We rise in the first light of the day. Ivy glares at Kouki, a hatred in her eyes for the priest evident. I do not know what has passed between them, but it cannot be good.
Relowen and I are introduced to Zem, another of Eldrin’s men. He is a shaman, and carries himself with the same surety that Revikh does. As he eats, he wastes no movement, wastes no words. These are elders of a sort, and Eldrin their chieftain.
I wonder, for a time, at the power these men wield. They are shepherds, we are their sheep. I think on this. How many sheep wear pieces of crystal? We have met three more thus far, and both of these men, Revikh and Zem, have this “divinite” with them as well. There is some larger thing I am now a part of, some machine like those of the gnomes, and I am surprised to find I am but one of the gears.
My thoughts are interrupted as Revikh tells us he will depart for a time, taking Kouki, Yumi, and Chiyo with him for some “test.” I wonder if he will watch them fight trolls.
There is a flash as they teleport away, and the rest of us ride on.
I look to Drakha, seeing the half elf’s new scales. She has become closer to the dragons, I can see. Relowen speaks to her.
“Thanks for the rescue. I certainly think you’ve proven yourself in my eyes.”
I am angered, and I speak. “You should work to prove yourself in her eyes, elf.”
“Fair enough”, he says.
We travel on, the road long. We speak amongst ourselves, discussing the battle with the vampires. We have not yet spoken much of our selves, our histories. They likely have little meaning in the riddle.
I cannot ignore the hatred I saw in Ivy’s eyes, and so I walk beside her. I look at her, so young, so small.
“You look to the priest with hate in your eyes, Ivy. Why is this so?”
She looks at me as if I have grown an extra head. “He is the reason for every bad thing in my life. He’s why my parents are gone!”
This makes no sense to me, but I am not smart. I nod once, to let her know I have heard her. But I am silent for a time as I think on what she has said. It comes to me, then, that what she says cannot be so, unless the priest hurled the great rock into the city and commanded dragons. As I know this to be Shayan’s work, I know that it is not the priest’s work.
“But, Ivy”, I begin. “That cannot be!” Drakha catches my eye then, and shakes her head. They have had this conversation already. Drakha tells me that this is a side effect of the torture Ivy and Kouki endured when they were captured, while Relowen and I were in the vampire’s keep.
The Speaker once told me that a small thing may lead to something large, a pebble makes a wave that reaches all edges of a pond. So it was this day, as we met a young lady on the road. Her clothes wore the dirt of the fields, and she looked distressed to us. We greet her.
“Are you all right?” Drakha asks.
The lady nearly cries, telling us that her escort has become lost to her. “He has gone to ask questions of a druid he knows, and has not returned. We were headed for Sumter to see my parents.” The words spill out of her, like a cup tipped over.
“Do you know where this druid is?” Relowen asks her.
“No”, she replies. “He said he would return in two hours, though. So it must be close.”
Ivy looks around at us. “Well, go with us, I guess.”
Relowen offers his hand to the lady. “Ride my horse, I am light. It will be no burden.”
“Truly”, I say. “His horse doesn’t know it’s being ridden.” She favors me with a grin.
We ride on, and arrive at her village of Sumter. She offers us silver, but we decline, even Ivy. We need no reward. Zem, the shaman, nods his head in approval.
We go to the village’s inn, and Zem takes his leave from us to meditate. He tells us that there is a wrongness about the place, and he must look within for an answer. Relowen leaves us as well, to speak with others in the town. I order ale and dinner, sitting with Ivy and Drakha.
It is not long before Relowen returns to us, telling us he thinks the druid has gone missing, and that the area has an odd feel to him as well. A ranger and a shaman both, then. I loosen my axe a bit in the straps on my pack.
“We should check on this druid.” Relowen says, a pleading in his eyes. I look to Drakha, and she assures him that we will, when morning’s light shines. It is then that Zem descends the stair, a serious look upon his face. He pulls a chair to our table, and waves the serving wench over.
“Something is very wrong here. Be ready for a fight. One hangs near us like a spring storm.” Zem looks at each of us in turn, perhaps judging our readiness. I meet his gaze with hard eyes, I am no stranger to a fight.
As we talk and plan, the night settles in. In time, we each seek rest.
Dawn breaks to the sound of screams in the road. Relowen and I have slept in the common room, and we burst through the door quickly. On the road, we see what seem to be humanoid plants, and Zem facing them in the road, calling down lightning. Some villagers lie broken in the road, dead. Relowen and I share a glance, we are not sure how the shaman made it past us without our waking.
The plants are many. We charge, and I cut one down with my axe; it is a plant-mantis-needled thing that bleeds sap as I hack it in two. Drakha joins the fight moments later, and her fiery breath is deadly indeed, making one a pyre in the street.
I dodge and weave, twisting to avoid needled branches. I do not call the rage, nor do I call the beast within. These are not a challenge for us, but a morning exercise. I cut another down, clearing some space for Zem to work his magicks. We water the plants with a rain of strikes, arrows, and lightning, and finish them in short time.
I turn to see Ivy trotting up to us. “I couldn’t get my boots on”, she says in a huff.
“I will guard the dead villagers until they are taken to their final resting place”, Relowen says. I look at him for a time.
“You do that”, I say. “I will have breakfast.”
I leave Relowen and Zem to examine the plant creatures, and return to the inn to fill my stomach for the long day ahead. Ivy joins me, as does Drakha. Eventually, Zem and Relowen do as well.
Relowen tells us the basis of the creatures are natural, but have been twisted. He says that he will track them. I speak, a tone of humor in my voice.
“You are going to track plants through a forest? You will have my respect elf.”
We do not wait long, and set out quickly. Between the two of us, Relowen and I manage to find a trail, following dropped needles and bruised undergrowth. It is perhaps only an hour before we notice another plant creature in the path.
“Is this what we fought?” Ivy asks. I make an after-you flourish and say to her “Be my guest.” Relowen kills it with a single arrow, and before Ivy and I can glare at him, we realize that there are many now, and they have ambushed us quite well. Ivy destroys one with a line of power, and I charge into another, rending it into mulch.
I see three standing together, and hold my arms wide. “Come feel the bite of my axe!” I scream to them, and they oblige, rushing me. I focus on them, dodging their strikes and cutting when I can.
Behind me, I hear Drakha’s fiery breath, and Ivy yelp in surprise. One of my foes is shattered by lightning, and I take advantage of the opening to cut another down. A purple bolt of power strikes the last, and I finish it with a quick backhand.
I turn back to the group, a wide grin on my face. I see plant bodies lying about, like new-mown hay. We are fast becoming like a hunting party, able to work together well.
Relowen and I look to the spoor, and realize that there is no way to discern a path, there are needles all about. We decide to continue in the same direction for a time, leaving marks here to return to and strike new direction if needed.
We are only minutes away from the battle site when I stop. My nose tells me that there is rotten meat nearby. I have not stopped quickly enough, though, as the ground trembles and a great plant rises above us, a massive maw and long vines ready to assault us. There is no meat, it is a hunting plant. I smile. This will be a true fight!
I begin to advance, wary of it. My axe is ready. I am not as ready; it moves with the speed of lightning, and the vines grab me before I can move. Such speed! I struggle against the vines, but still the plant holds me. The others strike it, yet still it holds me.
The maw of the thing looms large, and I surge against it with all my strength, but it is for naught. Suddenly, I can no longer feel my limbs. It has used some sort of venom on me, and I can only watch as the world becomes dark and disgustingly wet as the great maw closes around me.
I can only guess at how long I am in the darkness, how close I come to drawing my last breath. Suddenly, there is light, and Drakha pulls me from my slimy prison. She touches me, her hands aglow, and suddenly I can move and feel.
“It will be many days before I eat a salad”, I say. The others laugh, and I join them with a grin as I roll in the dust to remove what acid remains on my clothing and skin. Relowen makes some joke about a dog, and Drakha smacks the back of his head.
We search from that point out, and hours later come to a clearing. Within this clearing, there is a shrine, and a body lays upon it, likely the druid. Relowen runs blindly into the clearing, foolishly. The largest, most vile plant I’ve ever seen rises above us, breaking earth and ripping trees in its fury to punish us for our trespass.
I call the beast to me, and the rage takes me as well. Ivy leads my charge with a bolt of power, but it is not affected in the slightest. One great vine swats at me as if I were a bug, and it is the hardest I have ever been hit before. I feel ribs snap and I stagger, punch drunk. It hits me a second time, and I see stars in the middle of the day.
I scream out in pain and rage, calling out to my ancestors, and I crash my axe into the body of the beast with all of my might, and perhaps some of theirs as well. I am dimly aware of the battle around me, of magicks striking the thing, but all I can be sure of is my axe as I drive it again into the thing. Suddenly, it falls to the ground, though I cannot be sure what has finished it. The forest spins around me, and suddenly the canopy above me fills my vision. I am on my back, fighting to draw breath.
Zem and Drakha work for a time over me, and I feel the warmth of their power flowing into me. I think that Relowen may have buried the druid. Zem tells us that we had found the root of the evil here; that the wind already blew cleaner. I am glad of this, as my body needs rest. We make our weary way back to the village, and share the news with the people there.
This night, I will sleep long and hard, and trust to the others to wake me if I am needed. I am sore, and need the rest. It will be a long path to Wroat.