23rd Replanting, Morning. Raining lightly.
In the Adventuring Center, the crowd from the previous night was gone, replaced by Jo of Hilnden and Thelia the nymph. Thelia, unlike everyone else, was disturbed by this and demanded to know where she was and why. Cora tried to appease her, both with explanations and songs. After breakfast, we set off.
Over the next three days of travel, we passed two sets of regular Brandobian guards patrolling the road. We also passed an overgrown graveyard, and a small shrine to the Traveler. There were occasional soldiers on the road as well. When we saw a mangy old dog, Cora called him Gaspode and Brinn started patting his pockets for biscuits. He threw the dog a Whore Tittie. We also met a pickle merchant. Everyone was particularly excited about the pickle merchant. His name was Colman, and Luhluh bought some pickles.
Approaching the woods, a low-lying mist could be seen which seemed unnatural. Cora joined Luhluh at the head of the group, and asked the others to keep their weapons sheathed. The woods were lovely, in ways enhanced by the elves who live there. Soon, Luhluh thought she heard something. Suddenly, seven elves hit the ground right in front of us. Those who looked closely could trace them back to a fancy overhead rope system. All seven had flawless brown skin and were of indeterminate age. They wore leather armor, and were pointing shortbows at us. They questioned each member of the group, demanding that each answer for themselves rather than allowing Cora to explain. Brinn, Sir Didymus, and Zamaia gave brief answers (Zamaia’s in rhyme) stating that we were seeking to pass through the woods for trade purposes. Luhluh gave an adorable explanation of why trade is a thing.
More elves arrived, hanging back behind the first group. One, taller with blond hair, came straight to Cora with a hug and a friendly, even flirtatious, greeting. The previous speaker rolled his eyes behind the newcomer’s back. Cora introduced the new blond, Shifan, to the group (he seemed particularly keen on Zamaia). Shifan asked the elf who had been questioning us (Hurell) why he was giving us such a hard time. Without further talk Hurell lead the way deeper into the woods.
We climbed a rope to reach the village (leaving Racven and Trosk to care for the horses and wagon, and Faust to safeguard them from elves). The village consisted mostly of single-room dwellings with porches, connected by elevated walkways between the trees. All of the buildings appeared to be homes, no shops. There were many elves about, most wearing leather. Women who were not dressed in armor wore leather leaf-shaped shirts which exposed their shoulders and midriffs in the warm weather. From many of the houses music could be heard from lutes and other instruments. Sir Didymus was highly impressed by the elevated streets made entirely of bridges!
We were led to a large circular pavillion, adorned with simple furniture of wood. There was no fireplace, and the group realized there had been no sign of hearths or fires of any sort within the wooden village. Cora explained to the group that we would be making our case to the local Council of the Wood, a group of elders who do what governing is needed in the village.
We waited for long enough for most of the party to become bored. Sir Didymus wanted to explore the structure of the village; Cora advised him not to wander, so he examined the pathway just outside the pavillion, leaning over the edge to observe how it attached to the nearest trees. Wendell gathered information from the local bird community. The birds warned that the red mushrooms were poisonous. A rumor from sailors claimed that a hurricane was approaching the coast. And there was a mysterious sickness to the north.
Eventually the arrival of the Council was announced, and we stood as they entered. They wore cloaks in addition to the usual local dress, and their hair was brighter, in vivid autumn browns, reds, and oranges. They asked our intentions and Cora explained about the trade route. She asked their permission to pass through, as well as inviting them to be a part of the trade route, and tried to make it clear that we would not proceed without their approval. They told us that they would consider it and left without further instructions. Cora explained that we were free to move about the village, and that we would probably be given an answer in between 24 hours and 3 weeks.
Cora took the group to meet her grandmother, Philyra Larendin, and gave a tour of the village. There were no shops; instead the village operated on trade between individuals. To obtain something, you visit the home of the elf who makes the items you seek. There was a temple (although on the outside it looks the same as the houses), where the elves worshiped a handful of the gods: the Mother of the Elements, the Guardian, the Great Huntress, the Bear, and a few others from the Chaotic Good to True Neutral spectrum. There were also druids in the community. Luhluh asked about animals, and Cora explained that they do not keep pets, but some have animal companions or friends, particularly birds.
Some of the group stayed with Cora’s grandmother, others returned to the wagon to sleep. The elves brought out and shared food whenever it was time to eat without fuss, we were invited to join in. Meals consisted of flat bread topped with local produce, largely fruit preserves. There was a chilled fruit soup that confused Faust (the chilling was done by magic). There were smoked game meats, which Cora explained were smoked at a cave two miles away. There were wines and especially mead.
Zamaia flirted with (and then slept with) Shifan. Cora told tales of our adventures to whoever would listen, trying to build public goodwill toward our group. Brinn was soon bored. He traded some cheese for mead.
On the evening of the second day, we were sitting outside Philyra’s home. She is a tailor, and was working on mending a piece of leather armor. Suddenly, a creature appeared next to her! It looked like a cross between a small girl and a black rabbit. It laughed, grabbed the bit of leather, and jumped off the porch! Philyra rose and shouted “hey, give that back!” The creature was a pooka, a type of fey. They are not evil, but are troublemakers, and use poison. We all set off in pursuit!
Sir Didymus moved first, finding a trail through the bit of woods. Zamaia scurried ahead, crossing a stream on a log. Luhluh and Cora quickly caught up to her. The pooka was delayed by some slippery rocks. Brinn helped Sir Didymus cross the stream. Luhluh soon caught up with the pooka, who tossed her the stolen leather and disappeared. There was laughter, not just from wherever the pooka had gone but from the elves on the bridges above and behind us. Her thoughts catching up to her, Cora remembered (and explained) that pookas can fly and turn invisible. Luhluh shouted into the woods trying to make friends. She asked the pooka’s name, and heard a voice by her ear answer “Nitsy.”
Then we were called to hear the Council’s answer. They had decided to send us to the City, just to the north, to seek the approval of the larger Council there. We traveled for another two days, this time escorted by Shifan, Hurell, and two others, Dumar and Hanasila.
Most of the way to the city, we came across a large brown mound – a bear. The elves approached it, and shared a significant glance. It was dead, but with no visible injuries. Brinn tried to determine if the bear had eaten any red mushrooms; its breath smelled like fish.
The elven city was also accessed by rope. Cora made an extra effort not to embarrass herself climbing this one, and Sir Didymus took a couple of tries to manage it. The city looked much like the village only larger. On the ground below, however, there was one store/trading post/co-op, the only place in the woods which takes gold pieces. Our meeting with the city’s Council of the Wood went much like the one in the village, and we were once again told to wait for a decision.
In the town there were elves who make and will trade potions, writing supplies, books, and leather goods. The store stocked Boots and Cloaks of Elven Kind, as well as furs, nuts, maple syrup, and walnut oil. We traded our Hide from Animals and Stabilize potions for Cure Light Wounds, which we use rather more often. Zamaia was also interested in some alchemical items.
We were brought before the Council again; this time they were sitting at an imposing wooden table. They said that they found our request highly irregular, and they were not truly interested. However, they were willing to let us negotiate if we would first do them a service (making no promises that the negotiations would get us anywhere). We were of course interested! They told us that a human camp and mine had let evil out of the ground, causing the mysterious illness plaguing the animals. They did not wish to approach the site, so wanted us to go there and fix it. We were of course highly enthusiastic about taking on this task.
At dawn we were led by a new escort to the west, passing more fallen animals. Sir Didymus scanned for Evil constantly. After a few hours the elves pointed the way forward and we traveled on alone. Soon, we found a group of tents. Sir Didymus could not pick out Evil without being able to see the being directly. We decided that scouting was in order, so Cora turned herself and Luhluh invisible. Sneaking up to the edge of the camp, the two observed tents, mining equipment near a hole in a hillside, carts, a firepit with a bowl suspended above it, a strange table… and dead humans strewn everywhere. It was eerily quiet. They decided to go back to the group.
Before approaching, we brainstormed silent killers which might leave no marks. Most natural things would be eating the corpses. The undead mostly cause messy injuries, except for incorporeal beings. Those sorts of specters might kill by destroying the will to live or draining the victim’s constitution. Most arcane beings or effects would cause elemental damage (such a burns), but perhaps hypothermia or heat exhaustion might be less obvious. Perhaps there could be an artifact releasing some sort of energy?
We entered the camp, which consisted of both simple tents and fancy pavillion tents. The human bodies seemed to fall into two categories: those well dressed, and those clad in rags. Sir Didymus approached the nearest body, one in rags. There were no signs of injury, however he thought it had suffered dehydration and starvation. It had been dead about a week. Brinn looked at the remains of the campfire – it was cold, also about a week old, with a pot of spoiled food hanging over it. The campsite seemed very well stocked with food. Luhluh investigated the strange table, which was covered by a red and brown cloth. On it rested a fancy knife with a bone handle, a bowl stained with traces of red, a deep red cloth, and a black pin or brooch. Cora recognized the colors and the symbol on the pin – a mailed fist. It was an altar to the Overlord. And the well-dressed corpses appeared to be clerics.
Zamaia prepared to cast Speak With Dead upon one of the cleric corpses, but Cora asked her to wait until Sir Didymus looked at it. He confirmed that it had died in the same way as the slave had, then Zamaia cast her spell.
The cleric’s body answered that what he had been doing here was “following orders.” Those orders were to burrow into the hillside and enter “the sacred place” to steal “the item” that belonged to his master. When asked what he had encountered in the cave, he answered that there were many barriers to entrance and several creatures both natural and unnatural.
Cora began to Detect Magic, declaring an intent to slowly scan the whole camp starting with the altar. The bowl and the brooch were both magical.
Brinn entered the nearest pavillion tent. It seemed like a normal cleric’s tent with beds and supplies. But then he noticed an extra shadow. Brinn tried to swing at the shadow and all the empty air while looking like he hadn’t noticed anything. His sword struck nothing, but the shadow jumped up and lunged at him! Brinn shouted, “there is a mystery in here! It’s fighting me!”, asked the shadow, “what in Tellene are you?” and attacked. Sadly he fumbled, whacking his sword into his own shield.
Cora, who was standing closest to the tent (scanning it for magic) cast Haste on those nearby. Luhluh used the Rod’s White setting, and heard a voice in her head offering advice. When she asked what she should do about the thing attacking her friend, she was told “use as much magic as you can, and look behind you.” Turning around, she saw another shadow-thing just on the other side of the altar!
Wendell flew over and landed on Sir Didymus, who started glowing. Zamaia turned her tongue into an electric whip again, and scanned around herself for more of the things. Sir Didymus ran up to the shadow by the altar, and swung his longsword – which passed straight through the thing without seeming to hit anything.
All the shadows in the dim light around us solidified into more monsters! The one facing Brinn struck him, weakening him significantly. Brinn nonetheless struck at the shadow.
Cora cast Glitterdust on three of the nearby creatures, blinding them and covering them and their surroundings with glowing, sparkling dust. The she then took her magic shortsword to the one attacking Brinn, but missed badly.
Luhluh used the Rod on red, and received a bouquet of fake flowers. She also cracked a sunrod and shook it at the shadows to no effect. Zamaia whipped a shadow twice with her electric tongue. It seemed effective, but it was difficult to evaluate the shadow-thing’s condition. Sir Didymus channeled Positive Energy to throw damage at all but the most distant creatures! The one which Zamaia had been fighting faded away!
The shadows (except for the three blind ones) closed in on Cora, Sir Didymus, Zamaia, and Luhluh. The one in the tent hit Brinn again, leaving him feeling very weak. Cora just managed to dodge an attack, but Luhluh was hit and also weakened. Brinn struck back at his shadow, hitting it twice and leaving it flickering, then Cora finished it off! She wheeled and struck the one behind her as well.
Luhluh used the rod again, and this time, time stopped for everything but us! We had a few seconds to act without the creatures being able to respond. Brinn came out of the tent and placed himself beside two Shadows, hitting one of them. Cora also struck with her sword. Luhluh moved out of reach, and with the Rod dumped green paint on everyone. Zamaia moved about making good use of her magic tongue. Sir Didymus moved to a better spot and channeled positive energy again.
As time resumed, Zamaia caused another shadow to fade with her electric tongue. Then Sir Didymus’s Positive Energy took out all the rest!
Cora asked if Sir Didymus’s knowledge of the undead could identify the things. They were Shadow People, which kill by sapping strength until the victim cannot move. Hence the helpless people and animals had been left to die of dehydration. When a humanoid being is killed in this way, it becomes another Shadow.
Brinn, feeling weak, rested on the bed in the tent. Luhluh turned the Rod to its blue setting, and to our relief it helped! Cora took a closer look at the bowl and brooch on the altar, and determined that they held very powerful divination spells. Combining that with the corpse’s description of his orders, she hypothesized that these clerics may have been using these items to communicate with the Overlord himself. We agreed that it would be best to destroy these items, but we did not know how to do it. Simply throwing them in a fire did not seem like it would work.
After a short evaluation of our fitness to continue today, we headed into the tunnel the clerics had dug in the hillside. It soon opened into a finished chamber with some sort of seal in the floor. It seemed to be a door, but flush with the surface. In the corner was an elf, slumped in a pool of blood! He was alive, so Cora healed him. He woke up hungry and thirsty. When asked, he said that he had been gathering in the woods when he heard a snarling noise, then nothing. This was two days ago (well after the humans in the camp had been killed).
The seal in the floor of the chamber bore the same design found on Sir Didymus’s cloak, the symbol of the Knight of the Gods. It was also magic. As was the elf – there was a very strong conjuration aura on him. Cora asked him if he was usually magical, and he answered that he didn’t think so. He was hungry and wanted to go home; we gave him some food.
Luhluh found a secret door in the wall, one which was not magical. She opened it, and the tunnel behind was dark, leading a short way before being sealed by a cave-in. Everyone but Cora went in for a closer look, and Cora watched them intently from the entrance. Searching found nothing, and the collapse would be very difficult to clear. When we turned around again, the elf had vanished, puddle of blood and all. Cora realized to her dismay that no one had asked his name.
The seal in the floor was now glowing. Cora took a closer look, and realized that it was a magical lock, now open. She placed a hand on it and it opened.
“We should fill [the jar for XP rocks] with water and put a betta fish in it.” -Erica
“And then drop rocks on it?” – Kara
“We’ll give it a helmet.” – Meghan
“Quick, Brinn, walk around naked!” – Tommy, trying to distract Thelia
“I detect magic on the pickles.” -Erica
“They magically improve Trosk’s cooking.” -Kara
“They’re tweeting.” -Kara
“Wendell’s like ‘hey bros, what’s trending?’” -Mike
“Check the bear’s twitter, has he mentioned #RedMushroomsPoisonous?”
“They just make you drop dead and turn into a bear.” -Mike (this led to descriptions of a rash of kidnappings in which the only clue were dead bears found in the victims’ homes)
“Lookit the bard, doing damage with a weapon!” -Mike