Lands of Katagma

Amafey's Notes [18] - Sweet Child O' Spine

As we walked, we discussed whether we should rest again. Even given the rest that we had had after fighting the blights, Beiro and Baldwin looked quite beaten up and Melech claimed he was running out of spells. With the wound Beiro had given me, I was inclined to agree, but I also wanted to continue and not leave ourselves open to attack. Finally, we agreed to keep going, but would almost certainly need another break, if not to pause for the night, if we found any more resistance.

A short while later, we heard Baldwin call from behind us “Wait, I hear something. Rustling or chittering or something”. We all stopped to see whether we could hear it “I heard it too” Beiro said, “but it seems to have stopped”. I obviously missed it. “Let’s keep going, but carefully,” Baldwin said, ushering is forward once again. We took a few more steps and there was a flash of movement ahead of us. I happened to be looking in just the right spot and caught a clear view of the creature. A small spindly body covered entirely in the same thorns as in the walls. I also recognised it, as these creatures were the subject of many an elven folk tale. This was a child of the briar and given where we were, there were likely a lot more nearby. There were many tales that warned caution whenever you could hear the clicking sound that is their language, as they are evil in nature and enjoy the taste of blood. However, they carried their own interests and would trade for trinkets, favours or blood willingly given.

I relayed this information quietly to the rest of the group and decided it perhaps best to start a discussion of trade to avoid the threat of an attack. Given Baldwin had the crown he called out to the woods in Sylvan “Children of Briar, we would like to trade”. No response. I stepped forwards, thinking a better idea of what we were dealing with would help, but it would only serve to break my confidence “Children of briar, we have….err… trinkets with which we would like to find out what…err…you have to offer?”. Unsurprisingly, our hidden friends remained equally unmoved by this. I decided to cut to the chase. Rummaging around in my backpack, I pulled out the copper chalice that we had found in the same hall we had found the crown in. “We have this trinket to offer for a trade”. A thorny head poked out of one of the nearby walls “Trade?” It said, also in Sylvan. “Yes,” I responded, “we have no quarrel with you and wondered whether maybe we could offer each other something”. The small creature cocked its head to one side, then pointed at the chalice “I’ll show you to the centre of the maze in exchange for that cup”.

This seemed like a good start, changing what could have been an encounter that wore us out into our ticket to our destination. “Would we be safe if we were with you?” I queried, keen to get some clarification on this potential deal. “That would be down to Amabilis,” they said, matter-of-factly. We’d learned this was the dryad’s name from the pixie earlier and it was a fair point because it seemed like she had a high degree of control over this maze. What it did tell us was we would likely be safe from any of his companions in the maze. Keen to take advantage of conversing with an inside figure, I started querying about any information they might have. “If we had more to trade, could you tell us anything about Amabilis, the hag or the orcs that we’ve seen about the maze?” They thought for a second, “We could tell you about the orcs, what else would you have to exchange?” Thinking about our options, we had the ivory comb as another trinket, but it was probably worth a lot more than the information about the orcs. We’d had enough of favours after the hag incident, so that left us with blood. I wasn’t aware of any ill effect on us or the briar child of giving this, just that they liked it, so it was probably our best bet. “What about blood?” I asked. The child of briar’s eyes lit up at this suggestion. “Yes, that would be good” it chirped.

With our possibilities settled, I requested to discuss them with my companions. Our conversation had been taking place in Sylvan, so, although Baldwin knew what was going on, Melech and Beiro were less up to speed. We discussed and discounted the comb for extra information (although Melech was keen if there were no other options) and Beiro bravely volunteered himself to give blood, particularly as it was in exchange for information about the orcs. Beiro hated orcs. We were just reaching the details of offering the blood first and giving the chalice when we arrived safely when the child of briar interrupted. “Cup first”, in common, having clearly been eavesdropping. I looked at them. They didn’t seem to be about to double cross us, they just didn’t want to lose out themselves. If there was anything you could trust fey on, it was keeping up their side of a bargain. “Ok, fine,” I said, “but blood later”. “Hmmm” it pondered “ okay!” And held its hands out for the chalice. I handed it over and the briar child held it above its head triumphantly. “Follow me!” they squeaked and dashed off deeper into the maze. We gave chase, dashing down corridors and around corridors, frantically trying to unspool our thread for finding our way back.

After about 5 minutes of dashing about, the child of briar came to an abrupt halt. “Alright!” They said, turning around to face the now panting party “You’ll find the centre of the maze just around that corner”. They then looked up expectantly. “Beiro, would you do the honours?” I said, realising it was now Beiro took a dagger from Melech (having only longer, less cumbersome weapons himself) and cut the palm of his hand, dropping the blood into the cup the child of briar was holding. As he did so, tendrils started to grow from the child’s hands into the cup and down to the blood. It reached the blood and started to drink, quickly draining all that had been offered. “So, about the orcs?” I pressed. “Oh yeah,” they shrugged “they tried to get to the centre of the maze, but didn’t get very far” That was weird “but we saw some of them stuck in the walls,” I said. “Maze is getting bigger” they shrugged again. “Well, I’ll be off now!!” they squeaked and dashed back off into the briar.

Peering around the corner, Baldwin and I could see a wide clearing, within which there was a humongous tree reaching up out of the briar and into the sky. There seemed to be an entranceway carved into the trunk inviting further investigation. Our group cautiously stepped out into the entranceway, then from behind the tree stepped out another figure to join us. A beautiful female humanoid figure wreathed in leaves. Amabilis. But her skin was slate grey, not the greens or oranges of the forest a dryad is supposed to be. She spoke, “Leave NOW interlopers, and you may yet escape with your lives”. I knelt slightly, in a last desperate attempt for reason “Amabilis, if any part of your true-self remains, you must tell us what we can do to save you, to remove this corruption”. Amabilis furrowed her brow “The only thing that shall be removed is YOU” and as she spoke she released a barrage of magic missiles towards my companions. Beiro and Baldwin both took a hit but Melech blocked it with a magical shield. Baldwin chuckled “Yeah, whatever. Get em Beiro!”, but before we could return fire, her form merged into the tree and disappeared from view. Moments later we heard a shout from high in the tree, Amabilis again “Begone! Leave this place!”

We made towards the opening in the tree and found the inside to have been carved out into a spiral staircase. I started muttering to myself “This is that hag’s doing. This is NOT good for the tree”. The stairs were clearly not grown through any natural influence, they were carved, probably a few months ago based on the state of the wood. Head down, angry about this, I almost bumped into Melech as there was a yelp up ahead. Sounds of fighting started, but on the tight staircase, I could not see who our assailant was. Melech, ahead of me, seemed to be in the same situation and pulled out a mirror. Passing it to Beiro to hold, he started firing off spells into it, ricocheting off with what sounded like tremendous accuracy. I positioned myself to try and see what was attacking us in the mirror and could make out what appeared to be a small amorphous figure. “I came from the tree” yelled Baldwin, in full combat with it. With only the mirror to go on, I started trying to hurl insults. “You’re uglier than a blobfish!” “I bet you always cry at movies because you’re a big SAP!”.

At this point, Baldwin fell and suddenly came sliding down the stairs, I was unable to avoid him in the tight space of the tree and took a tumble as his body came past. I quickly got up and, looking nervously back at his body, having caught on a knot a handful of steps down, I doubled down on the insults. “I bet you think this is a bit of a STICKY situation”, “I’m going to distil you into syrup!”. I’m not sure how much it was actually helping, because then Beiro’s body came sliding the stairs as well. After being knocked over again, I saw Melech now face to face with this creature and looking rather panicked. He turned to me “We are RETREATING after this” and put his fist through the mirror. The shards scattered out into the air around the globular creature and, spinning in place, started slashing into its form. Melech turned tail and pushed past me down the stairs, leaving me alone face to face with this…thing. It looked like it had already taken a lot of abuse, but it had already felled two of my companions and I wasn’t at my best either. Gritting my teeth, I pulled out my dagger and stabbed it straight in the middle its form. It started to crystallize around the blade and as the rest of the creature hardened, I swung the rapier around into the side of the tree, smashing it and sending chunks of crystalized sap skittering down the stairs.

I came down to find Melech trying to shake the others awake. “We need to move, let’s get out of the maze and try again tomorrow”. Frustratedly, I agreed. The thread would mean we should be able to get back to the middle again quickly and camping here wouldn’t give us much rest. I expended the last of my musical energy in waking Beiro and Baldwin from unconsciousness and we all started hurrying back out of the labyrinth.

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Baldwin Rumwald's Notes [18] - Saping Hell

We continue deeper into the maze. I hear some rustling and weird clicking noises. It sounded like it was coming from the hedge of the maze. I had a quick look around for it. The others said they hadn’t heard or seen anything. We continued at a more cautious pace further into the maze.

Some time later, the others stop. It seems they have spotted something. Melech informs us it is a Child of the Briar. I use the crown to speak Sylvan and try persuade it to speak to us.

We eventually entice it to speak to us by offering it a trade. It will guide us to the centre of the maze in exchange for the copper chalice we previously found and some of Beiro’s blood.

We follow it to the centre of the maze leaving a trail of string behind us. It stops suddenly and informs us that around the corner is a clearing where the dryad can be found. It takes some of Beriro’s blood but didn’t really provide us much information in return for it. I guess we didn’t really make a good deal. Wasn’t my blood though!

The Child of the Briar promptly leaves and I take a peek around the corner. There is indeed a clearing and in the centre what looks like a massive tree fashioned into a house. We cautiously enter the clearing.

The dryad approaches us threatening to kill us before firing magic missiles at Melech. Melech blocked these easily and the dryad retreated into the tree house. I enter the free house and continue up a spiral staircase that seemed to be hewn out of the trunk. The tree didn’t look in that good health.

Beiro follows me up the stairs with the others behind. So weird being of humanoid form forms in front of me. Seemingly from the tree sap. It attacks me landing heavy blows. I fail to focus and keep missing with my sword. The others were having more luck hitting it. One more set of blows and the next thing I know I am waking up at the bottom of the stairs.

Melech seems to think it wise to retreat!

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Amafey's Notes [17] - Bright Blights

From what we could see from the entranceway, passageways seemed to extend and lead off at random. It was a labyrinth. We quickly set about thinking up a strategy to avoid getting lost. Melech said that he had read a tale about a Minotaur in a labyrinth and a clever adventurer, when tasked with killing the Minotaur, had laid out a thread so that he did not get lost in said maze. Melech then volunteered up his hemp rope, which, although only 50 feet, was thick and made us of many strands. I spent the next hour or two unpicking it all, loosening the strands, then tying them back together end to end to make one long thread. Working with the rope for so long left my hands raw, but when I was finished we were left with the biggest ball of yarn I’d ever seen.

We entered the maze and took every left turn, doubling back on ourselves whenever we found a dead end. This approach meant we could cover the whole maze through our search to the centre. If we did end up going in a circle, we’d come across our own thread and could try something else.

Using this approach, we methodically made our way through the maze, but this wasn’t to be a mere wander. It wasn’t long before we rounded a corner to find some sort of creature extracting itself from the walls. Humanoid in shape, but composed entirely of wreathing vines. Another appeared on the other side of the path as well. “Interlopers, begone from this place” A voice said, echoing around the woods with no discernable source, likely the dryad in some form or another. Taking a deep breath, I announced “You have been corrupted, the unicorn protector of the Fey woods has said that you must, unfortunately, be excised.” No response. Then the vine monsters attacked. Melech started roasting them and Beiro hacked away, but the creatures reached out and one of them entangled Beiro in its vines. There was a yelp from behind, as Baldwin yelled “There’s more of them!” Grabbing one of the daggers I got from Smordin, I lashed out at the vines constricting Beiro and, surprised at my own dexterity, managed to cut him free without harming him. I shouted back to Baldwin “You’ve got our back, right?”

With a couple more attacks and spells, I could see Beiro and Melech had the situation under control with the creatures in front of us, so I spun around and threw the dagger I was holding into one of the two that Baldwin was fighting off behind us. It disappeared right into the chest of the viney mess, leaving nothing but an entry point. It then lashed out in anger at Baldwin, who had already been tangled a few times, and felled him.

I started to panic, the ones behind were bearing down on our now-open flank. I started to play my healing song, hoping it would be enough to raise Baldwin once more and as I played I could see him awakening “Come on Baldwin, you can do it, you’ve got these guys.” Baldwin staggered to his feet and lunged forwards, cleaving one of the creatures in two. Beiro rushed by giving backup now the danger at the front was gone and I whipped out my bow to fire an arrow at the other, the one I’d already hit. At short range it went straight into the hole the dagger had made before and with a gurgle the creature fell, the vines scattering across the ground.

“I think those were blights” Melech said, panting “just another sign of the corruption. I’m worried there’ll be more but, I think we need to take a rest”. So we did. It was an uneasy rest. Now that we were deep in the maze and had seen enemies come straight out of the wall, we couldn’t be sure we were safe. The sounds that filled the air were that of creaking wood, great boughs swaying in an eerily absent wind. Despite our concerns, we were able to take a bit of time to recover and started up once again

As we continued through the maze, I heard a very faint cry. “Help!” It said, in a thin weakened voice. “Hello!” I called out in Sylvan , “Where are you, how can we help you?” The same voice just came back again “Help!”. There was a corner up ahead, from which the sound seemed to be coming. We approached cautiously, wary of more trickery. The corner led to a hairpin, which led to a dead end, but sat on the ground at the dead end was a bush made of briar, from which the cry’s were emanating. On closer inspection it wasn’t a bush but a small cage, crafted from the same kind of briars present in the walls. Inside the cage was a pixie, much like the one we had ran into on our first trip into the Fey woods. It looked in incredible pain and torn to shreds by the briars, but was still alive.

Seeing it’s distress, I took out my dagger and started cutting away at the little briar bars, taking care not to tear my own hands up on the thorns. Unlike the walls we’d encountered, the bars on the cage came apart after just a little bit of knife work and it wasn’t long before I had cut most of them open.

I freed the pixie, but it continued to lay there motionless. Playing a song, I tried to coax it back to life. Bizarrely, it felt like it was trying to resist being healed, as though it didn’t want to recover. Despite this, I could see the song helping and some of the pixie’s cuts healing over. This only served to worsen its distress though and, all of a sudden there was a flash of pixie dust and it was gone. I whipped around, trying to see where it had disappeared to, but turned to find Beiro, eyes glazed over, swinging his sword towards me. I screamed out “Beiro, no! It’s me!” But to no effect. A white hot pain pierced my side as the sword sliced through. At that point, Wincing through the pain, I heard Baldwin project “Fey friend, stop” in Sylvan from around the corner.

Beiro came to his senses, but looked as confused as ever. Seeing me on the ground, he helped me to my feet. “What hurt you? Was it that fairy?” He asked. “Technically it was you” I said grumpily. “Oh” Beiro responded, then walked away. I steadied myself, then came around the corner to where Baldwin had been waiting. I saw him there, with the Fey Friend crown on show and the pixie a handful of feet away just staring at it. “Come here” Baldwin commanded “we’d like to know what you were doing here”. The pixie looked conflicted, wanting to flee but being held by some sort of power from the crown. It drifted slowly towards Baldwin and started speaking in a very jittery voice “I…err…the dryad, protector of all, commanded it, I was to…stay here, in that cage, yes”

“The unicorn sent us, we’ve come to deal with the corrupted dryad” Baldwin said, speaking very authoritatively. The pixie looked aghast and started to panic again, incredibly conflicted. “Look” I said, softly “We don’t want to harm the dryad if we don’t need to. Can you think of any other way that we can deal with the corruption?”. The pixie continued to fret and looked to be thinking very fast, but eventually slumped its shoulders and gave a very resigned shake of the head.
“I think you should get out of here” Baldwin suggested “it’s not safe for you here. If you get clear of the corruption you might feel better.” The pixie looked confused. “Out of here?” It squeeked “but how?” “We have a rope,” Baldwin said “follow it and you’ll find your way out.” The pixie looked down at the thread we had laid, fluttered down to the floor and held it. “Ok” it said quietly “follow the rope” and putting one hand over the other, it started to tread away, straight down a passageway we knew was a dead end, where the rope doubled back. “No, no, no!” Baldwin called out “That’s a dead end, you can follow the other rope now”. The fairy looked at the rope to its side, back at the one in its hand and shivered. “Nooooo” it moaned and carried on down the rope it was on. I put my hand on Baldwin’s shoulder “Leave her” I said “I think keeping it simple is the way to go”

Content there was some chance the pixie might succeed, we set off again, although I started to worry about the gash on my side

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Baldwin Rumwald's Notes [17] - Into the Maze

We entered into the maze and followed a strategy of turning left at each junction. Amafey and Melech insisted this was guaranteed to get us to the middle. Not wishing to get lost we split a rope to make a large ball of string. We would mark our route with it.

After sometime in the maze I heard a noise behind me. Two weird vein beings attacked me. They kept grabbing me and preventing me from attacking. It seemed the others were busy fighting something else. I managed to hit it a few times but it refused to go down. It managed to land a heavy blow on me, downing me.

I woke a short time later. It seemed I had been knocked out and the others were finsing off the vein beings. After the battle Melech informed us that they were blights.

We continue into the maze and came to a deadend. There was a pixie stuck in some kind of cage. I stood guard while the others attempted to free and help it. A short while later I heard a commotion and a the pixie comes flying past. I was wearing the crown so shouted out in Sylvan and managed to convince it to come back.

It sits on my shoulder and we learn from it the dryad is here and as we expected been corrupted. I tell it that it should leave and can find the way out by following the string we had marked our route with. It leave and we discussed what to do next. We come to the agreement that we should continue deeper into the maze.

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Baldwin Rumwald's Notes [16] - Kick in the shins

We continued north at a slow pace. After a few hours Beiro stopped and informed us there was a clearing up ahead. I began to argue with Melech about what our approach should be but Amafey told us to be quite.

Approaching the clearing there were several orc corpses and a fallen tree. The tree was weird looking and maybe capable of walking. It was probably what killed the orcs.

Suddenly I heard heavy stomping heading in our direction. The others fled from the clearing back into the woods. Bloody cowards… Especially Beiro, isn’t he supposed to be able to fight?

Into the clearing came a short humanoid with huge boots and a red hat. He threatened to cut me down, I doubt it! While I did get knocked down, only temporarily, by a dishonorable kick to the shins, I was soon up fighting again and the red hatted midget was soon dead.

It seemed that another one of them had entered the clearing. With assistance from spells cast by both Amafey and Melech, Beiro and I made short work of him as well.

We discussed what to do next before deciding to camp for the night further back in the woods. Before leaving though Beiro and I decided to take one of the pair of boots. Melech objected to it but we were carrying them so what could he do…

Melech and I setup camp while Amafey and Beiro headed into the woods to forage and collect firewood. When I went to look in my bag however something was off. My mess kit was gone! Melech checked his bag and found that his ink had been split all over it. Seems the Fey were up to their usual pointless tricks.

Amafey and Beiro returned and we informed them about the happenings. It was decided I should call out in Sylvan and try deal with the situation. So I did and there was a sudden blue flash before I was slapped across the face! Giggling followed and what ever it was fled back into the woods. I wasn’t amused, now having nothing to eat my dinner from. Amafey played some music and sang in Sylvan. Presumably to try attract the Fey again. It was a good performance but I was glad it didn’t work as I was in no mood for more of the Fey’s tomfoolery.

We turned in for the night with Amafey taking the first watch. I was awaken a short time into my sleep by some sort of commotion. Going outside Amafey was looking rather perturbed. Amafey informed us that the Satyrs from before and come to the camp and maybe tried to abduct her. At this point I was rather tired and was pondering if Amafey’s abduction might have been the preferable outcome. Trying to shake such ideas from my head I mumbled something about being more careful before going back off to bed.

The next day we continued north, the thorns were growing even thicker and made for slow progress. After some hours we hit what looked like a thorn wall. There were orc corpses stuck in it at points. We followed the wall before coming to an opening. An archway of kinds into what looked like a maze.

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Amafey's Notes [16] - Briar and Pain

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…

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Amafey's Notes [15] - Chasing Bars

As we approached Westpine, we saw the woodcutter who would had borrowed the cart from, but when he saw us he glared back briefly, turned and went inside. Similarly, children playing were scooped up by their parents and taken inside. By the time we reached the square, no-one was to be seen and a deathly quiet had swept over Westpine

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this” I muttered quietly. “Might be because we’ve got the ex-bandits with us” Baldwin suggested, “maybe we should go to the tavern, see if anyone’s there and work out what to do next…”. Checking the tavern, it still remained vacant, a layer of dust beginning to settle on the various surfaces. We gathered in the bar, whilst Baldwin found a mug and poured himself some ale from one of the taps. “I think I should go out and announce Old Mother Basket’s death, although I’d appreciate the back up in case things go horribly wrong.” I looked over at Baldwin, he obviously wasn’t bothered about going anywhere, feet up, quaffing his drink. “I’ll come” Beiro piped up. “Yes, it’s probably best if I come too” Melech followed up. We left and set up in the square.

I took my ukulele out and strummed a large resonating chord “Villagers of Westpine, the hag has been…err…removed. You shall no longer have to worry about, umm, deals and … trickery”. I was struggling to find the words and was not evoking any response. I played myself a little song to psych myself up before trying again. I thought back to the first time I played in Westpine, another strong performance that must have brought out most of the village. I started playing some of the songs that had gone down well that night, to try and draw people out. As I played, I saw a child appear at the window of one of the houses, smiling at the sound of the music. I winked at them, shortly before they disappeared and the shutters slammed shut once more. Then, from another part of the village, we heard a yell. “Begone servants of Mother Basket, you bring nothing but misery!”. This was an in, at least “We are sorry for any misfortune we’ve caused to your village, but Old Mother Basket is dead. We have killed her. She manipulated us too but was a curse upon the forest and we have removed her”.

The front door of a house on the other side of the river slowly creaked open. A man in his mid-40s or so cautiously poked his head around the door “Is it true? Is she gone?” He asked, with a slight crack to his voice. “Yes! I implore you to believe us! We, unfortunately, have little proof, but I can recount what has happened”, I responded. The man looked deep in thought for a moment, then nodded, “OK, I believe you, come inside and let’s hear what you have to say” and beckoned the three of us over to his house and inside. It was a simple abode, but a little larger than any of the houses in the village. “Are you the leader around here, say, the village elder?” I asked. He chuckled “How old do you think I am? I don’t know about elder, but…yes, people tend to come to me if they have any concerns. My name is Arthur”. “My name is Amafey Craftwolf and these are my companions,” I said, gesturing to the others “My name is Melech” “Beiro”. “Pleased to meet you” Arthur responded, “Now, you were going to tell me about what happened to Old Mother Basket and your part in the disappearance of Warwick and his wife?” “Warwick?” I responded, surprised that Arthur knew about the demise of our hireling. “That was the name of the owner of the now abandoned tavern,” Arthur said woefully. “Ah, that is an … unfortunate coincidence. “ I said, quite surprised at the fact. Arthur leaned his head quizzically “How so?” “Well, let me explain everything”. I then told the stories of our adventures, as chronicled so far in these pages. I didn’t leave out any details, much to the protest of Melech and he and Beiro left half an hour into my storytelling.

“Well, you certainly are a good storyteller,” Arthur said cheerily as I finished the story a couple of hours later. I blushed a bit “It’s kind of my thing” I said quietly. Arthur stood up, beaming “Well if you’re to be believed, the village owes you a great debt if there’s anything we can do to repay you just let me know.” “There is one thing,” I said slowly, ready to put my previous plan into action “The hirelings that have been with us. I think their Warwick dying has told us all that things might be getting too dangerous for them. I was hoping that, well, they might be able to take over the empty tavern?” Arthur tilted his head up, thinking, “you mentioned they used to be bandits, yes?” I gulped, maybe I should’ve spared some details of the story “Yes, but I believe they were victims of circumstance. They’ve been nothing but helpful and trustworthy since joining us” Arthur nodded sagely “Yes, ok, maybe they would be a good fit to get the tavern up and running again”.

At this point, a bugle sounded from the centre of the village. I started up, worried about any incoming danger. “Is that a village signal of some kind?” I asked. Arthur shook his head quickly “not one of ours”. We peaked cautiously out of the window. There, in the middle of the square, was a knight, wearing the colours of Steward Dreven. He was holding up a sheet of parchment and at that moment began to read from it. “Citizens of Westpine, the steward requires your assistance. If you are capable, you are to arm yourselves and report to Springgate. Norcragden has fallen and the orcs threaten are bearing down on own civilised towns. Any militia assembled at Springgate to repel them will be remunerated appropriately.” He put down the scroll, turned his horse and headed back along the road at a gallop.

“That’s…worrying, we’ll need to work out where our little group stands on this,” I said, turning back to Arthur. Arthur nodded, “I do imagine we’ll need to have a village meeting about this, I’ll arrange something within the next couple of hours”. I bid Arthur farewell for now and headed back to the tavern. “Ah, Amafey” I heard as I entered the tavern. Melech was leaning back on a stool, next to Baldwin and Beiro, all sat a separate from the hirelings, “we were just waiting on you before deciding what to do next. I presume you saw and heard the announcement too?” “I did, also, Baldwin, you’re going to have to pay the hirelings for that beer, I got them the tavern” All of the hirelings did a double take, clearly surprised my little plan had worked. “What beer?” Baldwin said as he tossed the mug back onto the bar with a clatter.

Turning back to the matter at hand “So what was the plan?” I asked the others, who’d already had a little time to discuss. Beiro grinned, “I think we should go and kill some orcs” Beiro doesn’t like orcs much. Baldwin shrugged, “I think we should go back to Coombesgate, but I don’t want to get involved in this war.” They were clearly leaning towards being done with the forest. “Well, we still need to deal with the Dryad, I don’t want to leave the job half-finished, the village could still be under threat” I countered, trying to convince them to finish the job “We killed Old Mother Basket, they’ll be fine, unless they get invaded by orcs of course” Baldwin countered. Melech raised a finger “actually, I’m with Amafey on this. We’ve got much to learn about the forest and we’re not exactly front line soldiers if we did end up in a warzone”. “Speak for yourself” quipped Beiro.
Then I had an idea. “Hang on, Baldwin, have you got a map of the barony?” He shook his head, “No, but…I might be able to sketch something in the dirt?” We headed outside. A few villagers were now milling around but were now fervently discussing the mounted visitor to pay us much heed. Baldwin started sketching out a few locations “So, we’re here, in the West. The dryad is somewhere north of us, Coombesgate is to the east and Springgate is north of that.” I started pointing north of Westpine. “Let’s say we deal with the dryad. We don’t need to stick to the roads, do we? We could cut cross-country, eastwards, and see if we could catch the orcs from behind. If we could take out this supposed war chief of theirs, the army would suffer and we’d be hailed as heroes.” “That…might actually work,” Melech said thoughtfully. I turned to Baldwin, “What do you think?”. Baldwin shook his head “I still don’t want to get involved, I think we should head south, get out of the way”. Melech rounded on him “There’s every chance that these orcs could reach Coombesgate and tear everything up there. Do you think they’ll stop?” He was getting agitated. Not flaming eyes, shaking ground agitated, but still clearly miffed at Baldwin’s current attitude “This is a good chance to get the better of them. You saw how idiotic Dreven’s men were back at Coombesgate. If they’re even slowing the orc army down, our efforts should have a profound effect, especially if we can get the jump on them.” Baldwin sighed, “fine, let’s get moving then”. I looked over at Beiro, who was staring at the map on the ground. “Sound good to you, Beiro?” I asked “Err… yep!” He said, looking back up. There were orcs in the plan, that was good. We headed back inside to gather our things, say goodbye to the hirelings and set off.

I approached Neddie with the coin purse I had for the party and started counting out silver and gold from it. “So, I guess as we’re saying goodbye, we should pay you. 5 days for 5 of you at 3 silver pieces a day would be 75 silver, or 7 and a half gold”. Melech cleared his throat “there are four of them” he said pointedly. “Well, I thought it was only fair to give them Warwick’s share between them” Melech wasn’t having it “This is the party funds and I’m saying no, they’re already getting a tavern out of this.” I looked at Baldwin “I’d rather not give them anything, but whatever.” I sighed and handed over 4 gold and 20 silver. Then, as the others started to leave, I took Neddie to one side. I rummaged in my coin purse and produced twenty gold coins. I handed them to him “This is from my own funds, I want you to have a good start at the tavern. You’ve been a great help to us and I’m so sorry about what happened to Warwick. Neddie pushed my hand back “No, you shouldn’t it’s fine. We’ll be fine. You really shouldn’t”. He’d changed, a week ago he would’ve scooped that in an instant, yet here he was, refusing several weeks worth of washes. I opened his hand and deposited the coins inside. “I insist. Get the tavern up and running again and we’ll all come back for a drink sometime. Tell you what, consider this a request to make sure the village stays standing too, ok?” “Err…yeah, ok, sure” he grinned weakly. They probably wouldn’t last that long if the orcs got this far…

Melech cleared his throat again loudly from the doorway. I quickly scooped up the rest of my things. “Right, I…errr… best be off” I stuttered, realising Melech probably saw all that anyway. Neddie offered his hand and I shook it, followed by Kia hurrying over and giving me a big hug. As I left, silent Gregory gave me a nod and One-eyed Dennis…winked, I think. The tavern should be fine in their hands, right?

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Baldwin Rumwald's Notes [15] - Back in Westpine

We headed back to Westpine and entered the tavern. The back door was still unlocked. Having had enough of all the messing around I just settled down for a few pints of ale. Amafey, Beiro and Melech headed out into the village to locate the village elder or something like that.

The bandits stayed behind and drank as well, looking rather dejected. I left them alone. I hope to soon be rid of them. After a while Beiro and Melech returned to tavern and joined in he drinking. Amafey was with the village elder telling him of our defeat of the hag.

Some while later we heard a commotion outside. A man on a horse wearing the barron’s colours had arrived. He began shouting out a message about the Orcs having taken Norcragden and that the villagers should prepare. Old news to us.

He left as quickly as he had come and I returned to the tavern. It seemed Amafey had finished telling our story to the village elder. The elder had agreed to Amafey’s plan of giving the tavern to the bandits.

We discussed what to do next. I had wanted to return to Coombesgate. The hag had been killed after all and there wasn’t anything left to be gained here. However the others insisted that we stay and deal the corruptions. I was about ready to split from them but Amafey promised there might be some gold in it for me. Never wanting to miss the opportunity to earn some easy coin I agreed to stay with them awhile longer.

We headed back into the forest and headed north in search of the dryad.

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Amafey's Notes [14] - A little death around the pie

After catching our breath following the frantic battle, calm returned to the clearing. I thanked the hirelings for their help, particularly against the tree, their assault had probably saved my life. The others had started looking for anything of interest in the house and I warned the hirelings to wait outside while we cleared anything dangerous from inside. As it turns out, there was very little of interest inside the house. All of us searched thoroughly, under and in every nook and cranny and didn’t turn up anything of much use. Even using my song which resonates with any sources of magic picked very little up, except the house itself and a pie on the windowsill. I did a small loop outside the house and didn’t find anything unusual there either, except some recently upturned earth, perhaps a couple of days old.

Checking the walls inside and out did not lead to any clues as to how the roaming cottage functioned and it seemed rooted in place where it was at the moment. Baldwin suggested maybe it was just a perception thing, making you think you were somewhere you weren’t. Now that Old Mother Basket was dead, we weren’t likely to find out and it wasn’t going to go walking off on its own. As for the pie, something was very suspicious about it and my curiosity kept bringing me back to it. I considered using the identify scroll but remembered what Melech had said before about the fact it might struggle with the hag magic. As it started to rain outside, I told the hirelings it was safe inside now, but to avoid the pie. Melech offered everyone a cup of tea and didn’t seem too shifty about it (not that the hirelings would know to suspect anything), so we all warmed ourselves inside as Baldwin started digging through the earth (we shared the same suspicions and he had been kind enough to volunteer to investigate).

After a little time inside, Baldwin reappeared from his digging, looking quite wet and muddy. “As I thought, it’s the innkeeper and his wife. They were missing their clothes, so I suspect old mother basket just kills them, then makes the scarecrows as warnings”. As he was explaining, I looked over and caught Neddie about to stick his finger in the pie. “Hey! What did I say about that? Stop it!” I called over. The hireling looked back at me a bit crestfallen, “Oh, it looks good though, could we at least have some rations, it must be well past lunchtime by now…” he said. Beiro stood up. “I will find some food” and marched out of the house. Baldwin watched him then turned around and said “I should probably go with him..” and followed Beiro out.

They reappeared about an hour later with, in addition to more than enough berries and plants to supplement our rations, the corpse of a chunky boar. Beiro looked very pleased with himself. I could see the hirelings with their mouths agape, both impressed and drooling slightly at the thought what it’s going to be like to eat. Unfortunately, it would still need a fair amount of preparation, so it wasn’t going to be a boaring lunch. We agreed to head back to the Fey Friend’s house for the evening and take a much-needed rest after having got Old Mother Basket off of our backs. I took one last look at the pie, but before I could decide what to do with it, Baldwin came over and hurled it out of the window. The contents scattered on the grass outside and it looked…pretty much like a normal meat pie. Still a mystery. Oh well, I definitely wasn’t going to eat it now.

As we started travelling back, the slightly smouldering tree waymarked our previous battleground. There was no sign of the tin soldiers. It dawned on me that I never saw the body of the first one that Baldwin and Beiro had slain and had been much more concerned about chasing after Old Mother Basket to see what happened when I slew the second. It was possible the enchantment was gone and they’d returned to normal and I started searching in the tall grass. Maybe they were not lost to me after all! After explaining my thinking, the others started searching too, but we were searching for some time with no luck. I started to get a bit frantic, they must be here somewhere! They’re the only thing I’ve got left of my mother’s. Absent-mindedly I strummed at my ukulele, slowly forming words about our epic battle with the tin soldiers. I’d just gotten halfway through the second verse when Melech called out from 5 feet to my right. “I’ve found them!”. He handed them over, but as he did so, I grabbed his arm and pulled him down to give him a peck on the cheek. He looked perturbed, although he might have been going bright red for all I know. “Thank you Melech” I said, relieved. I looked down at the soldiers and noticed that, in addition to being torn apart, one was warped and slightly melted and the other also had significant gashes in it (including a big hole in its chest). These will indeed make for a good story. Our search concluded, we continued onwards to the mansion and arrived without further incident.

Back at the mansion, I poured another round from the dwarven ale keg and passed it around to everyone. Baldwin started carving up the boar and made particularly short work of it. It wasn’t long before we had a roast boar and mushroom (they seemed to grow in abundance around the house) stew ready for dinner, with the rest of the boar stripped and cooked for cold meats the next day. For the rest of the evening, we drank, were merry and exchanged stories. That is, except Melech, who sequestered himself to read in some quiet corner of the mansion.

As the next dawn broke and the morning mist slowly lifted, we met up in the front room to discuss our next moves. “As much as it pains me to say it, we need to sort that dryad out” I pointed out. “We also need to check to see whether those scarecrows are still there” Melech suggested, as we worked through our ‘to-do’ list. Baldwin then spoke up “That’s on the way back to Westpine, we should tell them they don’t have anything to fear from Old Mother Basket anymore”. It was a sensible suggestion and it gave us a good starting point to venture deeper into the forest from, in our search of the dryad. All in agreement, we packed our things together, locked the door and headed back along the stream.

It wasn’t long before we reached the scarecrow’s spot on the river and there they were, still alive, still moving, still creepy. I laid out the plan, “Let’s set ourselves up to attack from range, they won’t be able to attack and even if they do start moving, then we should have an advantage”. Everyone nodded and we clustered in a line on the far edge of the river. “On my signal!” I called out and loosened an arrow right between the beady eyes of one of the scarecrows. Almost immediately, it unrooted itself and started hopping in our direction. Another volley of arrows followed, as the scarecrow’s partner also sucked itself out of the ground. They went for the middle of the group, I couldn’t quite see who for exactly, but their advance was short lived as I heard an incantation from Melech and a burst of fire. Even in the damp air, the straw burnt quickly and it only took a couple more knocks to finish the scarecrows off. A job well done, we marched on to the next pair.

We started our fight with the second pair in much the same way, with a similar effect. I remembered what Old Mother Basket had done, hurling insults to inflict damage, and I thought it was worth a try. As one of the scarecrows was bouncing towards us, I started singing:
“You could while away the hours
Conferrin’ with the flowers,
Consulting with the rain;
And your head you’d be a scratchin’
While your thoughts are busy hatchin’
If you only had a brain.”
As I finished, the scarecrow flinched and looked stunned for a moment. Success! I tried again, as others fired their arrows “Can’t you hear me? What’s wrong? Straw in your ears?” This time there was no reaction. It needs some work.

As this was going on, the scarecrows dived into the middle of our line again. I didn’t have a good view again, but as one of the scarecrows fell, I saw another body hit the floor. “Warwick!” I heard Neddie yell out and a vengeful flurry of arrows took out the remaining scarecrow. As it hit the floor, the other hirelings gathered around Warwick’s body on the floor. “Warwick, wake up!” Dennis was yelling, trying to shake him. I looked over his shoulder to see a massive gash in his chest, eyes wide open, but clearly not breathing anymore. “He’s dead!” Neddie spat. “I…I’m so sorry” I stammered, “I thought after…Old Mother Basket and….everything else, that this wouldn’t be that dangerous. We got careless, I’m so sorry. If you feel you want to part ways when we get to Westpine, I understand, we might be getting you too much over your head.” Neddie sighed “It’s probably best that we do, this adventuring lark is not for us.” “We’ll rest here for a while, I’ll leave you be while you mourn poor Warwick” I said quietly and let them be.

We rested for a time as the hirelings buried Warwick’s body and built a small cairn to mark it. Melech made some more tea, but this time a glint in his eye told me he was up to something. I felt like I owed him after finding the soldiers and we were unlikely to see the hirelings much more again, so I walked over and whispered in his ear “just this once”. All of the hirelings were really starting to like tea and they slowly drunk, all holding their mugs staring into space. As we slowly got ready to move off again, I approached Neddie with an idea, “I know if you’re not travelling with us you’ll need some way to make a living and you don’t want to be going back into banditry, especially not with us around.” I winked “The tavern in Westpine will be in need of a new owner, we can talk to the people there and see if we can set you guys up running it?” Neddie pondered it for a moment “Well, maybe, but it’s not exactly something we’ve done before”. I patted him on the shoulder “I’ll see what we can do”. How hard could it be to run a tavern?

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Baldwin Rumwald's Notes [14] - Boar Feast and Scarecrows

I searched the hag’s house but found nothing of real interest or value, other than a suspicious looking pie. Outside we found what looked like a set of recently dug graves. I decided to dig out one of the graves to determine who was buried there. I was sad but not surprised to the body of the tavernkeeper. The other graves were likely his wife and other missing villagers.

I returned to the cottage to find Amafey and Melech still busy investigating its contents. Beiro and I decided to set out for a hunt. It would pass the time and help restock our rations. After a while we came across a boar and easily took it down. We returned triumphantly with it to the cottage.

By this time Amafey and Melech had finished what ever they were doing and after some discussion we decided to return the fey friend’s house. Amafey however kept bringing up the damn pie, like it was something important. I certainly wasn’t going to eat that. Not wanting to waste more time at the cottage, I picked up the pie and throw it out the window. That was that and we set off back to the house.

A short while into the journey Amafey insisted that we return to where we had killed the tin soldiers and attempt to find them. When we got to the location they could not immediately be seen. They must have shrunk back to their original size. We eventually found them after quite a bit of searching, a bit more damaged than before.

We arrived back the house and I set about butchering the boar and then roasting it. The evening was then spent eating, drinking and relaxing. The next morning we got up and came to an agreement that we should head back to Westpine.

On the way it was decided that we should kill the scarecrows to make sure they wound’t be a threat to anyone else. The first pair went down easily enough, though we discovered they could move. The second pair were equally easy to kill yet somehow one of the hirelings, Cheating Warwick, managed to get themselves killed…

We let the other hirelings bury him and discussed with them about the end of their service with us. About time really, I had never wanted to hire them in first place. One of Amafey’s crazy plans. She had a new one now! To give the bandits a new life as tavernkeepers, after all the old one was no more. I tried to object, stating that the Tavern wasn’t our to give, but no one was listening.

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