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The Faerun Seven (or Eight)

The Midnight Tree - Part 1 Arian trailed behind the others as they left the inn. Was investigating the Ravenfolk the kind of thing Jaroo had spoken about? She wasn’t sure. But she had, at least, found a group of adventurers willing to take her in, even if some of them didn’t seem overly friendly. She’d probably done something wrong. She’d thought it was only good manners to shake hands or to give what you had freely, but even a handful of harmless herbs had been refused. Well, except by the dwarf, but he didn’t seem too particular about what he put in his mouth.   She would just have to try harder and be quiet and learn. She listened to them banter as they walked and picked any interesting sprigs of things that she saw. Strangely, the half-orc seemed the least scary. She’d never met one before and there was a wild and savage beauty to her.   It was late afternoon and the sun filtered through the trees, dappling the ground. It wasn’t like the wilds at home; so much grew here.   “Hsssst,” said the warlock. “I see something. One of those kenku buggers.”   "Hola there! Identify yourself, traveller!" The paladin was forthright. He strode forward, blonde hair catching the light.   Wisteria snickered behind her hand, loud enough to be heard. “There goes our element of surprise.”   Thibault turned his head and gave her a cocky grin. “With my chainmail, I don't think we will surprise anyone today.”   "Please, do not harm me!" the bird-woman said in a harsh voice. "I am just an old woman gathering berries in the forest!"   She did indeed have a basket full of ripe berries. Arian hesitated to say anything. Was this what investigating was about? Treating everything as a possible threat?   Wisteria narrowed her eyes to take a good look at the kenku. “Myrkul sees through all deception, little bird…” she said, but then visibly relaxed as her eyes fell open the old kenku’s necklace of tiny bird skulls. “Well met, fellow finger bone of Myrkul!”   Thibault asked, “Old lady, could you be so kind to tell us where these roads lead to?”   “My name is Starkfeather, I am a harmless old Wise Woman...”   “Nice to meet you, Starkfeather,” said the monk. So, he wasn’t prickly all the time? She must have been in the wrong at the inn. Arian sighed.   “The west path leads to the Midnight Tree. But you must not go there! Evil rules there now!” The bird-woman made a fleeting sign with her fingers, as if warding off evil.   Wisteria stepped in front of the monk. “Take us there. Or join Myrkul. Tough choice, I know.”   “What say you, old woman?” asked Gorlock.   “Threatening a woman of the cloth, especially your own cloth, is odd is it not?” asked Eamon.   “Starkfeather flaps her arms in panic. "No! No! Not hurt Starkfeather!”   “I am not so sure how devout she is, Eamon...”   “Ah,” said the warlock. “Perhaps we should all calm down.”   “Don't worry, Starkfeather. I won't let harm fall upon you as long as you do not provoke anyone.” The monk spoke in a soothing voice.   “Not to worry, Starkfeather, we mean you no harm,” added Thibault, holding up his hands as if to reassure the old woman.   “We won't hurt you, old woman... just take us to the Midnight tree,” said Greeba, but her guttural voice almost made it sound like a threat.   Arian wondered what the old woman would do. She looked to the dwarf, but he merely stood there calmly eating a bacon sandwich as if he had not a care in the world. Perhaps she should act the same. She saw a bush with some of the berries and surreptitiously picked some, storing them safely away.   The kenku seemed to come to a decision. “He said he would kill me if I went back! You must protect me!”   “We will,” said Eamon.   “V-very well.... I suppose..." The agreement seemed grudging, but Starkfeather turned down the west path.   “Who threatened you?” asked Thibault.   “Kreeack! He took over the Midnight Tree! Him and his thugs! Many follow him! He promise them riches...”   The dwarf had noticed her watching him. He grinned at her, showing all his teeth, and pointed a thumb at his chest. “Hullo, I’m Torgin. That’s me.”   "Arian," she whispered back. "Well met, Torgin. Are they always like this?"   He shrugged. “Who? The Kookoo’s? First one I’ve met.” Arian sighed and turned back to the conversation. Greeba was interrogating the old woman. “Has he been doing other bad things, this Kreeack?”   “Kidnapping! He stole a fat human last Tenday!” It was hard to tell with the feathers and beak, but the old woman’s expression seemed to fall in dismay. “A rich man! Took him right off his horse, he said! He says the humans will pay a thousand gold!” She seemed sincere.   A wicked smile broke out on Wisteria’s face. “Ah, but what good is gold in the halls of Myrkul?” She cracked her knuckles.   “Yes, maybe he will pay... with his life!” said Greeba, sounding every bit the half-orc. “How many thugs does he have around?” She pressed close to the old woman, like she wanted to squeeze the information out of her.   Starkfeather considered. “More than two hands! He and his deputy, Greengloss, are mighty - be careful!”   Greeba nodded, seemingly satisfied. “Good, Starkfeather. Take us there, but we should remain hidden.”   Arian caught Torgin doing the same thing she was – checking out to see exactly how many fingers a kenku had. Five. So, ten men? There were 8 of them traveling, so surely that was a safe fight?   Starkfeather continued to lead them down a path, farther and farther west into the wood. It was near dusk when they approached what had to be The Midnight Tree. There was no mistaking it. It was the biggest tree that Arian had ever seen. It towered above them. She imagined that little sun ever made it to the forest floor here during the day.   Starkfeather pointed at a spot between two massive roots. “There’s a secret door there.”   Thibault immediately crept close to where she had pointed, trying to be as quiet as possible.   “Thank you, Starkfeather! Go home now,” said Greeba, slipping the old woman a coin. Arian caught a glint of silver.   Starkfeather nodded gratefully to Greeba. "Defeat Kreeak! Free our clan!" she croaked, and hobbled away.   Torgin was stroking the bark of the tree thoughtfully. Arian wondered what he was thinking about. Home? Bacon? But then Greeba said something to him in dwarvish and he shook himself awake.   “Let’s go! Make sure all the people without armour are at the back, please!” Thibault pressed on the burl knot, opening the secret door.   Arian paused briefly to place her hand on the tree before she entered and said a prayer to the Forest Father. It was time.   The door opened into a rounded room carved into the living wood of the tree. The walls were marked with graffiti and pictographs inlaid with amber sap that had seeped into the wounds. It smelled of the sap; a rich smell. A passageway led farther in, similarly carved and it widened into a small chamber.   Thibault was in the lead and he saw the four kenku inside the same time they saw him. They drew their blades immediately.   “We mean you no harm, Kenkus. We met Starkfeather and she told us we could come here in peace!” said the paladin.   The kenku either didn’t recognise the name or they didn’t care. “Surrender your weapons!” shouted one. “And your goods!” said another.   “Oh, I’ll surrender my sword…” said Thibault, but it was Eamon who strode forwards first.   “This doesn’t have to be violent,” said the monk. “Just let us through and no blood will have to be spilled.”   The four kenku merely looked at him. He shrugged and moved back. As soon as he did, the four bird-men struck without warning, their black eyes glinting.   Three solid blows hit Thibault and the paladin fell to the floor in a clatter of armour. One attempted to strike Greeba, but missed as Thibault’s body falling got in his way.   Arian froze in fear for a moment. No! This could not be! Had the Forest Father not heard her prayer? She had to do something! She moved forward, gasping at the sight of Thibault’s bloodied body. This was not right! She raised her shaking hands and cast her most powerful spell.   A shard of ice flew at the leading Kenku and struck him, then exploded into glass-like pieces. It was a spell that had worked well for her when fighting off a pack of hungry wolves.   Greeba gasped as a bit of ice bit into her flesh but worse – a twitch from Thibault as some of the sharp shards hit his already battered body.   “Ah! No!” said Arian, but it was too late to take the spell back. She slumped against the tree wall. What had she done?   Gorlock fired an eldritch blast that sped past her and struck a kenku, but she barely noticed. It would have been better if she had not come at all.   Wisteria moved past her to lay a hand upon Greeba, healing the damage that Arian had done. The half-orc roared in rage, revived by the spell, and bashed her Warhammer into the face of the nearest kenku. His beak shattered, his skull caved in and he fell to the floor near Thibault.   Xarius quietly moved forward just enough so he could see into the room. He raised his hand and cast magic missile. Three balls of light shot at the kenku and disappeared with small whomps into its body.   They all felt some strange static charge build up and then, as the sorcerer lowered his hand, 3 bolts of lightning came out of nowhere and struck each of kenku. Their charred corpses fell to the ground, pieces falling off into ash. The acrid smell of ozone filled the chamber.   “Wha…what just happened?” asked Torgin. His hair, charged with static, stood on end.   Arian fell to her knees. “What have I done?” she said, more to herself than anyone else.   “Shall we take our fallen comrade back? Or push on, maybe to our own doom?” asked Greeba, seemingly unphased by the smoking, blackened bodies.   The dwarf sniffed the air. “Smells like fried chicken.” He patted his pockets down like he was searching for another sandwich.   How could he think of food at a time like this? Arian looked at Wisteria. “Should I run after Starkfeather? Do you think she could help? She can’t have gone far!”   “I think it’s worth a try,” said the elf.   Needing no other encouragement, Arian ran, tears streaming down her face. Perhaps the Forest Father had heard her prayer after all; the old woman had not gone far. Arian pulled her back to the tree, trying to explain, the bird-woman grumbling but hobbling along as fast as she could go.   They had taken Thibault out of the tree and he lay upon the ground on a bed of leaves. Starkfeather waved her skull necklace around a bit and muttered some words. Would it work? It had to work!   Thibault coughed, spraying blood, and woke up.   “Bless you, Starkfeather, and may the Forest Father always look after you and all your kin!” She threw herself down upon Thibault’s feet, babbling her apologies.   Greeba poured a potion of health down his throat. He gulped it down and sat up with Gorlock’s help. “Welcome back, Goldilocks,” said the warlock.   “Hmmm......perhaps a true priestess of Myrkul after all......” said Wisteria, nodding. She smiled at the paladin. “If Myrkul sent you back, you must be truly marked for greatness!”   "It was my fault. I am sorry, my new friend. I am not used to traveling with companions." Arian looked at the ground, at anywhere other than people’s faces, sure they held nothing but disappointment. “I pledge to protect you at all costs in the future, brave sir.”   “Thank you, Arian,” said Thibault.   It was all too soon and they were back in the tree. Should they even go on after what had just happened? Arian wasn’t sure, but everyone else seemed confident. She fell to the back again, vowing to keep an eye on the paladin. She would not let him fall again.   The hall was full of doors.   “Which door shall we try first?” asked Greeba.   “All doors lead to death,” said Wisteria.   Torgin looked doubtful at that, but trundled forward warily.   Xarius stood quietly near her, looking ready for anything. He was the one who had saved them in that last battle. While she—she had nearly ruined everything. “I thank you, brave sorcerer,” she said. “I have never seen the like!”   He gave her a strange look. “I…uh…don’t know how I did that.”   She didn’t know what to say to that.   Two small wire cages sat on the floor, each holding a fire beetle the size of a small dog. They glowed, filling the tunnel with a strange, reddish light.   “Hey, yo!” Torgin was tiptoeing down the hall. “There’s bugs up ahead!”   “Hmmmm.......I say we leave them be,” said Wisteria.   “I'll leave them be, if they don't cross my path,” said Greeba.   Torgin came to the next door along the tunnel. He fiddled with it a moment and it swung open, but with a thunk that was entirely too loud.   A kenku looked up at him, sitting on the only chair in the sparsely furnished room. A ring of keys hung from a hook on the wall.   Torgin put his finger to his lips. “ Ssshhhhhhh !” he said to the kenku.   “Oi!” said the bird-man, standing up. He was far more powerfully built than the ones they had run into before and he carried a glowing spear.   A human voice came from somewhere to the left. “I say! Help me!” They had, it seemed, found the kidnap victim, but his jailer did not look ready to give him up.
THE MIDNIGHT TREE - PART TWO Arian had barely registered the kenku behind the door when Xarius loosed a firebolt, singing a few of the creature’s feathers. But the next few moments passed in a blur – the ravenfolk’s runespear thrust out in two quick attacks and Torgin fell in a bloody, hairy heap in front of the door. Then, with a mocking CRAW , the jailor slammed the door in their stunned faces.   “No!” cried Eamon. “Have the gods no mercy?”   “Shall we run for Starkfeather again?” asked Greeba in the sudden quiet, punctuated only by a gurgle from Torgin. But an enraged Thibault attempted in vain to shove the door open. Eamon, his eyes slightly teary, kicked at the door, but was unable to budge it even in his grief at Torgin’s death.   They all took a turn at it, but the door held, the kenku periodically mocking them behind it.   Thibault took a deep breath. They had to try something else. They were getting nowhere. “Jailor! you are surrounded and trapped here. We will come in and kill you if you don't comply. If you do, we'll spare your life, won’t torture you and give you money instead for saving our time. What say you?” But his voice squeaked at the last and the kenku merely laughed at them from behind the door. Caw caw caw .   They renewed their efforts – kicking the door, flinging firebolts at it. Arian held a spell ready for as soon as it opened, her fingers twitching with the effort to hold it back. And finally – FINALLY – the door cracked open. The kenku immediately stabbed through with his spear, but three spells fell upon him at the same time. His feathers charred under the rain of spells, but he still stood. He pushed his way out to jab his spear at Wisteria, as her spell had hit him the hardest, but Thibault’s flail caught him as he passed by and he missed the cleric.   Frustrated, the creature did something, Arian wasn’t sure what, but she had the sense of being beat around the head with ghostly feathers. They stung her eyes until she couldn’t see more than a bit of light. Beside her, she heard Eamon cry out. “Hast god forsaken me? For I have lost Torgin and now my sight!”   Arian grasped her staff. “Anyone,” she cried out, “tell me which o’clock he is!”   “Eleven, on the hour!” answered Wisteria.   Arian struck out with her staff, hoping to connect with the kenku, but hit only air. Meanwhile, Gorlock cast something with a whoosh and it hit it’s mark.  The kenku cried out, but now his caw was not nearly so mocking.   Xarius flung magic missiles at the jailor, hitting him with every one.   “You die for that!” cawed the kenku, and stabbed at the sorcerer with his runespear, but the fight had taken its toll on him and he only caught the edge of Xarius’ robe.   “No, let me send you on your way,” said Wisteria. “Do you hear the bells tolling for you?” The sound of a dolorous bell rang out, but the kenku shook off the spell, feathers flying.   “My God has not abandoned me! My sight has been returned by no other than my god himself!” Eamon cried out. “And may god have mercy on you, because I won’t!” The monk struck out with furious anger and the kenku collapsed with one final desperate “CAAWWWW!”   Arian could hear footsteps in the tree above them. They all could. They had to get out. If just one kenku had held them off this long and killed one of them, what would happen when more came?   “Let’s get the prisoner!” said Greeba, pointing at the keys that hung on the wall. Thibault grabbed them and began trying doors.   “We must get Torgin to Starkfeather!” cried Eamon.  “Now!”   Greeba, seeing that Thibault had the keys, nodded at Eamon. She grabbed Torgin’s bloody body and ran alongside Eamon down the way they had come.   “Noble man, where are you? Which door? Talk if you want to be saved!” Thibault tried to keep his voice down, but he was growing desperate as the noises above them seemed closer now.   “Here, sir!” came a voice. Finally! Thibault rushed to that door and got it open to find a man sitting in a pit full of viscous sap. The sight made him pause but a moment, then he pulled out a rope and flung an end to the man. The nobleman grabbed hold and Thibault hauled him out. He came loose with a pop .   “Chadwick Veter's the name...the Duke sent you?” The man seemed remarkably calm, considering the state of him.   “Thibault, hurry!” called Arian. She had readied a spell but she had no confidence to hold off a pack of ravenfolk on her own.   Thibault pushed the nobleman ahead of him. “I'll explain later, Chadwick! Let's go!” They all ran. Outside, Eamon and Greeba had found Starkfeather. The old woman had not hobbled far. By the time the others joined them, she had already revived Torgin, though she seemed a bit sore at having had to use up the last of her store of diamonds to do so.   “Took me years to scrape together those diamonds...” she groused.   “We will come back to clear this nest of evil, and pay you back, Wise Raven!” said Greeba.   “I was murderered most fowl,” muttered Torgin in his beard, patting his pockets like he was looking for a lost bacon sarnie.   Arian looked at him with disbelief. How did he keep his sense of humour when he sat there covered in blood and gore? She shook her head. She would never understand dwarves. She turned, wanting to see if Wisteria had noticed, but saw that the cleric was not there. Oh no!   “Wisteria!”   Inside the tree, Wisteria had paused when her cloak caught on something. A kenku, ahead of the rest, stabbed at her with his spear, but Wisteria merely grinned at him and ran all the faster. She burst out of the tree and caught up to the others and they all ran, ran as fast as they could go, leaving the kenku cawing in frustration behind them.   After a bit of discussion, they headed back to the Cumin Inn. Starkfeather came with them, sure that Kreeack would kill her if she stayed behind and was caught and equally interested in being repaid for her services.   In fact, as soon as Tyvin Hess offered the reward money, she laid claim to it. They could hardly argue, considering, though they tried. And they were too busy training to worry overmuch about the money; if they were going to go back and clean out The Midnight Tree, they needed to try some new tactics or new spells.   After a tenday of preparation, they were ready to go. They hoped.
The Midnight Tree - Part 3 AKA The EVIL TREE OF DEATH or WHY DID WE COME BACK TO THIS HORRIBLE PLACE The Midnight Tree was as big as she remembered. No, even bigger. It towered over them. Arian couldn’t believe they were here again, but the others had sworn to empty it of evil. She hoped they were ready. They had a plan and it all hinged on Gorlock’s newly summoned imp.   The creature, Limpy, had flown just above the warlock’s head all the way to the tree with no problems but now that they were there, something seemed to be wrong with it. It was tearing at it’s own skin and whirling around in the air like it was trying to get away from itself.   Suddenly, an ethereally beautiful but strangely translucent woman was sitting on a tree root right next to them. She gleamed. She shook a disapproving finger at Gorlock.   “No summoning demons and devils, m'kay? The big boss is kinda cross!”   “Master?” The warlock sounded both awed and cowed. “Mistress Avery?”   “We're giving you something more appropriate.”   Out of the imp emerged a small angelic figure, Limpy’s skin falling away and vanishing in a small puff of smoke. “Yoohoo! Hi there!” said the sprite, her voice like a tinkling bell.   “An angel…?” asked Greeba.   “Tiffany is much better at hiding and sneaking around. No poison stinger tail, but you can't have everything, right?” Avery, Gorlock’s pact mistress, looked fondly at the tiny sprite shimmering this way and that.   “Hi, Tiffany,” said Gorlock, sounding resigned.   “Can this sprite carry the rope over the branch?” asked Greeba.   Tiffany did circles around the half-orc’s head. “Sure I can! I can go invisible, too! And I'm sneaky!”   “Can you annoy people?” asked Xarius. “I mean, to distract them.”   “I can be very annoying!” As if to prove the point, Tiffany flew right up to the sorcerer’s nose and flicked the tip of it. Xarius nodded and backed up.   The angelic woman was fading away. She gave a parting wave to Gorlock and then was gone, back to whatever celestial realm she had stepped out of.   Thibault let out a low whistle. “Does Avery have a sister?”   "I must say, Paladin, that you are not at all what I thought a paladin would be." Arian cleared her throat. "I mean, from the stories." She’d always thought they were very…chaste. But Thibault was the first she had ever met. Perhaps all men were like this. She hoped she hadn’t offended him with the question.   “I am a funny Paladin,” said Thibault with a smile and a small bow.   " Oh! Oh! And the best thing!" Tiffany was positively buzzing as she careened off to circle around Gorlock’s head.   “Yes, Tiffany,” he said, sounding even more resigned.   "The Big Boss made it so that when icky stuff happens, you can resummon me  for free! " she beamed. "You just need a short rest to refresh the power!"   That brought a rare smile to the warlock’s face. “Excellent,” he said, clapping his hands together.   “It’s an honour to meet a celestial being,” said Eamon, in Tiffany’s own tongue. Arian started. She hadn’t realised the monk spoke celestial too.   She joined him in greeting the sprite. “Pleased to meet you, Tiffany,” she said, but in the common tongue.   “You too, Arian! Now, about this rope…” She took hold of an end of the rope. “I can fly up there invisible, but I can't make the rope invisible! I'll do my best, but if icky stuff happens before I can get it over the branch... please don't be cross!”   “No problem, Tiffany,” said Gorlock. “Just be… quiet , okay?”   Arian whispered to Xarius, "The sprite is surprisingly adorable." Torgin giggled, Arian wasn’t sure at what – the sprite’s good nature or her comment.   Tiffany took the end of the rope and flew upwards on gossamer wings, turning invisible as she ascended.   “Good luck, Tiff,” whispered Gorlock after her.   “You don’t see that every day,” said Torgin, still beaming.   Tiffany looped the rope around a great branch on the ceremonial platform above them and flew back down to join them. “Made it!” she chirruped. Greeba tugged the end of the rope. It didn’t budge.   “Thank you, Tiffany! Well done!”   Arian had the sudden urge to give the sprite a cookie and had to stop herself from dipping her hand into her bag.   “There's just one nasty crow-thing up there! It didn't see me!”   “Well done, Tiff,” said Gorlock. Arian wondered if he felt the urge to give her a cookie too.   They had a brief but spirited discussion about who should go up first and with what weapon readied. Torgin volunteered, attempted to hold his shield in his teeth to prove his readiness, and then dropped it on his toe. Greeba pushed him gently out of the way and began climbing, leaving the dwarf to hold the rope steady. Thibault followed her up the robe, moving slowly so as not to clank too severely. He barely made the climb, while Greeba shimmied up the rope with both stealth and grace.   Arian took the rope from Torgin so he could climb up next.   Above, Greeba found herself on an oval platform built directly on one of the tree’s massive branches. A large wicker chair, decorated with glossy black feathers and beadwork, sat at the far end of the platform. A pair of unlit cast iron braziers flanked it. A single kenku sentry patrolled the platform. He turned, his beak dropping open in surprise at Greeba’s sudden appearance.   Greeba threw her javelin at the guard. Tiffany, sent by Gorlock, suddenly appeared over the guard’s head, distracting him even further.   Down below, Gorlock whispered, “Stay alive, Tiff, be careful.”   “Eamon, do you wish to follow the dwarf, or shall I?” asked Arian.   “I’ll do it. Got to keep Torgin safe,” said the monk, and began climbing after the dwarf. Arian nodded, wondering at the strange but wonderful relationship between the monk and dwarf.   And Torgin looked to need the help, as he suddenly stopped climbing and clung to the rope, perhaps struck with a sudden bout of vertigo. Arian tried to keep the rope as steady as she could, but it swayed a bit under the weight of the dwarf and monk.   "Torgin, are you okay?" she whisper-hissed, seeing Torgin stalled half way. “Eamon, perhaps you can give him a boost? Is he afraid of heights, perchance?"   Red-faced, the dwarf muttered a dwarvish curse and waved a hand at them.   “Don’t worry, Torgin, I’ll catch you if you fall,” said Eamon, though Arian wasn’t sure how he’d accomplish that when they were both clinging to the rope.   “Er, thank you, mother, but hopefully it won’t come to that,” said Torgin.   Above, Thibault had reached the platform as well. He rushed at the kenku with his sword swinging, taking it down with one blow.   “Yes!” Greeba whispered, fist pumping. She looked around. Everything seemed quiet. No other guards came running and there wasn’t a sound other than the whistles and chirps of the birds that lived in the tree. Greeba went to the edge of the platform and motioned for the rest of them to climb up. With that bit of encouragement, Torgin made it, followed by everyone else.   Arian inspected the dead kenku guard. He wore just a motley collection of ill-fitting rags, though the feathers underneath were soft and sleek. It carried only a short blade, but she took it, and the small amount of coin in a money pouch to share with the others later.   She followed as Greeba and Thibault led them down the steps and into the tree. They soon came to an intersection, with a tunnel to the left winding up and the main one descending down.   “I think it's better to go up, strategically, what do you say, Torgin?” asked Thibault.   “Erm…” Torgin looked from the paladin to the berserker. “Aye, boss.” He shrugged. “I usually do below ground work.”   They clustered in the hall, debating about which way would be better to go – down, and closer to a possible exit should the need for one arise, or up, as they had only gone up just a fraction of the height of the tree. Finally, Gorlock sent an invisible Tiffany to scout. She turned invisible and first went down. She came back and popped into visibility with a sparkle. “Ok, lots of nasty bird things that way! At least five! What now?”   “Are they sleeping?” Greeba sounded hopeful.   “They’re awake! Guards!” said Tiffany.   “Hmmm,” said the half-orc. “Can the sprite scout up now, please?”   Tiffany’s wings shimmered and shook just a bit. Torgin squinted at her. “I think the fairy is a wee bit worried.”   “I just hate it when I get all crumply-dumply!” said Tiffany with big eyes. Torgin cocked his head, confused.   “Don’t get crumply!” said Gorlock.   “And being re-summoned gives me motion sickness!”   Arian was confused too. “Crumply-dumply? Is that a type of dessert?”   Tiffany flew over to her. “You know—crumpled! And dumpled!”   “Stay invisible and go slowly,” said Gorlock patiently.   “I’ll check the up-way now?” The sprite still looked a bit concerned, but went, and returned to them even quicker this time. “A big one!” she said. “He nearly detected me!” She was shaking just the tiniest bit. “For a moment he was crooking his head like he thought he saw something….”   “He’s bound to be smarter than the others,” said Arian.   “He looked like he was guarding two doors! And he had a big glowy spear!”   Thibault nodded. “Let’s attack him first and somebody can guard the doors in case the other guards come up?”   Tiffany had calmed down now and perched herself on Gorlock’s shoulder. “One of the doors was very nice! All kinds of carvings! I bet these rotters didn’t make them!”   “Can the wee faerie keep watch while we attack?” asked Torgin.   “Certainly,” said Gorlock, and give Tiff a tiny pat on the back. She grinned and saluted.   Arian couldn’t help herself. She took a sugar cube from her bag and handed it to the sprite.   “Yummy!” said Tiff, popping the whole thing in her mouth and crunching it. “This Plane isn’t so bad!”   “Oh, sugar? Rather than meat?” Greeba raised an eyebrow, like she couldn’t imagine any such thing.   "She's so sweet, I assumed she must sup upon dew and sugar."   "You should see my real form up in Heaven though! I'm like a giant burning wheel across the sky!"   They all just nodded, wordlessly, except for Wisteria. “Sounds glorious and powerful!” said the elf.   “Well, I am sweet too, yet I almost exclusively sup on bloody slabs of meat,” said Greeba. None of the rest of them argued this point.   On they went, but the ravenfolk guards had sharp ears as they tried to sneak by. “Intruders!” shouted one. Torgin, who had somewhat anticipated this as soon as he’d heard his armour go clank , rushed at the kenku, trying to use the table as cover. He swung, but missed.   Thibault used a javelin, striking one kenku. Gorlock attempted to blast the same one, but it dodged. Arian cast frostbite upon the kenku closest to the dwarf, hoping to both distract and injure it.   “ Heehee ,” giggled Torgin, “Are you cold, crow?”   Thibault wondered at the dwarf. How could he laugh, when he was surrounded? Indeed, the kenku had collected themselves and they all stabbed at the dwarf, most of them managing to find their mark. Torgin fell to his knees and then flat upon his face, half-rolling under the table.   “Torgin! Noooo! Not again!” cried Eamon. The monk practically flew across the room to launch his attack and Greeba joined him, taking down one of the kenku with a mighty blow from her Warhammer.   “Wisteria!” cried Arian, “The dwarf is down!”   Wisteria grimaced. “If he's so keen to walk down Myrkul's halls, who am I to stop him? I'll stabilise him, but this is the last time I'm stepping in.” She cast Spare the Dying upon the dwarf and Torgin slipped into a restful slumber. Then she cast Toll the Dead and the low clang of a bell rang out, but the kenku shrugged it off.   Xarius cast magic missile, three balls of energy flying out, each one finding their mark on a different kenku. One dropped immediately, the others cawed angrily.   Gorlock cast healing light upon the snoring dwarf and then blasted the kenku closest to Thibault. Torgin awoke with a start, staring bewildered at the table above him and wondering exactly how he came to be on the floor under a table without any drink in him.   Arian took the opportunity to cast infestation on the kenku crouched between Eamon and Thibault. The bird-creature suddenly found himself infested with fleas and jumped to the side, scratching frantically.   Thibault grinned at the sight, but it was the kenku’s turn to strike and one of them landed a blow squarely upon Eamon. The monk immediately responded in kind, taking down the kenku that had struck him.   Xarius cast magic missile again and brought down another kenku, leaving just one standing. Torgin, underneath the table, grabbed the bird’s feet and pulled him to the ground, surprised. They wrestled on the ground, the kenku trying unsuccessfully to stab the dwarf.   Eamon, freshly healed by Thibault, leaped into the fray, punching the last kenku until its skull fractured and it collapsed. They all took a breath, only to be interrupted by a shrill warning from Tiffany: “Incoming!! They heard it! The guard is knocking on the fancy door behind him!”   They only had a small bit of time to get in a little healing and to ready themselves when two large kenkus burst into sight for those closest to the tunnel. Greeba immediately threw a javelin, but was unable to distract the leader, Chief Keeak from casting Insect Plague. Nearly everyone was suddenly caught in a flurry of biting bloodthirsty insects as they crept and flew to fill a space twenty foot around. They crawled upon their victims, biting and tearing at everyone’s flesh. Even those that had the presence of mind to swat at the swarm, were badly wounded.   Thibault, Wisteria and Gorlock fell immediately while Arian, Xarius, Greeba and Torgin were hanging by a thread. Only Eamon had been missed by the attack, and the monk looked on with both horror and revulsion. The room was black with insects; the walls looked like they were moving.   Eamon grabbed Gorlock and got him out of the swarm. He opened a door to a room off the side, happily empty of kenku, and ran inside. Greeba, on the other side of the swarm, bodily picked up Thibault and made for the ceremonial platform. Arian swept off some of the insects, cast healing word upon Gorlock, then dragged Wisteria into the room with Eamon, cursing in elvish all the while, and hoping to be forgiven for the foul language later. A hatred burned within her for the kenku. How evil they were!   Gorlock, revived a bit after some healing and his head clear after being pulled out of the swarm, runs to Wisteria and casts cure wounds upon the cleric. She woke, feeling at least half herself.   “ Unngghhh , I was, walking with Myrkul...” she mumbled.   There was a loud CAWWW! “There is no escape! Surrender and we shall be merciful!”   “How merciful?” called Eamon.   Arian shook her head. She did not believe these foul creatures knew the meaning of the word.   “A fair ransom!” called the kenku back.   “RUNNNNNNNN,” bellowed Greeba, making herself heard over the insistent buzz of the insects still crawling everywhere.   “How much is the ransom? I’m willing to negotiate,” said Eamon.   Arian stared at him. “Eamon, you have your health & perhaps some gold -- I have neither.”   “We will assess ransom based on your value!” called the Chief. His caw was mocking.   “I will pay you all of my money and a promise that as long as I live I will never return. You have my word,” said Eamon.   “We already have your money! CAAW !” Was the kenku laughing? “Surrender or die now!”   Outside, Greeba slung Thibault over her shoulder and began abseiling down the rope. Torgin went after them and, unlike his hesitation on the way up, he practically flew down. A kenku chased after him. Eamon ran as fast as the wind, not even bothering with the rope.   Inside, they all began to run South and down. Arian cast a bit of healing on herself first, sure she would fall if she didn’t. As they ran, the Chief dispelled the remnants of the swarm, but they didn’t even look back to see. They just ran. But ahead of them, two kenku guards appeared, blades raised. Xarius blasted one of them into oblivion with his last magic missiles. The smell of burning feathers filled the air.   Arian had had enough. A growl began in the back of her throat and grew into a rumble as she shapeshifted for the first time in battle to a large, shaggy white arctic wolf. She sprang for the remaining kenku, not even flinching as the blade he had readied pierced her. She bit at him, shaking her head from side to side, trying to rend his flesh from his bones.   The sharp tang of blood filled her mouth. She finally stopped when no more sound came from him. She dropped his body, feathers and blood dripping from her mouth. She turned to see the Chief enter the room. She glared at him and bared her teeth, spitting out a bloody feather. She wanted nothing more than to rip the nasty kenku apart.
The Midnight Tree & Underhall  aka RETREAT! RETREAT! The kenku’s eyes widened at the sight of the white wolf, fangs bared. Then his beady eyes narrowed and he cast Blight. A wave of necrotic energy washed over Arian, along with an overwhelming feeling of dread and doom. She tried to shake it off, knowing it could kill her and just managed to stay on her feet, but she could feel the hit within her bones, like she had been touched by death. The kenku advanced upon her until he was within easy reach with his spear.   She wanted nothing more than to tear his flesh from his frame, to feel the satisfying crunch of his bones, but she had more to think about than herself: her mission and her companions. So she growled in frustration, turned, and ran for the door.   Wisteria followed her and easily managed to un-bar the door, opening it to reveal the concerned and bloody face of Greeba just outside. “Greeba! With Lord Myrkul so near at the moment, I feel truly alive, how about you?”   “Still good, but Thibault is everybody safe and running out?”   Arian howled. No . They were not safe. The Chief was right behind her.   Greeba paused and looked behind Wisteria to notice the wolf for the first time. She raised an eyebrow, but did not flinch. She would have asked, but Gorlock ran past her out the door, interrupting her train of thought. He went so fast that his robes were a blur.   Around the tree, Torgin raised his head, worried. Bloody wolves? That was all they needed. He didn’t have time to think more – Greengloss leaned over the edge of the platform and shot an arrow at Eamon. Torgin ducked reflexively, even though it wasn’t aimed at him and breathed a sigh of relief as two arrows missed their mark. The monk had the luck of the lady.   “Mangy old crow,” he called up. The kenku snapped his beak at the dwarf. “I shall not let you kill Torgin!” declared Eamon, unfazed by the arrows.   Torgin thumbed his nose at the crow and ran over to the unconscious Thibault. He still looked pretty, even with blood matting his hair. The dwarf shouldered the passed out paladin and legged it as fast as his short (but shapely) legs would go to the cover of the forest. “Be careful, mother!” he shouted over his shoulder as he disappeared into the brush.   Meanwhile, around the tree, Xarius had decided the better part of valor would be to follow the warlock out the door. He ran as fast as he had ever run before in his life, his amethyst and turquoise hair fanning out behind him.   Chief Kreeak was still coming after her. Arian’s fur stood on edge and growled deep in her throat. The fur around her muzzle was still stained with blood. She hoped the kenku would see that and be afraid. He paused; she wasn’t sure why. For a moment, she debated tearing into him, but shook her head. They were too wounded. Every time the foul creature hit them, it hurt. She ran again, tail low, Wisteria and Greeba right behind her.   Above, Greengloss shot two last arrows at Eamon, but one missed the mark and the other the monk slashed out of the air before it hit him.   Stunned, the kenku let out a surprised SQUAWK and ducked out of sight.   “There is nothing that can harm me when I am protecting Torgin!” Eamon yelled into the sky.   Nearly everyone was far from the tree now. It was just Arian and Wisteria who were still near enough to see Kreeak when he came bursting out of the door. He raised his thin, feathery arms and cast a spell that Arian recognized. It was a druid spell, though not one that she knew already. Spikey growths and thorns erupted around them, sure to tear their skin if they stayed where they were.   Arian gathered her legs beneath her. She still wasn’t used to this form, but she could feel the strength in her muscular haunches, strength like she had never had before. She turned and leapt for the safety of the large root to the right and once she had landed there with ease, she continued on, her paws padding the ground.   Seeing Arian leap out of the way, Wisteria did the same, but in the other direction, not looking back to see if Myrkul’s shadow was upon her or not.   Chief Kreeak stopped. He sighed. Then he turned around, went back inside, and slammed the door shut.    They all ran, meeting up under the trees and sticking to their cover once they caught glimpses of giant ravens flying the skies above them. They were still being hunted.   Arian was worried. They needed to go farther into the depths of the Darkwood. If they went back the way they had come, they would surely be discovered. But she could not speak in her current form and she was worried about whether or not her normal body would be up for it. She had been sorely wounded. As she whined and tried to attract their attention, Eamon finally noticed her.   “Oh my god, a wolf! Stay back, Torgin!” He raised his sword towards her.   “Wait, wait, it’s Arian,” said Gorlock. He had been stunned to see her transform in the Midnight Tree, but grateful. The kenku guard had not lasted long.   Eamon lowered his sword. Torgin reached into his bag and offered Arian a bit of leftover bacon sandwich.   As hungry as she was, she shook her head and whined. They needed to move . They needed to get somewhere safe . She paced back and forth, trying to herd them, but they were milling about like sheep. Maybe Gorlock would listen? She pointed into the woods like a hunting dog and tried wagging her tail.   “I think she wants us to go that way,” he said. Finally !   “Oh, aye, the big birds won’t be able to get at us in the trees,” agreed Torgin.   Arian whined until they finally started moving. She began to relax after they had covered some distance. They even found a place safe enough for a short rest. She shifted to herself, but only briefly, still not willing to give up the relative safety of the wolf’s skin. At full health, she felt much better.   By late evening, the woods were beginning to thin out. Ahead, they saw some ruins, an old ruined broch covered in brambles—and a campfire. And where there was smoke, there was sure to be a fire.   “Er, Tiff? You there, dear?” asked Gorlock.   “Of course I’m here, silly!” said the sprite chirpily, appearing on his shoulder.   “Can you take a quick peek ahead? Invisible, of course.”   “Sure thing, boss!” She disappeared, a vague whoosh going off towards the ruins. She was back within moments. “Just three people in red robes sitting round a campfire - two men and a woman. I just peeked down the steps but it looked scary!” She shivered. “There was a big room with a slimy pool. And tunnels! And pillars!”   They all looked to Eamon. “It’s the Scarlet monks,” he said. “I recommend we head back to town. There’s no way of telling their individual strength or true numbers.”   They all argued about it amongst themselves. Should they stay? Should they go? Should they investigate further. Arian was rather glad she had kept her wolf form. She sat back and scratched her ear as she listened to them argue. She sniffed the air. Ah. Roasting rabbit . She wasn’t sure about the monks, but they could cook, at least.   The others had come to a decision. Maybe they could smell the rabbit too. They had decided to at least investigate. They moved as a group to an opening in the crumbled down wall, except for Torgin, who attempted to hide himself behind it. Arian took up a position in front. Perhaps a full grown wolf would give the red robed monks or whatever they were pause.   “Hello, good sirs,” said Gorlock, seemingly ignoring the fact that the most powerful one among the monks seemed to be female.   “We come in peace,” said Eamon.   “Underhall is now under the wardship of the Crimson Monks. Begone!”   Well. So much for being friendly. Arian let her teeth show, just the slightest bit. Greeba and Gorlock tried to get information out of the monks, but got nowhere and nothing but insults for their trouble. There was a brief moment where the half-orc looked ready to do more than argue, but then she took a deep breath. Arian kept a close eye on Greeba. If the berserker made a move, she would go for the red robed woman first. And then…maybe the rabbit.   But after a bit more talking, the others decided they were too tired and carefully backed away. “May Myrkul walk closely behind you....until next time,” called Wisteria back to the red-robed monks who were watching them walk away.   “Don’t threaten them, Wisteria,” said Eamon. “It’s dangerous.”   “That wasn’t a threat! It was a blessing!” Wisteria grinned. “Well, I suppose it depends on your perspective…”   Arian took one last look back to make sure the monks were watching. She marked the entrance to the ruins. They’d be back here someday, she just knew it. She would remember this place.

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Current Rumour Tracking Underhall Ruins -- Crimson Robed monks (3), underground nasty water, rumour from other band of adventurers that they found some "devil dogs" there Jaroo sent Arian a sending asking whether or not she's been able to look into the ley lines at Feycircle Tor yet. (2 days travel to the West) Eamon might also want to check out the Roadhouse Inn owned by his brother, & the nearby Abbey of the Crimson Monks. Torgin & Greeba have rumours of treasure at Hornhold Crypt & the Fallen Halls respectively. Egilmont offers 300 gold for anyone who will slay the troll of Egilmarsh . Bandits are again preying on travellers along the road east of Fulscarp Manor . Lady Aryn in Fulscarp offers 200 gold for their elimination; the Baron Solkar of Grimstead offers to match this with 200 gold of his own. A white dragon has claimed the territory between D'Ashe Manor and the mountains for his own - this includes the vital mining trail to Hiddenglen .