Lands of Katagma

Baldwin Rumwald's Notes [21] - The Bounty

We stayed the night in the tree to recover from the fight. The next day we cut out way out of the maze with Beiro’s axes and made out way back to Westpine.

We arrived at Westpine without incident but as we approached we heard some kind of commotion from the main square. Amafey rushed ahead to intervene with Melech and Beiro following behind. I decided it was best not to get involved and so instead I headed to the tavern for a drink.

The ex-bandits were still running the tavern and happily served me a drink. I settled down to enjoy it passing the time with small talk.

Some time later Amafey headed into the tarvern and said they were leaving back to Coombesgate. It turned out the commotion had been about a half orc missionary the villagers had taken a disliking to. He would be travelling back to Coombesgates with us.

We learn from the half orc about events in the ongoing war and the fact there is now a bounty on the orc leader, Crack Throatsplitter. He also tried to preaches to us about some bloke called “him”. I wasn’t particularly interested in hearing about it though.

We arrived 2 days later at Coombesgate, after an uneventful journey. As it was dark at first the guards refused to let us in. I then remember the power of the crown I was wearing under my hood and used to charm one of the guards into letting us in.

Once in the town I noticed it was much busier than usual with what looked like refugees from the war. We headed to the tavern we stayed at before, the Fallow Sow. It turned out there was only one room left, but it would have to do.

I headed out sopping to replenish my supplies and get some better armour. I had been meaning to upgrade for a while and now had the coin. I also collected the long sword from Smordin who was still in town. It was indeed a fine blade.

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Amafey's Notes [21] - Him for the Weekend

We spent the rest of the day burying the gnome’s body and checking there wasn’t anything of interest we’d missed in the treehouse. The owl watched closely as Baldwin hauled the body to the bottom of the tree, but did not interrupt. Baldwin and Beiro dug two holes, as we decided to bury Amabilis as well, and laid the respective bodies to rest. “Let these be the final victims of the scourge that was Old Mother Basket,” I said solemnly.

“So, now we travel cross-country, see if we can get the jump on the orc army?” I suggested as our next move, following on from what I thought the plan had been. “You must be mad!” Baldwin chuckled “Much too dangerous.” Melech nodded “As much as I feel it would be beneficial for us to join the battle, we’re not going to take a army out on our own.” “There’s a sword waiting for me back at Coombesgate too” Baldwin piped up. I sighed “I suppose you’re right, we’ll miss our chance at this but I suppose it’s foolish to think we can take on a whole army, even with a tactical advantage or surprise attack”

We settled on spending the night in the middle of the maze, given we felt it should now be safe. By the morning, the owl was gone. The way back out of the maze itself was still covered, but the branches were a lot thinner than most of the briar walls of the maze and a few deft sweeps from Beiro’s axe cleared the way again. Our trip back to Westpine was uneventful, but as we approached Westpine itself, there appeared to be some commotion coming from the middle of the village. I dashed off to find out what was going on fearful of what I might find. There was a crowd containing what must’ve been most of the village shouting and yelling unintelligibly at something in the centre. I spied Arthur off to one side and headed over “What’s going on? What’s happening?” I asked, somewhat out of breath having dashed into the village. “There’s some half-orc that’s travelled into town, but with what’s going on to the North, everyone thinks he’s an Orcish spy.” Arthur seemed pretty neutral himself, not really believing this to be the case, but also unwilling to try and call off the mob.

I decided to try and get to the centre to get a better idea of the situation and see if I could help. I started trying to push my way into the crowd, but quickly found my way jostled out again, the crowd unwilling to part for me and not being strong enough to force my way in. At this point, Melech showed up. Obviously also keen to get into the centre, he rolled out his normal tricks, commanding the crowd to move aside with his booming voice while the ground shook. This was most effective and as the tides of people parted, I was shoved aside, quickly scrambling up to follow Melech through.

In the centre of the mob, by the well of the town, the half-orc was tied up to a post. He was clothed in a sort of clerical garb, a priest of some sort. “Lo there, half-orc, what’s your name and what brings you to Westpine?” Melech called out. “Err, it’s John and I’m here to spread the word of Him.” the half-orc replied, struggling a little bit to get comfortable against the bonds. “Who do you mean by ‘him’?” Melech asked quizzically. “Him, of course, have you not heard of his teachings?” Melech and I exchanged puzzled and slightly concerned looks. Thinking quickly, Melech grabbed a piece of paper and sketched out the symbols we’d seen on the orcs that we’d battled previously. “This wouldn’t happen to be his symbol, would it?” The half-orc looked shocked and disgusted. “No, that’s the symbol of Crack, the orc who has ravaged my hometown in recent weeks.” Melech and I both breathed a sigh of relief. The half-orc continued “Him talks about peaceful coexistence of humans and orcs, not of war!” Melech turned to me “Do you want to see if you can do something about this crowd?”

I hoisted myself onto the edge of the well and started to proclaim out to the crowd “This half-orc is not your enemy. If any of you wish to learn more about the teachings of Him, he will stay to give them, otherwise, we should let him leave town and be on his way.” Hearing my words, the crowd started grumbling but did indeed start to disperse. “As long as he’ll be leaving soon!” called out one villager. No-one hung around to hear the teachings. As people cleared, Beiro appeared. “Where’s Baldwin?” I asked, not seeing him around. “Oh, he went to the tavern” Beiro responded matter-of-factly. “We need to be heading off, do you guys mind staying here with John while I go get him? I’d like to say hello to our old bandit friends too.” Beiro and Melech both nodded and I headed off inside the newly renamed Warwick’s rest. Inside it was quiet, which was to be expected this early in the day and with most of the villagers on a recently finished witch hunt. Neddie the Knuckles was behind the bar and Kya, Dennis and Gregory were hanging about nearby. Baldwin was also sitting at the bar, halfway through a tankard of ale. “C’mon Baldwin, we’ve got to start heading to Coombesgate” I called out. Baldwin started to object “Can’t we stop so I can have a beer in peace for a little bit?” but I shut him down “Unfortunately not, we’ve got a half-orc in tow now that the villagers want rid of”. He grumbled but started to drain his tankard. “How’s business?” I asked, turning to Neddie. “Not too bad, the lack of trust didn’t stop the true regulars, to begin with, and now other folks in the village are starting to come around. It’s going about as well as it can in a little village in the middle of nowhere now.” Baldwin started to grab his stuff. “Well, we’d best be off,” I said “but we’ll be sure to come for a drink if we’re back at any point” “You’re welcome to stay whenever!” Neddie called out, as Baldwin and I left.

The trip back to Coombesgate was also uneventful. John extolled a few more of Him’s teachings on us and claimed that he would be able to talk Crack down from his warmongering. However, when pressed about this his voice trembled more and it seemed he didn’t think it would actually work or lacked the courage to try. He was a lot quieter after that. At camp on our night on the road, while munching on some rations (Beiro had been too tired to try and gather anything from the surroundings), I start thinking about my mother and where she might be in all of this chaos and whether she was even alive. The more I thought, the more it felt like I could reach out, that I could speak to her…

The next day we reached Coombesgate around about mid-afternoon. The gates seemed to be closed, however, which seemed unusual for earlier in the day. “Halt, what is your business in Coombesgate” one of the guards called out to us. Baldwin stepped up, but it didn’t look like he knew either of the guards this time. “We’re adventurers” he responded to the guard, “returning from our quests and we need to restock in town”. Another guard sauntered up “mmhmm”, Baldwin continued “Captain of the guard, Harvey Springstein, can vouch for us.” “Harvey’s a very busy man, he’s not got time to come and speak for a bunch of travelling minstrels,” the other guard said, eyeing me and my instruments. “We’ve been retrieving artifacts for Baron Ramsgate” I retorted. The first guard laughed “Ha! Pull the other one!” I was about to offer payment to grease the wheels of our interaction before I saw Baldwin’s eye glint and the crown glow slightly. “I think you’ll find we need to be on our way,” he said, rather forcefully. “Err…” the first guard stammered as though suddenly confused by something “Yes, of course, sorry about that” and let us all in.

We headed straight towards the Fallow Sow, hoping to get ourselves a convenient room for the night. As we travelled through the town, however, we noticed that things were a lot busier than they had been when we last left. A lot more people were present, with a lot of them clearly homeless on the streets. Beiro handed a copper coin to an old lady, but we mostly kept to ourselves trying to pick our way across town. In the Fallow Sow, Drebky seemed pleased to see me (although he almost forgot my name), but with the influx of refugees only had one room available and could only let us stay for half price if my nightly performance was to its usual standard. We agreed this would do and, after splitting some of our recent earnings up, went our separate ways to do a bit of shopping. I only had a little I wanted to do, picking up my own mess kit, as I had been needing to borrow one from others thus far. I did, however, also find a buyer for the Ivory comb we had found back at the abandoned hall, gaining 25 silver to split between us. After a bit of window shopping, I stumbled across a beautiful spyglass, but even with what felt like the vast sums of money we had accumulated on our adventuring, it was still out of my price range. It wasn’t long before I found myself back at the Fallow Sow to prepare for the evening’s performance.

My performance went particularly well, with a large crowd (even if most of them were there because they had nowhere else to be). I ended my set with a new technique I’d been trying out, casting an array of lights across the crowd which left people stunned at its beauty. It seemed as though everyone had a fantastic evening, being able to take people’s minds, at least for a little bit, away from the fear of the drums of impending war.

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Amafey's Notes [20] - Hello Darkness My Old Friend

We turned our attention back towards getting to the top of the tree, to gain a sample of the fungus required for the antidote. Given the strength that would be required to reach the top, Baldwin stepped up to try and, while not being able to see how he was actually doing, I played a motivational song in an attempt to boost his abilities. It seemed to have worked however as the rustling of branches made fast progress up the tree, stopping about 10 feet up.

Unfortunately, Amabilis’s soft voice then crept out from the top of the tree. “You know, it’s just a fungus. If you throw it all off the side of the tree, you’ll solve the problem”. I didn’t think Baldwin was this stupid, but Melech’s voice indicated other results. “What the hell are you doing? We need that!” He yelled. “Baldwin’s chucked the mushroom off the tree and now it’s surrounded by a bunch of little blights down there,” I heard him say to me. “Beiro and I need to get down there now. Stay here!” “But I can help get down …” I started to object, but the receding footfalls made it clear he’d already left.

About ten seconds later I heard Baldwin’s voice next to me. “Where did Melech and Beiro go?” He asked. “They’re headed to the base of the tree, but we need to move fast to get the mushroom.” I responded hurriedly, then after a pause “trust me” and I grabbed Baldwin and threw us both out of the tree. As we fell, I sang out my high B flat note again, slowing both of our falls.

“There’s a lot of them” Baldwin yelled, as I heard him loose an arrow in midair. I could hear the chittering getting louder and it seemed to be coming from all directions. Having a good frame of reference for the sounds, I met the ground cleanly and drew my rapier. Turning toward the nearest source of sound. I stabbed towards it but didn’t connect with anything, instead of taking a hail of thorns to my leg. I then realised in the darkness how perilous a decision this might’ve been and realised Baldwin was no longer beside me. Hearing Melech yelling from behind, I ran towards him, but not without taking another barrage of thorns from my invisible assailants.

I half-tripped over a root of the tree and had a thought. If I can get back to the entrance of the tree, I might be able to get away. I scrambled to the base of the tree and started following the trunk around. I quickly hit an inlet, the entrance! But no sooner had I hauled myself inside I tripped over something on the floor. Feeling about, it was a body. Calling out into nothingness, I shouted: “Is this one of ours?”. “It’s Melech!” came Baldwin’s voice suddenly as he rushed past me and up the stairs. “What’s up?” came another voice, Beiro, this time stopping before the heap of bodies on the floor I was contributing to. “Melech’s got a health potion in his satchel, can you get it for me?” I said frantically. I heard a rustling and then “Here!” as a vial was thrust into my hands. Knowing better than trying to explain why it might not be as easy for me to do this, I felt around until I found Melech’s face and tipped the health potion in. Luckily the blights did not seem to be interested in following Beiro into the tree.

With Melech back on his feet, the three of us proceeded up the stairway after Baldwin. We can’t have been much more than halfway up though when we heard a womanly scream falling down the side of the tree, followed by a soft crunch. The sound of laughter started to drift down, Baldwin’s it seemed, followed by a much heavier crunch near the base of the tree. A wave of relief suddenly spread over me, but, it didn’t seem to be my own. Instead, a sort of spirit washed over with a message of thanks. Thanks for freeing her from the curse. It was Amabilis and the deed was done.

With the treehouse now seemingly safe from any further assault, we took the opportunity to rest up and heal our wounds. To my relief, my sight came back after the rest and I started to feel healthy again. I stretched my legs out along the walkways and could now see down below the corpse of Amabilis with the other iron boot wedging her head firmly into the ground. It was clear that Baldwin had been able to push her out of the tree and followed up while she was on the ground.

We took a look at the other buildings that made up the treehouse complex that we hadn’t had the chance to look through before and happened across what appeared to be the bedroom. Rummaging through some of the drawers, I found a stash of coin, but there was a disgusted groan from behind as Baldwin made a significantly more gruesome discovery. Stitched to the underside of the rug he’d just looked under, there was the decomposing corpse of a gnome, quite possibly the druid who’d been making the notes that we’d found. There was a flash from above and through a large hole in the roof, an owl suddenly flew in and took a swipe at Baldwin, narrowly missing, and flew back up. It perched on the root, preparing to swoop in again, it’s eyes locked on Baldwin, but as Baldwin slowly put the rug back down, it relaxed.

It was at that point Beiro started hooting. The owl cocked it’s head all the way to one side and hooted back. The rest of us exchanged awkward glances, but after a while, it did actually seem like there were having a conversation. “We should bury him,” Beiro said abruptly. “The owl was his friend and would like to see that he’s put to rest”

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Baldwin Rumwald's Notes [20] - Gravity Kills

We discuss what to do next and decide I should climb the tree to look for a fungus that Melech said we needed to complete a some kind of cure for the tree. I climb the tree with no issues attaching a safety rope as I went. However as I approached the top I saw the Dryad. I attempted to use the crown to charm her but it seemed to have no effect. I finished climbing to the top and as I approached the dryad vanished into the tree again. I saw the fungus and was overcome with an urge to throw it off the tree.

After chunking it off I suddenly wondering why I had and Melech didn’t seem best pleased about it. I climb back down as Beiro and Melech made there way down the stairs. I reached Amafey and she grabbed me and moved to jump out of the tree. Hoping that she was thinking what I was thinking I let it happen. As I expected she slowed our fall using feather fall. On the way down I could see a vast amount of blights swarming around the tree. Not wanting to miss an opportunity I took out my bow a shot a blight before landing and taking out a few more with my sword.

I looked behind to see a large patch of fog over where I expected the fungus we needed to be. I moved towards the fog and entered it with intent to locate the fungus. The fog suddenly cleared revealing Beiro and Melech on the other side. Melech moved and picked up the fungus completing the potion before applying it to the tree.

I heard a shout from Amafey. I had forgotten about her and she was now surrounded by blights! I moved into attack them. We retreated back to the entrance of the tree taking a few hits from the blights on the way. Out the corner of my eye I see the dryad attack Beiro with a few magical darts as he fends off some blights.

I cut down a few blights blocking the entrance and enter the tree again. It seems Melech had been knocked unconscious. I decided the best course of action was to kill the dryad as quickly as possible and let Amafey help Melech.

I run up the stairs feeling a new surge of energy. I see the dryad ahead on the walk way. I charge her grabbing her. She struggles but I am stronger! I lift her and up and throw her out the tree. With a sickening crack she hits the ground. She looks to still be alive though, so following example I throw the other iron boot at her. It strikes her in the head as she tries to rise, shattering her skull! Definitely dead now.

A feeling or relief and thanks washes over me. Melech had been revived so we group back together before searching the other rooms. We find what looks like a body covered by a rug. As I lift the rug a huge owl swoops in and attacks me! I drop the rug and move back.

It turns out Beiro can talk to animals and it turns out the dead thing under the rug was its master. Through Beiro we come to an agreement to bury its master along with the dryad.

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Baldwin Rumwald's Notes [19] - Rotting Tree and Rotting Orcs

We retreated from the maze and a camped nearby for the night. Nothing eventful happened and the next day we entered the maze again. We followed the string we had previously used to mark our route, stopping just before the centre.

Beiro moved ahead into the clearing shouting out to the Dryad. She responded, promising this time we would die. No, I thought, it is you who is going to die. As the rest of us moved into the clearing the walls closed behind us. Well I guess we don’t have much choice but to kill her now.

Me and Beiro did a quick game of rock-paper-scissors to determine who would go first. I won so naturally I went first moving quickly up the stairs. I wanted to avoid fighting on them again.

I cam to a landing, shortly followed by the others. There was a walkway around the tree leading to a number of tree houses. I went across the walkway directly off the stairs and to the door of the nearest tree house. It was locked but didn’t look that sturdy. Thinking about it the walkway wasn’t in that good of a condition either. I kicked the door in and entered with my sword drawn.

In the room were strewn a load of papers and various bits of equipment. I began to have a quick search around before hearing a commotion outside. I quickly made my way back towards the door spotting the dryad on the walkway. Beiro was acting even more weirdly than usual and not fighting the dryad. I used my bow to fire off a couple of arrows at the dryad who seemed to be having difficulty fighting back. Melech was also attacking her with spells. I wasn’t sure what Amafey was up to.

All at once the dryad vanished again and I heard a massive crash from the other side of the tree. Beiro was uselessly blocking the way ahead so I made may way back past Melech around to the other side of the tree. There was now a load of spores in the air making it harder to breath and see.

It turned out Amafey had caused part of the walkway to collapse while trying to outflank the Dryad. She looked like she was trying to make her way up the collapsed walk way but was having trouble.

As it turned out the spores had had an averse affect on her and she couldn’t see any more. I helped her back around the walk way to the first tree house. There were less spores in there. Melech was in there rummaging through the papers and began informing us they might be useful.

Suddenly there was another bang and I leapt out the door to see some orcs coming out one of the other tree houses on to the walkway. Between us, excluding Amafey who was now useless, we made short work of the orcs. Melech even blasted a few of them out the tree with a wind spell.

I entered the room they had come from and began to search around. It was a kitchen area and off it was another room. In that room I found some writing on the wall in what looked like blood. I called out to the other and Melech soon arrived. Beiro soon arrived helping Amafey along.

As Amafey couldn’t see and none of the rest of us could read it Beiro and I decided to trace it for Amafey. It turned out it was Sylvan and she translated it for us. It was just seemed like a number of different proverbs and didn’t really mean much to me.

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Amafey's Notes [19] - Blinded by your Base

Mercifully, we were able to make a rapid exit from the labyrinth, following the thread we had laid down and with no other intrusions. We made camp a small way away and, although we were all very much on edge, the night passed without incident. In the morning, we all cautiously made our way back into the maze, again making much faster progress as we now knew the best route to follow.

As we came back towards the centre of the maze, I hung back at the final turn, peering around to see what we might face, but Beiro strode confidently out into the clearing. “Hello! We’re back!” he called out. “Interlopers!” a voice curled out from the top of the large tree in the clearing, “I had mercy before and let you leave with your lives, but you have squandered your chance and you will not be so lucky this time.” As Amabilis spoke, the briar walls behind us closed in, sealing our way out. The rest of us jumped forwards into the clearing. “Well, the only way is up, who’s going first?” I asked. Baldwin and Beiro played a quick game of boulder, parchment, shears, which Baldwin won, so he decided he was going first (I always thought it was the loser that would go first, but ok).

While we were trying to work out what order the rest of us were in and any other plans if we meet anything on the way up or at the top, a crunching sound started behind us. Turning, we could see two viney, briary creatures forming out of the walls that had closed up behind us. “Just GO!” I yelled, and without any further moment’s hesitation from anyone, we charged into the tree and up the carved staircase. We made such haste that had anything tried to come out of the wall this time, we would’ve already passed it by the time it could form and we soon found ourselves at the top of the staircase.

Laid out before us was a series of walkways hanging in the taller branches of the tree in a circle around the trunk and a single path out from the trunk’s staircase. Additionally, there were a series of treehouses, nestled amongst the leaves, making for a rather fine complex. However, parts of it were showing sign of either wear or rot and it wasn’t clear how much abuse the walkways would take before giving way. Fearless, Baldwin strode out towards the treehouse immediately in front of us and kicked the door down. Beiro was a bit more cautious. Concerned about his weight on the walkways, rummaged in his bag to take out the heavy iron boot he was still carrying around. He went to put it to one side, but then looking over the edge we could see the briar creatures hanging around at the bottom of the trunk. He dropped the boot off the side and after a brief moment, a sickening crunch indicated he’d scored a direct hit, smushing one of the creatures into the soft earth at the base of the tree.

The rest of us then cautiously made our way onto the gantry, fanning out and wary of any attack from Amabilis. Walking to the left around the walkways, I reached the next hour, cracked the door open. Peering in, I saw what appeared to be a kitchen, but also a handful of orcs, dead and wrapped in a multitude of vines, much like the ones we’d seen in the walls of the maze. What were they doing up here?! I carefully closed the door again at which point I started hearing voices through the trees, Amabilis had appeared! I started sprinting along the walkway in the opposite direction I’d come in an attempt to get a sneak attack from behind, but my haste shook the walkway free from its holdings in the tree. With a creak, the section I was on started to fall. In a combination of my childhood paranoia and quick reflexes, I sang out a high B flat and slowed my fall, coming to rest gently on the dislodged walkway about 15 to 20 feet down.

Unfortunately, while my own descent had been gentle, the sudden crashing of the walkway dislodged a whole host of spores from the tree, which quickly found their way into my eyes and throat. I was blinded and suddenly not feeling very well in general! On my hands and knees, I felt my way along the walkway, back towards the way I had come. It seemed to be still connected, although there was now a steep slope back up to where I had left the kitchen-ike building. The sounds of fighting on the other side of the tree had also stopped. “Amafey, what’s wrong with you?” I heard Baldwin’s voice say from just above me. “Those spores, I…I can’t see” I responded, coughing. “Hmm” Baldwin sighed and escorted me back to what I presume was the house he first went in. It sounded like everyone was present and Melech was quite excited by something.

“So, looking through these notes, it looks like someone was here trying to help the tree, a druid or something that thinks plants are better than humanoids and other creatures. They’ve concocted a potion or fertilizer or something that should cure the tree of the disease ailing it. The main ingredients it’s missing should be some fungus that’s growing somewhere at the crown of the tree” Melech explained. “The downside is that they say an kind old lady was helping them, which we would all probably suspect is you-know-who…”. “Worth a shot,” I say, “maybe they made a deal for the proper fix, but something went south”.

At that point, however, there was a crashing from outside, as though one of the doors of the other houses had been thrown open. “Orcs!” Baldwin yelled and the others all hurried out of the door. Blind and unable to help directly, I started trying to inspire the others in battle. “I may be blind, but I hope you find, the power inside, to kick these orcs’ hide!” I could do nothing more though than just listen to the battle raging outside. After about ten to fifteen seconds, it sounded like it was going well, so I ventured outside, bow and arrow drawn on the off-chance any obvious sounds to shoot made themselves known. Nothing was clear enough though, at least not without a strong chance of hitting a teammate, and the sounds of battle died down soon after.

“We need to get to the top of the tree” I suggested, “Anyone fancy trying to climb up? If you scream loud enough I should be able to catch you if you fall off.” “I’ll take a look” offered Melech, I think keen to try and find the closing results of the research notes. A few seconds passed, then I heard his voice in front of me again “No luck, I can’t see any way up”. “There’s some writing in here!” I heard Baldwin call out, from roughly the direction of the kitchen I found. “I can’t read it though, I’m not sure what language it’s in.” “I’ll come to look” Melech called over, “Beiro, stay here with Amafey,” he said to one side and marched off past me.

Above five minutes passed with no further disturbance. “It doesn’t sound like they’ve had any luck with the writing in there,” I said to Beiro, “can you take me over there?” and Beiro led me around the walkways into the other treehouse. “Guide my hand along the letters, I might be able to work it out” I suggested and felt my hand being taken and held to the wall, traced against a slightly sticky surface.”What was this written in?” I asked. “Blood,” said Baldwin gruffly. Ah, it would have been nice if I hadn’t had to touch this one, but needs must. As my hand passed over the letters, it started to come together. The letters were elven, yes, but the language was Sylvan and I was able to translate it. “It’s sylvan. I think I’ve got it” There was a huff from the corner of the room. “Well, I was preparing a spell to read it, but whatever” I heard Melech say grumpily. “Oh, sorry,” I said sheepishly, “I didn’t realise that’s what you were doing in here” Melech sighed “nevermind, I can save the spell for something else now. So what does it say?” “This first one is ‘Growing plants need blood’ and I think this over one says ‘A broken branch is a broken bone’”. Were these meant for us? More threats seemed unnecessary at this point…

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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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