Highsun, Year of the Defiant Priest
A crack in the floor opened up into a tunnel that promised a way out. The bruised and exhausted adventurers agreed to rest for a few hours before attempting to make good their escape from the ancient tomb. Their rest went undisturbed.
In the morning, they squeezed through the crack, and made their way through the tunnel below to emerge…some place strange. There were…well, they had to be trees, but they were unlike any trees any of them had ever seen in their lives. Rather than long, bare trunks with wide fronds at the top, these trees had countless limbs covered with green needles. After a few moments of stunned amazement, they surveyed their surroundings to try to figure out where to go next.
Hawk looked around, confused, “I’ve…never seen such a thing before.”
“How… pretty,” Les commented, a forlorn look on her face. She brushed a hand along the needles of a nearby tree.
“Unbelievable,” Rayne said breathlessly. “This must be the Forest of the Ringing Mountains.” She reached out to touch the same tree as Les. “I think these are…pine trees.”
Kikrik nodded and said, “I have heard of such a place in legends.”
The human smiled at Kikrik. “For one, I’m glad to see that a legend is true.”
“I have only seen flourishing plant-life such as this in one other place,” continued the kreen. “My entire clutch died that day. I suggest caution.”
The eladrin suddenly looked very cautious and seemed to be scanning around in all directions at once. She muttered to herself, “It’s…close. I don’t know if I’m ready…”
“Les?” Rayne asked, concerned.
“What is close?” prompted Hawk, looking around as well.
Ignoring the questions, the bard finally looked to the southwest and announced, “That way is Tyr. We should go that way…and not tarry long here…” The look in her eyes is distant, almost vacant as she looked through the trees.
Rayne noted tears welling up in the eladrin’s eyes, but said nothing of it. Without any further prompting, Rayne drew her scimitar, nodded, and headed in that direction indicated by her friend. “No time like the present,” Hawk opined, heading after the human. Vrack shouldered his gear and followed, still staring wide-eyed at the trees.
After an hour or so of traveling down the forested mountain paths, such as they were, Rayne found herself winded from the effort. The others struggled for breath from the simple exercise too, but they managed to keep going. The former sailor pulled out a fresh waterskin and squeezed it dry, trying to restore her energy for the trip. The path through the peculiar trees wound up and down the mountainside, requiring many switchbacks in order to make any southerly progress.
After a time, they all felt an oddness about the Forest Ridge. I was as if they walked through two lands at once, one with firm ground and the other atop misty clouds. The trees there were lush and thick, with broad leaves. The air was moist and cool – a welcome relief. They still struggled to hack a path through the wilderness, and as they paused for a brief respite in a clearing, an exotic screech sounded.
Lesallai whimpered. “It took us closer. That screech is from The Land Within the Mists.”
“From where?” Kikrik asked.
“What that mean?” Vrack wanted to know.
Without turning, the eladrin whispered, “The home of my people…”
“So…we be safe now?” the gladiator concluded dubiously.
“No,” said Les. “If anything, there could be even greater danger.” She beckoned for silence, hoping they would hear the noise again. The forest remained relatively silent, but they did notice a strange mist shimmering up ahead.
“It’s a ripple of Fey magic,” explained the bard. “You can use it to move through the world. Not far, perhaps twenty feet if you concentrate.”
A number of lizards emerged from the jungle surrounding the adventurers, blending into the surrounding underbrush. The strange screeching emanated from one of the reptilian throats. Noting them all, Les warned, “There is something more out there.”
Hawk stood alone in the center of the clearing, unable to see the hidden lizards. “I don’t see anything…” he said, moments before he was swarmed by lizards.
Vrack drew his flail and rushed to the monk’s rescue, smashing lizards with his weapon and drawing the attention of another small horde. They leaped upon him, sinking their sharp teeth into his gray flesh. “Gah! Get dem offa me!” he shouted.
Rayne stepped through the shadows to engage a larger reptile with strange eyes. Her blade sliced through its scaly flesh, causing a significant wound in the strange beast. The lizard uttered an otherworldly croak, drawing attention to its swirling eyes. The assassin and the two half-orcs found themselves mesmerized by the strange sight, their minds clouded.
Another big lizard with gaping jaws came out of the jungle and latched its fang-filled mouth on Hawk’s leg, savaging the limb and preventing him from escaping. In response, Les pulled her blade and drew shadows over the lizard before appearing beside it to sink her blade in its hide. The beast grunted in annoyance, but did not let go. “Hawk! Focus on where you want to go, and the shimmer will take you there!” the bard advised.
Kikrik entered the fray by summoning Wrath over the lizard pinning Hawk. The spirit promptly exploded in a burst of scorching sands. Then the shaman brought Revenge, the sand scarab. It appeared next to Hawk and kicked up a high speed sirocco around the monk. The swirling sand formed a protective shell around him while scouring the lizards surrounding him. The swarm of smaller lizards shrieked in protest.
Rayne was surprised to see a blue-furred quadruped leap from the trees, looking like a feral, oversized house-cat. It sprang from the foliage, claws leading, and knocked the assassin to the ground before retreating to the jungle. “Black Shadow!” she swore from the ground.
The ensuing fight with the jungle predators was bloody but short, and the adventurers made short work of the lizards before turning their attention to the fey panther. With so many prey-turned-predators facing it together, the feline made good its escape, fleeing deeper into the trees. The group was content to let the damned thing go.
“Vile things,” Les said panting. “Fey panthers… We got lucky that it fled. They can step through the world like myself. From the Land Beyond the Mist…”
Rayne nodded and sheathed her weapon. “I take it that was what you heard, Les?”
“Indeed. It was stalking the periphery. The Veil is very thin here.”
“…The Veil?” Rayne asked.
“Where the World touches the Green Lands Beyond the Wind.”
“Ohhh. But this isn’t where your home was,” the human clarified.
“No, but we are closer than you might imagine. The Feywild doesn’t follow the rules of the World. Miles may become inches at will, allowing one to step through existence instantaneously. This can lead to the crossing of great distances…or getting lost in an instant.”
“Just so,” Rayne sighed. “Is it dangerous? Because it might take us closer to Tyr…”
“Very. If within the wild lands of my realm, violence may find you without you ever knowing it. Your life could be snuffed before you ever recognized the threat. Tyr is close enough to travel outside of the wilds of the misty realm. It is safer to stay out.”
Rayne nodded. “I’m sure you’re right. Though there’s still the Wastewalker to reckon with.”
“I don’t intend to reckon with this Wastewalker unless we are forced to,” commented Kikrik. “I have had enough of that one.”
Looking over at the shaman, Les asked, “The spirits requested that we deal with him, didn’t they?”
“And he’s hunting for us,” Rayne added. “A confrontation seems inevitable.”
Somewhere in the desert south of the Ringing Moutains…
The Wastewalker meditated upon the location of the Defiler – the object of his current pursuit. Suddenly, his eyes snapped open and his advisors inhaled sharply, anticipating a revelation. They were not disappointed. In a raspy voice the ssurran prophet said, “It will come to usss…”
“We should catch our breath, then press on,” Rayne said. She leaned against a nearby tree and closed her eyes. Les sat against the same tree and whispered something to herself. The human turned her head and opened her eyes to look at the eladrin, looking concerned.
“I am of the same belief,” admitted Kikrik. “It is bound to happen, I suppose. Maybe I was just hoping for a short time of peace and quiet, knowing it is not to be.”
Rayne smiled. “Nothing wrong with that.”
From his resting place, Hawk said, “Peace and quiet are essential to finding happiness in one’s life. I can only hope that we all find it some day.”
“My masters are relentless in their desires,” said Kikrik. “My weariness is not a concern of theirs. To be honest, I am tired of them.”
Les shrugged. “I’m not surprised. They use you as host and require you to travel. Yet you bend to them. I would be weary as well…”
Searching the clearing out of habit after a battle, Rayne discovered that one tree was hollow. Within the hollow were coiled three links of spiked chain. Vrack came over to inspect the chains and after Les declared them magical, he fashioned them into a flail to replace the bone weapon he had been using since he’d left the gladiatorial pits. After a few experimental swings, he grinned at the metal weapon in his hands. “Yes, this will smash good,” he declared.
. . .
Several hours of travel later, the group finally came to the forest’s edge at a ravine. Across a steep divide separating the Forest Ridge from the Ringing Mountains, they spotted four humanoids climbing the jagged cliffs in a daring maneuver. A bright flash suddenly flooded their view followed by a deafening crack. When their eyes recovered, they saw a long slice of the cliff face sheer off from the mountain and fall, wedging itself precariously between the two sides of the chasm. The climbers had fallen, presumably to their deaths, but the adventurers noticed several hunched figures on the other side who seemed to be searching for them.
The group paused collectively in the long shadows cast by the tall cliffs. The chasm before them stood quite tall, but they could see its walls were lined with numerous ledges. A fall might not necessarily mean a gruesome death. The obvious way forward lay across the massive rock bridge formed from the fallen cliff face. So intent upon their search, the blue-skinned creatures didn’t notice the adventurers. Rayne and Kikrik recognized them as gith – savage desert dwellers.
“Not likely we’ll be able to talk our way past them,” said Rayne. “We tangled with the gith on the Profit once or twice.”
“So…ambush?” Les asked. The adventurers glanced around at one another.
“Ambush,” they answered as one.
. . .
It was a complete rout.
The last gith fled or begged for their lives. After the battle, Vrack looked down at his enchanted flail with reverence. “Smash good,” he said happily.