Gravely, Enna turns to the Genasi.
“Caecius? I need to ask a favour.”
“What do you want?”
“Ansrel Ambrarae is out there with her allies, ready to ambush and kill us. I can feel it in my bones.” The elf takes a deep breath. “Look… if I fall or I’m incapacitated, I need you to kill Boreas!”
“What?” says Caecius, startled. “Don’t insult me! You’re not going to die. Not if I have anything to say about it!”
“I know that. But if the worst happens I need to know that Boreas won’t be allowed to pass on any secrets.”
The Genasi looks stunned.
“Look Caecius, it’s important you understand,” speaks Enna, softly. “This is all I can tell you… The White Way, it is a path to a… ah, a certain place. It’s large enough for an army to march down.”
Caecius looks quizzically at the elf. “What would happen if this secret was discovered?” he asks.
Enna glances away. “A lot of my friends and loved ones would die,” she says, with a quiet voice. Then she turns back to Caecius with eyes like blued steel.
“I can’t tell any of you the secret.” Enna’s voice is now firm and strong and will brook no argument. “We know that the spider goddess is after it. She’s gone to extraordinary lengths to track down Boreas and kidnap and torture him. Who knows what she’d do to any of you if you possessed this information?”
“Then why keep Boreas alive?” asks Caecius, sharply. Out of the corner of his eye he notices Elgold is shaking, clearly distressed by the raised voices.
“I keep him alive because I’m not a monster like Lolth,” Enna spits. “I made a promise to him. I will take him back to captivity, a comfortable confinement. He’ll live the rest of his life in ease. But if he tries to escape, or I am killed, then he must die to preserve the secret.”
The elf purses her lips, closes her eyes and takes a deep breath before asking: “Caecius, will you agree to do this for me?”
Caecius hesitates. “I promise to kill him if you fall,” he says eventually.
“And not to try and wring the secret from him?”
Reluctantly, the Genasi says, “I shall not try to get the secret from him… But I can’t speak for the others.”
Enna, noticing the hesitation, hisses: “Whatever you do, don’t let the goblin try to get anything out of Boreas!” She glances at Ilwyn, who is trying not to look as if he is eavesdropping. “He would sell the information in a twinkling!”
Enna pauses, then looks about at the party, assembled in the Temple entrance. “Ansrel’s waiting for us out there. Are we ready to face her?”
The party steps outside into the damp forest air. Caecius and Haleth are at the front. Enna stands with Boreas at the back, protecting him.
In front of them, at the far end of the clearing by a great tree, stands Ansrel Ambrarae. She looks like a tall, beautiful elf in a ranger’s uniform, but all the heroes believe this is only a glamour.
The ‘elf’ smiles. “The walls have ears, Enna,” she says, mockingly. “I overheard you. You know I can’t let you kill Boreas. Or at least, not until he tells me what I want to know.”
Boreas blanches. He is clearly frightened.
“Let us pass peacefully, Ansrel,” says Enna, with a face like thunder. “We are taking Boreas with us.”
“I think not,” smiles the woman by the tree.
Elgold draws himself up and shouts at the elf: “You are facing power of which you have no comprehension. You should bow down before us! You should beg our forgiveness!”
The elf-woman feigns surprise. “I face a power I don’t comprehend? I rather think you you do not know what you are facing!”
With that, Ansrel makes a deft gesture with her hand and the tree beside her animates into life. It shakes, pulling its roots from the ground, letting leaves and dust fall down all around it.
Enna realizes it for what it is: “It’s a Treant!” she cries as she pulls on her bowstring. Before she can shoot, Ansrel seems to walk into the tree, dissolving from view. And then the arboreal giant is charging the group, giving a terrifying cry as it stamps its roots across the clearing. It gives a great stomp that shakes the earth and causes everyone to drop to the ground, before swishing its branches out to cut at Haleth.
Harried by swinging branches our heroes pick themselves up from the floor. Enna is one of the first, trying to mark the tree for death with her arrows. But however much she tries, she cannot find a vulnerable point in the trunk of the great tree. Her arrows clatter off branches or stick harmlessly into thick bark.
Neither Caecius nor Haleth have any luck either. There’s just no way through the creature’s defences. The ground around the Treant is alive with its roots, making it very difficult to move. Then suddenly Ansrel appears, materialising out of the wooden trunk of the Treant right beside Boreas.
“Time for us to leave,” she says. Boreas screams and struggles as the fey woman wraps her arms around him in a vice-like grip. He flails an arm and smacks her chest. Something gem-like tumbles out of her tunic into the long grass. Ansrel makes a face at the loss, but realizing Enna is training her bow on her, she quickly pulls Boreas back into the Treant, and both of them disappear. Enna makes a desperate cry of frustration and tries to send an arrow into the spot where the man and woman vanished, but again it bounces off the gnarled trunk.
Now the party is in one of the most desperate fights they have ever experienced. The Treant lashes its branches at Caecius and Haleth. Then suddenly it gives a great roar, a cry for allies to help it, and the trees around the party begin to whip and cut with their branches too. Elgold has to throw up a shield of force to avoid the worst of the slashes. Unable to see any of his magic affecting the giant tree, he begins to voice the idea that the party should run.
“You may run”, snarls Caecius, grimly. “But I stand and fight here.” With that the Genasi leaps into the air and flies right over the crown of the tree, landing on the far side to flank it!
Now the tree is surrounded, Haleth, Caecius and Ilwyn are beginning to land blows, and find gaps between the dense bark to strike at the healthy sap inside. Elgold manages to beat the fiend’s reflexes with his magic to hurt it some more. Even Enna, lightfootedly tripping across the roots as if they were not there, finally finds her mark, delivering a telling strike at point blank range into the heart of the tree. Then the elf remembers some old lore about the Treant.
“It’s vulnerable to fire! Hit it with fire!” she shouts.
At that the wizard Elgold mutters an incantation and an orb of flame shoots out, catching the great tree and setting it aflame. It staggers, and then a final stab from Ilwyn finishes it. The great creature stiffens, then topples as if felled by a lumberjack.
Our heroes collapse to the floor, to get their breath back and patch their wounds. As they do so they see the shape of the tree begin to flow like water and shrink. In moments the great trunk and branches of the Treant are gone. All that is left on the floor is an old skeleton, clad in rags.
“What magic is this?” says Enna, looking at the skeleton. “A Treant is not supposed to do this!”
Elgold suspects some kind of polymorph magic, but says nothing. Caecius pokes about the bones. They look old and the few rags it has remaining are dusty. However, on its hands are a pair of intact Sure Shot Gloves. Also a pair of Wallwalker boots. After examining them Enna and Ilwyn accept them from the Genasi, gratefully.
Meanwhile Elgold finds the green gem that Ansrel dropped amongst the grass. It looks like the twin of the one he already possesses.
“Shall we head south?” says Caecius, hopefully.
“I need to find Boreas,” states Enna, flatly.
“But where?” says Caecius. “He could be anywhere in the forest by now!”
Enna walks over to a nearby tree and presses an ear to it, stretching her fey senses to see if she can detect where in the forest Ansrel had gone, but she cannot sense anything.
“Maybe we need to go back into the Temple,” she says. “Maybe that’s where Ansrel has gone.”
“And there’s the door there!” chirps Ilwyn. “The one with the holes for the gems!”
The party looks at each other. And then almost as one they resolve to enter the Temple. They rush in, making their way to the doorway as fast as they can. It stands solid, with the emboss of the spider goddess Lolth on the great doors. And there are the two holes that look as if they could accept the gems. Carefully, Elgold fits a gem to each hole.
There is a pause, and then the inexorable grinding of some ancient mechanism echoes along the passageway. There is a click and the doors swing open. Our heroes peer inside, their weapons at the ready.
Elgold’s magical radiance illuminates the interior of the chamber. It is not a large space and only has the one entrance into it. The walls are clean, unmarred by the roots that have broken through the walls of the rest of the temple. And in the middle of the chamber is a great orb of crystal, surrounded by elegant statues of an elf, an infernal and a human.
Elgold makes a sharp intake of breath. “It’s the orb in the book!” he says, his voice barely concealing his enthusiasm. “It’s an artifact for communicating with the gods!”
“Which gods?” says Ilwyn, curiously.
“Any gods!” says Elgold, his eyes wide. “The language of the book is neutral. I think you can communicate with any deity of any pantheon.”
“Like Lady Angharradh?” says Enna, her face transfixed by the sight of the great orb. Then she shakes her head. “Or maybe Lolth,” she says, ruefully. Elgold nods agreement.
The ranger peers around the chamber. “Look at the walls. Ansrel couldn’t have got in here,” she says.
Indeed, the walls show no sign of any roots or cracks or entry. “That means she was after the gems too,” continues Enna. “We know the dryad we killed had one gem in its possession, and Ilwyn found the other when he pulled the lever in the library. It looks like we got here first.”
“Then Ansrel will be coming here!” warns Caecius, starting to pull at the vines just outside the chamber, stripping them away as if to deny an entry route for Ansrel. “We should set up an ambush for her,” says the warlord, examining the approaches to the orb room with a tactical eye.
“Elgold, what about the orb?” asks Enna. “Can we commune with the Gods? can I speak with My Lady, the Queen of Arvandor?”
“Maybe,” says the mage, opening the book. “But look, the orb requires a sacrifice. It needs blood to be drained into this black vial…”
“The vial we captured yesterday?”
“I think so, yes,” says Elgold, nervously. “This vial transforms the blood and then we pour it on the orb…”
“And then what?” says Enna, eagerly.
“I’m not sure.”
“Use my blood!” demands the elf. Her face is flushed with excitement.
“Oh yes, let me cut her,” says Ilwyn with sly glee, almost capering at the prospect. “Let me slice the elf. I shall be so gentle with my knife…”
“No, not the goblin. You, Elgold… cut me as the ritual demands. Take my blood.”
“Um, no I’d rather not,” says the wizard, looking ashen-faced. “My hand would not be steady.”
“I’ll do it,” says Caecius. Elgold nods and draws the black vial from his pack.
Enna removes a bracer to reveal her slim wrist. Gently, Caecius slices her wrist with the tip of his spear and blood begins to well up and drip downwards.
“Elf Blood!” chitters Ilwyn, with undisguised glee. As a few drops accidentally fall to the stone floor he dives down and begins to lap at the red spots with his tongue.
“You sick creature!” shouts a furious Enna, as she unstoppers the black vial, allowing her life blood to drip-drip into it. Slowly, the vial fills.
Suddenly the vial changes colour and becomes a brilliant green. As Enna begins to staunch and bind her wound Elgold takes the vial and examines it.
“Maybe I should pour this on the orb from the corridor?” says the wizard. “Just to be safe?”
“No, I have no fear of this thing. Let me do it,” says Enna, with calm grace. Plucking the vial of her transfigured blood from Elgold’s hands, she stands by the orb while the rest of the party huddle outside the chamber.
“I pray to my Lady of Arvandor,” says the elf, as she drips the green fluid onto the orb, which begins to sizzle.
Slowly, the orb begin to glow with an inner light and changes colour to match the brilliant green of the blood in the vial. Some force seems to explode out of the orb to fill the room, though it does not seem to touch Enna. The elf closes her eyes and continues her prayers to her god.
Then suddenly she, and each of the rest of the party hear a voice in their head. A woman’s voice: uncanny, majestic and yet friendly and full of warmth.
YOU HAVE DONE WELL, it says.
A great feeling of peace washes over all of them and they feel as if the weariness of the day is lifted, as if after a long and restful night…
Experience per Member
- Encounter 1 – 500 XP
- Bonus – 1547 XP
- Running Total – 20,500 XP