When we last left our heroes, Invellios and Dea had succeeded in recovering the mad and raving Luceo from the City of the Dead. Determining that their best chance at healing Luceo's shattered mind lay in the ancient Wishing Well, they headed deeper into the old forests of Selil-Lelal.
Invellios leads the pony Gretel, who bears the alternately babbling and comatose Luceo bound across her back. Dea slips away through the trees, constantly doubling back and guiding them through the old forest. With her guidance, they avoid any mishaps, though a couple tree branches do try to lash out them as they pass.
That night, they sleep amongst the roots of a great tree. Though Dea often sleeps in the branches when on her own, everyone stays on the ground to guard the pony and Luceo. During Dea's watch, Gretel pricks her ears, and Dea too hears a strange scratching noise. Then, suddenly, bursting out of the ground directly under Gretel, a huge, plated, insect-like creature lunges up and fastens its hooked mandibles deep into Gretel's groin. The pony screams, and Dea calls to the dozing Invellios as she leaps to her feet and charges the subterranean creature. The 10 foot long ankheg hauls at Gretel, trying to pull her with it back down into its burrow. As it does, flesh parts from the pony's thigh, revealing bone pale in the starlight, and then black blood gushes from severed arteries. The pony collapses.
Invellios leaps to his feet, grabbing his bow. Dea screams at the blood-splattered ankheg, and furiously hews at it with her scimitar, carving deep gashes in its carapace. The chattering thing releases Gretel and rears up, spitting a thick stream of acid at Dea before pulling back into its hole. As it does, Invellios sinks an arrow into its face near its mandibles. It spasms and collapses, only withdrawn a couple feet into its burrow. Dea doesn't see the creature's death, already on her knees, her hands pressing against the bloody flow pouring from the pony. Dea's hands glow with healing white energy, yet the seconds are long before the blood stops flowing and the flesh begins to knit closed once more. Gretel stirs weakly, coming back from the very brink of death.
Though the rest of the night is tense, it passes without further incident.
Dawn reveals that Dea's face and arms are is still blistered by the acid, and Gretel's hindquarters are laced with pale pink scars. The party presses on anyway.
In the early afternoon, Dea doubles back to Invellios to say she has found the track of boars--very large boars. Even as she says this, a growling roar cuts through the air. Between the trees 200 feet behind them, stands a great black boar. It towers 8 feet high at the shoulder; serrated tusks 2 feet long jut from its snarling mouth. Its deep-set and feral eyes glow with rage, then it lowers its head and charges them.
Dea dashes forward, brandishing her scimitar. Though she misses her blow, the charging boar's tusk slices into her side. Dea reels back, pressing a healing hand to the wound. The boar bellows and swings its head, drawn to the scent of blood. Then Dea skips back, dodging through the woods. The boar lunges after her, but cannot keep up while dodging through the trees.
As the roaring boar pursues Dea deeper into the wood, Invellios frantically reloads his quiver with fire arrows from his pack. The forest is now silent. Catching up with the nervous Gretel, he leads her onwards.
An hour and half later, Dea slips up beside him. She grins at him. "I gave him the slip!" She throws her arms around Invellios's neck, pressing her warm body against him, kissing him strongly. Then she steps back and winks. "Veer a bit to the right. We should be to the Well by nightfall." Then in a couple paces, she vanishes back into the forest. Invellios stands blinking for a second, then marches on. Luceo mindlessly murmurs a nursery rhyme from Gretel's back, though tears glisten on his cheeks in the dappled afternoon light.
Two hours later, the party reaches a thick wall of twisted, ancient trees, growing at the base of a steep cliff. They walk along the wall until they come to an opening, which reveals a quiet glade within the encircling trees. Near the base of the cliff sits a small stone structure: a roof atop four vine-covered columns over an stone tile floor, slightly uneven due to the long passage of time. In the center of the floor is the low, circular wall of a well.
Dea declines to enter the glade--"This place has old times to Faerie, and time tends to be shifty in there. I'll wait for you here," she says. Invellios leads Gretel and the bound Luceo through the opening in the trees. He feels an unpleasant tingling, crawling sensation as he does, but it passes as soon as he enters the glade.
Approaching the well, Invellios notes a worn inscription. It seems to be some ancient elven script, though not any elven he can read. Puzzling over the roots of the words, he comes up with a possible translation: "Drink, and be gracious." After unloading Luceo and turning Gretel loose in the glade, Invellios kneels before the well and dips his cupped hands into the water, which is only a few inches below the rim of the well. The water is still, but clear and very cold. He raises his hands to his lips, and drinks.
Invellios feels a sudden vertigo, and throws out a hand to steady himself... against the wall around him. He is standing knee-deep in cold water; a circular shaft rises up around him. A hundred feet above, he can see a circle of sunlight, green branches, and blue sky. Before him, a simple elven script shifts and glows along the clammy wall of the well:
There are four brothers in this world that were all born together.
The first runs, yet never wearies.
The second eats, yet is never full.
The third drinks, yet is always thirsty.
The fourth moves, yet is never seen.
Invellios speaks the answer to this old riddle, and the wall splits open before him to reveal a long tunnel stretching before him... but he is no longer in the well. Looking back, the tunnel stretches out behind him as well, into darkness. Multiple pairs of torches, with one torch on each wall of the tunnel, stretch off into the distance. Frowning, Invellios begins to walk down the tunnel.
There is a tiny click, and then the torches flare up, shooting a sheet of flame down the tunnel. Invellios throws himself to the ground just in time to avoid being singed.
Lifting his head up, he sees he is in a cave now, lit with sunlight pouring through the small entrance behind him. Directly ahead of him is a tiny wooden door, only a couple feet high, with a round brass handle.
A dark form steps out of the shadows next to the door. It is little more than shadow itself, a vague, humanoid shape, though the silvery blade it carries in its hand looks bright enough. As Invellios readies himself, he calls out, "I mean no harm. I seem to be lost or..." He trails off as the shadow thing holds its sword up in salute, and then charges.
Invellios ducks the thing's swinging blade, and dances back, releasing arrows into it. It cringes with each hit, but pursues him across the cave. Invellios sinks three arrows for every blow he takes from the shadow, but soon he stumbles, weak from the damage he's taken. He dashes out of the cave entrance into the sunlight, and the shadow thing does not follow.
Invellios now finds himself near a pond, with a small waterfall flowing down next to the cave entrance. The air is very warm and still. A path leads away into dense fruit trees. Hurrying down the path, Invellios quaffs what healing potions he has on his belt. The path winds around... and he is by the pond and waterfall again. Frowning, he turns and hurries away again. But no matter which way he goes--whether along the path or trying to squeeze through the thick mess of fragrant fruit trees--he always finds himself back by the pond.
Downing his last potion of Invisibility, he slips into the cave once more. The shadow thing is nowhere to been seen. Invellios carefully sneaks across the cave floor. As he nears the center of the cave, however, the shadow thing appears again from the darkness beside the tiny door, and raises its sword in salute to the invisible Invellios. Realizing that the shadow thing can still see him, Invellios tries arrows once more. The cave is lit with brief, flickering lights as he shoots Dragon's Breath arrows, one after another, at the shadow thing as it hounds him across the cave. The shadow thing grows slowly fainter and hazier with each hit, until suddenly it disintegrates into a vaporous mist and disappears.
Invellios hurries to the tiny door. As he grasps the little brass knob... he is standing in darkness, though before him is a desk, and on the desk is a strange lamp with a green shade that casts a steady, unflickering light. Behind the desk, in a large chair, sits a man. Or rather, a pale male elf. Or perhaps it's a female elf. In the dim light, the creature seems to constantly shift and change, even as Invellios tries to make sense of it.
It speaks. "Forgive the little trials, it's part of the application fee. You've come for a wish, then, so I see? Welcome, welcome! (Remember now, only your first wish is free.)" During this little litany, the being becomes a old man in a scribe's robe, a little blond girl, a gold and red parrot, and then a gnome with bushy black sideburns.
It continues. "But first, before your wish, let's play a game. This is your chance to win fortune and fame; or perhaps lose it all, even your name." As a dark-skinned man with ominous eyes, the being begins to shuffle a strange set of tarot cards upon the surface of the desk, faster and faster until its hands are a blur. "Come, come, now there's really nothing to it. Draw a card, and, if you should rue it, well then, you can always use your wish to undo it." The being is now a very large, bright green, smiling spider with shimmering eyes.
Invellios replies, "I appreciate your offer, but I already have need of this wish." The spider becomes a great, glowering troll, and it smacks its huge hand down on the deck of cards, covering them completely. "Fine!" The troll becomes an slight fairy, with a gossamer wings and a gentle smile. "Will you let me make your wish for you, young elf?"
"I'm afraid I cannot."
"So be it, rude guest!" The fairy's wings grow dark and leathery, and the chair clatters to the ground as a huge, dark red demon stands from behind the desk. "Make your wish!", it roars.
Invellios holds a second, then says, "My friend Luceo lies beside the Wishing Well. His mind is broken. I wish him cured, and his mind made whole and healthy once more."
The demon places its fiery hands upon the desk, and then it is a small old lady in a floral-print dress and half-glasses, and she smiles at Invellios. "It is done." Then she becomes the gnome with bushy black sideburns, and he is sitting back in the chair again, his feet up on the desk, casually shuffling cards. "You'll get no more wishes from me, but feel free to come back again if you change your mind about drawing from the Deck of Many Things." With that, he gives a grin and a wink... and Invellios opens his eyes, to find himself lying on his side by the Well.
Sitting up, he puts his hand on Luceo, who lies still next to him. Luceo opens his eyes, and blinks, bewildered. He is pale and shivery. His eyes struggle to focus on Invellios's face, then he smiles weakly. "My friend. I am back... you have brought me back." He eyes close, and he falls asleep.
Luceo sleeps for a couple hours, while Invellios sits quietly and watches Gretel graze. He finds that the arrows and potions he used while in the Well are not gone after all. When Luceo awakes again, he is coherent, but very withdrawn. His spirit seems sucked from him. Invellios summarizes the events of the past few days. Luceo explains that he can remember little of his madness now--only that he was pursued through his own mind by great and terrible things, and that they seemed to eat of his soul. He believes it unlikely he would have survived much longer in that state, even though his body was not abused. Luceo asks first of his familiar, Rasputin, puzzled not to see him here. Then he asks of the books they recovered from Nuchal's library, and relaxes when he learns they are all in Gretel's saddlebags. As the two adventurers talk, Luceo's gaze occasionally wanders to the bags, a mixture of fear and desire evident in his face.
The two weigh their options and decide to head now for Celidor, hidden mountain valley of the elves and Invellios's ancestral home. There, Luceo will be able to study and they will be able to wait out the remaining months of winter in relative comfort, before reuniting with Sarah and Rorik on Spring Day.
They pack their belongings and exit the warm, quiet glade.
As they pass through the trees and the unsettling tingling sensation, they step back into the ancient forest of Selil-Lelal. But suddenly it is early morning, rather than late afternoon, and a light dusting of snow covers the ground and hangs upon the branches. The two adventurers can see their breath in the wintry air. Puzzled, they search the area for Dea, but can find no trace.
Giving up, they begin to travel southwest, towards the Haran Pass. In mid-afternoon, Dea slips out of the trees, wearing her cloak reversed to its pale grey side and a smile on her lips. She embraces both of them. Luceo, in a reserved and formal manner, thanks her for saving his life at the base of the Pylon. Dea answers his query concerning Rasputin, explaining that she did not see the raven when she found Luceo. Luceo frowned. "It's strange. I still feel my connection with him, but it is very faint. He is very far away, lost in darkness. I cannot tell where he is, or even if he knows I am still alive."
Dea explains that they have been in the glade for almost 2 weeks, though it seemed to them to be only hours. "You were lucky though--sometimes years can slip by on people near the Well." Luceo and Invellios ask her help in leading them out of the Selil, towards Celidor. "Not easy," Dea replies. "The Grihm is really stirring things up now. He has attacked the Gore Tongue orcs, and the battle has pushed them back to the Haran Pass, which lies between here and Celidor. Still, we might be able to slip by."
Dea leads them to the edge of the Selil by nightfall. The night passes with only a brief interruption--Dea has them move camp when she discovers that a pack of giant spiders are on the move in the area, seemingly in pursuit of an owlbear.
Dea scouts for a path across the valley in the morning. In the evening, they slip across, moving from hiding place to hiding place. There is a brief moment when the adventures think they may have been spotted by one of the many roving orc bands, but they manage to slip through a narrow chasm and avoid any pursuit.
Dea spends the night with them. Luceo, still recovering from the effects of his ordeal, sleeps soundly and does not have a chance to witness what sweetness passes between Dea and Invellios. Dea leaves them just before dawn, returning to the Selil-Lelal.
The two adventurers hike quietly through the morning, each lost in thought. Luceo ponders what dark impressions he still retains from his madness. Invellios puzzles at why the memory of the scent of Dea's skin will not leave his consciousness.
Before noon, they encounter an elf sentry squad, and negotiate passage into Celidor. By evening, they reach the house of Invellios's aunt, in eastern Celidor. Luceo marvels at the massive trees and the graceful houses constructed within their branches. But he enjoys even more the privacy of having his own room. He unpacks his books. His fingers linger long on the cover of the Fulvous Carnifax. "One day," he whispers to himself, "I will be strong enough to read you, and understand. But it is not this day. And I can wait." He puts the tawny book back into his bag, and opens the next book on the pile--The First Cryptical Book of Hsan.
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SD Emporium : Tellurian Tales :
Last Edited: 05 Oct 2006|
©2006 by Z. Tomaszewski