As we proceeded Northwards, hacking our way through the thickening brambles, the forest grew darker and ever more sinister. Even though we knew it was only mid-afternoon, the little amount of light now filtering down through the trees gave the impression of an impending dusk. We were getting closer.
After several hours trawling through the undergrowth, Beiro stopped the group. Whispering, he passed back the message there was a clearing up ahead. It looked like a felled tree had opened a gap in the canopy. We approached with caution, although I had to shush Baldwin and Melech as they started bickering about something behind me. Reaching the edge of the clearing, we could see several orc corpses, along with what looked like the felled tree. Something clearly being fishy, we started investigating. The orcs all had the warpaint we had seen before, although had been clearly slain, covered in cuts and bruises. The tree, however, was the most curious item in the clearing. It looked humanoid and as though it could’ve walked on a pair of feet, unlike Old Mother Basket’s tree which had walked on its roots. The whole clearing was also covered by heavy footprints, perhaps by the tree, but maybe something else?
Before we could come up with any other theories, we started hearing a heavy stomping echoing throughout the woods. It appeared to be heading in our direction, so all of us, except Baldwin, scattered into the undergrowth. As we waited and the stomping grew closer, we saw a rustle in the undergrowth from which emerged a rather short man but wearing large iron boots. He had a long unkempt beard and wore a large red hat. He was also carrying a menacing looking sickle. “I’m gonna cut you down to size!” He screamed, seeing Baldwin in the clearing and started clomping towards him, but at that point a handful of rays of fire skidded out from the undergrowth into his chest, followed by a javelin hitting him in the leg. Baldwin met him in the middle and landed a couple of hits of his own.
I was weighing up my options when our foe, now clearly incensed further by the pain, kicked Baldwin in the shins. The sound of metal on bone rang out in the clearing and Baldwin was immediately on the floor, not unconscious, but obviously in a lot of pain. Then I realised, the boots! I moved forward out of the undergrowth and started to play, but at that moment, another one of these creatures had entered the clearing. I wasn’t sure if anyone else had noticed him yet, so I turned my attention on him instead. Playing a rhythmic dance tune, I started heating the metal of the boots, causing the newcomer to hop around involuntarily in time with the music.
My decision was shortly verified, as it only took another barrage of fire from Melech to take out the initial threat. Having been alerted to his presence by the cries of pain, Beiro and Melech switched to the newcomer and started attacking him. I took my bow and arrow out, firing a shot into his chest and using the bowstring to keep the rhythm of the heat metal going. This assault took its toll and Melech shortly landed another killing blow with three more rays to its face. As the angry creature fell, the forest grew quiet again and it seemed as though no more danger was imminent.
As we could see it was now getting dark, we agreed to back up a bit, making camp a little way to the south where it had seemed to be safe. Beiro and Baldwin decided to keep a pair of the iron boots as a souvenir, much to Melech’s annoyance. We soon found somewhere sensible to make camp and Beiro and I set off to find food, while Baldwin and Melech set up the camp. There wasn’t much wildlife to be found and, while we managed to take out a couple of pigeons, most of what we brought back were mushrooms and berries. As we returned to the camp, Melech seemed uneasy. “There’s something about” he said, when we returned “Baldwin’s mess kit is gone and my ink’s been spilt all over my parchment, ruining it” Playing devil’s advocate a bit, not wanting a night of worry, I proposed alternative ideas “Maybe Baldwin just forgot his mess kit and your ink became uncorked in your bag?” Melech saw through my ruse in an instant. “We’re in the Fey woods, we should be on our guard,” he said sternly. “I don’t think they mean us any harm though, it’s just usual Fey trickery” Baldwin piped up. “Maybe try calling out? Preferably in Sylvan?” I suggested. “You know Sylvan, don’t you?” Baldwin said plainly. “Ah yes, but you also have a crown of friendship, so surely that’s the better bet?” I countered. “Fine,” Baldwin said gruffly and, taking off his hood to reveal the crown spoke out “Fey friends, reveal yourself!” At that moment there was a flash of blue and a smacking sound as something slapped Baldwin across the face. Whatever entity was responsible for it giggled and flashed back into the undergrowth. I did my best to suppress my own giggle at this sight. Baldwin sighed. I then tried enticing them out again, playing a song in Sylvan and made what was probably my best performance to date…to a crowd containing just our party. We clearly weren’t having any joy, so the others turned in for the night, while I took the first watch, agreeing to keep one eye focused on our equipment.
It must have been about half an hour later when I heard a rustle from the undergrowth. I picked up my bow and turned to see where it had come from, then lowered it as I saw a humanoid figure approaching slowly. “Hello there!” I called out quietly “Hello! It’s good to see you” came a voice back and as they came into my vision, I could see it was a Satyr, one from the other day in fact. “What brings you this far North?” I asked, “I thought this was a place for misery, not joy and mirth”. “We heard your performance, we wanted you to come and play with us again” he responded, cheerily as ever. “I…errr…well, thank you.” Something was off. I didn’t feel like they meant me any harm, certainly not directly, but, I felt like it was important I went. I also didn’t want to mysteriously vanish and leave the camp unguarded either though. “Let me wake up one of my friends, let them know where I’m going“. “Oh, don’t worry about that,” he said calmly and I noticed the two others that we had danced with before appearing from the side. I felt a calming voice in my head tell me it was fine, I should just go with them and it almost took me, but I shook the idea off. I made a move towards the tent and one of the satyrs reached out as if to grab me. I ducked out of the way, reached into the tent and found Beiro’s leg. Shaking it I hissed “Beiro, wake up, I need you to take watch” “Wha-?” I heard groggily from the tent “There are some satyrs here and I feel I should go with them, I-” and, at that point, I turned around and realised they’d all vanished. “What’s going on?” Beiro asked, emerging from the tent, now more awake. “There were…satyrs…here, they…” I stammered, now perplexed by what had happened. Melech stirred “Wha..? Is it time for my watch?” he muttered. “What’s going on out there?” I heard bellowed from the other tent. Gathering my half-asleep companions together, I explained what had happened and, despite no-one else actually seeing the satyrs, they all believed me. Melech chastised me for being so ready to go with the satyrs though and he was right, going off on our own here would be dangerous. I just…perhaps my curiosity almost got the better of me again. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Despite shaking my way through the rest of my watch, the rest of the night passed without incident and we continued North once again. After a couple more hours hacking slowly through what was a torrent of thorns, we hit a wall of briar that seemed all but impassable. Hacking at it didn’t seem to make a dent and Melech couldn’t get it to catch light either. Looking down the wall, we caught sight of another orc corpse, the briars growing around it. “I’m starting to think we might not be doing the right thing here” Melech muttered, “the dryad looks like she’s stopping the orcs coming through the forest.” I nodded slowly “I can see where you’re coming from, but…I think the forest might have been defending itself before. These corpses were here before the briar grew around them…” “Perhaps you’re right. Well, let’s start moving our way around to the East, we might find an opening” Melech suggested. “That seems…optimistic, but its worth a go” I mused. East makes the most sense for where we want to go next too” I said. So East we went and it wasn’t long until we did indeed find an opening “well, fair enough” I said, surprised there was such a convenient entry point. We peered inside and saw that the briar walls went inwards and stretched out into a maze of paths and corridors. The corrupted dryad had laid out a den and we’d have to enter it to find her…