24 – 27.Lamashan.4712
24.Lamashan (???) – The cool bright sunny day found Meereover busy with the work of the dukedom. Fishing boats and cargo barges crossed the Tuskwater with sails full of cool fall breezes. Haniver sailed the updrafts near the pier until high enough to attract the attention of the ravens in the city and raucous chases would ensue. The streets of the city were a chaos of horses and wagons, pedestrians and livestock. The city was alive with the buying and selling of the harvest’s bounty and the Bales resounded with the conversation and laughter of its patrons.
Duke Yorick stood at the window and listened to the sound of the city’s children running from the library at the end of classes their cheers and calls mixed with startled horses and shouting drovers. The wind off the Tuskwater rustled the tapestries and wall-hung rugs but brought a pleasant smell of wood smoke and rotting leaves. The trees within sight were already multicolored and the nights had begun to be chillier than comfortable. The reports on the council table fluttered with the wind and a few of the wooden chits placed on the map of the Greenbelt carved into the table were blown to the floor to be gathered by the kobold servant assigned to the room.
The kobolds among the staff were few in number but immediately noticeable if they weren’t trying not to be. They had assumed the roles of scullions, gong farmers and lesser servants and had all been checked out by the Beldame and Dannek who kept a close eye on them. They scurried about but also seemed to disappear when they wished to. Yorick could never keep their names straight. The fellow in the room with him dashed after the rolling wooded disks and returned them to the table.
Lizvetta smiled to herself as she put the chits back on the map and picked up a pile of reports.
“I heard from Jhod that the last of the visitors from the Harvest Feast have finally left the campgrounds near the Temple.” Yorick said as he settled onto the windowsill to enjoy the peace.
“Anything else to address?”
“Most of the reports are pretty empty of trouble.” Lizvetta shuffled through them. “A couple of sightings of Iobarian centaurs by hunters from Hardby but they were on the other side of the Shrike and honestly more than likely just flights of fancy. Carl Hunter says that there are always stories of the horsemen tribes being seen but to his knowledge no one’s ever proven a sighting on this side of the Tors. We’re far enough away from the Dunsward to worry about them.”
“Oh, Tanner sends a request that someone investigate missing loggers in the Narlmarch Forest south of the Murque River.”
“Perfect!” Yorick hopped off the windowsill and crossed to the table to begin writing. “This is just what we need. All the craziness lately and with winter coming I am sure that Corbin and the rest wouldn’t mind stretching their legs and exploring a bit.”
“You mean you wouldn’t mind stretching your legs a bit.” Lizvetta looked at Yorick with amusement and anticipation of the side benefits that Yorick adventuring brought to their relationship.
“Exactly!” Yorick finished scribbling two sheets of script and looked for the kobold hidden in the room. “Sooty!”
The Sootscale kobold scurried from his hiding spot near the fireplace to Yorick’s feet where the Duke gave him messages to deliver. Stuffing the notes into the small bag at his side the kobold barked a response and rushed from the room. The messages would eventually make their way to all of Brother Slade’s compatriots except Brother Slade himself who was off in Nivakta’s Crossing meeting with Elder Aethelia of Pharasma and a rider had been sent.
By nightfall supplies had been gathered, horses chosen for the ride and the noise of a going away feast echoed from Castle Stag.
25. (??) – The company set off in the early morning and was comprised of Inquisitor Slade, Duke Yorick, Justicar Lizvetta, General Corbin, Bartleby the raven, Regik, Estophus and Speculator Markoa. The party left the city of Meereover avoiding the traffic and hustle and entered the quiet countryside where the Order of the Raven discontinued their escort and the party could enjoy the clear sunny fall day in peace.
The going went quickly and the party soon found themselves amid the brilliant foliage of the Narlmarch Forest. The colors of the forest drifted to the forest floor and the hooves of the party’s mounts crunched the blanket of leaves as the group chatted and laughed. The village of Tatzlford appeared in the evening darkness and Slade’s Companions rode into the village to a friendly welcome. Trestle tables covered in roast pork, wild bird, eel and elk lay alongside fall greens, roasted chestnuts, fruit, gourds and fresh bread plus beer, mead and wine. The music and storytellers kept all entertained until it was just a few sitting by the dying bonfire drinking the last of the ale and mead, nibbling the leftovers and watching the stars that only shone down in the forest here where the canopy was open to the sky.
Loy “Tanner” Rezbin, Carl Hunter, Purdith Eelfingers and a few of the bachelors of Tatzlford lounged with the members of the party talking politics, the just past Harvest Festival, and the disappearing loggers who went too far south in the forest and were never heard from again. Stas suggested the hodag that he insisted lived down there but was silenced by friendly jests and mockery. As people drifted back to their homes and guest cabins plans were quickly made to facilitate setting out in the morning; even if Corbin wasn’t in any condition to.
26. (??) – The day started dim in the forest gloom with a cool breeze that disappeared once the group made its way into the forest again and the air became still but still comfortable. Animals fled the group and birds made a morning racket as Slade’s Companions (sans Slade of course) made their way west around the Skunk River.
By noon the group arrived at the Unicorn Pool and the small shallow that held the pool was absolutely still and possessed a heavy atmosphere undisturbed by any animal or errant breeze. The black mirrored waters of the pool absorbed the occasional falling beech leaves of gold with barely a ripple and several floated like gold flecks in obsidian. At the northern shore in a bed of gold leaves and grass still green lay the corpse of the unicorn. For those that been there before it was obvious that someone had arranged the corpse in a kneeling position instead of being splayed out. Initially it surprised them that the unicorn, though dead for far more than a year, looked the same as it had but upon closer inspection it was obvious that while it had not been touched by beast or insect the corpse had begun to mummify and the softer tissues like the eyes were pretty much gone.
Yorick and Markoa were the only ones to notice the presence of Tiressia standing nearby gazing down at the fallen creature and Markoa alone caught sight of her consort Falchos standing watch with his bow notched but undrawn. The satyr met his gaze and nodded in acknowledgement and greeting as Yorick and Tiressia spoke.
“It honors us, Marquis of Ravens, that you pay respect to this fallen one.” Tiressia didn’t look up from the hornless desiccated unicorn.
“Is there any way that he can be saved?” Yorick gave a look back at Lizvetta and Bartleby at the dryad’s honorific.
/Marquis?/ mouthed Lizvetta with a curious look. Bartleby seemed very intent on cracking beechnuts.
“With his horn I am afraid that is not possible and, though time is not the same for us as with mortals, I fear that even little of that remains before either the mortal realm ekes away what is left of the First World from him or the First World will wash over the land and the tide will return his essence to the Eternal Twilight and be also lost forever.
“Where do you travel to Ravenswing?” at this she did look up to connect with Yorick’s gaze.
“We travel southwest into the depths of wood there. It has come to our attention that loggers seeking wood there have gone missing.”
“That is dangerous territory not under my aegis. Therein lies the domain of the Dancing Lady. She and I have an Accord and she is not of my court so I can offer you no aid. This place is neutral ground between the Courts of Summer and Winter,” Tiressia looked again at the murdered unicorn, “and you can see how little Nyrissa regards those ancient Pacts in what she has taken as her lands.
“You must beware her for, like me, she has those who have sworn their fealty to her and to her mistress’s court.” Tiressa’s face betrayed great concern. “I have kept her servants from my lands here in this end of the wood but there they can do as they wish. You go there at your own risk.”
Yorick felt that, regardless that not all of his comrades could understand the fae lady’s tongue, it was obvious that Tiressia was talking only to him. He felt that he was missing something but Tiressia had already given the rest of the party a respectful bow of the head and walked off to join Falchos to leave.
The party moved on west into uncharted territory and began to explore it. Markoa was more than used to doing so but Regik and Corbin decided to help so they spread out to cover the land. It became obvious to Corbin that he had lost his way in the forest and drifted far more north than he had wished to and attempted to return.
Corbin found a deer path which he followed until a boulder fell onto the path ahead of him missing him completely. However, it solidly struck the other end of the camouflaged seesaw he was standing on and the Gorumite flew into a large tangle of wickedly sharp bramble that found every gap in his armor with its poisonous thorns. Corbin wrestled his way out of the situation and was not inconvenienced by the itchy rashes that began to blister across his skin. In anger the General focused on his destination and marched forward. The hornet’s nests that fell from limbs were ignored, the snares fouled with a heavy branch and the crushing double log swing crawled under didn’t delay him. It was the log over a small forest creek. Nothing around, quiet but for the burble of water across he smooth rocks and the smells of the forest only loam, rotting leaves and the water’s damp. Corbin stood a few seconds staring at the log. There was nothing about it that suggested danger or discomfort but he was tired, itchy, sweaty and sure that an errant wasp was still caught in his armor when he just threw the towel in on the whole escapade. Corbin pulled his greatsword, muttered his prayer and strode right up and out of the forest on the very air itself. As he cleared the canopy he heard the shouts drift up, drawing closer.
“No! You are ruining the fun!”
Corbin didn’t answer with anything but grunts and perhaps a rude gesture as he climbed higher and higher until he could see over a distance in the gloaming.
“Foul mortal spoilsport! Go back!”
Back at the campsite Markoa’s ears picked up the shout and saw the far off form of the cleric in the air. He told the others and Yorick immediately took to the air.
Corbin had reach some decent altitude when he was suddenly engulfed in a shower of sparkles and energy which momentarily produced a feeling of giddy joy but the cleric of Gorum was having none of that and shook the feeling off. He couldn’t see the attacker but Corbin knew it was a fae of some kind.
“Go back and walk on the path now! This is cheating. Humans don’t fly! I want to see you cross the creek!”
Corbin smiled to himself and just continued on his way until he saw Yorick ahead of him and stopped.
“Hey Corbin, where have you been?” Yorick looked around but could see nothing.
“Yorick, I have a little problem with one of…” Corbin started before he felt a weight land on his head digging its claws into his scalp and laying its tail on the nape of his neck.
“Who are you? What are you doing in my domain? I was given this domain.”
Yorick looked as a faerie dragon faded into sight perched atop Corbin’s head. It’s body was black and yellow like a hornet’s with small purple highlights and its wings were mostly yellow with black edges and markings. It looked very irate and it looked very curiously at Yorick.
“This mortal idiot is ruining my fun. He won’t stay on the path but insists on flying which, of course, cheating. Who are you?”
Corbin grimaced as the faerie dragon punctuated its conversation by digging into his head with one of its needle-sharp claws.
“I am Duke Yorick of…”
“Blah, blah, blah. Mortal drivel, mortal dreck.” The dragon sniffed the air again. “Oh I see. Huh, I missed that. I am Velixop and I serve the Dancing Lady. You declare now.”
Corbin finished pulling his greatsword out of his scabbard and stopped in recognition.
“Yorick, the Lady. Do you think he means…?“
“Corbin!” Yorick interrupted as he looked again to the creature on the cleric’s head, “I am Yorick Ravenswing, Duke of Narlm…”
“Useless!” Velixop hissed, drumming his claws and tightening his tail around Corbin’s neck. “To whom are you sworn? What Court do you serve? What Elder? Who cares about mortal anything? You invaded my territory, you must declare!”
“I am afraid that I am sworn to no one. I was hoping that you could help us find some missing loggers. ”
“You won’t find any mortals here. It is likely that the Lady’s vassal Gargadilly has brought them to her.”
Velixop looked at the floating fae wanna-be with narrowed eyes and took a breath to think.
“You seem unaware of the rules and the Accords mortal. Fine then; you have insulted me by entering my domain without leave but I will accept this mortal in apology and inform my Lady of your coming to demonstrate my generosity.”
Corbin grimaced and slowly began to move the greatsword into his hands and align the blade to strike the small dragonlet on his head. Velixop could not help but notice the move and began to focus on the weapon causing pearls of fat to start to grow upon it.
The fight that ensued caused the faerie dragon to leap off the cleric into the night to escape only to have Markoa far below let fly an arrow into the night and bring the beast down to the forest below.
The group awoke the next day and moved further into uncharted areas of the Narlmarch. Markoa split off to speed the exploration and began to notice the trees growing larger and larger, older and older. By the time he had found the narrow valley and crouched in the colorful leaves and holly bushes the animal life had disappeared as well. There at the bottom of the valley stood the jagged trunk of a truly massive ancient tree which Markoa realized was some ancient ruin covered with moss and ivy.
The group approached carefully and approached the closed gate where some recognized the elven architecture as being old enough to be before the elves leaving Golarion. The portcullis was so heavy that Corbin had great difficulty lifting it but when his feet slipped and the gate came crashing down and impaled is leg Estophus and Lizvetta had to lift it to free him. The interior of the courtyard was filled with high waste and rubble. Markoa climbed the wall and Regik moved into the courtyard when a sudden blur raced through the area and dropped Regik with a slash to his abdomen. A few more slashes from the blur and Yorick had endured enough and raised horrid tentacles of black which destroyed the courtyard’s growth and anything else it got its hands on.
In time and carefully the group made its way into the courtyard and saw no further attacks from the blur. Yorick summoned a celestial scout of pure light to move into the tower itself and it seemed to not see anything so as Lizvetta and Estophus moved towards the archway to the interior the lantern archon moved up the stairs and did not return before it was compelled to return to its celestial realm.
Lizvetta and Estophus also did not see anything as the moved into the tower’s entrance but a sudden blur of movement appeared out of nowhere and attacked them before leaving the tower via the opposite opening. They were about to move in when Markoa joined them and looked up to the ceiling and saw a horrid greenish humanoid of teeth and claws crawling slowly like a predator across it looking at them.
Above them the Lady danced and whirled to a soft chorus that sang from the crystal torches and leaves of serrated crimson and gold danced with her to their doom on the soft grassed carpet beneath her.