August 20020828 – Rehash

 

It is written in the chronicles of our brave band that on a day like any other, the 23rd of Tarak’s month, noble Leviticus fell in Crowley Wood. While philosophers and other non-productive…and indeed, appallingly insensitive…types may speculate on the drama and the irony of that wandering naturalist meeting his end under the majestic canopy of that ancient forest, our interest is in the depiction of how that kind soul found himself fighting for his life, and how our stoic searchers dealt with his passing.

 

We are told that our heroes woke in a meadow under highly unusual circumstances, their weapons and other lethal effects bound with flowering vines. Indeed, the mystic orb recovered from Malvagel’s Tower had been bound in a thick layer of broad leaves, and wound with so many vines that it resembled more a ball of green yarn than an arcane device created by…ahem. Very little of the circumstance that brought them to this strange morning was clear to the brave band, and of the origin of their dashing new hairdos, runny noses, festering insect bites, and the eerie stick sculpture that hung between them and the forest, they knew jack squat…

 

Yet this chronicle tells of aggressive adventurers, not fumbling puzzlers. When their new companion Nivek, having tracked and found them in their repose, was told of the bargain with Entwhistle and the need to plant the staff he readily joined them. For despite the lack of Eldren to slay, Nivek was an optimistic man and thought he might get lucky and find five or six.

 

But Nivek’s revenge would indeed have to wait, for it was not murdering demons that our brave band found, but more of the stick sculptures. Unable to interpret them our heroes proceeded inwards, weapons and spells at the ready.

 

After two brief attempts at planting the staff, it was Leviticus who suggested their course be altered to seek sun and sweet water as the stern treant had requested so long ago. Pursuing this the stalwart band happened upon three more of the stick sculptures. The sculptures were placed flanking them on either side, and one before them, centering around a pile of stones. While they puzzled over this, the first signs of the forest’s malevolence began. The sound of footsteps was heard in the forest all around them, and a great clatter arose behind them…something huge crashed through the wood towards them…and passed to nothing. Our heroes had scoffed at the tales of the villagers, snickered over the tiny vines holding weapons in scabbards, guffawed at the clumsy artistry of the stick sculptures…indeed…they were downright giggly over Archimedes’ flowery Mohawk. When the threshold of the sculptures was broken, and a giant maple seemingly ripped itself from the ground and flung itself at them, they hastily reconsidered, bolting in all directions.

 

All but that steadfast farmer known as Draos. For as usual, he had determined the truth of the matter. Skeptical of the haunt from the beginning, he calmly crossed his arms and waited for the illusionary tree (for it must be an illusion) to descend. Steeling himself as pieces of limbs and other debris began to pelt him, he put the strength of his mind against the huge mass of limbs and leaves. When a large bough crushed him to the ground, pinning him there, Draos grudgingly offered that he may have been partially incorrect on the matter. When black scarab beetles popped up from the ground and began to crawl over his paralyzed carcass, their sharp mandibles tearing at his flesh, he thought the matter over, considered all options, and determined it wisest to scream as he had never screamed before.

 

As beetles boiled out of the great pit left by the uprooted tree, the chronicles only state that chaos ensued. While devout Seanee sought to build an arcane beetle barrier, Archimedes rushed forward to attack the flesh-devouring fiends. Tanax and Nivek set their backs to freeing Draos. Leviticus shouted to the forest that our heroes were not here to attack, but to fulfill a promise to a noble treant, and so doing he hoped to calm whatever entity struck at them.

 

This chronicle can not state whether or not Leviticus’ desperate plea was heard, or having been heard, what may have resulted. All that is known for certain is that when the dour war wizard Archimedes arrived at the pit, and found it swarming with hundreds of beetles, he unleashed sheets of flame. The deadly scarabs burst like so much popping corn, and the not so lethal dry twigs and leaves around them were enveloped in hungry flames. A mighty wind whipped through the ancient forest, sending the flames higher and an incensed voice rode on it…”Get out! GET OUT!” it warned…the mighty trees surrounding our heroes were whipped to and fro by the fierce wind, and the blue sky grew gray with clouds.

 

As our heroes picked scarabs from them and generally milled about in panic, one stood forth. Leviticus held his hands out, and from a place known only to him summoned a horde of stinging wasps. As they descended on the scarabs, slaying them by the hundreds, he continued to shout his entreaties. Mystic energies directed by the mendicant nearly doused the soaring flames, choking it with its own smoke. But the forest was not to be swayed, and the gray clouds turned to black…riding on a peal of thunder, the voice came again…”Get out! GET OUT!”

 

But our heroes were not be dissuaded by the rage of the forest…they continued to seek to plant the staff, but perhaps understandably, their normally precise tactics were a bit undone. Archimedes ran naked, pulling vicious scarabs from him while Nivek, in a rage, began hacking down the stick sculptures. Noble Seanee turned his arcane power against the insects to no avail while Leviticus continued his urgent entreaties. When lightning speared through the sky, disintegrating an ancient oak some yards away, the thunder deafened our brave band…when moments later a bolt incinerated noble Leviticus, they were silenced.

 

But not defeated…as the voice rang on the wind, “GET OUT!”…our heroes yet obstinately sought to plant the stave. When a third bolt struck not a foot from Nivek, sending him flying burned and dazed through the air, unity returned to the brave band, and they fled as fast as feet could carry them, leaving Leviticus’ smoking body there in the depths of Crowley Wood.

 

The five survivors took counsel back at the camp. One had been lost, but it was clear they must meet their promise to Entwhistle. Puzzling over how to penetrate the ancient place, it was determined that a scout of the perimeter may yield more clues. Confronted by more of the indecipherable sculptures, they set out, leaving Nivek behind to rest and heal.

 

Dreading to penetrate deeper within and face the wrath of whatever ancient entity they had angered, our brave band skirted the border between meadow and wood carefully. Finally lured towards a ridge where they might have a better view of the terrain, our heroes were surprised to find the remains of an ancient ditch and curtain wall. Following the outline to a crossable gap, they could see a reflection of the sculptures recently passed…a crumbling tower rose out of the thin woods at the top of the ridge.

 

Proceeding carefully, they approached. Draos proceeded even more carefully, remaining a good hundred feet behind the group. When a reptilian head arose from the top of the tower, our heroes girded their weapons…when the head was followed by a pair of wings, a body, and a twenty foot tail, they girded them even more vigorously. When the massive reptile launched itself into the air and began to dive towards them, all thoughts of girding were lost, and our heroes sought cover.

 

The beast had keen senses, and sensing Farmer Draos all alone away from the rest, descended to attack. Whipping its stinger-tipped tail, it swooped in, lashing Draos across the side. Only his desperate leap saved the dour farmer from being impaled on the sting. Tanax and Seanee rushed to his defense while Archimedes, ever the tactician, struck at the reptile with his arcane might, slowing its movements. As the reptile sluggishly gained altitude for another strike, the crafty war wizard struck out for the creature’s lair.

 

Descending murderously, the beast whipped it’s tail at our heroes, but succeeded only in poisoning a small sapling…without protesting the inherent unfairness of the forest’s lack of response to the assault (after all, it hurt a tree too, why no lightning for it, huh? Huh?)…ahem…while it swooped overhead, Tanax dealt it a vicious slash and the reptile returned to it’s lair where the war wizard awaited. Archimedes courageously blasted the unknowing reptile in the belly with a jet of flame, and when Tanax and Seanee arrived the beast was quickly dispatched, Tanax removing its head with a final blow. The horror and greed of our brave band as they considered the four fat venom glands on the thing’s tail was something to behold…

 

As the sun sets on Crowley Wood, a light drizzle falls. Four adventurers stare in wonder at an ancient Yrken mural in a crumbling watch tower…the ranger Nivek peers at the ancient forest, wondering at the lights that drift and dance at its border in the uneven dusk…and in a scorched glade next to the ruin of a fallen maple, a ball of golden light dances over the blackened body of Leviticus where it rests, abandoned by his comrades. Hundreds of points of light reflect off the mirror-bright backs of scarabs as they march around him in concentric circles, then wink out as the light descends into him, and the deep darkness of the old forest descends.