So the party had awoken to find Zephyr and Polena gone. Their beads on Sheila’s bracelet still bear their resemblance, but are cold and unresponsive. Strelok was unable to track the two. The remaining party decided to continue heading towards the center of the forest, having no other ideas.
The forest is denser, and travel more difficult. Progress is slow. The two birds do not speed things up, as they are not evolved for this type of terrain. It is getting hotter and more humid. The party encounters more bugs, a few oozes, and what looks like a shambling mound; all were successfully bypassed. Several species of fungus “ripple” towards the party. Bioluminescence is more frequent.
75 feet up a tree, a body is hanging from a branch. Hayden asks Strelok if he can shoot it down, but Strelok is reluctant to make noise. The body looks like it has been there a long time; not Polena or Zephyr. There are centipedes the size of giant river otters. Those in the party without breathing aids find themselves having coughing spells from the spores and plants. Occasionally the party will experience burning or watering eyes. Strelok devises something to help Sheila; a mask of moss, more or less.
Night falls, and the party finds a campsite. It is the hollow of a great tree, in what seems to be an abandoned animal den; there is only one opening, aside from a narrow slit in the wood in back. The one opening is well camouflaged. Aeric puts together a crude trap alarm to alert the party if someone approaches the entrance.
Unfortunately, he does not return to the den, although the traps are set.
Strelok looks for tracks and believes he sees a trail; however, night has fallen, and it becomes harder and harder to see them. Further, all the roots within the ground move slightly, making it hard to see the tracks. The plants in this part of the forest subtly writhe in the night. Luckily, the tree within which the camp has been made is long dead. Strelok and Hayden debate whether or not to try to track Aeric given the ever-increasing lack of visibility. However, the writhing disrupts the dirt and the tracks, so by morning it may not be possible to follow them. Further, the presence of tracks makes it look as though Aeric ran off; Polena and Zephyr left no tracks when taken.
Hayden yells at the forest a little, trying to get the attention of anything sentient. The night noises abate a bit as things are startled. Sheila and Strelok agree to follow the tracks, and the three set off, accompanied by the two birds.
Everything glows, so the party can at least see the path. Unfortunately, the party is soon attacked. The creatures are glowing, slimy, and have a “deep sea” feel. Some have shining lures. The tracks take them further into the forest, and it looks as though Aeric is moving quickly. The party encounters several dead bugs, evidently slain by Aeric. After traveling three hours, the tracks are noticibly fresher.
Then there is a scraping mark, as if Aeric tripped… and nothing else. The party pauses… and looks around. The forest is moving faster now, and seems to be taking a shape. It seems to be contracting. It eventually stills; it undulates, but no longer moves otherwise. The forest has previously acted this way if large things are moving in the vicinity. Exhausted, the party decides it needs to camp. A suitable tree is found and camp is set up once more.
While unconscious, Zephyr dreams of the blight worms, and of “their master”… the dreams are lucid, terrible, and perhaps prophetic.
Morning seems to come quickly, despite the fact that watches are not set and everyone in the party sleeps. Now that the sun is up, the forest is much, much quieter; in the night, it seemed near a roar. They sleep a few hours past dawn, setting off at 10 or 11 am.
The party debates their next steps. Go further? Return and focus on the blight worms? Leave, find a wizard, and hope he can trace the missing party members through Sheila’s bracelet?
Strelok at least is able to make a better breathing aparatus for Sheila. It is still a bit itchy, but no longer makes her sneeze.
The party decides to move on into the forest.
Shortly thereafter, they find a corpse ball. It contains a single body… a fleshy one. Luckily, it is no one from the party, nor even human. It has leathery wings, a reptilian bat creature. It only has one hand, the other arm ending in a bloody stump. The goo of the corpseball is still sticky; a falling leaf lands on it and is slowly sucked in. Closer inspection shows many small beetles also sucked in. The flesh remaining suggests the corpse balls are not just the regurgitated non-digestable remains of food.
The creature in the ball is fresh and may have been sentient; perhaps there are others of its kind. Strelok climbs a tree to look around, but finds cat-sized bees. He descends.
After a few hours, the party spots a necklace on the ground which belongs to Polena. Hayden looks up, but sees nothing. There are no other signs. A small bird tries to snatch the necklace, but the party quickly scoops it up. Strelok asks to hold on to it.
Around this time, Zephyr begins to awaken, experiencing a terrible headache. It feels as though she were cut off from her arcane magic. She suspects she is in a field, one that the forest probably couldn’t make itself; also within structure, a lean-to shed thing. Zephyr notes that she and Polena are not necessarily trapped, as there is no obvious lock. But the field likely not just for magic. Polena is unconscious on pile of hay, snoring and drooling slightly. It’s warm. Pretty comfy. Neither woman has any apparent injury. Zephyr is awake maybe 3 minutess before remembering her dream, and suddenly she understands the book**. She is shell-shocked for a while, but has time to process. After about an hour, a large beetle comes and pulls open the door. It glances in, then backtracks… leaving the door open. But then a skinny gnarled man steps into doorway. He wears plain robes, is all skin and bones, encrusted with bark and debris, and he carries simple wooden staff. One white eye, one piercing.
Notes that Zephyr is awake and of good constitution; he did not anticipate that. He will not say much, but says Polena and Zephyr will not be harmed, as long as he gets what is “his due”. Says we should be on our way soon (implies it depends on the will of some male being). Won’t answer questions about how long we must wait. Says food will be brought. Zephyr decides it best not to press for answers. The man closes the door. A beetle burrows in, vomits a sweet-smelling yellow substance, and leaves. Having been unconscious for 24 hours, Zephyr needs food, and can’t resist long… the substance is surprisingly pleasant; like nectar from trees smelled. Suddenly Zephyr feels euphoric. Polena stirs, and Zephyr has an urge to finish quickly; she has enough self control to leave Polena some.
Pallas is curled in haystack in the hut, nibbling happily on bugs. He tells Zephyr they were brought on the back of a bug, and the two women were well tended. He couldn’t lead us back, but possibly could ID key landmarks if he came across them again.
After awhile, Zephyr gets lonely, and pokes Polena awake. Polena is excited about the food; Zephyr decides not to say anything. Difficult, since she is bored and finds the bugs fascinating already. Zephyr fills Polena in on the situation. Polena says her magic wouldn’t be useful anyway… Zephyr reassures her that she’s been making progress. Polena says she’d like to learn more, and asks Zephyr to teach her some. Zephyr is extremely pleased to do so. The man doesn’t return that evening, but the two are engrossed. Polena gives her rapt attention, which makes Zephyr feel appreciated; she finds she actually likes Polena very much.
Back with the party, the birds are SO FREAKIN HAPPY.
Strelok has a theory about expanding leaves blotting out sun, obscuring daylight and making it seem that the party has traveled for more hours than it actually has; what they perceive as dusk and dawn are off.
Strelok tries climbing another tree. He finds an empty hunting blind. Looks like it was last used a day or so (judging by blood on ground). Appears to be used at least weekly. This looks like a good camp spot, so he goes to tell Sheila and Hayden; but he will stay on the forest floor with the birds. Sheila says they should stay together. Hayden bitches about not using the convenient platform above. Strelok assures them both that, with the two birds, he’ll be fine. He turns out to be right; the birds gleefully “defend” him against insects.
“Morning”, Sheila awakens; the party is getting more sleep since the light doesn’t reach them through the canopy until after dawn.
(With Zephyr and Polena: Polena is horrified when a beetle delivers breakfast, but Zephyr likens it to honey from a bee)
On their travels that day, the party finds a shred from Zephyr’s clothes and one of Polena’s shoes.
That morning, Polena and Zephyr have normal-person, non-educational discussion, which Zephyr is surprised to find she does not object to. It helps that there is no rambling on Polena’s part. Zephyr almost forgets that she is captured, except for the back-of-the-mind panic from not having access to her magic. It makes her feel hollow, defenseless. Probably early afternoon when a commotion is heard from outside. Theoor opens, but a forcefield is visible just outside. Zephyr and Polena go to the door frame. They begin hearing voices yelling and rustling sounds. A few moments, then a great beetle bursts from forest with the skinny man riding it. He yells “Aeric!” and from the opposite side of the clearing, Aeric enters. He is badly wounded; black eye, scratches and scrapes, gouge in scalp where hair and skin is missing. He trudges in, and says “it’s done. You may let them go now.” Skinny man considers, nods, and force field is removed. (Meanwhile: Polena and Zephyr’s beads on Sheila’s bracelet are suddenly warm).
Aeric tells Zephyr that it isn’t safe, and she and Polena must go. Zephyr: “The fuck?” Aeric: “No time now.” Although wanting to know what is going on, Zephyr recognizes that this is not the right time. Suddenly, she feels Sheila’s pull from bracelet, and she and Polena allow the transportation.
Reunited, Zephyr fills the party in on recent events. We wonder about Aeric, obviously. Strelok returns Polena’s necklace and shoe.
Zephyr then says we need to get the fuck out of the forest and back across the wall. She fills them in on what she has figured out in the book, not mentioning that dreams aided in her discovery, or that they were prophetic; however, the dreams give her an urgency she can very successfully convey. What about Aeric? Well, we don’t know where he is, he doesn’t know where we are, and if it is between him and the rest of the world…
We have similar encounters as when we were traveling into the forest, but the further we head away from the center of the forest, the more relaxing things become. On the third day of travel, Hayden spots something shiny. He does like shiny. It is gold… a lump rather than a bar or coin. It looks like pure ore, a huge chunk of it. It is sitting in the hollow of a log. He goes to take it… but the bird that tried to take Polena’s necklace is back, and it swoops and chirps angrily at Hayden. Dive-bombing and angry noises. Hayden ignores it, shooing it with his dominant hand, and grabs the gold with his off-hand. The bark of the tree snaps shut, trapping his hand, and a cloud of purple spores bursts forth. Then the rumbling starts. The bugs are coming. The bark is chitinous… not wood after all. Hitting it with the pommel of a sword produces a clanging sound. Sheila tries to help. The forest parts. Sheila swings with her fiery sword, but no success. Strelok yells that we need to go; the birds are panicking, Pallas is screeching loud enough for the entire party to hear. Strelok runs over and hits the chitin with a cold spell, then Sheila repeats a full-force blow with her sword, on fire. Blade sinks in about 1/4th of an inch; able to wrench it out… but the rumbling is ever louder. Strelok appologizes and severs Haydens hand. He throws Hayden onto the bird beside Polena to heal, gets himself and Zephyr on the second bird, and we all fucking RUN. Sheila’s armor prevents the birds from carrying her, but she is able to run quickly. Z throws bombs behind them. The party runs for most of the day before losing their pursuit.
Night is falling… Hayden has lost a hand, but his “bird friend” has followed us. Zephyr asks Polena and Sheila about restoration spells. Polena says someone at church may be able to. Zephyr offers her saved up money to Hayden for payment of such restoration spells, and points out that they’ll be paid by Strong when they return.
Traveling montage. We move as quickly as possible across the desert and wall. The men of the hold are surprised to see us alive. One mentions seeing a man who made magical, mechanical limbs. Hayden is quiet throughout the trip, which is very worrisome. The bird continues to follow us. Strelok says he knows someone who could maybe make Hayden an attachment…
1200 years ago, Demon Faramil defeated and magic returned (maw created, separated countinents, ocean formed). Book speaks of primal power within his control, possibly never activated because he was still building power. This primal power called Faramil’s monster, a devouring power. Blight worms are larval stage of this creature; ultimately they are almost like homuncili, each having a small part of the monster. As they grow, they will consume one another; growing, growing, growing. Plague will spread, then consolidate, and Faramil’s monster will form. It was perhaps catastrophic for us to leave when we did; the plague spreads quickly, and we’d heard rumors before we’d left of the blight worms appearing on this continent. The plague could easily consume a continent, leading to its destruction. When the monster reborn, chaos unleashed; entire plane could be at risk, not just our world. Ohshitohshitohshit. Prophetic dreams showed Zephyr the extent of the horrors. Ritual to spring the monster from depths required a cult, to bring about the blight worms. Only truly devote or truly insane would perform this ritual.