Adventure 2 – Wild Things
There were several times Vaelen thought he would surely drown. The sheer force of the water from the lake hitting him from above blasted the air of his lungs. Just as he thought his grip on the tree Gillian had thrown him to would hold he felt the wood snap and the water swallowed him whole. At one point the cleric slammed into Kzzmet, but before he could grab hold of the dwarf a surge of water carried him away. His instincts told him to lie on his back, keep his legs pointed downstream and keep his head above water, but the heavy armor he wore made it all but impossible. Water surged into his mouth, up his nose, clogged his ears, and knocked him senseless. Deaf, dumb and blind Vaelen was left feeling helpless against the might of the unruly water. Just as he felt his world darkening he felt a strong hand heave him out of the water. Even after the world came back into focus he couldn’t believe his eyes. Vaelen had just been plucked out of the water by a half-orc who was surfing down the raging river on wooden wreckage from Darkskye. He would have thought himself delusional if he hadn’t recognized the barbarian’s face. Vaelen coughed, sucked in great gasps of air, and found his voice. “Penny?!?”
Penelope ‘Penny’ Dreadful grinned down at Vaelen. “I thought that balding head looked familiar. Hang on. I got you!” As the reigning champion of the Imperial Legion’s dodgeball championships avoiding falling wreckage and surfing down the raging river was a piece of cake for Penny. If you could dodge a ball, you could dodge a weapon her former drill master in Axis had always told her. Of course balls were made of stone not rubber, so dodging wreckage didn’t seem all that different. She saw the tip of a helment sticking out of the water and pulling it up with her free hand found Tycho attached with a half-elf sorcerer clinging to his belt. A thud behind her announced Jasmind as the paladin climbed onto the board as well. The floating wrecks creaked with all the additional weight. “Whoops, fun time is over. Brace for landing!” With a twist of her legs, Penny guided her makeshift raft over to the shore. Deep in the Wild Wood with a motley collection of adventurers may seem a daunting situation for normal folk, but Penny was grateful to be getting some exercise. For the past several weeks she had served desk duty as a guard on Darkskye and her leg muscles had started going soft. If there was one thing the barbarian couldn’t stand, it was growing soft.
Tycho half laughed, half sputtered water out of his lungs as Penny threw him onto dry land. If he had known the new guard he had working to smuggle things in and out of Darkskye was that skillful he would have given her a bigger cut in his smuggling operations. The half-orc barbarian seemed to have a little bit of crazy in her. Tycho liked that. The halfling fighter climbed to his feet all the while grinning like a madman, but his smile faltered when he noticed the absence of a certain dwarf. “Where’s Kzzmet?”
Cold, wet, and shivering to the bone, Gillian was only half listening to the conversation. Vaelen had not seen Kzzmet since he lost his grip on him in the river. No one had seen the bard since the water fell. It seemed that their “savior” was a relatively new guard stationed at Darkskye. Vaelen knew the half-orc barbarian from her former bounty hunter days which seemed to be brief at best. Tycho also seemed familiar with Penny, although Gillian couldn’t place how. While the others talked Gillian stood up and looked around. They were in the thick of the Wild Wood and Darkskye’s crash had made a mess of things. From the looks of it the water had washed them all downhill a few miles north, but even from this distance Gillian could still see fragments of the island spinning in the air still suspended by wild magic. Looking north Gillian saw that the rushing water had broken through the edge of a massive patch of tight twisting trees and vines. She had to look twice to make sure she was certain, but yes – there it was – just beyond the gap in the tanglewood was a small collection of primitive dwellings. “A village!”
As the party walked toward the village Jasmind listened to the others share stories about the Wild Wood. Out of everyone present she had the most experience in the area, having been a Warden of the Wild Wood before her imprisonment. Trees that come alive. Hah, even younglings in their cribs knew that. Bears the size of buildings. An exaggeration, for sure. Hags, gnolls and trolls. The Wild Wood was home to many creatures, even unsightly ones. Rumors of wild elves corrupted by the Diabolist. Wait- what? Jasmind turned to see who had shared that last bit of information. Vaelen. As a wood elf Jasmind nearly took the comment as an insult, but perhaps the bounty hunter knew something she didn’t….
“I thought you said this was a village,” Tycho quipped at Gillian as they approached the dwellings. Tucked into the tangled roots of massive trees were small huts. The only thing that qualified as a building in Tycho’s mind was a longhall-like house that rested in the center of all the huts. The natives here were wild elves garbed in simple animal pelts or woven grass. The wild elves were non-aggressive, but apprehension was clear on their faces as the party approached. It was just so…. primitive…
Jasmind elbowed Tycho in the side. “Show some respect. While I have not traveled here before I know of this village. This is Onkafield, a focal place for hunters to trade pelts.” After speaking a few words of Elven with a villager nearby Jasmind beckoned the party towards the longhall. “Come. There are people inside that may help us.”
Inside the longhall the party found two village elders that were willing to help, for a price. The first was Okonkwo Nasiche, the village healer, who offered to craft two healing poultices if the party agreed to stay overnight to protect the village. The other was Kalu Kadokechi, a magician of limited skills, who offered the party magical oil if they helped him extract sap from trees. Kadokechi explained that the water had brought many glowing crystals into the woods just outside the village and no one dared approach them. While Jasmind talked to Nasiche about staying in the village overnight Gillian and the others talked to Kadokechi about the crystals.
Nasiche was in the midst of explaining how the ragging water had destroyed a portion of the tanglewine that protected the village when Jasmind heard a commotion behind her. Turning the wood elf paladin saw a youthful wild elf female with a dagger raised at Gillian. The half elf sorcerer was shouting. “Seven Hells! I was just asking for some help out of these wretched woods! Calm down!” Clearly the troubled bunch the paladin traveled with lacked the delicate touch needed to gain trust with the wild elves. Jasmind hurriedly excused herself from Nasiche and rushed over to difuse the situation. She glided up next to Gillian and softly spoke a customary greeting of peace in Elven that she had used many times before in her past when visiting other villages in the Wild Wood. The wild elf’s eyes widened in recognition as the elf looked at Jasmind and she lowered her daggers. “Leafkin Jass~mind!”
Tycho raised a bushy eyebrow. One minute the sorcerer was about to get them all in trouble with an elf, the next minute the paladin had the elf bowing in reverence. In a rare showing of grace and authority Jasmind looked as if she had been blessed by the Elf Queen herself. The wild elf female introduced herself as Akiki, a village guide. She humbly apologized for her actions, not having known these strangers traveled with a Warden of the Wild Wood. Tycho chuckled and leaned in close to Jasmind. “A Warden, aye? Guess this one doesn’t know you’ve been tucked away in prison.” The halfling’s taunts were promptly returned with another elbow in his side.
With an hour or two of sunlight left in the day the party set out to collect the tree sap requested by Kalu Kadokechi. When they exited the village they saw that the rushing water had subsided, leaving a trail of crystals and debris littered throughout the forest. After studying the crystals for a moment Gillian grimly admitted that she lacked the magical ability to render them harmless. Vaelen similarly admitted that his knowledge of divine scripture from his studies in the Cathedral offered no solution. Tycho suggested shattering any crystals they saw and Penny happily obliged. Reducing the crystals to dust would not solve the problem as time in the prison tunnels had proven, but perhaps it would lessen the harmful impact they had on the forest. As Tycho and Penny got to smashing Jasmind found the tree they were looking for and began extracting the sap. Before long the party was headed back into Onkafield, sap in hand.
The aged Kadokechi offered them a bright smile as he accepted the sap. “This sap is said to be blessed by the blood of our ancestors. It has helped protect our village for generations. Our most profound thanks!” The aged elf stated that he would use a small portion of the sap to create the magical oil as promised, but Jasmind stopped him. She thanked him for his most generous offer, but explained that simple provisions of food and water would be a much more valuable reward given their predicament. Kadokechi instructed them to wait and disappeared deeper into the longhall. When he returned he carried three large sacks. “It’s not much, but my wife makes amazing elven bread. That, a bit of water, and a few scraps of jerky should see you well fed for several days.” Before Kadokechi had finished speaking Tycho had already upended one bag and was rifeling through the food. Penny and Gillian grabbed hold of the other two sacks and thanked Kadokechi for his generosity.
Needing a breath of fresh air, Vaelen was the first out of the longhouse. His trained eyes surveyed the people of the village, sizing everyone up. Whether it was by luck or the Priestess herself guided his eyes Vaelen couldn’t be sure, but a mark on the wrist of a wild elf that walked into one of the small huts caught his attention. A bracer on the elf’s wrist has loosened revealing a mark of a deformed hand with an eyes at is center. The rumors were true. His companions emerged from the longhall just in time to hear Vaelen curse. “We’ve got trouble. I just noticed an elf bearing the mark of the Diabolist. And where she goes, chaos follows.”
Alarmed, Gillian demanded to know where the elf was. Vaelen nodded towards the hut the elf had entered, but grabbed Gillian’s wrist before she could pursue him. “Contain yourself. We don’t know how far the taint has spread. We might have to wipe out the whole village,” Vaelen whispered. Not one for tact Tycho blurted out “Yes! Wipe them out!” not caring that Akiki still accompanied them.
Jasmind quickly pulled Akiki aside. She would be having some words with the halfling fighter later, but for now she had to salvage their relationship with the elf guide. The paladin explained to Akiki that the Diabolist was a great threat to the village’s safety. She stressed that it was of great importance to know who the elf was that resided in that hut. Akiki looked wide eyed at Tycho, then back at Jasmind before finding her words. “He is a fur trader who arrived here yesterday. A newcomer to our village. No one else here bears the dark mark. Leafkin, I bow to your judgment in this. You must do what needs to be done for the people. I only ask that you honor our people’s laws and no foul deed will take place in the village grounds.” Jasmind nodded and promised Akiki that no one free from the Diabolist’s corruption would be harmed. As a paladin it was her oath to protect the innocent and smite the wicked. She turned to deliver the news to the others.
Fire burned in Gillian’s eyes, but the half elf listened to the wisdom in Jasmind’s words. “Fine. No blood will be shed in the village. Go out to the woods. I will deliver him to you shortly.” Shaking her wrist free of Vaelen’s grasp she stomped toward the elf’s hut, leaving her party him her. Gillian had more reasons than most to hate the Diabolist. She had long ago sworn that she would never let that monstrous excuse for a women ever sink her claws into her again. Without knocking she flipped the door to the hut open to find the elf sitting crosslegged on the hut floor, a satchel in hand. She pulled herself up in her most intimidating pose, “Mother sent me. She needs a report on your activities here. We must speak in the woods immediately.”
The elf looked up alarmed and slid the satchel behind his back. He opened his mouth to speak, but was silenced as Gillian let the magic from her demonic heritage come to life. Infernal runes flared across her skin before darkening agin. Gillian narrowed her eyes and spoke again. “I am Mother’s creation. You will answer to me. Follow. This is not a discussion.” She flung the door to the hut open and gestured the elf out. Reluctantly, the agent let the sorceress march him deep into the surrounding woods. When he saw the others arrayed before him, fully armed, he stopped dead in his tracks. One look at the grin on the halfling’s face and the elf knew he had walked into a trap.
“Deceiver! Traitor! Mother did not send you!” In one quick motion the wild elf unsheathed a dagger from his belt. Gillian went to defend herself, but was alarmed when the elf plunged the blade into his own chest. “Mother… will honor… me…” His body slumped to the floor dead and the satchel spilled out onto ground. Gillian picked up several samples of crystals and a leather bound book. Flipping the books pages open, she found a demonic script scrawled across the pages. At least her time in the hellmarsh had taught her to read abyssal. The pages seemed to be scattered notes concerning the crystal samples. Apparently the Diabolist herself had an interest in the crystals. Yet Akiki had told Jasmind the elf arrived the day before Darkskye crashed. What did that mean?
“Damn, he denied us the fun part,” Tycho muttered as he approached the elf’s corpse. “Must have been posion on that dagger to work so quickly.” With a grunt the halfling picked up the elf by the legs and started dragging him to a nearby clearing. He paused a moment when he noticed the look the others were giving him. “I doubt the native knife ears be wanting us to leave bodies lying around and he ain’t going to bury himself. Stop your bloody gawking and give me a hand!”
After the elf was buried and forgotten the party members took shifts to protect the village overnight. It had been a very long day, but Jasmind had given her word to Okonkwo Nasiche that they would do it. Though brief, the rest allowed them to heal up from their wounds. When the morning came the band of adventurers found Akiki waiting to guide them out of the forest. Before they departed the village healer Nasiche delivered two healing poultices to the party as promised.
To the party’s surprise Akiki guided them to the north end of the village to where the tanglewood was the thick. Penny questioned why they could not just go around in the gap the water created. Akiki pointed back to the south. The hole in the village’s natural defense barrier was gone, replaced tanglevine that was unnaturally large. “You looked, but you did not see. The dust from the crystals you shattered mixed with the dirt and caused the tanglewood to grow wild. Kadokechi works to restore the natural balance, but if you wish to depart you must do so now. Come. I will show the way.”
Akiki was fast. Very fast. There were many times the elf guide would disappear through the tanglevine quicker than anyone could follow. It was not until the party was a few feet into the tanglewood that they understood how good of a natural barrier it made for the village. Twisting branches and thorny vines created a massive thicket that blocked out most the sunlight above them. Gillian and Penny both slipped down a hillside, cutting themselves on the massive thorns in the woods. Tycho mocked them until Jasmind pointed out he was standing in a patch of Itchbane weeds. The halfling cursed and frantically leapt out of the plant he had walked into, but it was too late – he would be itching all day. Thankfully, whenever the party seemed to be completely lost Akiki would always find them again.
Vaelen breathed a sigh of relief when they found the edge of the tanglewood. By the grace of the gods he had emerged unscathed. Unfortunately, it looks like they were trading one danerous environment for another. Before them were the massive trees of the Wild Wood, their trunks dotted with various fungi and unusually large flowers. Akiki made a gesture to several tracks in the ground, “Direwolves have gone through here recently. Great and terrible predators. You would best keep away from them.”
Akiki quickly darted ahead and the rest tried to keep up. None of them had the sense to notice Akiki’s path stayed far away from the flowers along the tree trunks. When Gillian got too close, she was alarmed when a flower lashed out to wrap its petals around her. Her muffled screams alerted Jasmind who tried to pull the half-elf out of the flower petals. Jasmind yanked Gillian free, but the two of them stumbled back into a noxious fungus that released a spore cloud towards them. Penny lifted them both to safety and the party moved on more cautious of their surroundings. Their their raised awareness the party noticed that the grass swayed towards the crystals that had fallen in this area of the Wild Wood, even when the wind blew in the opposite direction. Something was wrong with the forest.
As the sun began to set, the adventurers found themselves approaching a small clearing. Within was a crumbled mass that once may have been called a building. Around the ruins were countless gravestones. Akiki pulled on Jasmind’s arm, “I can take you no further, Leafkin. My people dare not tread in this place. Travel north, you will find your way home.” Jasmind nodded in approval and touched three fingers to her brow, a sign of thanks among her kind. With one last bow of her head, Akiki sprinted back into the forest toward her village.
Penny strode into the clearing and looked around. “Next time our guide won’t enter a place, perhaps it be best to ask why.” Drawning on her background as an imperial legionnaire the half-orc continued, “In ages past there used to be troops sent in to pacify the High Druid and her followers when she first begin to harass the imperial lands. Judging by the graveyards, I’d wager this was one of their field hospitals before the wilds overtook them.” Penny started walking towards the nearest headstone, but as the sun dipped below the horizon and night began to fall a harsh chill wind swept through the clearing. The half-orc paused as the dirt beneath her feet shifted and a skeletal hand emeraged. Three skeletal warriors and six decrepit skeletons rose from the graves around the party. A bone-chilling shriek pulled their attention to the hospital where a ghostly apparition had materialized holding icy-blue blade. Their presence had awoken a wraith.
Vaelen was not one to wait for trouble to come to him so he leapt into the fray, swinging his warhammer around at the nearest decrepit skeleton. The skeleton’s head came clean off and lodged itself into the ribcage of another nearby as its body crumpled to the ground. Tycho slid up next to Vaelen and brought his Greatsword of the Bear down upon a skeletal warrior. His aim was to outmatch the cleric, but the halfling found the warriors to be far less brittle than the others. His sword chipped away at the skeleton’s bones, but the warrior stood strong. Seeing the danger the warriors posed Jasmind flanked right and got the attention of two remaining skeletal warriors. As the skeletons charged in at the remaining party members, Penny stood firm, swinging her axe in a frenzied whirlwind at every undead horror to come close. It had been far too long since she had seen combat and Penny was itching for a good fight. With Penny guarding her Gillian took the opportunity to gather power.
The wraith raised his ice-cold ghost blade and flew at Jasmind. Jasmind found him to be quite the foe, his etheral body making it difficult to land a solid blow. With a wraith and two skeletal warriors on her the paladin took a beating, but before long Tycho and Vaelen were by her side after dispatching their own warrior. Vaelen reached out towards Jasmind and used his divine arts as a cleric to mend her wounds. With a shriek the wraith unleashed a spiraling assault upon those that surrounded him and teleported away. He appeared behind Gillian just as the sorcerer was about to unleash a scorching ray and drove his blade into her back. Negative energy filled the sorcerer and she fell to one knee, staggered. Distracted dealing with the remaining decrepit skeletons Penny was unable to help.
Vaelen saw the plight of his companions and ran over to Gillian. The cleric quickly healed his companion before he turning his gaze upon the wraith. Raising his hand he let the might of the light and dark gods that flow through him. A beam of intense golden energy connected with the Wraith’s chest. Holy energy thrummed through the clearing and the Wraith abruptly exploded in a flash of divine light. Caught in the light, the remaining skeletons turned to dust. The undead had not just been turned – they had been destroyed.
With the threat gone the party took a moment to recover from their wounds. Vaelen darkly reminded the others that while they had won one battle it would be unwise to stay here overnight as untold amounts of undead could still be lurking within the hospital ruins. Hurriedly, the party assembled their gear to leave. Jasmind picked up the icy-touched blade that the wraith had carried and felt a chill run into her arm. It may have been an instrument of evil once, but it would still serve her as a useful tool. Before departing Vaelen noticed that one of the shields a warrior had carried was not rusted over like the rest. In fact, it looked as new as the day it was crafted. Picking it up the cleric felt the power within the metal disc and smiled. With no other magic items in sight the party made their way north out of the graveyard and into the Wild Wood beyond.
At night the Wild Wood was full of haunting sounds. As the party ventured through the wilderness they could hear shuffling in the bushes just outside their torchlight. The howls of direwolves echoed through the air. And above all, the constant hum of insects in the air. Tycho swatted yet another mosquito off his neck and looked off to his right. He had thought he heard something, like a collection of hoots and hollers. Squinting under his torchlight, he saw the shadowy figures of several humanoids about his size running through the woods near a small stream. More sounds echoed through the woods then a very abrupt THWACK. “Mates, I think we may have a problem…”
Penny was just about to say something when she heard movement to her right. Then behind her. Then to her left. The glitter of scales reflected the moonlight as several massive forms emerged out of the woods. When they came closer to the light Penny recognized them immediately. Several of the barbarian’s exploits in the Legion involved pacifying or fighting against the Lizardmen that worked for the Three. Brutal savages, they preferred the noise that their primitive clubs made when smashing the bones of their victims. To make it worse the one infront of her was a Giant Dragonman with a big honkin’ club in one hand and dragged the corpse of a savage halfling native to the Wild Wood in the other. “Yes, that’s a problem.”
The sound of a fallen tree branch snapping behind Tycho was his only warning before another Giant Dragonman appeared behind the party. The fighter was barely able to duck out of the way before the Dragonman slammed his massive club down into the ground next to him. Tycho retaliated in kind, twisting around the brute and slashing away with his greatsword. Gillian let her arcane energies build, lightning crackling around her. Vaelen and Jasmind got the better of two of the smaller lizardmen and flanked the pair. When Penny took a club to the chest, she lost all notion of civilized combat. With a blood curdling cry, the barbarian let her adrenaline pump through her veins as rage filled her. For every hit she took, she sank her ax deeper into the brute in front of her.
Trading blow for blow, Tycho continued to stand toe-to-toe with the brute before him. He may be small, but he knew how to handle a blade well. The bigger his target, the easier it was to hit. The Dragonman eventually collapsed from the numerous slashes across his body. Gillian saw Penny swarmed by three lizardmen and sought to help. She channeled her gathered power and released a lightning bolt, only to see it fizzle in the air. The lizardmen barely noticed the lightning bolt and kept harrying Penny. The raging barbarian served as an effective distraction and let Jasmind flank around behind them. With the Dragonman weakened from Penny’s blows Jasmind unleashed a powerful smite which felled the creature. With the grace only a wood elf could muster Jasmind followed up and delivered a finishing blow to the last remaining lizardman.
Gillian walked over to one of the fallen lizardman and removed a pouch from his waist. Sure enough, they too had been collecting samples of the crystals. First the Diabolist, now the Three. Who else has a hand in this mess? Something big was going on here, and they seemed to be caught in the middle of it. Tycho muttered something along the lines of only caring about finding a peaceful place to rest for the night. Tired and beaten bloody the others agreed. They had only walked a few minutes before coming upon a small village full of dead feral halflings, no doubt wiped out by the lizardmen they had encountered. “Whelp, this place is as good as any,” Tycho said as he threw down his gear to settle in for the night. Too tired to argue the others followed suit.
The next morning the band of adventurers were greeted by a sign of hope. As the sun rose over the treetops they saw a tower in the far distance. It would take at least another day’s travel to reach the tower, but they rejoiced in seeing the first sign of civilization. Gathering their gear they set out North.
The unnamed wild elf in Onkafield that Vaelen uncovered as a servant of the Diabolist was a creation of our own game. It was not part of the Wyrd of the Wild Wood organized play packet. At the start of the game players were given an opportunity share information their characters knew about the Wild Wood. This information was then integrated into the game as fact. As we went around the table the person who plays Vaelen added that Vaelen had heard rumors of wild elves or gnolls that were corrupted by the Diabolist. This gave a great opportunity to tie in some Icon relationships and it fit into the ongoing mystery of the crystals.
Similarly, the party faced Lizardmen working for the Three as a second encounter because it tied in closer to the Icons present in our game. The organized play packet outlines a fight against feral halflings, but thinking Tycho wouldn’t like that much we went with the Lizardmen which are a bonus monster offered in Appendix 4 of the organized play packet.