In Which a Fallen Friend Rises and the Doomshroud Calls
Freeday, 13 Fireseek, CY 596, continued (presumably)
With Tyrrell’s body cooling on the broken stones, the party divides up the titan’s treasure and formulates a plan to move the Belt. Three enormous black pearls and one suit of magical leather armor go into the handy haversack and Archie takes the efreet’s magical longsword, a statue of an elf maiden carved from a mammoth tusk, and one of the gargoyles’ composite longbows. Scar-Eater avails himself of a suit of magical mithril plate mail and a belt of giant strength. The roughly twenty-three-thousand silver pieces and assortment of severed heads is left behind without reservation.
Jane announces to her friends that she has the power to reincarnate Tyrrell but not the materials. She believes she may be able to find the necessary components closer to the edge of the old-growth forest about 10 miles away. Before they can do anything like that, however, they must solve the riddle of what to do with Krathanos’s belt and body. Jane casts a spell to consume the massive corpse in slime and Long Fist shoulders the Belt, intent on dragging it to their next destination.
Archie leads the party cautiously, avoiding tyrannosaurus territory, to the edge of what they think must be the notorious Doomshroud forest around dusk. The totality of its freakishness is evident for the first time – black trees hundreds of feet tall sway against the wind. Black ichor drips, oily and greasy, foul-smelling, sulphurous, from branches and bark. Swooping high above, Athena notices a massive clearing in the middle of the wood. It is time to commune with this twisted nature.
Athena flies high into the canopy of the great old-growth trees. As Bast, she rakes a path through the thick ropy vines and branches, nestling deep into the vegetation, occasionally requiring Fury’s smaller teeth to make her way. Finding a tight crook where two great branches meet, she settles in. As Tempest, she begins a small, focused whirlwind and sets the canopy swaying and rustling in her breeze. Then finally as Willow, she sinks her own roots and vines into those of the tree and merge as one. For ten minutes, she sways there, high in the sky, at one with the vegetation and the wind. Then eventually she starts to hear whispers in the rustle of branch against branch and leaf against vine. Words begin to form. And the first words she hears are words of praise. Words of thanks. Words of blessing. The entire natural world (in this unnaturally created place) is calling out to the Daughter of the Storm.
THANK YOU, it says. THANK YOU, DAUGHTER, FOR GIVING US LIFE. THANK YOU, DAUGHTER, FOR PROTECTING US. THANK YOU, DAUGHTER, FOR ALL WE ARE. WE HONOR YOUR SACRIFICE EVEN AS WE ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR POWER. The trees only know her as a legend passed down through the ages, so it is with the winds and the birds and the other lesser wildlife. But the earth itself remembers her. YOU ARE THE SAME, it says. I HAVE CHANGED – MY ROCKS HAVE SHIFTED, MY CONTOURS HAVE EVOLVED, BUT YOU ARE AS I REMEMBER. YOU ARE AS TEMPORARY AS THE ANT OR THE BUTTERFLY, YET SEEMINGLY AS PERMANENT AS THE OCEAN. Jane senses that the natural world would be happy to bathe her in praise from now until eternity, but then it becomes aware of her pressing interest in plant or mineral oils and the presence of powerful unnatural creatures. Her consciousness passes through her roots and down through the roots of the tree and into the earth. Nearly ten miles away, she senses a pocket, shallow enough to reach, of natural vegetative oils she could access. There is nothing else of note in the plant and mineral categories that she discovers, but the third category of inquiry reveals an unexpected tidbit. Jane senses the expected nearby presence of four other powerful creatures chained to prophecy yet possessed of the power to countermand it, touched by the gods in the past, present, and future. And she also senses the faint, distant presence of a small piece of another such creature. One long dead – over a thousand years dead – yet preserved. Lingering. Waiting. It is flesh, but flesh that is wrong. Flesh that is twisted. Flesh that has been drained. Flesh without soul, yet destined not to remain so. It is very near to the oils. Suspiciously near, in fact. Like, within feet of the pocket. Almost as though it had been placed there deliberately. But who could have done such a thing over a millennium ago?…
Jane returns to the party and shares what she has learned. She knows the oils will be of a kind she can use but would lack the powerful magical blessing they would need to serve as a resource to reincarnate Tyrrell. However, she could use the oil to melt down, and ultimately absorb the power of a magic item dedicated to maintaining life and powering the flesh, such as her ring of sustenance.
But they must camp for the night before they can retrieve the oils, and Archie confirms this seems like as good a place as any.
Starday, 14 Fireseek, CY 596 (as far as anyone knows)
After an uneventful night and long slow slog along the edge of the Doomshroud, the party reaches the general area around mid-afternoon, then takes another couple of hours to locate the precise spot to dig for the oils. After yet another hour of digging, they discover a pocket of amber. Encased within there is a finger, preserved through the ages – a ring finger, to be precise, still clad with a familiar band. Its flesh is ashen gray, its nail is black as is the sliver of bone still jutting from its base. Jane looks from its ring to the ring of sustenance upon her own finger; without question the two are the same. Exactly the same, in fact.
“The Jane in the casket near the portal had all of her fingers,” Jane says aloud, “but she was not wearing this ring.”
Riddle casts divination and asks, ”Should Jane use the finger in the amber for Tyrrell’s reincarnation?”
And on a hush of wind, the voices reply, ”Tyrrell left it here expressly for that purpose.”
Not a lot to argue with there.
Jane brings the unearthed oils to a boil and then adds the found ring of sustenance to the brew along with shards of rock, selected leaves and twigs, and few drops of tree sap. Chanting and praying, Jane draws upon the power of the earth, sky, and water and focuses it into the boiling oils. Soon the ring droops, sags, and then melts into the mixture. Jane carefully pours the oil over the ancient gray finger.
Immediately, the finger twitches. It flexes slightly. Then a few nearby blades of grass bend of their own accord towards the finger. They tear themselves from the earth and fly to the finger like metal to a magnet. Within seconds they are absorbed into the finger and transform into small slivers of gray flesh, extending its length. More shards of grass follow, and then pieces of earth, bits of amber, dribbles of oil and slowly…slowly, a shape begins to form.
Within the hour, an entire body lays upon on the ground. It is Tyrrell, but not Tyrrell – rather like an ancient replica of their friend and ally but composed entirely in shades of gray. The flesh is gray, the hair and nails flat black. The webby network of scars across his face remain but angry red flesh no longer, now they are pale white, except…as the ritual concludes, those scars jump to life with their familiar greenish glow. The erstwhile lump of Tyrrell-shaped earth suddenly draws a great shuddering breath, gasping to life. He sits up and his eyes open, revealing pure white pupils and irises. The others notice uneasily how the nearby shadows of the deepening afternoon seem to bend towards him, not necessarily drawn to him but possibly unaware of his otherness from themselves. He seems to flicker, not-there for half-heartbeats, real but unreal, present but…not right.
“The colors here are blinding,” he says. “Where am I exactly?”
“ The Isle of Tilagos?” Jane replies.
“We killed the titan yesterday,” Riddle adds, but new-Tyrrell seems unable to wrap his mind around the concept of ‘yesterday’. He speaks of waking in a gray land, with tombstones and a river made of blood, and of lingering there, for a century or more. He speaks more as he allows him to be examined. Apparently he was in Hades, where creatures who lived mortal lives of profound, unrepentant evil go when they die – definitely not a place someone of his particular moral standing would have expected to end up. There he endured one hundred years of torture. Upon arrival he was immediately seized by terrifying insect-like creatures and held captive as black, midnight hags performed unspeakable tortures upon him… all of which he remembers in great detail. “You all look familiar,” Tyrrell says uncertainly. “I remember we were in the midst of something… big. I have a memory of my own actions, almost destroying all of us, but that is all. I remember in the midst of the… work they were doing on me, hearing a voice… a woman’s voice, that seemed vaguely familiar, but not entirely, but I looked to it, and I woke up here.”
In the ensuing silence, some of the party reflects on how time is, it seems, a flat circle.
Jane confirms he is not undead, and while he is human, he seems to adhere to another set of rules. His flesh is human but not indigenous to this place or the Material Plane. He is broken, and thin, and has travelled a great distance. The reincarnation functioned as it was supposed to, with what it had to work with – that finger. Jane is confident that prior to their digging it up it had been buried here for at least twelve hundred years. “But,’ she says, “that doesn’t mean we don’t need to cut off his finger and bury it here before we leave.”
As most of the group theorizes about the possible connection of this plane to Hades or of Hades to Vecna, or what, if anything, short of a miracle could have sent their friend to that place, Long Fist opens his senses to his companions, and finding no evil there, is mollified for the moment.
“Hold your tongues,” Archie says, and points to a shimmer in the air above them. Jane attempts and fails to dispel the scry sensor, but Riddle succeeds and as dusk approaches, the party moves to a place where they can hide the Belt with a permanent image, and not under scrying eyes. They move in a different direction to set up camp, but they have barely settled in for the night when all but Long Fist notice they are surrounded by a quartet of lean, emaciated purple hunting cats on six legs, their bodies carved solely of muscle, bone, and tentacles.
Tyrrell immediately vanishes. Jane sends a sirocco upon the first cat and it is knocked prone in a blast of fire. Archie dons his cloak of the bat and scampers up a tree. Scar-Eater activates his new armor of speed, swiftly turns invisible and moves within ten feet of the prone cat. The cats close in as Riddle bestows his blessings of fervor on the party.
Tyrrell tumbles unseen towards one of the cats but his blade passes through air on his attach. Jane brings down on column of divine fire on two of them, managing to catch one full blast, and moves into a better position. Long Fist moves in on one of the cats, who swipes him as he closes, and lands a sturdy blow. Two of the cats surround Archie’s tree and smack him as he shimmies up, and his one shot flies through thin air as his target is displaced. Scar-Eater closes with the cat that was previously on fire and slams it with a tripping ray of exhaustion. It falls prone, exhausted by the spell. Scar-Eater disappears again, and the cat swipes pointlessly where he was. Long Fist and Riddle absorb two big hits each from cat-tentacles, and Riddle responds with a blast of cold damage on one at the base of Archie’s tree.
Still unseen, Tyrrell delivers a pair of massive strikes on the cold cat, draining it of some of its strength, and Jane winds her way through the battlefield, dodging attacks for the most advantageous position from which to unleash an empowered fire snake on three of them before transforming into a fiery Tempest herself. Long Fist bloodies one but it snatches out of existence before he can land a second blow. Archie skewers one cat to death and fires upon another while Scar-Eater fires three scorching rays into a third before turning invisible again. His deeply wounded target flails at the place he once occupied as his two companions run away. Archie finishes him off in a workmanlike four shots, and the party is able to rest.
Sunday, 15 Fireseek, CY 596 (I mean, maybe, right?)
The party ventures into the Doomshroud, to “silence its mournful song” and they haven’t traversed half a mile before they begin to hear a very distant, very, very, very despair-filled song, sung in a woman’s voice. Within moments, Scar-Eater’s face has gone blank and he has begun shambling towards the source of the song in a way which convinces the others he is being compelled. They try restraining him but it seems to cause him physical pain. They try reasoning with him but he is unable or unwilling to adhere to logic. Riddle’s effort to dispel the effect is pointless. Scar-Eater has his faculties, but only one goal.
The party quickly decides not to abandon Scar-Eater to his fate and to follow him towards the source. After about three hours, they hit the edge of the treeline, the clearing Athena scouted from above the previous day. At the center, a black tree hundreds of feet tall, swaying hypnotically despite the noticeable lack of breeze, emitting this terrible song. Using her eagle eye spell Jane notes nothing else in the clearing besides this thing that should not exist, this terrible tree fouled by dark magic into creatures called Night Twists. She knows that to kill this creature would evoke a terrible curse, but she also knows the only way to free Scar-Eater of its grip, to silences its mournful song, and to fulfill the Trials of Tilagos, is to risk the curse and kill the creature. It can create gale force winds and protection from slashing weapons, but is as vulnerable to fire as any other plant.
Riddle casts conviction on them all, and the party prepares to do battle.