Spending the night in an inn started as a novel experience, but grew old after the first night. Even after months of travel, my discomfort with beds, the pervading cold, the unpleasant smells and the Urdashie insistence on cooking meat, it was all preferable to being stumbled on at night by those who might mistake a Keshan for a monster. I had been trained to accept these annoyances and slights with equanimity as a first in the Far Hunt and I was sure these alien lands would challenge me with greater insult before long. Bitterwater’s Dancing Hill Giant Inn had been welcoming enough, and when I found the need to spend the night, the innkeeper and his wife had been more than willing to trade lodgings for stories and a fireplay. I used the hearth to spin the old story of Kerrar who eats children and how he was poisoned after eating a spoiled child. The flames were soothing and I felt satisfied with my simple children’s night tale. The audience was appreciative or perhaps they believed I would eat them as Kerrar ate children who misbehaved. I would not eat them. I am of the left claw of Bast.
Evil had been visited upon this sleepy town and apparently half its population had descended on this inn to eat, drink and gossip. After my performance, I was mostly left to myself and, despite the crowd, I had a table of my own. Even with the noise of a bustling great room, I was able to learn much by listening to others. Apparently the road West to the monastery was a dangerous one. Blighted giant insects and awakened plants had attacked several parties who travelled through the woods, day or night. Veltan farmers, who had themselves been overtaken with the blight, had been cured and returned to their homesteads. One, with a farm to the North, stood at the bar, commiserating with his neighbors. The dwarven miners, mostly from the Illfang Mines farther North, were organizing into a militia and the Mayor, a dwarf named Mongmolt, was entertaining a stream of concerned citizens at his home. One mention, of the crazy boy locked in his room, made no sense. Being locked in a room would, of course, drive one insane.
An enormous young half orc female in robes, who I would soon learn was named Rama, sat at an adjacent table. She spoke with a gnome and a halfling about visiting Tafeld on the morrow. I embraced the moment to set aside the flavorless, dry flesh that was the Inn’s specialty, and address them.
“If you would accept my company, I would be glad of your fellowship on the road to Tafeld.”
They seemed less intimidated by my appearance than the local farmers and, after a round of introductions and ale, I had what appeared to be a capable escort on this last leg of my journey. Rama, the half orc, was a wizard, and not a novice. She was heading to Tafeld to return something to the monastery. From her description it was an artifact that had cured the poison that had infected the Veltan. The halfling, Filibert, was a grey haired rogue who professed a desire to help the less fortunate, and there seemed many less-fortunate about these days. Prilys was a gnome cleric, but she seemed unforthcoming about her reasons for heading into such danger.
We left at first light and traveled past farms to hills and then entered a thick forest. These woods were as alien to me as their beds were. My home forests of Rathkil were alive with life, death and the sound of legions of prey. Here I could hear nothing but our progress. The trail was well kept, but we passed no other travelers and I began to feel we were completely alone in this desert of a forest.
Then a distant buzzing that was quickly becoming less distant.
“Winged insects approach!”
We dispersed to either side of the trail, hiding ourselves as best we were able and a giant dragonfly flitted toward us. It zig-zagged past, stopping four times before each of our hiding places and then moving on. There was but a moment of relief before a squadron of giant wasps followed the dragonfly that, it seemed, had indicated our positions perfectly. I was impressed at my companion’s readiness for battle. The wizard and the cleric peppered the insects with various deadly energies and the halfling rogue joined me in rushing the creatures. We felled one of the beasts then Filibert was stung by another. The giant wasp’s venom dropped him immediately and I leapt upon the creature in a rage, slashing at its wings.
The next I remembered, the cleric Prilys was kneeling over me with her hand over a wound on my side. Apparently I had fared as well as the halting and been stung. He had also been roused from the poison’s dark sleep by healing magic. As we gathered ourselves, we heard the buzzing of the giant dragonfly as it headed some distance over the trees, back the way it had come. My shame at being so easily incapacitated, burned within me and I released my anger into a bolt of fire which consumed the fragile winged creature. It spun to the forest floor smoldering.
Leaving the remains of our opponents where they fell, we continued West toward the monastery. Perhaps two hours passed when we heard the approach of many feet. Again we scattered to the sides of the path as if we had practiced the strategy and stealthily advanced. A hill giant’s carcass lay blocking the path and a cluster of giant ants were removing pincer sized hunks of giant meat and heading away from us. Even as four ants left, four more arrived continuing their gruesome disassembly. I could see Rama and Prilys trying to pass the ants and Filibert and I quietly did the same from our side. Our attempt at stealth ended with the snap of a branch under my foot and the ants were upon us.
Holy flame, acid, a blade and my less holy flame, reduced the ants to so much detritus. Our respite was brief as four more of the creatures attacked. During this struggle, I was sure I heard little voices arguing and after we dispatched the new ants, we could see several tiny winged creatures clustered in a tree.
“They can do it!”
“No they can’t!”
They seemed to be debating our worth, when darts shot from nowhere. Rama was having none of this and a wave of thunder erupted from her hands smashing the tree in front of her. A single winged creature appeared and dropped to the forest floor quiet dead.
“They’ve killed Pip!” voices called
Sparkling dust sifted down upon us. I watched as all of my companions fell to the ground snoring. A deep tiredness overcame me that burned away in rage. I bellowed and spun looking for a target, any target to vent my displeasure. I heard whispers and another wave of tiredness hit and my rage disappeared, replaced with a deep restful sleep.
“I knew they were good!” said the forest child sitting on my chest. Pixies and sprites sat on the grass, in the trees and on my companions.
“Will you help us? The forest has become ill, the spiders have gone mad, they are fouling more and more of our home.”
The forest child spoke quickly, as if one of their number hadn’t just been killed. Perhaps more time had passed than I realized and they judged us and moved on. Faerie justice is not Keshan.
Rama addressed the sprite which sat upon her. “What is the source of the infection?”
“A pool is at the center!The waters feed the infection!The spiders guard the water!The water makes them mad!” chirped the sprite sitting on Rama without taking a breath.
“Can Tafeld’s Crystal help?” I asked Rama. She shot me a glance, but the tiger was out of the pit.
“The crystal!The crystal!I knew you could help!I Knew you could help!The crystal can cure the pool!The pool can cure the spiders!The spiders will stop being nasty!” I really was impressed with the sprite’s tiny lungs. Her chirps blended into a single long chirp of urgency.
Oddly rested from the fey sleep we were forced to take, we prepared to assist the forest children. Ready to march as the sprites directed us, the tiny creatures dusted us all once again with sparkling powder. This time, instead of falling asleep we all began to float.
I was very uneasy with losing my footing, but didn’t have long to worry about it. We all began to accelerate up and over the trees, speeding towards the sprite’s blighted pool.
While the others adjusted to this odd form of travel, I found myself flying legs up and head inches from the treetops whipping by. After awhile, I noticed that the trees had become choked with webbing. Not too long after, the forest children lowered us through a gap in the webbing to the wooded floor.
“That way to the pool!” The lead sprite pointed North. “Fix the pool!”
The forest children flitted in all directions and I quickly lost sight of them all.
“I don’t think they will be helping us.” Prilys mused.
We advanced in our usual formation, Prilys and Rama to the left and Filibert and me to the right. We moved slowly, trying as we were to avoid the webs and remain silent. Ahead we heard splashing water, a small cascade fed a pool, but between us and the pool was dense webbing connecting a dozen trees.
Despite our best efforts we must have alerted the pool’s guardians, for two giant spiders rushed from the treetops toward us. We held nothing back in this fight. I brought forth a barrier of protection and leapt at the spiders, clawing with all of my savage heritage.
Spells splashed and Filibert’s well placed blade and my claws slashed into spider after spider, each felled beast replaced immediately by a new nestmate. A green flame had begun to glow from my claws and my control was tested moment to moment. I hoped to bring no shame to Keshans by killing any of my newfound comrades.
Five of the multi-legged creatures had been stilled when Filibert was felled by the spider’s venom. The cleric was fully engaged and it seemed the best way to help my fallen comrade was to make sure no spider could take advantage of his vulnerability.
Three more dead spiders and there was a moment of respite. The spider’s venom was one Rama had not encountered and she brought forth The Crystal of Tafeld. Letting one of the dead spiders drool venom across the crystal, the sickly green venom turned clear and Rama administered it to Filibert. His eyes fluttered and he sat up.
The crystal had lived up to its reputation.
Rama next stirred the crystal through the waters of the blighted pool and the water also became clear. A lightness seemed to settle on the clearing. The pixies and sprites gathered the waters into acorn buckets and began to fly in all directions.
“Thank you!Thank you!Thank you!” The last sprite smiled and headed away carrying the pool’s healing waters to the remaining illness in the forest.
Exhausted, we gathered ourselves and began to head towards the monastery.
Tafeld monastery is bound to be boring after such an eventful journey.