August 20020912 – Rehash

 

It was a dark and stormy night. Somewhere it was at least. Where our brave band walked, it was more of a mostly gloomy and drizzly evening, as Tenax, Seanee, and Farmer Draos headed back to the meadow camp that had been their home for more than two days. Before them…dour Nivek licked his wounds (literally or not, this chronicle can not say) and watched the odd lights at the edge of the forest. Behind them,  tarrying Archimedes drove his arms into the excrement-filled wyvern nest, really going for it, up to the armpits…enthusiastically covering himself with the appropriately scaled anal emissions of the deceased forty foot lizard in the hopes of finding something that was shiny and valuable, as opposed to slimy and unspeakable. In this quest, Archimedes failed miserably.

 

Nevertheless, the light drizzle served to decontaminate the war wizard so that he would be dreaded only by enemies, and merely unpleasant for his friends, and all were eventually rejoined under the craggy oak at the edge of Crowley Wood. Several odd phenomena seemed to follow the heroes as they trudged wearily back towards camp, and the last phase of healing came to our stalwart crew. Crowley Wood was surely haunted, and all accepted that. But by what?

 

Our brave band was in no mood to pursue the question. Confronted by the terrors of a darkening sky, a light drizzle, and moderate temperatures giving way to cool breezes, mostly cloudy tomorrow with some sun and lows in the high 60’s…ahem…the stalwart adventurers had already lost one comrade, and chose to rest. Whether or not they considered the health of the eldritch staff they bore, or if others assisted Nivek in the licking of his wounds, this chronicle, again, is insufficient to the task.

 

But while the heroic troupe rested, despite the best evidence to the contrary, the world did not cease to turn. In Galava, Ector returned to his capital to find riotous commoners protesting his inability to deliver security…the Lord Protector, having no capital, proceeded west to speak with the Northern Lords who gathered their meager arms to repel Charnish demonstrations against their western lands. In the Wounded Land an entity known as Common found little exceptional, less to fear, and moved on to richer hunting grounds. Far to the north, the four present High Lords of Charn  discussed what should be done regarding the long missing fifth Lord, among other topics, and prayed for guidance. Far to the east the Admiralty of the Sea Lords met to discuss tariffs on canvas and timber, the disposition of the fleets, and whether or not the time was right to deal with the Rogue Lords. Across another great ocean, the leaders of the Ring Duchies each on their own stared at the Ash Lands, once the homeland of the Empire, and wondered if the seeds of civilization they tried to plant would wither and die. The commoners of the Ring, not given to weighty thoughts, barred shutters, locked doors, and kissed their children good night, hoping to see them again in the morn. Deep in the distant south, the dreaming towers of ancient cities cast their shadows in the fading light, and the people wondered if the Horde would come this year when the rains ended…

 

But this chronicle doesn’t concern itself with world-shaking matters, for its’ task is the depiction of how a gaggle of non-descript, naïve adventurers confronted the mystery of Crowley Wood, and the loss of their dear friend Leviticus. It can state with certainty that the position of chronicler of world-shaking events is elusive, exclusive, and competitive…indeed, cutthroat. So this will have to do for now, inadequate as it surely is.

 

Our heroes were masters at many tasks, but among them, sleeping surely took the prize. So it was no small matter when the drowsy guard was rudely awakened by an increase of the intensity of the lights in the forest. The number of drifting lights grew…three…five…eight…more approaching until twenty-three lights were seen. Yet, nothing is more important to a growing adventurer than a good night’s sleep, and the alarm was not called until the lights gathered, whirled faster and faster into concentric circles, and approached!

 

Let it not be said that our brave band lost their wits…indeed, they promptly removed themselves from bedrolls and stared as the phenomenon approached. When the circles of light abruptly went out, leaving only blackness, they resolutely peered about, wondering what was going on. And when the lights resumed…well.

 

Silhouetted in five concentric circles of blinding light was Leviticus! Or what was left of him…he held one hand out, peacefully, the other behind his back. The heroes considered the situation…the trauma of Crowley Wood weighed heavily on them…as one, they said nothing of consequence.

 

“I was Leviticus. Now I am Lorax. I speak for the trees…” it said. After pausing politely for the laughter to subside, it continued to explain that it was here to help its old friends, and assuage the anger of the guardian of the forest, a treant named Goldenchain. “What we have here is a failure to communicate…” it intoned in a raspy voice that was and was not Lev’s. It showed them the symbols that would guide our heroes to a meeting that was all that could save their lives. “Shed all of your possessions, save that one which is most valuable to you, and follow the signs…and if you again anger the forest…beg for death!” At which point Lev/Lorax seemed to vomit…our heroes were horrified to see the deadly scarabs they had so recently fled pouring from his mouth, his eye sockets, the ends of his arms and legs…as their beloved comrade’s corpse discorporated into a mound of beetles and a slightly less terrifying mound of empty skin before them, as one, they said nothing of consequence.

 

But let it not be said that the stalwart adventurers were unmoved. As the beetles and the lights retreated, circles of black, circles of light, they considered what to do. They were as thorough as highly trained adventurers can be. Some even sniffed the air for dragon scent, despite the fact that none had ever seen a dragon, smelled a dragon, or otherwise knew a thing of dragons other than…some dreams they had had once? This chronicler can only guess. But after much deliberation and no small amount of “Don’t look!” cries, our brave band was naked as the day they were born, each holding the one thing most valuable to them. Realizing they looked rather silly holding their wangs, they each chose again. Of the group, Nivek was the least decisive…having learned in his days as a guerilla fighter how to kill an Eldren with some twine, some moldy cheese, and a gold piece, he stowed everything he owned into his peculiar bag. And in this manner, was the order of Lorax resolved.

 

Proudly and nudely our heroes marched into Crowley Wood, resolved to determine the means to plant the staff once and for all. Neither deerfly, nor mosquito, nor gnat could deter them…though unarmed, unarmored, and pale from wearing much of both for too long, they pressed on. Demonic blackberry thickets were circled…sadistic thornapple trees given wide clearance. They pressed on. When a swampy area proved to be teeming with leeches, they circumvented it widely, and pressed on. Indeed, when the ground changed from soft and carpeted to rocky and hard, they pressed on, despite the small blisters. But such is what heroes are made of.

 

Finally arriving at an ominous crag of rocky cliffs, they noted the signs Lorax had showed them led them into a cave. Scattered about were large scales,  black with a coppery tinge on the edge. Whimsically, our fearless five spoke of dragons…knowing little, they yet perused that the cave would be a fantastic dragon lair. Undeterred, they marched straight in, bravely, containing their fear until they found the inhabitant…a massive lizard covered with coppery black scales, sleeping on a pile of gold that would send a miser into apoplexy.

 

The great beast opened one eye and perused them…in an amused tone, it chided them on what they considered valuable…with an amused glance, it turned the rock beneath their feet to mud, sinking them into four feet of muck…with a subtly more amused glance, it turned the mud back to rock. Despite the urgent and fully legitimate pleadings of the brave band (which would surely stand in any court of law) after a moment’s consideration, the fearsome drake informed our heroes that they had indeed brought their most valuable possessions…revealing that it had collected all they left behind…and that it would take their lives!

 

Much futile wriggling ensued while the stalwart adventurers attempted to meet their fate with what dignity they had left…that little smidgeon was removed when with a “poof” the huge lizard transformed into a smallish (only six feet long) lizard with butterfly wings, flat on its back, laughing hysterically. As it cackled “You should see the look on your faces! Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee!”, a cloud of tiny pixies glowed as they flew, cackling “Hee hee hee hee hee hee!” in their little bell-like pixie voices. The cackling was suspended momentarily while the pixies subdued martial Nivek and Tenax with tiny arrows, at which the creatures seemed to find only more hilarity.

 

The odd creature identified itself as “Buttercup”, and claimed that it had lived there for nearly a thousand seasons. It expressed its’ regret at the unfortunate death of Leviticus (“I was only trying to scare you away so Goldenchain wouldn’t kill you…so sad!”) and pronounced that our heroes had so angered the ancient treant that only with the help of all the forest’s guardians could the party have any hope of leaving the forest alive. For emphasis, it introduced them to the a dimension-dooring raccoon named Leviticus…

 

Our heroes took this as coolly as only experienced adventurers can. Unruffled, despite only recently dressing back into their gear, they proclaimed that they would gladly help. Buttercup continued, telling them that the only event that would calm Goldenchain would be the dance of the “pixies” and the “brownies”. With a brief aside to assure our heroes that “brownies” were not concoctions of flour, eggs, sugar, and cocoa…ahem…it was revealed that the brownies had been closeted in an old lumberjack bunkhouse for nearly five years, playing cards with an odd hermit. If the stalwart crew could somehow end the game without angering the brownies, Buttercup was sure that they could be convinced to help. Tragically, if Buttercup or the pixies were involved, the brownies would never cooperate, so our heroes were on their own. Such is the fate of those who would stand forth…

 

With heat in their hearts and weapons well bound our brave band set out, following the now helpful stick sculptures the pixies laid out to reach the bunkhouse without encountering Goldenchain. But the brownies left a guardian…a strange and powerful insect that struck from beneath the ground…until Farmer Draos tossed a wyvern tail gland down its gullet, at which point it shortly became strange and powerful fertilizer. Ah well. The guardian dispatched, the bunkhouse could be approached…all the rotting furniture piled outside, and the shockingly loud sound of crickets emanating from within produced a surreal aura. Peeking through a hole in the roof, dour Tenax reported just what Buttercup had predicted…a dirty little hermit and over twenty brownies playing cards for…nuts.

 

In an impressive display our brave band skittered along a tree branch…the war wizard Archimedes turned his fires aside and instead dropped our heroes into the room like a feather…only to be ignored. Told they didn’t have enough “nuts” to join the game, but otherwise welcomed, our brave band thought on the matter so long that moss grew on them…only more time…perhaps years…will tell if they can solve yet another riddle of Crowley Wood, or indeed, escape with their lives and dignity intact. Well, lives at least.