclad peak past worgs and roaming orcs, the wind whirls and howls, gusting playfully around and through the holes and crevices of a simple stone shrine, roughly in the shape of a throne. Multicoloured lights dance around the shrine, shifting and flickering with the motion of the wind, which eventually brings with it the misty outline of a woman. Willow herself flickers and sways, gradually returning to solid form with a huge grin all across her face.
Nearby, a polarbear raises its head from a spring, snorting water as it peers at the half-elf with placid acceptance, then goes back to devouring the fat river trout it just caught. Even the happy shout from the woman fails to agitate the content bear, nor any of its many whitefurred kin on the mountain's top.
Willow jumps, dances and hollers some more before taking a seat, light green eyes full of wonder as she gazes off into the distance, the view clear for miles. She just sits there, enjoying the murmurs of the wind and the merry cluck-cluck of the water, grinning to herself as a polarbear belches somewhere in the distance.
As night falls, she builds a small campfire near a sheltering outcrop of rock and writes:
Can you believe I found it, or we found it, or actually I think you must have had a hand in it all 'cause wow, just WOW! That Ander sure has good instincts, though I'd like to think I helped - I mean, two Shaundakulites are luckier than one, yeah?
It just couldn't be better - first finding that hidden clearing (new to everyone there, we blazed a brand new trail!), then scraping the orc filth off the mountain sides (Beorn kicked some serious butt!) and going higher and higher, the air turning thin and light and clear, glistening snow crunching softly under the paws of friendlier locals. The polar bears are ~amazing~, and I'm just not gonna question why they tolerate my presence without mauling, I'm simply going to enjoy it!
It's ~beautiful~ here.
The view is beautiful, the bears are beautiful and YOU are all around! I feel like crying and laughing all at once, like I'm soaring, roaring drunk with the wonder of the world. I just might dissolve without even trying, 'cause it's just too much to contain! That's gotta be why I could make them all Windwalk back, more people in one go than I should've managed… your presence filled me so!
I have things to do down there, you know? Helping Beorn excavate that temple, rooting out the source of that pesky fever, but those things can all wait... tonight is a night of worship, and the stars never shone so bright as now. Oh, oh, I think I see a red light approaching! Another bear on the mountain is the only thing that could possibly put a cherry on this cake!"
The sun's early morning rays flicker insistantly across the young half-elf's still closed eyes, filtered through the foliage of clinging vines and leaves. Willow turns her head away, only to find the light reflecting off the rain-wet stones of the wall opposite her. She squints, yawns and grumbles a bit as she gives sleep up as lost, adding some twigs to the smouldering campfire. As the water for her tea begins to heat, Willow rubs grit from her eyes and writes.
"Soooo busy. Not only have I helped bust every kind of goo, slime, pudding, jelly and ooze from the misty cave and participated in a game of very real murder mystery… but also, for the first time since my green-eyed friends left for the deep woods, I've something of a ~plot~ to persue, something cause-like which feels worthwhile and fitting for me. I may be a flighty rambling rover, usually content to let other people work on the Big Things - but I was raised as a healer and still consider that a core element of who I am, right up there with serving You.
And now, people are sick and no magic seems to be able to fix it, neither divine or arcane. In this particular case, Your gifts won't cut it, but that's actually okay - I ~am~ a healer, and it's in a way reassuring to remind myself that some skills I possess are actually my own and not ones I borrowed from your gracious self, Shaundakul! Like... you didn't just take pity on me when you chose me to serve, you did it 'cause I'm actually useful too!
In Peltarch, the temples are full of fever-struck people. It's a strangely persistant fever which does not in itself kill, but certainly weakens the patient considerably. You'd think the worst part is that there's no cure in sight, but actually it's worse still. Remember Oscura? Hezrou, soul consumption.. yeah.
I was hoping, really hoping, that any similarities would just be the product of my mind's fondness for pattern, but after we drove a fricken GLABREZU out of one unfortunate.... I'm pretty sure there's a link here, and I really should get my skinny ass off to see Father Dagon again. And maybe that Merovech lady that everyone seems so wary of, too!
But right now, I'm sleuthing away in Peltarch, trying to work out the cause of the disease, by hunch and by process of elimination - and by lots and lots of talking to people. That's the exhausting part! All those people, all the yammer-yammer-yammer, filtering through it all for the nuggets of gold that'll actually lead anywhere. It's tiring! I've another hunch, but to persue that avenue I need help from a beady-eyed little agent, I think.
But we'll have to be careful. Those mercenaries gave me such dirty looks just from passing BY, definitely can't risk getting caught inside. If only I wasn't so clumpsy and loud, I'd take the risk myself! Actually, come to think of it.. didn't Llama say he could turn me into something small too?
It's a cold, clear day up in the Roost, brisk spring breezes whirling up dry leaves and sending rustles through the clinging vines. A bright-eyed Willow circles the small stone wall, the wind tossing her hair about in playful gusts. On the top of the wall, the polar bear's hollowed out head stands, emitting a soft susurration of sound at the wind's explorative passing. Willow flits about, stopping every so often to listen intently, spring green eyes fixed on the head. Eventually she settles down below it, listening with her eyes closed and her long skinny legs crossed. When the wind changes to a mellow afternoon breeze, so does she, sprawling languidly out to write.
"What is the essence of a polar bear? I watch, I think and I listen, because the magic woven into it should be something befitting the bear itself, something that does it justice. And something helpful to the bear who will wear it, too!
The recurring feeling I get is ~power~. Both physically, because the sheer strength of those bears is awesome, but also in terms of presence. That primal chill of awe and downright fear when you see a bear like this, that's what I want to capture, and let it amplify the golden-eyed command in my own bear's eyes, that amazing way he has of asserting himself to other animals, without a word, without violence needed. He just ~looks~ at them and no matter how big, they all seem to get the message, even though some of them don't like it.
This head should make him stronger, in both senses, if I can only do it right! And if I can find the ideal spot… I've narrowed it down to three, but still can't quite decide. Guess I don't need to rush it, I'm just eager to give my honey the perfect gift, now that it's almost thought out in full!
We got a little distracted recently when stumbling into a sleuthing assignment, but what's not to love about mystery, right? It was certainly anything but boring or routine, 'cause this job took us from an idle day at the commons to the darker corners of Oscura and then the hallowed halls of the Temple of the Triad!
I always feel sorta grubby and out of place in that last place, like I'm not playing in the same fine league as the priests and paladins there, for not being all serious and shrouded in holy, shining vestment. But really, it's just that my flavour of holy needs another setting to shine, yeah? Mine's an outdoors wilderness sorta shine, and if my armor's dusty from travel then that IS my polish!
Anyway, the reason I agreed to the task, mystery aside, was that the temple guy said their man on the inside was working against the slave trade in Oscura. Slavery is something I have serious issue with, 'cause if there's any one cause I can be said to in any way 'champion', albeit in my own way, it's freedom! The temple's squire said they'd lost touch with their guy and were worried something had happened, wanted us to go investigate. Done and done!
We were rather a jumbled bunch, me and Llama, Shessa and Emellia, Gnarl and Fafir and even more folks, some of them dropping off along the way though. We got a few names and leads to start with, and headed down to Oscura in what we hoped wasn't a too obvious snooping troupe. I got wings as I always do, and in eating them kinda distracted myself from the mission at hand! Mmmmm... soooooo gooood...
Gnarl gnarled ahead in speedy straight-forwards manner, without really learning much, but Shessa took the time to really talk to the guy at the bar, learning a lot of useful things. Like that someone who might know something likes scrolls - so Em dished out two good ones, which were perfectly to the guy's liking!
There are things I like about Oscura, and things I really don't, slave business an obvious don't and the penchant for secrecy another. Everything down there seems veiled and layered, secret after secret like the layers of an onion which only the initiated few may eat of. It makes for good mystery, I'll give you that, but it all feels a little too Sharran for my tastes. Your servants aren't likely to go down well in those circles either, but I kinda decided to ignore that, after a half-hearted attempt at being 'under-cover'. I'm just not any good at pretense! Once we started being more frank, it kinda worked better too.
Eventually, we learned exactly where our guy was, but unfortunately he was in pretty bad condition and in some seriously 'interesting' company. The Zhentarim really have ~no~ sense of humour, and it was only because of all the hollering from upstairs that we even got to see our man.
But by that time it was already too late. Actually I wonder, with what we learnt after, if it hadn't been too late for rather a long time... but what if's serve no purpose now, we had to just watch and learn as we rushed upstairs after the beefy guards to find an irate Hezrou tearing and stomping through the room. The Zhents and their boss, alongside a couple of women fought the big demon, while in the middle of the room...
An old man's remains, little more than shrivelled flesh and bone in a pool of blood, spilling out across the red lines of a pentagram. Too late to save our guy, but perhaps I could snatch his remains without notice? Under the cloak of invisibility I made my way to the far corner of the room while the battle raged, and afterwards Fafir claimed the group's attention. Zhent boss (as humourless as the underlings) dismissed our party with a note of sour displeasure at the guards for failing to stop us, but then simply marched off with his retinue on more important matters.
Perfect, I can just grab what's left and...
'I wouldn't do that if I were you', said the woman in grey.
Out of everyone in the room, she alone had remained to speak to us, and noticed quite easily what I was about to do behind her back. She was neither threatening nor kind of tone, but spoke plain and matter-of-factly, stating the horrific: there was no point in saving the man's remains, 'cause there was no soul left to call back. The demon, she said, had not only possessed the man but actually consumed his very soul.
That's... so very disturbing that it's hard to put proper words to. 'EW' doesn't quite cover it!
The woman, giving her name as Believer, seemed oddly forth-coming with information. My guess is she wants more people to know, and thinks the usual Oscuran hush-hush isn't gonna cut it for this particular problem. Her employers, the Sisters of Bone, and the Zhentarim? Not usually a good mix, but in this case the cause drew them together. Order vs chaos and that sorta thing, yeah?
Talking to the local healer after, Father Dagon, we learnt that while possessions by demons and such have occurred before, this soul devouring business is real unusual. But he did tend to a similar case in Hoarsgate not long ago, that victim having fallen ill prior to signs of being possessed, just like our guy. Not a natural disease, that's for sure, and I feel that learning more about the nature of it might shed light on what's really going on here. Feels scary to say it, but it's not 'just' demonic possession!
I don't really wanna meddle too far in things I dunno much about, but I did promise Dagon I'd help if I saw anything similar going on. He even gave me this exorcism kit, with instructions how to use it... Yeah, gonna have to rely on You to pull that one off, that's for sure! And on some battle-able allies and friends when or if a fiend actually does pop out...
Up on "Mount Norwick" - the high hill overlooking the inn - Willow sits with her skinny legs crossed and something big, white and fuzzy in her lap. Curiously, it isn't Llyran this time, but it does seem somewhat related to the bearman druid. Long thin fingers rest on the furclad skull of a polar bear, the insides hollowed out to let the wind whistle through empty eye sockets and bared teeth. Willow's light green eyes stare intently at the head in her lap, seeming to want to pry all it's secrets out somehow. She slumps over on her back, lifting the head up to view it against the sky, where thin wisps of cloud streak white across the blue canvas. Finally she puts it down on the grass, rolls over on her belly and writes.
"Polar Bear Goodness!
I'm ever a firm supporter of the notion that good things, contrary to the saying, don't really come to those who wait. Really, if you want something, the chances of finding it are wayyyy bigger if you get off your ass and go looking, yeah? But this time, the subject of mine and Llama's dreams actually did come to us!
Okay, so it started off pretty bad… see, an omnious blood moon rose over Peltarch, and not soon after a distraught farmer came stumbling into the commons. 'Help, someone please help! My wife.. they took her!', he stuttered, close to tears. The orc ~scumbags~ had abducted his wife and I shuddered to even begin to think of what they planned to do to her. So naturally we volunteered to help get her back!
It was a whole adventurering band, including my brawny Llamabear, some guy called Daron, some other guy called Deidric, the cute-as-a-button gnomish bard Vera, quiet Elvira, quiet (on this particular day!) Lainie and possibly others. We set off towards the orc cave with spirits high, mowing through the first batch of the hillside douchebags easily enough. But right at the entrance to the cave mouth, something else awaits... something big, grey and just completely ~rippling~ with muscle! I dunno what to call such a twisted monstrosity, so I shouted "Manbearpig!' just to call it something!
It hit the ground with such a thunderous rumble that anyone inside had got to know for sure we were coming. So we hurried inside! The orcs were angry for sure, and amongst their usual number were these huuuge, beefy warrior guys, wearing a peculiar sorta garb. I dunno very much about orc religion, but it didn't look like Gruumsh symbols to me.. maybe that other guy? All beef and brawn, with no real brains to match... then again, isn't that all orcs?
Anyway! Fighting our way through, we came to the end of the tunnel and found the captive farmer's wife, trapped inside a sacrificial circle with the usual red glowy glyphs and lights. Only the thing trapping her inside was sorta unusual - lots of huge swords, rammed straight into the ground all around in a circle. Daron pulled one out, and pretty much pulled his back while doing so, groaning. But the Llamabear, RRHH! He roared and yanked one after another out, with bear might! Only... not exactly next to the first gap made by Daron...
Elvira pointed this out to me, like I was supposed to start hollering instructions out, but come on - Llama can yank at any sword he likes, I'm not gonna nitpick and micromanage, I hate that stuff! Plus I know he's totally strong like a bear and won't soon run out of breath!
Eventually, there was a big enough opening made for the farmer's wife to squeeze through, but as we got ready to leg it, the earth SHOOK... and ~the~ hugest orc ever appeared to claim his sacrifice.. which of course wasn't quite there anymore. The huge orc roared out his rage and stunned several of us just by that alone - arrows bounced off his hide and spells fizzled easily. This uhhh.. wasn't just an orc...
We ran, but the farmer's wife was stunned and unconscious, so I misty-crystalled up to double back for her, unseen. The orc, so big that his head scraped the ceiling, chased after the group, each step he took so heavy that I thought the cave would collapse in a huge earthquake. But somehow we got outside and legged it for the city walls, while the gigantic orc kept screaming out his fury.
And then, big and bad furious orcs and enraged animals came storming towards the walls - and more of those manbearpig things, tearing and thumping at the gates. Guard Captain Lisa like... blamed us for it! 'Adventurers...', she sighed, and then went out there to kick some serious butt!
Oh it was a big fight, big enough to keep all of us and the city defenders occupied and then some - several of us nearly died and we ended up having to scatter and run in mad dashes along the walls while bolts flew down from the defenders above! But... and here's the part where bad turns to awesomely good... there were polarbears!
Two of them, stirred to rage by the orcs like the other poor animals, came charging up, so big and beautiful that it took my breath away! And Llama lumbered right up to one, his golden eyes aglow with that sexy assertive manliness. He puffed his chest out, growled... then reached his hand out to a calm, submissive polarbear... it was SOOO great to watch, I'm still in awe! The other bear wouldn't back down, and there was fighting all around, to the extent that the first bear got wild-eyed and frantic again eventually - but not before Llama managed to learn it's shape!
After the dust settled, we managed to salvage one of the polarbears heads. They were both magnificent animals, and I will remember them with great respect. This head... it will now protect Llyran's own, which feels right and fitting. I mean to weave the blessings of the wind into it, once I figure out what would suit it best... and where to do it. I need a shrine, but haven't found an existing one anywhere yet.
So maybe we could build one, Llama and me? All we need is the perfect location... and I have several to choose from already. Help me pick, big guy!"