When we last left our heroes, they had recently become members of the Makaneth Alvorin tribes in the Isundrus foothills. After spending a month there, Invellios and Luceo left their friends, Sarah-Maria and Rorik, so that Luceo could seek The First Cryptical Book of Hsan. The Book's location was revealed to Luceo by the Alvorin oracle: it lies in the Library of Nuchal, in the City of the Dead, at the base of the SW Pylon of the Citadel that Spanned the World. Luceo himself does not know what power lies in the book. From fragments of arcane lore, he knows only that it is the first step to revealing ancient powers, older even than the gods and known magic.
Luceo and Invellios head south to El Dorado...
...where Luceo spends a couple days in the library of the Arcane Order, trying to learn more about the City of the Dead. Besides its location, he learns that it has been inhabited by a number of powerful undead over the years, including liches, ghouls, and dark necromancers. It is not a place to wander lightly. Though he knows the city's general location and layout, he can find no reference to the Library of Nuchal.
The Year's End Fair falls on the 8th of Advent, and the two adventurers avail themselves of the market day to purchase new gear, including a few magical and exotic items, such as Dragon's Breath arrows, which burst into flame in flight.
Moving on, they pass through Newcastle, and then across the Corum Plain back to Gitteras. On the way, they are lucky enough to avoid a roving band of eight orcs by pulling their pony Gretel down and lying low among the tall grasses. As the orcs pass, the adventurers see that they carry two still forms--human children perhaps. Later that day, as they near Gitteras, Luceo comments that, had Sarah been with them, they would probably have attacked the orcs to retrieve the prisoners, or at least tracked them in order to rescue them. Of course, with Sarah there perhaps it would have been feasible to take on eight orcs upon a coverless plain. Probably the prisoners were already dead. Still, Luceo muses, he does miss traveling with Sarah and Rorik. Invellios shrugs, considers, then nods agreement.
In Gitteras, Luceo again hits the library, and again fails to learn more. On the third day, he gives in and hires a library researcher--a young klipspringer named Ferinez--who manages to discover a few sentences about a dark priestess named Nuchal who wished to hasten the coming of the White Kingdom--the promised land of ghouls. She set up a work space in the tunnels beneath the City of the Dead. A later account mentions she went mad, but no more is known.
Continuing south, the two pass through Duvik's Pass, the mining town they saved from both plague and orc attack. They stay for free in The Ogre's Stairwell--the inn Sarah and Luceo helped the innkeeper defend, ending the battle barricaded on the second floor behind the great body of an ogre dead on the stairs.
Then south to Hope Springs, only now beginning to rebuild from recent orc attack, resurrecting a strong wooden palisade around a few rough huts still bleeding sap. Buying rations and supplies for two weeks, Luceo and Invellios learn of the Grihm.
To the south, this dark orc cleric whips his Black Froth clan into ferocious rages and attacks neighbors on all sides, both orc and human. He controls hundreds of miles of the Maracan Plain--a greater area than any known orc territory. He calls on his dark god to resurrect his fallen orc warriors, who fight on past death. Worst of all, it is whispered that the Grihm himself cannot be killed. Some have seen him fall in battle, but days later he still leads his clan.
Luceo and Invellios are faced with a difficult choice. The City of the Dead lies in the southern part of the Maracan Plain--across the western edge of the Grihm's control. If they cannot cross the Plain, the only other way is through the Selil-Lelal. Also called the Forgotten Pocket, the Selil is a great, uncharted forest, known to contain old and terrible creatures found no where else in Tellure. Strange howls have been heard from within the trees, and those who enter do not return. The only known route across the Selil is to follow the Ufta Pass along the bisecting ridge of the Canova Hills. But this way is lately crowded with misplaced orc clans pushed back by the Grihm and his raging warriors. Indeed, it is along the Ufta Pass that Mor Dunehaim lies--Rorik's sacked home.
Luceo is determined to press on, and Invellios is still willing. They decide to forgo the crowded Ufta Pass, and instead press south, walking the border between the Grihm's Maracan Plain and the unknown dwellers of the Selil-Lelal. Crossing the Canova River and leaving civilization behind, they spend their first night in a quiet and eerily deserted forest.
The next day, they hit the Plain. They feel horribly exposed. Stretching for miles on their left is a flat grassy plain, spotted only here and there with trees and hillocks. On their right, is the uncannily sharp border between grass and trees. The forest edge is thick and overgrown with stunted pines and underbrush, but behind those tower the tops of great dark trees.
The second night from Hope Springs, the two adventurers hear distant growling calls from deep within the forest. Later, they hear a great snapping of wood. But nothing emerges from the Selil.
The third day begins with a light shower. Though the rain soon stops, the clouds grow continually blacker and the air becomes cold. Near the end of the afternoon, they spot motion to their left upon the Plain. Orcs! And quite a few of them.
Quickly choosing vague arboreal terrors over certain death on the unprotected plain, Luceo and Invellios dash for the trees. Glancing back, they see that the orcs have spotted them and they are running in their direction. Luceo smacks Gretel and she gallops off into the trees. As the nine orcs near, Luceo shields himself with magic while Invellios begins to pick at the orcs with long bow shots. The orcs split up, five to the north, four to the south, and enter the forest on either side.
The battle quickly becomes guerilla warfare in the thin undergrowth as orcs bear down on them from both sides. Invellios pelts them with arrows, managing to light a couple on fire and felling three of them. Luceo drops one and scars a few others with Magic Missiles and Sound Bursts. The two adventurers continue to fall back until they stand shoulder to shoulder and the five orcs move to surround them. They are black skinned, red-eyed, and horribly scarred. Their eyes roll back as they tremble with battle rage, yellow froth and savage screams pouring from their lips. As Luceo attempts a Color Spray, the bloody orc nearest him takes a mighty swing, which crackles through Luceo's magic defenses and sinks deep into his flesh. Luceo sinks unconscious to the ground, as does the bloody orc as his battle rage ends and he succumbs to his wounds.
Invellios dances back a couple steps and continues to whip off shots, lighting another orc on fire, wondering desperately how he can save Luceo before he bleeds to death in this dark, forgotten wood. Then, the trees and the grass begin to move. The vegetation wraps around three of the orcs, pinning their limbs and anchoring them to the ground. One of them manages to lunge free, while the other unentangled orc swings at Invellios.
Struggling to maintain his feet despite his wounds, Invellios sinks two arrows into the raging orc, who doesn't seem phased. Yet, a second later he arches his back with a groan and crumples to the ground. As he does so, Invellios sees behind him an elf--a shapely female elf, dappled cloak thrown back over her shoulders to reveal dark red hair, a smile on her lips, and a bloody scimitar held aloft in one hand. As Invellios blinks at this apparition, the orc to his left sinks his greataxe into Invellios's side, and darkness washes over him.
When Invellios and Luceo come to under the healing touch of the elf warrior, introductions are made. She is named Dea, a druid watcher over the Selil, which the Grihm's orcs have been warned not to enter. Learning that the two heroes seek the City of the Dead, she shakes her head at their foolishness--first to chance the Selil, then the Grihm, and finally certain death in the City. She considers for a moment, then comments that she's missed elven company, glancing at Invellios. She offers to lead them through the Selil to the Haran Hills, where certain caves lead to tunnels known to connect with the catacombs under the City of the Dead. Luceo and Invellios accept.
After tracking down the pony, the three camp for the night in a large depression under a massive fallen bole. The black sky dumps its burden, and the rain is loud and heavy all night. Shortly after midnight, Luceo awakens and peers out the tent flap. Invellios sits naked on the ground outside, and Dea moves upon his lap, her limbs wrapped around him, her head thrown back, the cold rain running over her breasts and through the long hair tangled down her back. Luceo watches their oblivious love-making for a minute, then returns to sleep. This must be the elven company Dea's been missing!
Late the next morning, as they walk beneath the ancient, dripping trees, a strange yet beautiful female steps out from behind a tree and bows to Dea. After a few impassioned words in a strange language and a nod from Dea, she steps into a tree and disappears. Dea reports, "Change of plans. A dryad needs my help. You're welcome to follow along, and I can lead you to the Haran afterwards." As Dea is still their best option, the adventurers turn northwest with her and press deeper into the forest.
Late in the afternoon, they come to the wide Canova River. There, they meet the dryad again, who is wringing her hands next to a great oak tree on the bank of the river. The tree slants out over the water, and an eddying pool beneath it has washed away much of the bank, revealing half the root system. After more words in Sylvan, Dea reports that they must head deeper into the forest to find the Guardian to move the dryad's tree before the river washes the rest of the bank away.
Swimming the river with Gretel, they press on into the forest, spending the night in a copse of smaller trees.
A few hours before dawn, while Dea sits in her elven trance and Luceo and Invellios share the watch, they hear a cracking and movement towards them through the forest. Uncovering their light-stones, they see a great, green-brown, knobbled giant of a creature, with long dragging arms and a hunched, gangly gait. The troll bears down on them as they all leap to their feet. Flames spring from Dea's hands and she hurls them at the troll. Invellios pours five dragon breath arrows into the beast, and half a quiver more of regular arrows. But the arrows slowly work out of the tough rubbery skin, and seem to make the troll only ornerier. As the defenders pull back into the copse, the great troll is forced to reach through the trees to get at them, but savagely knocks both Dea and Luceo to the ground in turn. Rallying, the three adventures slip out the backside to the copse, Invellios pulls loose the rope holding the neighing and rearing Gretel, and they dash off into the darkness, as the troll squeezes through the copse. They run for minutes, dashing through the thickest growth they can find. Though the troll falls further behind, they can still hear him venting his rage. Then Dea pushes Invellios and Luceo down into a hollow, throws her dappled cloak over them, and runs off to lead the sniffing and roaring troll further off into the forest. An hour later, she returns. Their camp has been smashed, most of the pony's oats scattered or eaten, and the tent torn to shreds. Yet, overall, nothing a little mending magic can't cure.
Around noon, Dea tracks down the Guardian, who, it turns out, is a tall, walking, talking tree. Relaying her request in Sylvan, the Guardian follows them back towards the dryad's tree. Beyond a few terse questions in Common concerning Luceo and Invellios's presence in the Selil-Lelal, followed by a strict warning to respect the forest and its trees, the journey proceeds in silence. Come dusk, the Guardian shows no signs of stopping. They swim the river again by moonlight, as the Guardian wades across.
Luceo will always remember what followed. Cold, wet, and exhausted, he shivered on the bank before a dark, forbidding wood. Yet the light of the stars and the half moon shimmered on the water, and the ancient Guardian spoke deep, echoing words in a tongue known to no man. The slanting oak quivered, and twisted. Then it slowly pulled its own roots out of the bank, one by one, hauling itself up the bank and across the moonlit meadow. Straightening up, it sunk its roots anew, and again stood still. The dryad clapped her hands with a laugh, bowed low to the Guardian, and slipped into the trunk of her rescued tree.
The moment over, the Guardian turns and lumbers back into the river and disappears once more into the dark on the far shore. The three adventurers camp under the dryad's tree, lulled to sleep by her faint singing.
The next day, they trek without incident, moving up steeper hills through thinning trees until they mount the Haran Hills. Dea points out the spoor of orcs, goblins, and kobolds, but they see no one. Reaching a summit, they pause to see the inscrutable Selil-Lelal behind them to the north, the rising Isundrus to their right, and before them, the southern Maracan Plain. In the distance, a clump of hills rises from the Plain. Dea points--"Your City of the Dead."
|↑ Back to Index||Vol 5 →|
SD Emporium : Tellurian Tales :
Last Edited: 15 Sep 2006|
©2006 by Z. Tomaszewski