April 7, 2018
[Posted on time – +0.1 HP.]
- JP gains 1 HP from studying logs posted in a timely fashion.
- Quincy gains 1 Corruption (with no apparent boon) after being downed by a psychic projection.
- Everyone recieves 3058 XP with timely log update. Everyone gets 607 GP, or 728 GP if they did not donate to the Leshanna Memorial Fund.
- Sapling of the Sundered Pine. Grows into a permanent Very Secure refuge when planted; has healing properties [permanent] and offers a boon akin to Grandmother Dryad’s Blessing [on first use]. (2 * 800 GP)
- Helpful Amulet of Locate Object. Can Help as a Bonus Action once per LR. One charge of Locate Object. (700 GP)
- Valerian borrows the Spidersilk armor and the Healing Gourd.
- The party brings a total of 21 healing potions.
We accomplished a deadly mission, but not the one to which we had agreed; we destroyed a great evil, but may well have ushered in worse; we both greatly assisted and deeply displeased a powerful new patron.
The Sundered Fens should be marked down in all Guild records as very dangerous, both in terms of its denizens and in terms of the near-impossibility of acting correctly – in terms of moral certainty or our wider ambitions to save this continent – without extraordinary care and preparation.
And we should not eat any more proffered apples.
Valerian came again. They were cautious, this time – frustrated. The messengers that brought us our orders, humourless and inconsiderate and strange, clearly bothered them a great deal, their inconsistencies maddening both aesthetically and pragmatically. I touched their bow with the light of the Tree and it was magical – a decision that paid great dividends throughout our journey. Periodically they vanished where there was no remotely visible place to hide, and then strong things died when they reappeared. One grows accustomed to wonders, out here, but wonders they remain.
Sovan made good use of his lyre. We relied, as we always do, on Sovan simpliciter. He was magnificent.
I have missed Quincy. It was good to see him – and even today, I remember when he was far, far stronger than I, and his broad bank in front of me made me sure that he would always be the one protecting me as I hung back and saved lives and took none. We took a long road to get here. Part of me still blanches when that chain that slit my throat appears on his arm and lays waste to all around it. He said little, this outing, as is his wont; even laid low and polluted by the Vision Worm, that horrid Servant, he was uncomplaining. His nose for the arcane led us to our quarry. His selflessness saved others’ lives. I think he is at the cusp of a further breakthrough in his martial technique.
Tabitha remains a pure soul in an impure setting. I am never quite so certain of the value of my faith as when I see her own – blazing certainty, rejecting compromise and weakness and acceptance of failure. She has suffered more than she or anyone deserves, here – those hammer-blows that fall upon the Guild seem to strike at her nearest and dearest. The boats that brought her, and Marc, and Beauregarde, and Melora to this side of the ocean forged lifelong friendships – quite literally, it seems, though the lives be cut cruelly short. Tabitha reminds me of a bright blade I made once that was keen as an adder’s tooth; the sharper its edge, however, the more brittle. I will try to focus on helping her temper her grief and her outrage at this place; it may well become a source of ever greater strength.
Beth had to leave the expedition at the last minute; a sudden illness. She fired Lightning Bolt charges at my armour as a curious form of apologetic payment. I like her very much.
Meeting by the wall, we stared out into a drizzling grey depression of a day. Our stated aim: to kill a ‘Servant’, a ‘smaller Puppeteer’, for the Sundered One of the Fens. I used my Forge Blessing to give Valerian a +1 longbow, which they used to great effect all the expedition.
Quincy and I took point (which with Tabitha and Sovan bringing up the rear, and Valerian as a mobile reinforcement in the middle of these two pairs. Tabitha performed a mighty and elaborate ‘high-five’ of solidarity with Sovan at their rear-guard status, and off we went.
Much of the journey there was uneventful – I will identify specific locales where any incidents of note occurred.
04.13: Crossing the bridge past the Blazing Banner waystation, we noted at least 2 hobgoblin patrols in the northwest of the region, massing near 05.12. They were too savvy to attack a party this strong, but they may need to be dispersed forcibly in the future, especially if they begin more active slaving or interference with Guild patrols.
Passing on, we find the 06.12 Tunnel to 13.07 north of the Blazing Banner fortress surveying that area. I cast Water Walk – not knowing what the tidal condition was on the other side of the Tunnel entrance – and we near-instantly travelled up to the Sundered Fens.
Signs of the impending End of Days they may be, but the Tunnels are certainly convenient in the interim.
13.07: As we splashed down onto the water, we saw that the tide was knee-high to a typical human (thigh-level to myself) but not notably moving – we seemed to be at high tide. (JP Nature: 25). As I surveyed the area, I saw few birds but many fish-folk – those who rode the tide inland and harpooned the bird-people on our last visit. Fishers of the land.
The Fishers seemed to alternate between creeping along the land and burrowing just under the muddy ground below the shallow waters. Sovan, seeing new friends to be had, as he always does, approached with Comprehend Languages up, smile at the ready.
Two Fishers disappeared beneath the water as we approached; others tried (ineffectually) to hide themselves. Not our best start, but not our worst.
My darling persevered: “Hello, friends!” They burbled back a non-verbal noise of threat and aggression. Sovan refused to take the bait, and offered the Fishers some lightly-spiced chateaubriand still redolent with brandy demi-glaze. One Fisher approached, sniffed, ate. Pushed a hideously slick hand, dripping with some natural secretion, into Sovan’s face. Sovan looked back at us – clearly thinking of handshakes gone terribly, horribly, wrong – but decided to endure risk for the sake of diplomacy.
The Fisher rubs Sovan, considers. It makes revolting burbling noises – Sovan’s Comprehend Languages lets him understand that it is saying “This one is clean.” It considers further – “…mostly clean.” Indefatigable, Sovan chirps back “Hi -” – pointing to himself – “SOooo-van.” And beams. The creature seems immune to his considerable charm and turns to Valerian.
The rest of us are groped in our turn and “mostly clean” seems to be the overall verdict. Perhaps, in context, it means Corruption? Notably, the Fisher seems almost actively displeased by our ‘cleanliness’. It looks around to its companions. “There are a lot of them. Let’s go.” (I must assume that it was unaware Sovan could understand it.)
Even his trilling, flutey “Goodbye, new friends!” receives not a wave nor a glance. Pearls before swine, I suppose? To adapt that old saying: ‘When one is tired of Sovan, one is tired of life.’
[ADDENDUM: WELL SPOKEN. THIS ANONYMOUS COMMENTATOR THINKS THAT RED EMPEROR IS A PRETTY COOL GUY AND IS SUPER FUN AT PARTIES, SQUAWK SQUAWK.]
[ADDENDUM TO ADDENDUM: SPECULATIVE NOTES ON THE IDENTITY OF PRIOR ANONYMOUS COMMENTATOR OR COMMENTATORS ARE NOT APPROPRIATE FOR INSERTION INTO OFFICIAL GUILD RECORDS. SUCH INEFFECTUAL ATTEMPTS TO IMITATE THAT COMMENTATOR’S COMMUNICATION PROTOCOLS CLEARLY INDICATE AN EXCESS OF ENERGY AND FREE TIME THAT MAY FIND ITSELF CURBED QUITE PROACTIVELY IN THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE.]
As the Fishers depart, Sovan offers more meat – ‘good meat after bad’ – and is ignored. The Fishers are unfriendly from the start despite our best efforts, which will ease my conscience later.
We look about us, and see that it is high tide. I put my hand to a nearby tree, recalling the Sundered One’s advice that they would find us at their leisure in these lands, and reach out with my senses, newly attuned to the Land by that apple the Sundered One gave me.
Almost instantly I feel watched from afar – spiritually, at first, and then quite literally as the tree bark cracks and the tree’s heartwood shifts into a great opalescent eye the size of a dinner plate. It blinks at me. I blink back. It closes.
Two minutes later, a cormorant perches on the tree’s branch. A messenger, a proxy for the Sundered One. Its first words, in Elvish: “Why are you here?” It seems honestly puzzled.
i look about the group, decide to keep going, and explain that it asked us here to destroy an ‘abomination’ of sorts, a Servant. I cite the Sundered Apple it offered me, which caused the Sundered’s Bird to visibly brighten and ask if it was delicious. I try to be diplomatic by alluding to the surface illusion of beauty and good taste that concealed its Corrupt core, but indicating that I appreciated the gift anyway.
“That – but – why – oh. Yes. The surface is part of the whole.” the Bird stutters, slightly raggedly. (It seemed momentarily confused by what I said but then remembered what I meant.) “All part of the artistry, I take it?” I asked ironically. “Yes!” it replied happily.
As Valerian weighed in quite animatedly on what they thought of this definition of artistry, we noticed a thing – the Bird, or rather the Sundered using it as a relay, caused us to silence when it spoke. All our sound just…cut out, so its soft deliberate fluting voice cut through the air unopposed: “Now. The Servant. Go North and West, then North and West and North, in equal proportions, and you’ll find a twisted tree there. Kill that.”
The directions do not get better on repetition or request for clarification, but we do find some things out:
- The tree Servant mentioned is not the great Mangrove.
- It calls other trees to its aid.
- It is twisted, wrong; it distorts reality and deploys illusions; it affects the minds of others.
- It is vulnerable to fire.
- It sits atop a hill over the marsh, ‘where the land changes’.
Otherwise, the Bird cannot tell us much – it is unclear whether our ‘cleanliness’ or lack thereof comes from its touch. Regarding the Reef Snakes met on expedition 90, they are to the North-West of the Fens.
Asked about whether we should approach them, the Bird is largely indifferent; then it is…deeply confused. ‘Of two minds’, one might say. “Do what you want” is its final conclusion. After relaying this, the Bird flies away, apparently done with talking.
As it left us, we realize that we are no longer under the influence of Water Walking – clearly much time has passed without our being aware of it. Any conversation with the Sundered One or its Bird, therefore, risks the slippage of an unknown amount of time.
Immediately after this, and more pointedly, we realize that we are half-surrounded by a semi-circle of well over a dozen Fishers, armed with wicked harpoons. A trio stands behind them – one with a twisted driftwood staff, two burlier than their fellows and armed with simple but well-maintained crossbbows. As we watch, some are sinking into the mire, others emerging – they seem to burrow through the fen-matter as fast as through air. Our ambu
Valerian reacts faster than thought, and before our ambushers see them move they are sending an arrow into the shoulder of the staff wielder, obviously shattering their shoulder joint (42 piercing Sneak Attack). “Take the casters out first!” they trill, and there is a wild delight in their eyes at the prospect of righteous violence…and then they disappear from my view.
Sovan hums a song of terror from the deeps, of great fangs lashing out, and Major Image forms a vast sea monster near us, roaring and frothing. The Fishers recoil but do not break.
Instead, six of the regular Fishers surge forwards, and six harpoons lance out at Tabitha, visibly the least armoured among us. Adequately tactical beasts. She is hit once (11 piercing), twice (12 piercing) – tugged but resisting both times – and then the third sinks into her (11 piercing), yanking her fowards for a terrible bite. Three more spears drop her to the brink of death and shred part of her left arm. (2 Failed Death Saves, Temp. Injury: -1 DEX).
As she falls, she opens her eyes as my Healing Word, which as always is “TREE!”, washes over her and she is conscious. I summon my Spirit Guardians and, braced by the song of my ancestors, I charge into melee, standing astride Tabitha.
As Tabitha’s Pattern fades, another six Fishers split into two groups of 3 – one hangs back, eyeing Sovan’s monstrous Image, three trying to down Sovan – who they clearly see as its summoner. He is hit twice by harpoons (11 + 10 piercing), resisting the first reeling-in but succumbing to the second, to be bit grievously (7 piercing) as he enters the Fisher’s range…
…and from somewhere underneath me, I hear a weak “Oh, fuck, shit, SHOWTIME!”
Rather foolishly, I look down. Tabitha is glowing with Divine Flame, as her…‘perfectly normal half-elf’ heritage manifests itself. A wave of holy Fear spreads out from her slumped but radiant form, and I resist the Blessed Shroud but 4 of the Fishers do not and are terrified.
At some point I will have to talk to Tabitha about ‘trick plays’, and about the need to mention them to allies and to practice them with said allies before trying them out mid combat.
Wincing slightly, she stands, and Eadgils’ Gauntlet glows as one of its orbs heals Tabitha with Cure Wounds. She is safe, for now, and I am standing guard over her.
Happily, at this time, six of the Fishers miss Sovan from 30’ away with their harpoons. He smiles at them as if to say “Is that the best you can do?” He has always been something of a rascal.
Meanwhile, two of the Burly Fishers fire at Valerian, whom they can apparently see, and use what appear to be Battlemaster techniques to attack them – one hitting (19 piercing) though Valerian resists an apparent trip attempt. Their confederate with the staff launches out a vast inky tentacle from its staff that gets within a foot of Beausoleil before the armor cantilevers out a spike of Divine Essence Energy to angle the blow away from the pauldron-
[ADDENDUM: MUCH DISCUSSION OF ARMOR TECHNIQUE EXCISED. NEVER ONCE ARE THE SURPRISINGLY OBVIOUS WORDS ‘OR MAYBE I COULD LEARN TO DODGE’ USED.]
- and it misses. Waste of a spell! I could empathize, were it not a vile Fisher Shaman attacking us after we tried to make friends.
Quincy steps forward to the cluster of six Fishers that missed Sovan with harpoons, and his chain flares with hellish glow, and he lashes them savagely (11 damage) and they are restrained in a web of chains coiled about them, though none fall prone. Still, he interposes himself; his face is set, neutral, but a certain air of ‘None Shall Pass’ sits in his stance. He is a rare presence among us, but a welcome one.
Valerian briefly blurs into view, kills the Fisher Shaman with an arrow between its mottled eyes, and vanishes once more.
Sovan gestures languidly and moves his Image monster over to the four Fishers fighting Tabitha and myself, only one of whom is not visibly broken in spirit by its proximity. His other hand points to Tabitha and words of encouragement Inspire her, while healing Sovan. Granny’s blessing is not to be trifled with any more than are her pranks.
Three of the Fishers near me break as their morale crumbles and the Spirit Guardians sing and smite them with their immaterial hammers and picks (13 radiant); I cuff one with Durandal as they flee and do another 6 damage. Meanwhile one of those that remain stabs Tabitha for 9 damage and she winces but does not fall.
Seeing her resilience, and trusting her capacity to handle so few foes while her Shroud is active, I run towards the Battlemaster Fishers and get them, as well as the Tabitha Fisher, within my Spirit Guardians radius. She will doubtless be triumphant! I ‘double down’ (as a slick city gambler might say) and launch a Guiding Bolt (16 radiant) which illuminates one of the Battlemasters…and then my Spiritual Hammer misses its skull regardless.
Near-simultaneously, the three Fishers attacking Sovan do, between them, a single glancing blow (6 piercing). Karma has its answers, I suppose.
Tabitha decides to let discretion be the better part of valour, and a Bless erupts from Eadgils’ Gauntlet over myself, Valerian and Quincy, then a Mirror Image trio bursts into life around her and she stands her ground.
The other Fishers retaliate – six missing Quincy, scrabbling to attack him from within the restraining Chain Net. Meanwhile one of the Battlemasters uses his martial prowess to actually penetrate Beausoleil and my Shield spell (13 piercing). I manage to maintain concentration on my Guardians but am rather surprised to be struck, I will admit. No construction is perfect; perhaps, though, if I double the connectors -
[ADDENDUM: YES, MORE ARMOR TALK TO EXCISE. WE RESUME THE BATTLE BELOW.]
Quincy kills one Chain-restrained Fisher (6 slashing) and injures another (10 slashing). Valerian pops into sight, grievously injures a Battlemaster Fisher (16 piercing) and hides anew. Sovan Shatters Quincy’s restrained Fishers, killing 1 and leaving 4 near death; his combined Word heals Tabitha and Inspires myself.
The three Fishers left near Tabitha suffer different fates – one dies to Spirit Guardians, one fruitlessly attacks a Mirror Image, at which his morale breaks and he flees. One clips Tabitha with a harpoon (9 piercing). I continue to attempt to drop the strongest foes, bloodying a Battlemaster Fisher with Guiding Bolt (20 radiant) and Spiritual Weapon (9 force).
More Fishers fail to injure Sovan, only one hitting him (10 piercing) and leaving him looking a trifle more ragged than usual. Tabitha uses Eadgils to Cure Wounds, runs into the shelter of my Spirit Guardians (evading any opportunity attacks) and badly hurts one of the Fishers that were upon her with Scorching Ray.
The Fishers near Quincy knock him prone with a harpoon thrust (13 piercing), but he parries the worst of it – taking another hit while on his back (6 piercing), he rises, muddy and grim, and kills 2 with three attacks. (8, 10, 7 slashing). Two remain in his chains.
As his blade falls, an arrow, seemingly out of nowhere, kills a Battlemaster Fisher (27 piercing). Valerian grins and vanishes. Sovan crows out his delight and shouts something mocking at Tabitha’s remaining adversary, who is startled enough to miss Tabitha with a harpoon.
My spells continue to pound at the remaining Battlemaster Fisher (22 damage total) but he does not fall; his plight, however, inspires the Fishers attacking Sovan to run for the hills. Tabitha uses Firebolt to reduce the last Fisher attacking her to a smoking ruin.
In a near simultaneous flurry of violence, the last Battlemaster hits me again (9 piercing) and is killed in turn by Valerian, as Quincy kills the last two normal Fishers near him.
Searching the bodies, their gear is simplistic and low in value, although we do find a strange amulet on the Fisher Shaman – a Helpful Amulet of Locate Object (see above). I search for a place of in which to take a short rest with Survival skills honed among the Stalkers of my Well, finding a spot of high ground on the NW edge of Hex 13.07 as the tide begins to recede.
Much healing ensues; when we feel better, if lighter of potion pouch, we discuss whether we are content with killing a Servant for this somewhat inscrutable Local Power. Overall, we decide that we should at least see the foe and decide for ourselves, but that we might engage in some diplomacy en route to the Servant. As such, we resolve that we shall attempt to locate the Reef Snake village before proceeding to the Twisted Tree’s demesnes.
To that end, we head northwest through 12.07 – our estimation is that the Reef Snake village is in 12.06. We observe areas of high ground around the lake and rivers, which seem to keep above even high tides; these areas descend into frequently flooded flatlands around them. We cross two rivers heading northeast out of 12.07 – one into 13.06, one into 12.06 – with patches of high ground around them. These rivers slowly turn into deltas as they near the sea.
(Sovan’s beautiful map is worth checking for more details on the specifics of the local topography.)
All seems well, our journey progresses north through 12.06 towards the Reef Snake village’s likely locale…until suddenly everything is awful.
Three Vast and squamous tentacles erupt from the ground immediately ahead of us, connected to a hideous central body – a dark floating ball rising out of the murk, with wide white teeth set in a disquieting and malicious smile.
Valerian reacts, again, near-instantly – firing an arrow into the Dread Orb’s centre of mass (18 piercing) and hiding extraordinarily well. Sovan sings a nasty little crab-canon-phrase of psychic harm, and the Orb seems unaffected; he inspires me and subsides to see if the Divine Light fares any better.
As we enter this desperate combat, we notice that a heavy mist has arisen all around us, and our visibility is strictly limited. Perhaps this obscured vision is what distracts Tabitha as two of the Orb’s three tentacles lash out and grapple her, one missing, but the others slamming into her hard (17 and 13 bludgeoning).
At about this time, Quincy and I, in the vanguard of the expedition, feel chilled and pained (5 cold damage) – but, sadly, fail to connect this to Valerian striking the Orb until I hit a weak spot with Guiding Bolt (32 radiant crit) and follow up with my Powerful Spiritual Weapon (14 force)…and both hits hurt myself and Quincy (in 10’ range of the Dread Orb’s main body) and Tabitha (grappled, in contact with its tentacles) (2*5 cold).
Quincy, learning this lesson where I did not, momentarily pauses in assaulting the creature to attempt to secure Tabitha’s release from its grip, but is overpowered (STR 9).
Tabitha herself is about to pass out, and I see her panicked intention to turn on her Mantle of Flame – and as far as we know, immediately provoke her own unconsciousness from the creature’s chilling feedback – but Sovan shouts for her to hang on, and she trusts him implicitly enough to begin casting a Scorching Ray.
A good decision: as she finishes the spell, Sovan has dashed forward on mighty Veillantif to grip her, Dimension Door to safety, and let her unleash her Rays – only one of which hits, but both scores the creature (8 fire) and, through heating it, prevents the chilling feedback damage that it unleashed before.
Valerian seems to be waiting for us to clear out before they fire; this proves a risky decision, as the Orb advances towards them, obviously entirely aware of their location despite their Stealth. We swing at it as it leaves us, only Quincy drawing a line of thick ichor from its side (10 piercing.) Its three tentacle attacks on Valerian do, however, all miss.
I try to draw the Dread Orb’s fire by taunting it and running past its view – it misses with a quick tentacle attack, as do I with Sacred Flame, before my Spiritual Weapon strikes true (10 force) – as, from behind, Quincy slashes at it, hitting twice from three attacks (7 + 5 slashing) before settling back to find his Second Wind.
Valerian seems reluctant to shoot it from so close, but as they reappear, and the creature seems poised to press its attack, chanting emanates behind Valerian – Sovan and Tabitha both have a finger outstretched, familiar white-hot motes glowing in the air before their fingers. I am instantly and heartily glad I did not follow into melee.
Valerian flips backwards, firing an arrow in midair, which snaps the target’s head back as both Fireballs streak forwards and the creature -
- ‘pops’ out of existence. I…am not sure what has happened, but from my recent studies into the nature of Arcane reality-sculpting (in researching the Corrupt), I know something is wrong. This thing was not corporeally real as we understand the term…and yet it was there? I am confused. (1/8 experience.)
Quincy is more practical and specific – he smells a line of power coming from the north with his wolfen senses. My own Nose for Magic can assist him once he directs me to the scent. A remote entity ‘puppeteering’ this Dread Orb we fought. We resolve to track back this scent and kill the master while weakened from its puppet’s loss.
The smell weakens and fades, but we march north along the straight line of its path. Some minutes later, Quincy picks up the scent again, but more dispersed – as if a whole zone is polluted, ostensibly closer to the originating source. The smell is detectable even to ourselves – a stink of fetid ozone.
Seconds later, a mass of vegetation surges towards us. A Shambling Mound. I still my readied Lightning Bolt to avoid empowering the beast (Arcana 24 to know lightning absorb property.) Meanwhile Sovan and Tabitha blast it with Fireball (28 fire) and Scorching Ray (26 fire)…and seem to do full damage where the waterlogged Mound should resist flame. Curious.
Valerian and Quincy miss.
I Investigate the surroundings (18) and find that it is at least somewhat illusory – this is not a real mound, these are not real mists about us. Tabitha Blesses me, along with Quincy and herself, and holds off on attacking in case the illusion is ultimately invulnerable.
While we debate this in breathless seconds, the Mound (Image?) slithers forward and engulfs Quincy (14 bludgeoning). He disappears inside it, and Sovan’s Dissonant Whispers make the Mound shriek (27 psychic), but the Mound fails to run.
Valerian strikes the Mound again from hiding (15 piercing), and Quincy escapes its grip as it reels. It dodges my Sacred Flame [NB: I was idiotically asking for WIS not DEX saves all along…] and I content myself with using my Well-given Rally to bolster Quincy’s resolve (5 THP).
Another Fireball from Tabitha does significant damage to the Mound (28 fire) but it rolls over Quincy once more (15 bludgeoning) and ignores Sovan’s efforts to frighten it. Valerian strikes the Mound with another well-placed shot, missing the struggling Quincy (16 piercing), just as Quincy briefly surges out of the Mound, dashes away – and is caught as he moves, sucked back in to the Mound’s interior.
When I try to drag the thing off of Quincy with Thorn Whip, unfortunately enough he turns out to move with his captor. Tabitha misses with a Firebolt; the creature flails outward at myself (missing) and at Quincy within (also a miss). The Mound ignores more of Sovan’s mind-affecting magic, but takes yet more savage damage from Valerian (23 piercing), before making Quincy’s form inside it…disappear. We have no idea, at that time, where to.
The second he was out of its space, I used Beausoleil to fire a Lightning Bolt into the Mound’s body and make it ‘pop’.
The second it disappears, we see an unconscious Quincy; he is not injured, but is slightly more Corrupt on waking and feels nauseous beyond belief (+1 Corruption – No Boon). I pick up the nearby scent of these apparitions’; master with my Nose for Magic and we swiftly track it down.
As we near the master, the Sundered’s Bird appears on a branch. It informs us that we have, through dumb luck, found a Servant it did not in fact hire us to destroy. It seems elated, still, at this chance opportunity – “Well done, it’s close!” it caws out – but informs us that it can’t help us find it beyond telling us to “look carefully”. The Bird flies away.
Its speech, all through this time, is confused, discursive; as it leaves, we see thick furrows carved into the branch where its claws lay.
Regardless, we find the source of all this mayhem – a 4-5’ long worm embedded in the ground, pulsing with hatred, half-coated with mud. The Worm begged for its life, but offered only unspecified but doubtless tainted power, mixed with further lies that it would spare us in future. Tabitha looked into its heart, and saw only its own selfish lust to propagate its time on this Plane.
I look at the wounds on my comrades and take great pleasure in incinerating it with my last stored Lightning Bolt. It turns to ash, some of which we collect to feed to Aythe as part of her blanket request for the remains of strong adversaries.
As I do, the oppressive ozone stink around us dies down; the Sundered’s Bird appears, asking us to ‘come North’ to find us, travelling ‘over the water’. Its voice is different than before, but we know not precisely how. It leaves hurriedly.
Deciding that our efforts to reconvene with our Patron can wait until we are no longer stinking and half-dead, we find a secure enough location for the night (Survival 20). We sleep. We take watches. We are not disturbed.
The next morning, Quincy is less nauseous. Conferring, we decide to kill the Tree Servant already from last expedition before we get rewarded, reasoning that bringing two bounties will perhaps earn two rewards. So decided, we proceed N through 12.06, heading to 11.05, and with continual castings of _Water Walk we make swift progress.,
As we travel, a third river delta beneath our magically floating soles, we see the tide coming in aggressively; bird humanoids wheel away above us, and Reef Snakes watch us from the north – making no response to Sovan’s Draconic “Hello!” save to instantly flee.
I think of my Sending to Sin of the Reef Snakes, unanswered whatever I said. I think of the look in their eyes when I described myself as a Servant. I decide that any diplomacy with those folk is best done without me present.
We press on.
Mid-morning, we arrive in 11.04, and find a bizarre mishmash of lowland marsh and forested hills, interspersed with little visible rhyme or reason. We see highlands exten into 10.04 and 11.03, and full-on coniferous forest in 12.04. – surmounted by a truly gigantic pine tree, the equal of the Mangrove to the southeast, similarly visible for miles.
A sea cliff arcs up along the edge of the bay to our north.Bird people fight Fishers in small clusters; all ignore us. We breathe in air half swampy musk and half crisp ocean breeze, and we ascend to a larger hill in front of us to take the lay of the land and find the Tree Servant’s lair.
Sovan, Quincy and Valerian stealth away to the hilltop, seeing the Pine in 12.04 more clearly, but also a copse of trees in southwest 11.03 that likely shelter the Tree Servant.
Tabitha and myself, meanwhile – left behind for our…rather patchy history with sneaking about – take a brief break below to discuss the Lightbringer series. Midway through a discussion of Book III, the Sundered’s Bird lands near the two of us. “Good – I’ve found you,”: it croaks. “You’ve done what I asked.”
When I remind the Bird that it wanted the TREE dead and that we were off to get that done, the Bird got agitated quickly. It stated that it could not reward us for both, to which Tabitha responded by suggesting a ‘Tab’ (the unintentional(?) pun!) and asking if the Tree was Evil as the Worm was – in which case we two would both happily turn it to ash.
At this point, the Bird began to vacillate – the Tree WAS evil, yes, but its priorities had shifted, and so it recommended that we hold off on slaying it. I think back to the mixed messages we’ve received – I think of the name ‘The Sundered One’ – and I ask the Bird if it serves two masters. Tabitha follows up, asking for it to clarify what it means while avoiding calling it a liar (Persuasion 10).
The Bird is visibly upset at this question being uttered, and at her attempt to cajole it into honesty. As the others return, Sovan reiterating Tabitha’s plea for clarity, the Bird states flatly that it “cannot explain this [inconsistency] to [us].” It hops about anxiously: “Things are not what they appear. You – you know things – that – I d – I don’t know that you know -”
We glean from what the Bird says that
- The Tree Servant is both ‘a problem’ and ‘not a problem’ at the same time.
- The Pine Tree (12.04) and the Mangrove (13.06) are both the Sundered One.
- The Pine Tree wants us to spare the Tree, the Mangrove does not.
- The Sundered One’s priorities shift constantly.
- It can, however, tell us at a later date which Servant we really should kill.
- We should still go to the Pine Tree and get paid for the Worm Servant we slew.
The Bird leaves, still agitated. For the present, we decide to listen to this most recent directive and leave the Tree Servant for now. We head north to the Sundered Pine – as we go, we see hills crumbling away and falling into fens to our east. The landscape is shifting more to the marshy southeast terrain all around us.
Arriving in the 12.04 coniferous forest, we approach the great pine tree, and see a vast eye form on its side – as, for a second, a blighted patch mars all of the pine’s southern face. “YOU’VE COME TO ME.” a great voice echoes out of the tree.
We are in the direct presence of the Sundered One’s Pine.
It speaks to us again: “I OFFERED YOU…A GIFT. YOU SLEW…THAT SERVANT. A GIFT…SHALL BE GIVEN.”
Two of its branches arc down, unfurl, and drop knots of natural heartwood on the ground before us.
These Sundered Saplings are described to us as repositories of the Sundered One’s magic – a well of power to “offer respite”. When I ask where the Saplings might best be used, the Sundered Pine muses that we should not plant them here in its domain, nor that of any other Power; otherwise they should function, and the Sundered Pine “should be able to reach them” and activate them.
The Pine seems sincere and grateful, if a trifle remote, throughout this discussion. It is frank that the Saplings will be a locus to potentially spread the Pine’s power; they will definitely, however, offer us shelter and healing forever as well as “strength” – something like Grandmother Dryad’s Boons – to whomever is present on their first being planted.
Regarding the Worm Servant, it is…both good and bad, in the Pine’s estimation, that we killed it. More good than bad. Asking about the Tree Servant, the Pine grows suddenly more stern – “why would I POSSIBLY want you to kill that?” It looks crossly down at us, and advises that next time we should return ‘here’ to find out what it wants. When we querulously ask if it means ‘right here at the Pine’, it snaps “Of course – where else would you go to meet me?”
(We stifle multiple Mangrove-related comments.)
I venture to ask about the blight I saw on the Pine’s south face, only to be cut off and told, VERY harshly, that I was mistaken and no such blight existed.
The interview ended quickly after that – for us, at least. For the outside world, it took most of a day, so we eventually slept nearby with very little accomplished for that entire second day of expedition.
The night is uneventful.
We set off for home, as the Sundered Pine has clearly vetoed any attack on the Tree Servant at this time.
We make it as far as 11.05 before the Sundered’s Bird reappears and asks why we’re leaving without killing that Tree Servant. It is adamant that it never told us not to, and seems unaware of our discussion with the Pine. Of course it can reward us for killing the Tree Servant. We must do so at once!
The Bird is so insistent that we look at each other…
And head back north towards the Tree Servant’s likely lair.
(At this point Quincy and Valerian begin muttering fabulously inventive profanities about this winged messenger and its mixed messages. Sovan, Tabitha and I try to be more cheerful about the confusion, but our smiles to each other are evidently strained.)
Only to be stopped by the Bird again. It questions where we are going…
I take several deep breaths.
We firmly tell the Bird that we were just ordered back to slay the Tree Servant and that it should let us do that. The Bird hems and haws, but very tentatively accepts our intentions.
OR SO WE THINK – I am sorry. Or so we think, because minutes later, a swarm of bird-persons, led by a frazzled looking speaker named ‘Arek’, swoop down in front of us. They look as if they have rushed here through a hurricane wind; I suspect that one iteration of the Sundered One warped them here at unsafe speeds to cut us off.
Arek introduces his people as the Flock. He disclaims any knowledge of what exactly is going on, and nervously tries to hint that he cannot say certain things he knows without endangering his own safety. He begs us not to kill anything ‘up here’ (among the Sundered Pine’s hills) – “Things will only be worse” if we do. The area’s landscape will become even more unstable in its rifts between Fen and Hills, at the very least.
Arek tries to drive home the point, when we mention that we despise the Fishers, by opining that the Fishers would love for us to slay anything we find in the Sundered Pine’s hills. The implication that the other side is pure, unmitigated evil is not entirely realistic, in my experience.
Nevertheless, we decide that this is not the day for a probing inquest into a free summary of local politics and agree to leave, the Tree Servant unmurdered for now. Arek and his fellows are visibly relieved.
The Flock, it turns out, have a trading post in 10.04, a third of the way in, to which we are welcome any time. Arek will not likely be there, but others can treat with us in his stead. We say our goodbyes and head southeast towards the portal. Surely, we think, this is our last discussion on the subject!
As we descend into 11.06, trotting along the surface with Water Walk, we hear a slight throat-clearing noise – and nearby we see a young black dragon.
“Hello.” it says, as meekly as any dragon reasonably can.
“Hello!” Sovan says, far less meekly than that. “I’m Sovan!”
“Call me…Dak.” Says the dragon. The BLACK dragon. (Most purely malicious of all the chromatic lineages.) The black dragon with whom we proceed to have a perfectly civil conversation.
What a job we have.
Dak opens with a welcome frankness – acknowledging that it is a Servant of the Sundered One. “The Mangrove?” I ask, beginning to grasp the divide we are facing. “Yes…” Dak says, almost sheepishly.
(Before you die, you owe it to yourself to see a dragon being sheepish.)
Dak goes on: “I know I’m not a convincing messenger, but I want you to take what the Northern people (the Flock, the Pine) say with a grain of salt.” I think he is either truthful or a brilliant liar. (Insight 22.) He proceeds to narrate at least one internally consistent version of events.
Dak chides us, ruefully, for killing the Puppeteer – we made things worse when we did. The Puppeteer is a sign of the Corruption, and of how things have changed, but that is not universally awful – the Sundered One Half (yes, you’ve likely already worked this out, but to us it was a welcome confirmation) he work for, the Mangrove, doesn’t mind being a half. The Pine is far more fussed about Unity and Purity and such.
I ask some questions and Dak confirms that, broadly:
- The Pine supports the Flock; the Mangrove supports the Fishers. (Dak winces at our expressions when the Fishers come up; heasks us not to find guilty by association, at least not on his part.)
- The Pine supports the land, the Mangrove supports the water.
- The Pine supports what once was, the Mangrove supports what is coming to pass. Change. Destruction. Renewal.
Dak also confirms that the Worm we killed was a fellow Servant of the Mangrove, but ‘broken’ – although it was ‘useful’ nonetheless in shoring up reality and stability in the region. He understands why we had to kill the Worm, although he is not happy that we had to; there are now, he advises, only 7 Servants left including himself. Four serve the Mangrove (Dak being one.) Three serve the Pine.
He asks me to ‘read’ him, and I Detect Good and Evil – he is a bit Aberration, a bit Celestial. I report this and he sighs. ‘I used to be mostly Fey’, he grumbles.
I abruptly interrupt to ask if the Sundered Apple I ate might turn me into something like that Worm Servant. “Yes,” Dak replied, with a pained look that he held onto for most of the discussion. “In the worst case scenario.”
(As he is talking, I am briefly imagining myself, oozing, shrinking, embedded into – but no. Other solutions will be found. I will not turn; I will see to that most assiduously.)
Snapping back to the conversation, Sovan is asking if the Sundered Saplings are safer than the Apple I ate. “Oh, yes, most likely,” Dak reassures us. “They don’t lie – only we do. …I know that I am not able to do the best job of convincing you to trust us a little, but I want to be honest even where others may not be.”
I must say, his frankness IS rather refreshing.
The specifics of the ‘worse’ we made the world when we killed the Puppeteer, we ask? “You made it harder to hold the world together,” Dak grimaces. “DO NOT kill another Node-Keeper. Help it to be better instead.”
To clarify this rather singular bit of advice, Dak goes on to fill in many blanks in our picture of the Corruption event – with his own overt disclaimer that he has put much of this together on his own over centuries of careful consideration, and can prove almost none of this.
Dak confirms Aythe’s reading that the Puppeteer was a fusion of a powerful mage, keeper of the Felltower Node, and the Corruption Entity that overtook the Node Network. This Entity was, as best he can surmise, the fusion of a ‘god over gods’ that had come to prevent some unspecified calamity, a catastrophic instability of local reality, provoked, it seems likely, by there being “too many Nodes” in the Empire’s network.
This Arch-Celestial made a deal with Aberrant Powers to gain raw power by fusing with the Far Realm. It thereby became a powerful Divine Aberration that invaded the Node Network and turned it into a set of ‘stitches’ on the world that held it together…while leaking Corruption from the reality-warping, life-hating Aberrant side of its nature.
All of the Nodes the Corruption Entity touched thus became fountains of Corruption, and their Node-Keepers either died or fused with the Entity to form beings like the Puppeteer. Only Nodes knocked offline (as with the Dark Forest Swamp or Silesse’s Retreat) were spared.
Turning to the local specifics, the Mangrove Tree turns out not to be just a mighty growth – Dak confirmed that it is, in fact, an active (Corrupting) Node. But the particular nature of its Keeper, the Sundered One, renders it less hostile than those run by humanoids like the being that became the Puppeteer.
Long before the Corruption, the Sundered One was a great Fey spirit of the Land and Sea, and specifically of the creative chaos where they met in the Fens. Silanyans came to the region and forced this Arch-Fey into service as Keeper of the local Node. At that time, they still were one being. The Servants were its Fey courtiers.
Dak paused, here – very serious – and said to us all “I have to tell you…DO NOT talk to either Tree (the Pine or Mangrove) until memory of this discussion has faded into a background memory.” Both can, it seems, read recent and surface memories; this might be disastrous were either, but especially the Pine, to see that we had discussed the nature of the Sundered One, and especially that we knew it had been split.
This split was an act of self-preservation. The Sundered Pine, sensing the wave of Corruption inbound, broke as much as it could of itself away from the Mangrove Node, returning to the Pine that is its current home as the Corruption Entity took hold of the Node. In so doing, it preserved most of its pure Fey nature, but became obsessed with that ‘purity’ and the idea that it was not diminished or split with the Mangrove Node.
The two trees, Pine and Mangrove, remain connected halves of the once liminal and region-spanning whole. They exist in an uneasy truce – and Dak suggested that we not kill any more Servants of any stripe, as that tips the balance of power. When either half, either Tree grows stronger, they gain more influence – and might be able to more directly control the Servants…including Dak.
Dak was blunt about his vested interest in the status quo – he currently enjoys a measure of independence and unchanging Dragon nature due to its Master being divided against itself. He values that independence and will, if we resume Servant Hunting, try to kill us to preserve it. He would not relish that, but would not hesitate.
At this point I interjected: “This is very fine. But – to be frank as you have been – what would you have us do? The Puppeteer was destroying all in its path, as do all these Nodes. You would have us do nothing, but what point is there in keeping the world intact if the world becomes a blasted nightmare?”
Dak acknowledged my point: “There is a lot of truth to that, yes. The Entity came, and everything changed, but you have to understand that we’re still better off than we were before – it stopped…something, I don’t know exactly what. The Sundered One knows more but isn’t very straight with me – sometimes it can’t be, sometimes it doesn’t want to be. I DO know that, as far as it believes, this is an interim step before things get worse by far.”
“What you can maybe do,” Dak says tentatively, “is try to talk with the Celestial portion of the Entity. It’s part of a bad thing that wants you all to die – but that’s not ALL it wants and you might be able to help it see that it wants other things far more. What it came here to do. You need to try to talk with the Corruption.”
Apparently, according to Dak, we need to do so at a working Node. To wit: another Felltower. How manageable and reasonable. Pushing through our significant skepticism, Dak asks us to at least try to make contact with Corruption and try to find a better way forward. …likely, he is not wrong that it is worth the proverbial “College try.”
One location Dak suggests for a possible contact with the Corruption Entity is The ‘Blighted Steppe’ – a series of plains corresponding to 7.03, 8.03 and 8.04 on our maps. (It apparently took decades for it to glean that location, considering its spatial limitations vis-a-vis the Folds in the landscape.) That area has a Node, dormant but still connected to the Corruption’s area of the network.
If we activate that Blighted Steppe node, its local Corruption will spike (as with the Felltower Woods while that Node was active), but the Corruption will likely come through, at the very first, in a form more amenable to parlay. Right after this, it will likely attempt to kill us all, so we should speak quickly and to the point.
Amongst ourselves, later, we brought up Silesse’s node – if we could hook it back up to the Node Network (she was ejected forcibly during Corruption, saving her life) that might be another way to meet with the Corruption and talk…but would likely kill her or far, far worse. Never. Never EVER.
(…not unless there is truly no other hope.)
Alternatively, we could try talking to the Sundered Mangrove Node. It is less inimical to all life than many. But we should be aware that this is by no means safe – just not as terribly hateful as the Puppeteer we killed in the Felltower.
Whatever we do, Dak underscores once again, we should not kill any more Servants. Not even Dak’s enemies, or he may fight us to preserve the status quo – he does not know what killing more servants will do the precarious local balance between all Powers involved.
If we wish to talk to Dak further, he roosts near 11.06. He reiterated that the Mangrove Servants can and do lie, and that much of what he said is conjecture, but he asks for us to trust at the very least that he will not attack or impede us as long as we do not sink further into the war between the Sundered One’s two sides.
We say our farewells for the present, as Dak takes wing and we head to the 13.07 portal home.
No further incidents occupy us as we return to the Wall. We make it home.
As I write this, I look at the wine-dark stain in the shape of an apple on my hand, lambent in the soft candlelight by which I write, and I hope very much that it is the shadows and my imagination that make it blacken.
That make it pulse.
That make it cover a little more of my hand than it did yesterday.
Signed in the Light, this Twentieth Day of Cleansing,
Jean-Pierre du Vayrir de la Grand Contumace Saint-Emilion