Today was some day. But let me take you back a little while. After having encountered harpies in an area surrounded by unnaturally thin trees, dealing with gnomes we didn’t trust, running off the harpes, and learning about Seronius, a servant of the witch queen, we thought we’d heard just about enough to make us think the dangers around were too monumental for our amorphus band of, well, whatever exactly we are.
We learned of the queen’s intent to harvest the diamonds of Havenville, an attempt to build her treasury, apparently. Seronius had been making sacrifices to the harpies, whom he bitterly hated, or so one sly gnome told us. He wasn’t right, and neither was Seronius from what the little man said. The witch must have felt the same for she sent someone whose name I’m not sure of – Freethmot, Frithmot, I don’t know – to keep an eye on things. I couldn’t get a fix on exactly how long ago all of this happened. The gnomes have largely been ensorcled for decades. The queen’s dispatching a supervisor was fuzzy.
Not trusting the shifty gnome, my colleague, Beorn, who Dr. Deet and I recently met, tied up the little one, leaving him to free himself long after we left. Soon we discovered those harpies for ourselves. Knowing they would try to captivate us with song, we fashioned cork plugs for our ears and put up enough of a fight that they fled. We were not unscathed. Chancing the gnome had told us the truth, we drank from the fountain nearby. Beorn and I were made well by the thirst-quenching water. Oddly, it did not affect Dr. Deet. Still, he had another idea. Water the twisted willow that was wasting away. It seemed a good idea and so we helped him. Little did we know the fairie Wynofar was somehow linked to the tree. She rewarded us with a blessing. We felt as if we could do anything for some time, yet we realized the lateness of the day and expenditure of our spells left us with little to fight if it came again to that. We slayed one of those wretched creatures. And it took much to do so.
In our doings we amassed a small wealth of treasure. I’m particularly excited about the prospect of the Minor Dark Chaos scroll. If I can master that, I will have yet another weapon in my growing arsenal. But I must first decipher the thing. That might be another matter entirely. I contemplated that parchment for hours after we made our way to a ridge, sheltering for the night outside some old mines.
In the morning, we drank of the fae water again with much the same result. Beorn spotted the gnome he’d left tied pointing the direction that had been. The orc listening seemed most interested. Too bad for him. That was enough to provoke Beorn into action. An arrow later the orc had no more will to live. After that, we realized what we must do. I coaxed the gnomes into revealing exactly what they do to keep from being enslaved themselves. Though, from the looks of them – ragged, dirty, devoid of any cheer – I wasn’t so sure they were much better off than those who had been. Sadly, it turned out that as we suspected, they weren’t of high character after what they’d been through. They lived “free” by reporting those who hide and bringing strangers to Seronius to torture as was his wont.
Not much later, we went in search of the brutes they’d described – Seronius and Frihmont, Freefmot, whatever. Venturing just a short while into the wood where Free, yes, Free, that’s an easier way to think of him, where Free was meant to be, we turned aside. Too many webs for our comfort. It seemed a host of spiders big enough to spin webs throughout the forest had taken up residence there.
We trekked on, making our way to the Black Hole. It was where Seronius was supposed to be. The walls had long ago stopped seeing the light of day or love of caring custodians. Slime-covered, web-filled, and just plain dirty that place was. We found a hidey-hole concealed by a secret door. The woman of the house sat in wait for whatever horrors had made her flee to that inner sanctum. Upright, a skeleton held a crossbow, which had since deteriated, much as the dress the woman wore. A strong box beheld some useful items. We left it for the time.
Armed with the knowledge that at least one of the men we sought was a servant of the Off Stag, the Horned One, we were cautious. The most excited thing we found soon was an orc. He was drunk off the gnomish cider. He’d stolen some spider-silk robes meant to be worn by those seeing the witch queen. He mentioned a general idea of where she was, but as with most drunks, it wasn’t clear exactly what he meant or if he knew what we was talking about at all. He did manage to convey clearly enough that Seronius was no man. He was a creature with a spider body and a man’s face.
Before we could hope to find him, we were swarmed by his children, hundreds of spiders. Killing them and retreating to the healing waters, we rested. Attempting to bring the gnomes around, we talked to them. The fae had been busy mending the place in absence of the harpies. Dr. Deet offered them a necklace and they came back with a bag with healing honey and apples. Miraculously, it refilled when I closed it up. The next day were were off to finish the job.
This time, we were better prepared, putting down the swarms more quickly, with me able to rescue first Dr. Deet, and then Beorn. But then were faced with a single, much larger abomination. Though not Seronius, the thing was horrible. Beorn attempted to go around to the other side to sneak up behind it, but the webbing was too much and Dr. Deet had to cut him free. Having no luck avoiding the thing’s hits, our dwarven butcher fell. We got some good strikes, but it did too, and Dr. Deet crumpled atop Tertin. Our hearts full of fear for our comrades, Beorn and I redoubled our efforts, both striking, for I had no more useful spells and he had snapped his bowstring. We were wearing it down, yet its spirit had not broken, nor, unfortunately, had enough of its…whatever such things are made of. Then the worst happened.
Beorn struck it. I struck it. It struck Beorn. And down. He went down. Not the creature. Beorn. In a moment my world tilted. It could not be. Three of the brave men, capable men, all…they could not be dead. I could not let them die. If I failed, all of our lives will have been lost and nothing would have been gained from it. I summoned all I had left in me. Holding my staff like a warrior, I smashed at the beast. I threw it off balance. It missed me on the return. Again I struck, but missed. Again it went after me, but failed. Again I channelled all I ever knew about wielding the weapon for the melee. That time it could not escape the wood. And then if fell.
At my feet was destruction. No time. I squeezed out some honey given us by the fae of the forest. It seemed to make their paralyzed bodies stop getting worse. Except Tertin. It did him no good. I waited as long as I felt I could. Beorn and Dr. Deet stirred, but no more. I had to do something. In my delirium of sleeplessness, I swear I heard a voice suggest getting the orc. I did. A little bribery, charm, and hypnotism, and he helped me get them back to the gnomish building.
Restored, some time later Beorn practiced his hunting. He’d been almost obsessed with managing it. I’m glad. We exhausted our rations and the spiders the orc offered or the apple from a sock the gnomes held out earlier did nothing to make me want to eat. Yet we needed to. And even fae-touched honey and apples couldn’t satisfy us forever. Beorn’s efforts paid off.
We started handling the wild boar he brought down. It wasn’t huge, but it was enough. He offered some to the fae, making them most happy. In friendship, Beorn offered some to the gnomes, too. Still they seemed to act in a most ungnomish manner. Alas I pressed them to come clean with what their actions hid. I wish that I hadn’t. Or at least that what they hid had not been so gruesome. My stomach turned as one dropped the half-eaten, roasted fae body. Beorn’s voice was lost to me as tears rolled down my face. I picked up the tiny one and carried it to the fae in the woods. I told them of the treachery and the one from whom I’d recovered the body. They went away much dimmed.
We spent the night away from that place. In the morning, we smelled smoke. The fae had their revenge. The building was charred and it was clear they could not escape the place. Ashes. The acrid smell of burnt flesh and ashes were everywhere. I cannot deny I understood what was done and felt justice had been served. We must end the suffering somehow. No more gnomes should be turned in such a way. No more fae should face such horrors. It was time for us to get going.
Fully renewed, this morning we charged into the Black Hole. We made short work out of finding Seronius. We worked together as if we had been long-seasoned warriors fighting all our lives as one. With well-aimed throws of balls containing flames, magical strikes, and mind-distracting spells, Seronius succumbed to death. We took his head and much loot back to the gnome camp. The fae cheered and honored us for having defeated such an enemy.
We are travelling again. We must deposit what we have, tell the town of Tertin’s fate, reconnect with Morandir, and prepare to return to take on Free. And perhaps the witch queen herself.