“…here amongst the Ffolk comes Death/ so to ancient Sovyrian wherein Death lies impotent go we/ and leave the Sun to die…” “The fabric of the world will be torn with a needle, first and prime will become one./The upstart will tend a garden of aspirations that will bring suffering and draw war./A crow will pick at the dead and darkness will cover thought and ravens will gather, growing fat and numerous./A gardener grows the bramble but is wounded by the briar./Forsaken blood, dishonored blood, destiny’s blood, tainted blood, the blood of war. They may bind the tear or rend the fabric asunder.” –translated fragments of a lost elven poem from before the Exodus inscribed within the grand hall of a ruined elven fortress deep within the Narlmarches of the Stolen Lands c.-5400 AR
Lizvetta looked up at the climbing vines and ancient vistas of elven life hidden beneath them on the ceiling of the large hall of the ruin’s tower and saw an elf-like creature staring down at her. Its body looked thin and stretched like an afternoon shadow with rugged skin that seemed like tree bark and had the green cast of rotting meat. The long black tips of the thing’s fingers and toes were pulled out like frozen taffy into needle sharp points that dug into the mortar and overgrowth allowing it to scuttle about to take a better look down at the shocked commander of the Order of the Raven. Markoa shot the thing cruelly and forced it to run from the central tower. As it left, being followed by the members of the company within, those outside were dealing with the murderous quickling.
Marshal Slade, Corbin and the rest of those outside the tower watched as the quickling’s blurred form came into view and attacked whoever seemed the most advantageous target. When the wounded grimstalker Teorlian came scuttling out of the central tower followed by the rest of the party it whispered into the air and Markoa, Lizvetta and Estophus found themselves suddenly assaulted by the very vines that covered the ancient tower and pulled against it to be bound there. Teorlian wasted no time escaping to the safety of its own tower shutting the door even as Gargadilly raced around the entire tower in mere moments to slash Markoa with a well-placed and poisoned wound. As quickly as it had opened his flesh the quickling was gone, stopping at one of the more ruined towers to begin to fade into invisibility once again.
Fenario the wolf, however, had caught the quickling’s scent and calling to his master Slade bound across the courtyard to snap at the small creature and bring it to the ground. Slade, Corbin, Regik and Yorick joined the dire wolf and surrounded the elfling even as the fae creature tried to use fairy dust to send the Marshal’s mount soaring into the sky but that was of no benefit as Fennario resisted the fairy enchantment and Slade laid hands upon the creature. Rigg whispered into the depths of the ruined tower just before Slade demanded the First Worlder surrender unconditionally to which the quickling assented. It was only moments that the purpose of the alien whispers became clear and the depths of the partially collapsed tower disgorged swarms of hungry rats that overwhelmed the group and drove the dire wolf mad with fear forcing it to flee from the swarm. For the others the rats were of little concern and with the skittering hordes being dealt with by others Yorick enveloped the escaping quickling with a clinging glittering dust and Rigg Gargadilly was brought to the ground and summarily judged by Inquisitor Slade and lost his head.
Markoa and the rest with him ripped their way free of the vines that trapped them against the walls of the central tower and approached the grimstalker’s own corner tower quarters. Markoa’s sharp eyes and deep knowledge of the wild identified the foliage of an assassin vine hidden amongst the thick hanging ivy and even though the carnivorous plant’s reach caught some by surprise it helped neither Teorlian nor the assassin vine in the end. The door to the tower was breached and deciding that entry was too dangerous Yorick cast some of his dark magic within and filled the tower’s interior with a dark swarm of crushing smothering shadow ravens and destroyed everything, alive or dead, within.
With the grimstalker Teorlian and the quickling Rigg Gargadilly dead, and the grimstalker’s tower as well as the rat infested collapsed tower that had been used as a midden heap thoroughly investigated the group gathered in the grand hall of the central tower to press forward. The beauty of the room with its tiled floor and fresco-ed walls could still be discerned from beneath the grime of centuries of neglect. A delicate stone staircase spiraled up to the second floor with a stone banister that looked as delicate as twigs and dew covered webs. At its base, buried in the loam, leaves and the remains of past victims were five lantern-like cages with a top and bottom of beaten iron and inlays of jade. The dark cold iron seemed to swirl out of the ends into thin filigree lace that covered the thin crystal. The tops of the containers had a handle that opened the cylinder along a seam that did not exist when closed. The bottom bore four equidistant protuberances that stood out from the shaft and suggested that the lanterns locked together around any one of them at a forty-five degree angle from the center. Bartleby focused intently upon the pieces and knew them as fey cloisters. Slade suggested that they place the objects in one of their containers and made for the stairs.
When Slade began to walk up the stair Markoa and Regik watched in alarm from just outside the gateways as purple clouds of gas enveloped everyone within the room. Only Corbin watching at the fortress’ gate, Markoa, Regik, and Fennario the dire wolf were not caught in the trap. When the gas finally cleared Estophus and Yorick no longer saw the ancient elven ruin but a dark malign wetland of twisted trees that grew out of pools and streams of blood. Thick moss smothered the tree branches above and their steps upon the ground felt and sounded like they walked upon piles of offal or skinless flesh. An enormous tree stump stuck out of a small island like the ragged end of a violent amputation. A delicate staircase of finger and rib bones wound its way up to a cage of bone. Yorick had never seen such an atrocity but Bartleby stated that he knew that they stood within the Flensing Marsh and called out to Pathfinder compatriots that did not exist.
Slade, Lizvetta and a brave Yorick climbed the stairs as each saw it to the chamber above as the gas cleared and came upon the Dancing Lady. To Lizvetta and Slade she danced within her own special glade at the top of the elven tower illuminated by not only the dim light of the setting sun outside but also by the five crystal torches equally placed around the walls. A soft music rose and fell within and to its otherworldly tones danced the Lady. The Dancing Lady appeared as an alluring, graceful elven woman with alabaster skin, golden hair, and emerald green eyes and wears a flowing white gown of archaic elven style, tied at the waist with a blood-red scarf; the only indication that she was more than just an elven woman were the subtly indented lines that radiated away from her lips that only seemed to heighten her beauty and those were forgotten upon witnessing her dance. Effortlessly, gracefully she moved and swayed to the gentle music within the room. It was meaningful and alluring and Slade and Yorick were caught breathlessly gazing at the movements, transfixed. For Yorick the trapped entrancing creature of pure beauty whose cage of bone and sinew he had just entered stood in contrast to the grim surroundings of the Flensing Marsh and this grotesque bird cage while Slade was very much aware of the beauty of this otherworldly alien nobility amid the simple beauty of the simple natural surroundings. Even Lizvetta was caught by the beauty of this creature whose presence provoked a sudden realization of her own shortcomings as a woman but unlike those with her was more capable of thought and action in the presence of this noble from the First World.
Estophus became terrified as he became aware of the ghostly and glittering eyes of many terrifying predators that stared at the new arrivals with hunger for living flesh and a desire for terror-laden sport. Markoa tried to convince Estophus to go deeper into the dark bloody marsh. His reluctance was met with Markoa trying to grapple the warrior to force the man into the depths of the Flensing Marsh and certain death at the waiting predators. It was Estophus’ quick eye and sense of self-preservation that caught the same feral hungry glow shared by the other waiting beasts in the dark beyond the small island’s torches that clued Estophus into the true danger he faced now in the guise of his half-elven friend.
And the Lady danced, her movements directly translated into song and word.
“You have come and she will love you. Tell her what petition you bring to the Dancing Lady, human female, and what gifts you bring to her for her time.”