Old Blood in the Fey Forest
I was waken up by a household servant rushing in to my room to tell me that someone had broken into our forge. I quickly dressed up and went to investigate the scene only to find the forge completely messed up. Apparently the burglar had been looking for something – my quess would be the Mysterious Stone – but had not found it, as nothing seemed to be missing. It seemed that the burglar had not managed to break the door leading to our living quarters.
Leaving the servants to clean up the forge, I left to visit the Shamrock Inn and find out if anyone had seen anything. As I approached the Shamrock Inn, I saw that it was crowded by upset townsfolk discussing about a set of burglaries made into the monastery and the house of Hagen mac Blàr during last night. Preparations for the upcoming visit of Brianag magh Cairenn, the sister-in-law of the thane of Gilwrey, were still unfinished and people were worried that these events didn’t look good in the eyes of an important noble. I told the crowd that our family forge had also been broken into and asked if anyone had seen anything during the night. Unfortunately no-one had heard or seen anything.
At the inn I found Camil still eating his breakfast. He seemed so occupated on his meal that I decided to go search for Branden for assistance. Halfway to Branden’s family’s camp I met with him, as he was on his way to the inn. I told him all I had heard about the burglaries and asked him if he could check my family’s yard for tracks, but as soon as we turned back towards the town we were stopped by a peasant guiding a small hay cart down the road. The peasant seemed nervous, as he revealed a dead body he had picked on his way to town. He told us that he had found the body just a while ago from a ditch by the road. Upon closer inspection I recognised that the dead man was Airlys, and that he had been strangled to death probably during the night. I asked the peasant if he had seen anything strange during the night or knew anything of the burglaries, but he had not even yet heard the news. Uncertain of what to do next we decided to escort the peasant and the corpse to the guard’s house and report the burglary on my house.
We learned little from the captain of the guard’s, as he seemed to have his hands full with the burglaries. The sudden appearance of a dead body surely didn’t lighten him up. After they took the corpse of Airlys me and Branden returned to the inn. At the Inn I met with Grzegorz who had visited Hagen mac Blàr and questioned him of the burglary at his house, but apparently the old man had slept tight during the time his library had been entered. It had also seemed like nothing had been taken just like it had been in our workshop.
I decided to question Rooney mac Thòmais about the movements of some of the people I thought as suspects. I asked Rooney mac Thòmais whether he knew anything about Cadarn mac Istorn and his friends; who I thought to be the most suspicious characters in town. Rooney mac Thòmais, however, assured me that Cadarn mac Istorn and his friends had stayed at the inn the whole night. When I asked whether they were still in town, he told us that they had left to do some business, but were going to return to the inn later today.
After eating a breaf breakfast the whole buch of us left to visit our workshop, but Branden found little tracks or clues on the nature of these burglaries. We gathered in my room to plot our next move. Branden pointed out that it was strange that Rooney mac Thòmais was so sure that Cadarn mac Istorn had not left the inn during the night. Nevertheless, we decided to return to the inn and wait for Cadarn mac Istorn and find out, whether he or his friends had seen anything.
As we arrived to the inn, Rooney mac Thòmais told us that Cadarn mac Istorn and his friends had returned and that Cadarn mac Istorn had something he wished to tell me. I sat at the table and waited for Cadarn mac Istorn to arrive to the main hall and soon he did. Me and Camil sat besides each other as Cadarn mac Istorn sat infront of us with his two friends. I noticed that one of his three friends was missing. Grzegorz and Branden stood farther away from our table and watched our backs. I asked Cadarn the same questions I had asked everyone else and he told me that he had seen some strange men in the woods just a few miles north of the town. He vaguely described the men and gave me answers with little information. It didn’t take long for me to notice that he was playing time – he was keeping us stationary for some reason.
Just as we conversed the door opened; Lady Brianag magh Cairenn entered the inn with a hired bodyguard at her side. The people at the inn showed courtecy towards the Lady and let her pass to the desk where Rooney mac Thòmais was waiting. I turned back to Cadarn to ask more questions from him, but almost immediately I started to hear clashing noice from outside. As the attention turned towards the closed door of the inn, Cadarn and his villain friends quickly stood up and drew their weapons.
One of the armed villains rushed towards Lady Brianag magh Cairenn with his dagger, but missed her throat by few inches. Despite the odds, me and Camil responded quickly and began smashing Cadarn and his friends. Unfortunately Cadarn was surprisibgly quick, as he dodged my blow and my large maul hit the inn wall and got stuck on it. Unarmed I backed up and grabbed my mace from my belt. At the same time Camil fought bravely against two villains over the table we had been sitting, Branden peppered one of the villains with his arrows and Grzegorz cast a frightening spell to drive one of the villain into panic.
I had trouble fighting of Cadarn as he plunged time after time with his dagger. I realised that Cadarn might try to escape and tried to move towards the door to block the way. As I did so I shouted to my friends that we should capture Cadarn alive, but just as I had said it Camil swung a fierce blow on Cadarn and decapitated him. I cursed as I knew we lost a valuable source of information just as had happened with Broch. Camil was a bit too taken away by the heat of the battle. As I turned towards the others I saw that Lady Brianag’s bodyguard had defended the Lady and that the panicked villain was defending himself against him. As the lone villain saw what was coming he plunged his dagger into his throat killing himself.
After the battle, we checked whether Lady Brianag magh Cairenn was unhurt, and looked out to see what had been the source of the clashing sounds. Outside we saw that a group of hired bodyguards of the Lady had fought against a group of bandits. It seemed that the bodyguards had been victorious as most of the dead bodies on the street were bandits. Few of them had apparently fled after they had realised that they stood no chance against the trained bodyguards.
I returned inside and saw Branden searching the bodies of Cadarn mac Istorn and his friends. I approached the Lady and introduced myself. She thanked us for fending of the villains trying to harm her and promised to remember the name of my family and pass it on to her business associates. She also told us that from her point of view it had seemed more like that it was us who were the targets of this assassination attempt.
Lady Brianags sentence was cut short, as the town guard rushed inside the inn. The captain of the guards declared that we were all arrested and should move to their barracks to be interrogated. As we had little to fear, we followed the guards to their barracks.
At the barracks there was a Corwynt priest from the monastery who wished to interrogate us. The captain and the priest asked us a bunch of questions and requested Grzegorz to show his licence to practice magic. I saw a drop of swet running down grzegorz’s forehead as the priest inspected his licence. Wonder what that meant? Or maybe I was just imagining it. That fellow was just so full of unanswered questions that my mind was constantly looking for clues to reveal his motives.
The priest returned the licence without saying a word. ‘’It would be best if you four leave Clydewell for a while,’’ the priest said. “It seems that you cause a whole lot of disturbance around you and we really don’t need disturbance in here.”
I tried to reason with the priest and told him that we were the ones who stopped these disturbances, not the ones who caused them. However, the priest did not wish to listen to me. Apparently he was just repeating the orders of someone higher. Seeing that there was no point in arguing with the priest, we left the barracks.
Outside Lady Brianag thanked us yet again and offered one of her guards to help us in solving the identities of the ones behind the assassination attempt. He introduced Aeran, the guard who had fought with us against Cadarn, to us. As it would have been rude to refuse the Lady’s gesture, we welcomed Aeran to join us.
We said farewell to the Lady and started to walk towards the inn. I kept thinking of the weird events that had happened this week and wondered where this all might end us into. There were mercenaries from Knighton sent to fetch the Mysterious Stone from Hill Keep, a group of bandits who guarded the stone, and the mysterious group of Cadarn mac Istorn. They all seemed to want the same thing, but it was unclear who was behind these groups.
As I was wondering all these questions, Branden poked me on my arm and said: “We all should go somewhere private. I have something to show you.”
“We could go to my house.” I said and we turned towards my family’s house and entered my apartment. There Branden showed us a letter he had snatched from Cadarn’s body and hid in his pocket before the guards arrested us. Daring not to read it aloud, we passed the letter around us and read it one by one.
The letter of Cadarn
Your orders are clear: everyone who has been within the ruins must die. G made his wish clear – the stone must be retained but at the moment it is a secondary objective.
According to our informants the thane’s sister will soon be visiting Clydewell. She has a major role within the delivery of wool from the southern provinces. This is a chance to kill two birds with one stone.
Send Angus to meet the men I’ve hired at the Rowdy Piper Inn. I’m sure you know the location. I’ll also be sending more men to Clydewell just in case you manage to fail at your task.
This time destroy this letter after you have read it. After last time it should be a given! "
I wondered who this G person was and whether he was behind the other groups who were after the Mysterious Stone. I quessed that Angus was the third friend of Cadarn, who was missing from the inn earlier today. It seemed that Rowdy Piper Inn was the destination we would be going next. I just hoped that we would get there in time to catch this Angus.
I asked a few questions from Rooney mac Thòmais, the innkeeper, about the barges that traveled the Gaedil. I tried to divert my questions so that he would think that we are travelling to Llanhyvain and wanted to just stop by Rowdy Piper Inn on our way there. He told me that it should take just few days to get there by a river raft and that there were rafts going by the docks every day. I thanked Rooney mac Thòmais for his help and left to see whether there were any barges on the river bank docks.
I found that there was a raft that was leaving north this evening. The raft had mules that dragged it upstream, and the man who owned the raft seemed like a peculiar person. He seemed awfully proud of his mules and was eager to share tales about their noble heritage. I politely directed the conversation back to the fact that me and my friends wished to travel north to Rowdy Piper Inn. I made a deal and haggled a fair price for trip.
After we departed I decided that we should find out what had happened to Murlen, one of the adventurers we had saved from Hill Keep. I asked Rooney mac Thòmais whether he knew anything of Murlen‘s whereabouts. He told me that Murlen had rented a sleeping place from a farmer living outside town. We left to visit Murlen only to find him stabbed to death in the barn he had bunked. This of course didn’t surprise me. Cadarn’s group had indeed killed everyone else but us.
I stopped by the guard’s house to inform that there was a corpse lying in a barn and headed to the river bank. At the docks we found that Garth mac Reid, the travelling merchant, was going to accompany us on our trip. We said farewell to Clydewell as we began our journey north.
We spent the day exercising ourselves as the ship was pulled upstream by mules. The captain of the ship entertained us with ludicrous tales about an ancient race of mule people who used to rule the lands. It seemed that he believed that the Vod-hin were actually a race of mules and that his breed of mules descended from them.
We arrived at the docks of Rowdy Piper Inn as the sun was beginning its descent below the horizon. The owner of the ship told us that he was going to stay at the Inn for the night. We thanked him and entered the inn with rest of the crew.
It wasn’t much. The inn had a relatively small dining hall with no private quarters to rent. The food they served was bland but, but edible. The patrons of the inn were a mix of northeners and southeners and they all seemed to be drunk or on their way to get intoxicated. The innkeeper stood behind the bar desk and glanced at us as we entered the inn. He looked like a seasoned mercenary veteran and had a pegleg. Garth whispered to me that the innkeeper’s name was Lorgan and that he was a former mercenary from Leguinea.
I approached Lorgan, as the other group proceeded to order beer and food from a waitress, who was attending the patrons. ‘’Have you seen a man named Angus? I was supposed to meet him here’‘, I said and tried bluff him to gain information.
’’Are you a friend of that arsehole?‘’ Lorgan replied and seemed to get angry.
I decided to turn my bluff around and said ’’Not a chance! I need to get my hands on that bastard. I got some scores to settle with him.‘’
’’Yeah, well you’re not the only one,‘’ he said and calmed down. ’’Angus was here yesterday, but left.‘’
’’Do you know where he went?"
‘’How should I know? I don’t track every customer who comes to my Inn, but there’s not many directions you can go from here. North or south.‘’
’’How come? Isn’t there anything around here?‘’ I asked.
’’Just woods.’’ Lorgan said and turned around to haul a keg of beer on the desk.
I thanked the innkeeper and returned to the table where the rest of our group was sitting. We sat there for a while and decided to stay here for tonight. I asked Branden to go look around the inn and look for tracks. It didn’t take him long to find out that someone had left the inn and ventured west into the wilderness.
As the night was beginning to fall we payed the the innkeeper for the privilege to sleep indoors. This turned out to be a bad choice, as the sleeping quarters were in fact in the dining hall. Tables and chairs were moved to give way to the drunken patrons who slept on the floor. Alas, I did not sleep very well. My rest was constantly interrupted by the sounds of vomiting and snoring. I should have slept outside in my tent, I thought.
We got up early just before dawn. The sun was just starting to rise, as Branden led us into the forest. The tracks were easy to follow, so we moved quite rapidly. The small animal trail led us deeper into the forest.
For few hours we just walked forward, following the trail. Then, suddenly, Branden halted us and told that there was a small cottage on the way. The cottage was old and surrounded by a small clearing. There was no apparent signs of life. The door and the windows were shut. I told Branden and Grzegorz to circle around to the other side of the clearing and prevent any escape attempts. After they were on their spot waiting, I led Camil and Aeran towards the cottage. As we approached the door I tried to listen, but heard nothing.
I tried to open the door infront of me, but it was locked. ‘’Come out, and you shall not be hurt!’’ I yelled, as I knocked the door heavily. It was obvious that my attempt to sound peaceful was not so succesful. I heard someone move inside the cottage and then the sound of a door opening on the other side of the cottage. I ran to the other side of the cottage with Camil and Aeran and saw a young girl running towards the forest.
‘’Stop! We wish no harm to you!" I yelled, but the girl was too scared to react. Suddenly she stopped running as she saw Branden coming out of the woods with his bow ready. She stood there and tried to look for a place to run. Now that she was stationary I saw that she was probably 15 or 16 years old and had a long ginger hair.
’’Calm down, we wish no harm. What’s your name, girl. We are looking for the men who came here a day or two ago.‘’ I tried to calm her and she seemed to relax. She turned around to face me and started to move her hands to form signs. I recognised what she was doing. It was Merchant-speak, a sign language that was mainly used by crafty traders. My brother Marl mac Dorwynn had once taught me the basics of the language. It took me a while to remember the signs, as I had not used the language in years.
’’My name is Elaine. The men took my father, Ronan mac Spealine,‘’ the girl said waving her hands.
’’It’s ok, were here to help, Elaine. Just tell me what happened,‘’ I replied moving my hands the way Marl mac Dorwynn had taught me.
’’Three men arrived here yesterday and met another man here. They talked to my father about something, but I didn’t hear what they were saying. Then three of them tied up my father and took him into the forest with them. The other man left towards the River.‘’
’’Can you show us the direction the three men took your father?‘’ I asked her and she pointed towards the direction Branden was standing.
’’Do you know why they took your father with them?‘’
’’I don’t know, but my father is a woodcutter and he knows these woods. He sais he has the blood of the old in his veins, and thus he knows how to calm the spirits living in the woods.‘’
’’ Spirits in the woods?‘’ I asked.
’’My father uses honey to calm them so that he can walk freely in the forest.‘’
’’I see. Well, Elaine, don’t you worry. We’ll rescue your father from these thugs,’’ I replied and told the others that we should keep moving.
For hours we marched. The forest seemed to grow thicker and thicker the deeper we went into it. I was just about to ask Branden whether he knew how old the tracks were at the moment, when he stopped and said that there was something strange in the woods around us. I sensed a faint aura of magic, as I concentrated. Suddenly a tiny humanoid emerged behind a tree. It looked like a small brown man, maybe six inches tall. It was holding a miniature bow in his hand and glanced at us sneering. I had heard stories of brownies and their malicious habits to harrass people who ventured too deep into the old forests of Drystan. This particular brownie drew his bow and sent an arrow, the size of a toothpick, into the shoulder of Branden. Pathetic, I thought. We were just about to continue forward and ignore the little fellow, when more brownies emerged from the trees. First a dozen, then two, and suddenly there was probably a hundred of these pesky creatures crawling around us. Miniature arrows began to hit us everywhere and they began to cause serious damage to us. Camil tried to block them with his shield, but it didn’t help much – we were surrounded. I drew the old pendant that was the only possession I had herited from my mother. It was an ancient amulet with the face of the Old Faith carved into it.
‘’Please let us pass! We are seeking the men who took the old-blooded woodsmen through this forest!’’ I shouted and showed the pendant to the brownies. The sight of the pendant, however, caused an opposite reaction I had anticipated: I was peppered with tiny arrows. I feld like a pincushion as dozens of arrows pierced my splint mail. We saw no other choice but to run and try to get away from these little devils.
‘’Run!’’ I shouted and we all began to run, Branden at the point.
We ran for a while until it seemed that the brownies lost interest in us. Suddenly we were halted by an eerie apparition in front of us. A great Fey Spirit stood in our way. It seemed to blend into the trees around it and indeed it was hard to point out where the apparition began and ended. The very trees around us seemed to tremble and cut out our escape chances.
‘’Who are you to travel into my forest!’’ The spirit’s voice boomed.
‘’We are men of good intentions and were chasing a group of three brigands who have kidnapped a man named Ronan," I replied to the spirit.
’’I know of these men.‘’
’’I plead for you to grant us passage through your forest and help us free Ronan.‘’
’’That is a thing I might grant you, but there is something you must do for me first,‘’ the spirit said.
’’Tell us what we must do, but please consider that we are in a hurry,‘’ I replied and glanced around to see the trees around us closing in.
’’Your hurry is of little concern to me. There is a new malicious power in the forest of Glwyliadwrus corrupting it rapidly,‘’ the spirit said obviously referring to the forest around us. ’’I, Isainfal, have ruled Glwyliadwrus for longer than any of you could imagine, but now my power is beginning to diminish. The men you are chasing, have placed a magical seal that draws the power of Glwyliadwrus’ heart somewhere else. This has left a vacuum into the magical presence of the forest and that vacuum grows by the minute. Within the vacuum, the forest and its creatures become corrupt by malevolent forces drawn by the vacuum. Thus I am unable to travel into the corrupt area and remove this seal.‘’
’’And you need us to do this for you?‘’ I asked her.
’’Yes,‘’ Isainfal said and continued, ’’Infact I demand you to do so, for if you refuse to help you will never leave this forest alive.‘’
’’We will help you, but will you then help us in return?‘’ I asked Isainfal.
’’Yes, I know where the men you are chasing are, and I can show you the way there once you have freed my forest.‘’
’’Well then, show us the way to the seal,‘’ I said.
’’The forest will show you the way,‘’ Isainfal replied and a path opened into the forest. A small bird flew from the trees and howered infront of us.
’’Follow the bird’’, Isainfal said and we began to move towards the path.
‘’One more thing,’’ Isainfal halted us. ‘’One of my most trusted servants, Falanthiel, has fallen under this corruption and you will most probably run into her. I would appreciate that Falanthiel does not die.’’
‘’Anything else?’’ I asked.
‘’Falanthiel commands the wolves of the forest, including the great wolf Drahtarol, and you will surely have to fight them. Be prepared.’’
And so we began walking along the path following the small bird. The bird seemed nervous and its chirps sounded concerned. We walked for half an hour until the bird stopped and signaled us to continue forward along the path. Our only quess was that this was where the healthy forest ended and the corrupted began. We left the bird behind us and continued along the path for a while until we arrived to a large clearing in the forest. There were a ring of cairn stones in the middle of the clearing and a large oak tree behind the stones. The oak was a majestetic tree with huge branches leaning towards the cairn stones. There was little harmony in the sight, as the once mighty tree seemed to grow unnaturally grim shadows around it and it looked like something within the cairn stones was dragging its branches toward the stone ring with invisible claws.
‘’I sense a strong magical aura coming from those stones,’’ Grzegorz hissed.
‘’I sense it too,’’ I replied and we all began approaching the stones.
As we entered the circle formed by the cairn stones, we saw that there was a great stone plate in the middle of the circle and on it was a black seal made of somekind of magical wax. There was complex runes encraved on the seal and it reeked of potent black magic.
‘’Grzegorz, can you break the seal,’’ I asked.
’’Let’s see… aah, yes. Yes, I think I can break this seal,‘’ he replied and began to decipher the runes on the seal.
’’It will take me a while to open the strings binding this seal,‘’ Grzegorz said and began muttering words of arcanem.
’’Can you hear that?‘’ Branden said and we all turned to look at the forest around us. The corrupt forest around us began echoing with twisted howls. Here comes the wolves, I thought.
’’Prepare yourself,’’ I shouted and we formed a protective ring around Grzegorz. Branden climbed on the top of one cairn stone and prepared his bow.
Then they came.
Wave after wave of frenzied wolves, with eyes shining like unholy fires, charged at us. With sword and hammer we slaughtered dozens of them. As Branden scouted the surroundings and pierced few wolves with his arrows, he saw an apparition unmerge from a great tree in the clearing. It was Falanthiel, a powerful dryad creature commanding the corrupt wolf packs. Falanthiel carried a wooden bow with vines growing in it, and rapidly let loose a pair of arrows towards Branden. Luckily Branden dodged Falanthiel’s arrows and returned the favour by sending two arrows straight into the bark covered chest of the dryad.
’’I’m almost finished, keep them away from me,‘’ Grzegorz said, as one of the wolves nearly bit him before its skull was cracked open by my hammer. A booming howl echoed around the clearing as an enormous wolf emerged from the woods and began charging towards us.
’’Brace yourselves for the beast!’’ I shouted to Camil and Aeran.
We positioned ourselves side by side to meet Drahtarol. I drew white magic to enlarge myself so that I could give a menacing blow once the great wolf came close enough.
Indeed our welcoming party was mighty, as Drahtarol was slaughtered in mere seconds it tried to jump against us. My, now humongous, hammer hit the wolf straight into its chest blowing the air out of its lungs. Camil and Aeran hacked the great wolf into a pulp of twitching muscles and blood. A final blow on its head quieted the beast altogether.
’’It’s done!’’ Hissed Grzegorz and turned around to look at us with a victorious grin on his face. The great oak looming against the cairn stones suddenly began to draw back. The very forest around us seemed to gasp in releaf, as the magical vacuum began to diminish around us.
‘’I thank you mortals for saving me and the forest from a great peril,’’ Falanthiel said with an exhausted voice.
‘’We are sorry for killing Drahtarol and your wolves,’’ I said to the dryad.
‘’Their sacrifice was inevitable. By killing them you released them from their corruption just as you freed me. I hold no grudge for that. On the contrary, I am in debt to you. How may I repay this?’’ the dryad said.
‘’Show us the way to the men who traveled through this forest with a man named Ronan as a captive. Also, if you could heal our wounds that would be most appreciative.’’
‘’Yes, the man with the blood of the old. He is in an old monastery called Cuddiedig with these men you talk of,’’ Falanthiel said and drew magic from the forest around us to heal our wounds.
‘’I shall arrange a guide for you, but be aware that Cuddiedig is an old place with spirits of its own. There are tribes of fey creatures residing there that do not obey Isainfal,’’ Falanthiel continued.
‘’What is this place you call Cuddiedig exactly?’’ I asked the dryad.
‘’It is an old monastery built by an order of priests worshipping Teutanis. This order lived in isolation and died long ago.’’
Falanthiel gestured her hand towards the forest and suddenly the same small bird that had guided us here appeared. The bird began guiding us again, this time towards Cuddiedig and the men we were after.
When we arrived to the ruins, the sun had already disappeared behind the horizon. There was little left of the old monastery. Lone stone walls crumbling down and a small remnant of a fence. Within the ruins was an entrance with stairs leading underground. Even though the order of Teutanis who had built this place probably had had little in common with the current priests of Teutanis such as I, I knew that this place most likely had an extensive underground system of chambers and passages. The clergy of Teutanis had always fancied natural cave formations and often built dungeons and holy places within and over these caverns.
Branden quickly scouted the area around the entrance and confirmed us that four men had entered, but no tracks led out. As Branden studied the tracks, we realised that we were awfully tired and desided to camp for the night. We set out a watch near the entrance, so we could ambush anyone trying to leave the cave. Knowing that we could lose valuable time if the cavern had another exit for men to escape, we spread our bedrolls on inside the ruins.
We got up early, eager to continue our chase. As the sun slowly began to rise, we had already packed our gear and entered the cave. Leaving our camping gear behind with my mule, I led the group down the staircase that was carved into the bedrock under our feet. The tunnel soon became too dark to travel further without light. I picked up a small stone and cast an illuminating spell on it. The small rock began to shine with bright light and produced a cone of light in front of us as I put it inside a small canvas pouch. Behind us Camil lit a torch.
Just as I had expected, the tunnel led to a natural cavern complex. Almost immediately after the staircase ended, the cavern divided into two distinct tunnels. Trying to move as quietly we could, we turned left and soon arrived into a larger chamber. On the right we saw a tunnel that connected the chamber back to the tunnel that had turned right just after the staircase. On the back wall of the chamber we saw a pile of human bones and remnants of old sacrificial items. Crumbling remnants of old flowers and wooden objects – probably ancient tools – were scattered around the bones.
I approached the grisly altar and inspected it more closely. The rest of our group followed, but increased the distance between me and them. As I came closer to the bones, I saw a ball of hardened mud inside the rib cage of one of the more intact skeletons. Mixed within the mud, was something that glittered as I directed the light from my improvised hooded lantern. I extended my hand inside the rib cage and grabbed the mud ball.
‘’What is he doing?’’ I heard Grzegorz quietly ask the others as he was too far away to see what I was doing.
Camil’s thundering voice echoed everywhere around us. I closed my eyes and silently cursed in my mind. Camil had never been the most sharpest tool in the shed. I opened my eyes and drew the mud ball closer. It seemed that there was an old ring trapped inside the ball. I crushed the ball inside my hand and freed two more bronze rings from the ball.
Just as I cracked the mud ball I heard a dreadful scream echoing somewhere behind us. Suddenly we heard a silent thump behind us and immediately Camil was hit by a small club. We turned around and saw two creatures plunging towards us with clubs. One of them was just behind Camil and the other one jumped high and landed between Aeran and Branden. These creatures looked a bit like short and nasty old men with devilish features. Grzegorz, who knew more about the Fey than the rest of us, later told us that they weremost likely Redcaps, also called powrie or dunter by the northerners: twisted fey creatures that tormented humans in folk stories. He also told us that in folk stories Redcaps wore woolen hats that were dyed red with the blood of their victims, but these creatures didn’t have such hats. Guess some parts of those old stories were just that: stories.
These little creatures were quite easily defeated. Infact, so easily that by the time I managed to get myself into the combat, it was already over. We reasoned that there might be more of these Redcap creatures lurking near us and so we decided to continued forward.
The cavern turned out to be relatively small as we advanced. The tunnel divided into two separate ones. We decided to investigate the one turning west. Soon we came to an untouched ancient door. As it seemed unlocked Aeran went forth and carelessly opened it. We heard a clicking sound and Aeran was peppered with tiny bolts from an ancient trap. Stubbornly Aeran just cursed and took a step through the door setting off another trap: a spear launched itself from the wall puncturing the mercenary’s armour. Apparently the traps guarded a tomb recerved for the ancient priesthood’s highest members. As none of us was experienced with disarming traps we decided to leave the tomb unexplored and returned to investigate the other tunnel.
The eastern tunnel ended by a carved stone wall with an open door and the remnants of a small camp.
‘’This camp is fresh. We’re talking minutes here. The fireplace is still hot,‘’ Branden whispered as he inspected the camp.
’’This door has magical seals, now broken, that used to hold it shut,’’ Grzegorz hissed and ran his fingers along the cold iron frame of the door.
It was clear that the men we were after had camped here while one of them – a wizard – had spent hours opening this door and that they were only moments ahead of us. We picked up the pace and continued through the door into a manmade passage that continued forward for a while, revealing a large empty chamber. Even in the low light of the torch we could make out a large stone stairway at the back of the room, leading even further down.
As we nervously entered the room I could feel the hair on my neck stand up. It was a familiar feeling: the place was filled with magical currents. Then in a blink of an eye two forms materialized from the very floor: over seven feet tall humanoid shapes made of dirt and stone. I had read of these things: elementals – the earth itself given conscience. The elementals attacked us without warning. We managed to destroy them after a stiff fight during which Aeran was taken down, his skull almost caved in by a blow of a stony fist. Thank the gods we had rested before descending to this place, as I could use my healing powers to mend his injuries.
The stairway led a long way downwards eventually leading us into a massive natural cavern. In the middle of this huge chamber stood a colossal tree, probably 20 or 30 feet thick. Just above the tree, there was a hole in the roof of the chamber and daylight illuminated the chamber.
The chamber was indeed huge as there was more than 100 feet to the tree from the place we were standing. From there we saw that there were scaffolds running around the tree that led a top the tree and on the scaffolds were the men we were chasing. The men were climbing up around the tree. First was a robed man, obviously the wizard, and behind him were two thugs escorting a bound man. We figured that the bound man must be Ronan mac Spealine, the father of Elaine.
Without further thinking, we began to run towards the tree. We had no battle plan nor had we thought what we would do once we catch these men. We just ran. While the rest of us quickly approached the tree and its scaffolds, Branden aimed his bow towards the wizard and let loose several arrows rapidly. The arrows pierced the legs of the wizards who cried out in pain.
‘’Hold them!’’ Shouted the wizard to his aides and grabbed Ronan with him.
Limping the wizard began to disappear behind the tree as the scaffold circled around it. Trying to keep the wizard on sight, Branden began circling the tree and sent arrows towards the unprotected wizard. Seeing that he would soon be pierced to death, the wizard drew a scroll from his scroll case and cast a spell. The wizards body turned stone hard and Branden’s arrows were deflected.
While Branden and the wizard continued their cat and mouse play, the rest of us had managed to get up the tree and meet the thugs. Aeran, who was the most lightly armored, had ran first and was already in a deadly duel with the other thug. The scaffolds creaked under us as these two men were fighting each other. Taking heavy blows from the thugs axe, Aeran stepped aside to allow Camil to take his place. Seeing that the scaffolds were too narrow for me to join Camil, I leaned against the rail of the scaffold and cast small fire bolts to scorch the thug. Grzegorz did the same. The first thug was quickly slain and his body fell down hitting the cave floor with a sickening splat. Seeing the demise of his comrade, the other thug had turned around and ran with the wizard.
While we fought with the thug, Branden continued with his own chase. Several arrows were harmlessly deflected by the wizards stone skin until Branden hit him with a stunningly precise hit. The wizards spell broke away as Branden‘s arrow hit him in the head. The spell had enough power to save the wizards life, but he was still hit pretty hard. Cursing us, the wizard finally disappeared as he arrived to the top of the tree. Soon behind him, the other thug followed and just behind him Camil and I followed. Wounded by the first thugs axe, Aeran followed behind us.
’’This time take him alive!’’ I shouted and hoped that Camil heard me. We had already lost two opportunities to catch and interrogate an important villain.
I arrived to the top of the tree with Camil. There was a flat deck on the tree and in the middle of the deck was a pedestal. The wizard stood there smiling and held a small stone in his hand. Blood was pouring down from a nasty wound on his forehead and several arrows stuck out of his legs. The other thug was waiting for us and plunged towards Camil. While Camil fended of the thug, I stepped to meet the wizard.
‘’You fools! Prepare to d…’’ the wizards words were cut short as I sent a small fire bolt straight into his face. The spell wasn’t mighty, but enough to surprise the wizard and knock him unconscious. The thug who was fighting Camil saw his master fall down and immediately threw down his weapon as a sign of surrender.
‘’Please, I surrender. Don’t hurt me, I’m just a hired mercenary!‘’ The thug pleaded.
’’Very well,‘’ Camil said and began to tie the man. I quickly ran to the wizard and cast a simple cure spell to stabilize his bleeding wounds. As I raised my attention from the wizard, I saw Ronan lying on the floor. I approached him and freed him from the ropes that binded him.
’’You’re safe now. We met your daughter at the cabin you live and she’s fine,‘’ I said to the man.
’’Who are you?‘’ the man asked me. He was a middle-aged man with the looks of an woodsmen. He seemed to be in a good physical condition, but the hired thugs had clearly beaten him up pretty bad.
’’My name is Magnus and these are my friends. We were chasing these men when we bumped into your daughter and heard that they had kidnapped you. We promised Elaine that we would save you,‘’ I answered the man who began to rise up from the wooden deck that was supporting us on the tree.
He rubbed his now free wrists and said: ’’I see.‘’
’’Ronan, do you have any idea what these men were after?‘’ I questioned him.
’’Not a clue. They just wanted me to calm the spirits from the forest and grant them safe passage through Glwyliadwrus. I have the blood of the old ones running through my veins and thus the spirits tolerate my presence in the woods.’’
‘’It is another one of them magical stones,’’ Grzegorz whispered as he studied the Mysterious Stone the wizard had taken from the pedestal.
‘’You keep it safe, Grzegorz,’’ I said. I had little interest in holding one of those strange stones with me. It just cried out trouble.
As we were talking, Branden arrived to the top still holding his bow ready.
’’Everything’s alright, Branden‘’ I said to the hunter who relaxed and easened the string on his bow.
’’We could probably climb up from here!‘’ Aeran shouted and pointed towards the hole over our heads. It was only 10 feet over us now that we were on the top of the tree. I dug out a rope and a grappling hook from my backpack and threw it up. The hook stuck in and we were all able to climb up. The captives were lifted up with more rope.
’’The ruins are there,’’ Branden pointed towards a clearing south of us. We had arrived on the top of a small hill and from there we could see the forest around us. We descended back to the ruins carrying the unconscious wizard with us. Once we arrived back, I tied the wizard on top of my mule and ensured that he was tied up so thoroughly that there was no chance he could cast a spell.
After I healed all the wounds we had suffered, we began to wander back towards Ronan’s cabin. The journey took us several hours and as we arrived to the cabin, we saw the happy reunion of Elaine and his father. Seeing that the day was still relatively young we desided to continue forward and return to the Rowdy Piper Inn.
We arrived there in the evening, but desided to camp outside. We visited the inn to buy some food and saw that the ship that had carried us here was still docked by the Inn. Apparently the captain and the crew had drank so much that their departure had been delayed by a legendary hangover. Or so the captain told me. We set out a camp few hundred yards away from the inn and rested.
Tomorrow I would interrogate that bastard, I thought. Maybe we could finally get some answers to the strange events that had occured. We still had no idea what these stones were and who were all these people after them AND us. There was something more strange and sinister here than just the stones. Tomorrow, I thought and fell asleep. My dreams that night were not easy. I was haunted by the bandits from Hill Keep and Cadarn mac Istorn. While the dreams were unpleasant, I was still grateful. They occupied my mind with thoughts that helped me to forget Irdana and all the sorrow I had endured.