Best Laid Schemes

Davarr and the Bear
From Cyrell's Journal

We pressed on through the mist and the mud near the creek, keeping a close eye out for landscape matching the description of Davarr’s house. Finally, we glimpsed several black stones atop an out-of-place hill sitting beside a little pool beside the creek. I crossed the creek in order to put a small amount of distance between Heath and myself, as well as to get a better look at the hill. As we approached, we could clearly see the circular pattern of black stones set in the hill, as well as a somewhat obvious false-floor trap that was enormous in size. Heath and I both peeked under the branches and leaves and grasses to see into the trap. Amazingly it was just as deep as it was wide, and the only thing trapped there was an impaled wolf not long dead but obviously famished before death and now beginning to decay.

We started towards the hill to inspect the stones closer, but I somehow managed to catch a brief sight of stone near the pool behind us. We moved over towards it, and using the corner of the stone I saw we theorized about where the house and door must be. I sprinkled the dust from the flower bloom in front of me and, sure enough, it revealed the house we were looking for. It was a modest house, and well-disguised. If anyone ever came looking for Davarr, they would not have an easy time of it. We knocked at the door, but no response was given. We listened closer, but no sound was within. Then, out of nowhere, I heard the faintest snoring sound, and we induced that he must be asleep. We opened the unlocked front door and approached to wake him. He woke fairly easily, and was gruff with us but agreed to come look at the stones after some convincing.

We walked up with him to the hill, and began to inspect the stones and their patterns. He divulged more information to us regarding the nature of the stones while we poked around. He then told us that nothing had changed with them, none were missing or out of place or acting less stone-like than usual. This struck us as odd, because all of our acquaintances’ descriptions suggested there would be about twice as many stones here as there were. While we stood pondering this, Davarr made his way back into the house. After a few moments, we moved to join him.

We opened the door, but he was not waiting for us; rather, a huge bear leaped out at me through the doorway and narrowly missed. As he slid to a halt, Heath and I ran for the hill. We carefully dodged the trap we had found, but as we passed it an idea struck me. My new spear was particularly effective at forcing opponents to move to places they didn’t want to, and I could use it to push our bear assailant into the trap. I pulled it from my back and braced for the charging beast. As it crossed into my reach, I leaned left and thrust straight forward into the bear, redirecting it directly above the trap. It fell immediately, and joined the wolf on the spikes.

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Trees A'Burning, Branches Swinging
From Cyrell's Journal

It looked like a giant bonfire from far away and through the mist, but as we closed in I saw a few small, gnomish-looking creatures chopping down gigantic trees and throwing them into the flames. It was no celebration; it was more of a slaughter. There also appeared to be a few Dryad and a Unicorn tied up and on the brink of dying. We quickly jumped into action. I split off to the right of the group and moved to a flanking position without them seeing me through the mist, then lunged in to the fray with my spear angled directly at one of the Spriggans. I noticed Drakon taking on another, and behind them the third Spriggan throwing huge blocks of tree trunk into the fire. Every stoking of the flames was accompanied by a gut-wrenching scream from the one Dryad that was conscious at the moment, and to whom the tree presumably belonged. I had to deal with the Spriggan in front of me, but the one in the back was clearly the most important target. I started shifting the one I was facing backwards towards the other and towards the flames. With a lightning-powered slash across his chest I finally knocked him back into the fire and killed him. I looked around to see Drakon had already disposed of his Spriggan and he and Heath were untying the Unicorn and Dryad.

I moved up to the one at the fire, the last one remaining, and engaged him to stop him from destroying any more of the Dryads’ trees. I wasn’t doing much, but what little I did distracted him until Drakon and Heath could arrive. Finally, we subdued the Spriggan and tied its hands and feet. I began questioning him about who had sent them here to do this, but he was being a little stubborn so I held him up to the flames. This time, he answered that Tenzekil had sent them all out to wreak havoc across the lands surrounding Bellis. We tried asking him about Rosen and Tenzekil, but the amount of information he had was extremely limited, so he was of little use to us. I shoved him, tied up, into the flames and moved back to regroup with the party and the Dryads.

We spoke with the Unicorn, Palombier, who gave us her appreciation and swore her life to our service, should the day ever arrive where she could assist us. We also spoke to Hana, the Dryad that had pleaded with us to help the others, and her sister Fira. After inquiring about Davarr, the Dryads gave us more specific directions to his shack (further east down the creek, near a perfectly round hill with a circle of black stones on it), as well as explaining that it would be hidden from sight. Hana did, however, have a solution to finding the house: a small, yellow-white bloom that would apparently sprinkle magical dust that would let us see that which was hidden. In addition to that, Fira gave us a number of gems, jewelry, gold, and a vial of Dust of Dryness. At some point during the battle or its immediate aftermath, I lost track of Drakon, and assumed he had Were business to attend to. So Heath and I set off to continue our march to find Davarr, leaving the Dryads to attend to their wounded and dead sisters.

About half way between the grove and Davarr’s house, we came across another odd scene. We didn’t see it coming, but barely managed to dodge a huge branch swinging at our heads. After a couple more of these swipes at us, the tree the branch belonged to turned enough for us to make out the vague shape of a face and we immediately recognized this as a Tree Ent. We attempted to calm him down from his incoherent fury, but he was so frightened of the Spriggans and other dark occurences in the area that he was nearly impossible to speak with. Finally, we reassured him that we weren’t here to harm him or the land, and that we had just come from rescuing Hana and her sisters from a pack of the little bastards. This made him pause for a moment and take us in. After a brief observation, he seemed to believe us, and did everything he could to help us. He filled in a few more details about Rosen, specifically that the prison binding her was the Fainguard, a point where many planes meet, marked by a ring of stones. This matched the description of the ring of stones near Davarr’s house, as the Dryads had told it, and so we asked if he was guarding it. The Ent confirmed this, as well as giving us more details about the legends and stories surrounding Rosen. He gave us gourds from his branches to drink, of which we partook and became more than a little intoxicated. I seemed to grow in height (nearly half a foot!) and my skin seemed to turn as hard as tree bark. After allowing some time for our inebriation to ease up, we took up our things once more and continued east.

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An' weary winter comin fast
From Cyrell's Journal

Mae Ri Ahh ran around back, and we swiftly followed. She was weeping over the body of the Prince, the Stormhawks and remaining bridesmaids huddled around her. I noticed a huge thorn stuck in his chest that had a icy bluish sheen to it. It was spreading its cold all over his body, creating a thin layer of ice that covered him from head to toe. The frost was thickening into a coating of ice and it was apparent we needed to act fast if we were to save him. We couldn’t rip the thorn out, as its icy tendrils had already attached to his flesh and pulling it out would pull a large chunk of flesh with it. There were strange markings on the thorn, runes that were reminiscent of others I had read about – this was magic of the Feydark or the Shadowfell, but also infused with demonic magic.

We had heard Queen Rosen’s name mentioned by Tenzikel while he was shouting about his bees, and my modest knowledge of the Fey reminded me that she was a Fey Queen locked away long ago by various members of Fey royalty for practicing fell magics, demonic magic, Feydark magic. This was no coincidence. We had to either find this Queen Rosen or find the nearest Elder Fey to help us reverse this freeze covering the Prince of Hearts. Our best bet would be to seek out Davaar, a former companion of Tenzikel and the most powerful known Druid near Bellis; his location was at least vaguely known to some folks around the wedding, whereas finding Rosen would be inconceivably difficult.

Heath, Drakon, and I set off to find Davaar. We followed the river, both because we were told that was the best way to find him and because our sight was impaired by the unnaturally thick mist settling over the land. We took our time, with Drakon as a scout and Heath and myself forming the rear guard, slowly making our way down the river. We were suddenly surprised to come across a Dryad asking for help. After the run-in with the Dryad before the wedding, we were wary, but she seemed desperate to save her sisters and her grove. We heard a shriek in the distance, in the direction she had pointed us, and we decided to see if we could help.

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A Bit of Bellis Beekeeping
From Cyrell's Journal

Maeron continued his experiments, and eventually re-opened the portal to its original location beside the bridge. I hurried through when he said it was safe, and took in the scene. The bees had now converged into one huge swarm that was only being held off by a handful of mages creating a fire wall to try to corral it. The Prince and Princess were out of sight, but I soon learned they had been escorted to a safe place in the Chapel and were out of harm’s way. I did not see Heath or Zandril or any of the party members yet, so I began trying to get wedding-goers back to the portal and find my way to the Princess.

I saw the swarm diverge and split into four separate swarms, and took stock of my surroundings once again. Most of the crowd had either made their way into the portal, Chapel, tent, or pavilion, or otherwise had scattered into the woods. Just up the path from me were the three Stormhawks, who confirmed the safety of the Prince and Princess and were trying to figure out a way to fight the bees. The group of mages had been pushed over to the Chapel steps and were being assaulted by one of the swarms. A second swarm was in a frenzy attacking someone over near the rose garden. The third was beyond the Stormhawks, and the fourth was between the tent and me. I didn’t know many songs to control bees, and so I pulled out my new spear and went to work. Keeping my distance, I began slashing and thrusting at the swarm with the spear, unleashing as many electrifying attacks as I could manage and trying to keep the swarm moving away from the center of the Wedding Grounds.

As I looked around to check how the Stormhawks were handling their swarm, I saw that the one by the rose garden was fighting Drakon and I even managed to catch a glimpse of him shapeshift into a wolf as I ducked past several bees. His subsequent howl apparently opened my ears to hear past the buzzing, as the next thing I noticed was Heath yelling, “Get to the water!!!” and in trying to process this thought, several bees managed to hit me. They were, however, turned away by my armor and hair, which I counted as a lucky stroke and a reminder to focus on the task at hand. My next attack sent the swarm into a fury and I heard the voice of Tenzikel booming in the distance, shrieking about his beauties, his bees.

My swarm merged with the Stormhawks’ swarm and began making its way into the tent. The bees were tearing through the Stormhawks, but I was still on the offensive, pushing them through the flaps of the tent. Just then, I noticed I was fighting alongside Drakon and despite the Stormhawks withdrawing, we were beginning to really crush the bees. I attacked over his back, missing several thrusts but continuing to stand my ground. I got stung a couple times and had to pull back for a moment. Just then, I saw a Stormhawk covering himself with sweet wines, syrups, fruits, candies, anything he could find, and heard him say to clear away from the tent. He actually intended to sacrifice himself to set the tent on fire and burn all the bees. Luckily, we dispersed the last of them before he could do that, but just at that moment we had bigger problems. Much bigger problems.

Out of the ground between the Chapel and the Rose Garden burrowed three gigantic Carbuncles, each being ridden by pale gnomish creatures resembling Tenzikel. Another burst from behind the Chapel, holding the Prince of Hearts on its back and trying to follow the others who immediately set to fleeing. We had to stop the one with the Prince, at the price of allowing the bleached gnomes to escape. Drakon and I stepped in its way, and began attacking it. Mae Ri Ahh exited the Chapel, somewhere between grief-stricken and infuriated, and joined us in trying to keep the Carbuncle from running. She made the flower beds grow up out of the ground and entangle the Carbuncle. With a terrible strain and a burst of power, she constricted the vines and flowers around its golden legs and tore them outward away from its body. Drakon and I finished the job, and a huge ruby dropped at our feet, but not before the Stormhawks had come shrieking in, having shifted into their hawk form, and had grabbed the Prince’s body to carry it behind the Chapel.

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Rescues and Repairs
Detours and Dryads

As the columns of bees erupted from behind the pavilion, the crowd turned riotous in their panic and began frenetically trying to escape. I, along with Heath, saw that our most effective course of action would be to evacuate everyone through the portal back to Badgermole and so we began ushering people through. A single mage started launching fiery attacks at the column of bees closest to the wedding goers, trying to create a small distraction so everyone could exit unassailed. We managed to get about twenty people through, including our party, an odd talking badger, and Zandril who had nonchalantly returned to our company as though he had never been gone. The wizard we saw shooting fire at the bees came tumbling through the portal, being pushed by two of the wedding attendees, but as the three of them stumbled into the room the portal fell silent. No one followed them, although there should have been at least 30-40 more (including the Prince and Princess), and its usual shimmering appearance seemed to fade and then freeze. The talking badger and mysterious wizard began experimenting on the portal; it had become unresponsive to touch and to all the spells used on it, with a slight visual effect when put to flame.

Heath and I began making accommodations for the folks that had escaped. We took them to the mess hall first, to try to find them food and a comfortable place to sit while the arrangements were made. We found the pixie and tree ent caretakers and checked to see if we had the room available for such a large party, and indeed we did. We also inquired about the portal room and what we needed to do to fix it. The ents told us that the wizard Maeron was the person responsible for most of the enchantments around the Safehouse, and that we would need to travel to Senaliesse to find him. Heath gave a brief speech to reassure the refugees and received many well-wishes and even a kiss from Lumi. Time being of the essence however, we left caretakers to attend to the guests and made our way back to gather a party for our excursion to the Summer City. We pulled together Drakon, Zandril, Irdrikus the Wizard, and Ergul the Badger, explained what we had to do, and quickly made our way through the Senaliesse portal.

We were greeted on the other side by an even closer line of battle than we had seen on our previous arrival. The chain demons were pushing the Summer lines even farther back towards the city. The Summer forces were slowly starting to either dwindle or be spread farther apart. We hastily escaped the war zone and made a beeline for Senaliesse’s gates. Using Cyrell’s seal to enter the city, the group immediately began searching for Maeron the one way we knew how: the candle. We consulted it and, to our surprise, it led us in two separate directions – his favorite tavern the Rabid Badger and the Library/temple district. Heath and Drakon went to the Rabid Badger while Zandril, Irdrikus, and Ergul made their way to the temples and Library with the candle. Meanwhile, I went to Tiandra’s castle to find any information available there.

I did not find anything particularly useful regarding Maeron’s location at the castle, but I did pass Ariedne who had come back to Senaliesse to purchase and find a number of items for our group. I left her to her tasks after sharing brief pleasantries, and set off to rendezvous with Heath and Drakon.

The temple group had no luck, as it was pretty late at night and Maeron had already left the Library for the day, and continued to follow the candle in the direction of the Rabid Badger. By the time they arrived, Drakon and Heath had already found Maeron, explained the situation to him, and convinced him to come back immediately. Upon our regrouping, Maeron noticed the candle and gave a sly smile. He asked if we had any trouble finding him and, when told about the split paths, he smugly took credit for the enchantment of the candle and for that little failsafe that would make him more difficult to find than most. We immediately departed back to the Safehouse.

Upon our return, Maeron studied the portal room and the Spring portal itself. He asked what measures we had already attempted, and whether or not we had checked the hidden runes upstairs dedicated to the portals. We had not, so he took us to the room one floor above and told us we would have to get through the heavily-trapped door to reach the runes. He explained the traps and the lock, and Zandril disappeared. Moments later, we heard a scratching on the other side of the wall and knew Zandril had begun work on the magical trap Maeron described. After that ceased, we heard a couple creaks followed by a click noise, and we guessed he had disarmed the nonmagical trap as well. He then unlocked the door and let us in. Maeron hurried over to the Bellis portal, and saw quite plainly that his assumption was correct – someone had damaged the runes with a series of huge gashes in the floor, rendering the portal broken.

Maeron attempted to fix the portal but was unsuccessful. He then opened a new portal, but said it might not be to the correct location. Heath asked the candle to lead us to Mae Ri Ahh, and it shone its path through the newly-opened portal. The party leapt through the portal quickly, with me remaining behind to oversee things from the castle. As Maeron continued working, the portal he had opened shut back down, and he asked me to fetch a few books for him from the study. I found them with some help from an ent, and quickly made my way back to the portals. The book of the most interest to Maeron, it seemed, was THE SPRING COURT AND THEIR PARTIES: A GUIDE TO BELLIS AND THE VAERIAN GARDENS. Apparently, its maps and descriptions of the wedding grounds were unparalleled and incredibly helpful in his opening the portal in the correct location.

He continued his experiments, and eventually re-opened the portal to its original location beside the bridge. I hurried through when he said it was safe, and took in the scene. The bees had now converged into one huge swarm that was only being held off by a handful of mages creating a fire wall to try to corral it. The Prince and Princess were out of sight, but I soon learned they had been escorted to a safe place underneath the pavilion (some secret exit, I assumed) and were out of harm’s way. I did not see Heath or Zandril or any of the party members yet, so I began trying to get wedding-goers back to the portal and find my way to the Princess.

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Ode to a Feather in the Morning Storm
Badger to the Bone Until the End

Master Periem Clivase, former leader of the Wintermist Wanderers once said to me, “We are all but grains of dust in this life, forever carried on the shoulders of some new storm. Raindrops may bring us together for a time, rivers may tear us apart for another, but we all find our way to the bottom of the sea in the end.” In that vein, I present, “An Ode to a Feather in the Morning Storm”:

O! feather of the Raven in the morn,
Whose barbs conversed with dawn light’s stirring breeze,
May golden rays for evermore adorn
Your name and face though all eternities.
Though tempests tear asunder every course,
And time and silence rive all twining trails,
Though destiny command each path diverge,
We leave each fork and turn with no remorse;
We catch that breath that bore you in our sails,
And onward steer our ship behind your surge.

The torchlight over Renwood spoke your name,
A whispered gratitude toward its son,
Or maybe twas a hymn gasped by the flames,
Remembering its guardian in song.
Your ever-changing face a constant smile,
Your mind as rich and vivid as the sea,
Your crystal sword as long as eyes could aim,
Your subtle, sly, and deftly nimble guile,
Your deadly knack for curiosity,
Your fury piqued, impossible to tame.

Most of all, however, we remember
The steady, loyal presence of our friend,
Whose warmth stays past the last dying ember,
So badger to the bone until the end.
And so, farewell, wherever you are gone,
Whatever journey waits for you ahead,
Our cause to yours, until the end, is joined;
Remember, when the curtain’s finally drawn,
I love you and the ruby in my head
Is worth a hundred shiny golden coins.

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The Sight of Sunshine, Plants, and Flowers
Wedding Songs

1. Renwood
2. Catapult
3. Towers
4. Macomme, Aimlessly
5. My Fair Wayward Lass
6. The Bees
7. The Sight of Sunshine
8. Going to the Moonhills

1. Renwood

Traditional (Anonymous)

Well it’s been a long time, a long time love,
Since I’ve seen you smile.
And I’ll gamble away my fright,
Oh, I’ll gamble away my time.
And in a year, a year or so,
This will slip into the sea.
Well it’s been a long time, a long time love,
Since I’ve seen you smile.

2. Catapult

Written by Periem Clivase and Cyrell Silverstring

Your love like a catapult crashed through my hull
Left me ragged and bent in my soul,
Sent me shouting alike to the sea and green sky.
Wish I’d wings for to watch from above.

As you threw out your arms and thus summoned this storm,
Set my dogs and my wolves all to howl,
Sent me tumbling around, begging for solid ground,
Addled hatchling, a lost drunken dove.

On the morning I woke to see you sail the moat,
All the orchids and lilies did wilt.
Sent my ramparts and walls that had once towered tall,
This whole castle, a’crumbling to stone.

When you made me to weep down abandoned old streets,
My tears turned the brick roads to silt,
Sent the city away in a river of waves,
And sank to the bottom my bones.

3. Towers

Written by Justin Vernon

For the love Iʼd, fallen on
In the swampy summer dawn.
What a mischief you would bring, young darling!
From the faun for, ever gone
In the towers of your honeycomb.
I’d a’tore your hair out just to climb back darling!

For the love, comes the burning young,
From the liver, sweating through your tongue.
Well, you’re a’standing on my stomach, don’t you climb down, darling!
Oh the sermons are the first to rest,
Smoke on dark days when you’re drunk and dressed.
Out the hollows where the swallow nests.

4. Macomme, Aimlessly

Written by Cyrell Silverstring

Aimlessly I have wandered through this valley so long,
In search of the stillness only its trees have known.
Years spent in the vineyard, all my sorrows to fold,
Wrapped them up in the bends of the River Macomme.

There I found the flower that carried your name,
Suppressed violet petals that smelled of your mane.

My soul, like this gorge, has been carved out so rough
By the journey of time, water as its brush.
Soon it should reach its baseline, and find rushing love,
Running back through its veins like the bore and its flood.

Sleeping in, all day, in a nest only birds could have made
When the moon is full, I’ll be leaving and wishing I’d stayed.

Stars all burn away,
a thousand thousand miles off,
I could step over the wilting moon,
And not have gone far enough.

5. My Fair Wayward Lass (Macomme, Aimlessly – Pt 2)

Written by Cyrell Silverstring

Deep within the valley, where the old meadow blooms,
My maiden like a robin, perched as she swooned.
The bells of Sune rang the streams and hollows around,
And the Spring rain fell quiet as it ran down my crown.

And the stars swooped down
On the ardor we’d found,
And the sun shone too
On the brook water blue
Where my heart fell through.

Slept among the daisies with the sun on her face,
Deep into the valley of her shoulder I’d traced.
But now she’s gone and fallen into woods dense and vast,
And I am left to longing for my fair wayward lass.

6. The Bees

Written by David Portner

So sudden,
The bees, they came flying.
So violent
The bees , they came sly.
So scary,
The bees , they came wide.
So wild
The bees, they came crying.

They said, “I take my time.”
You take your time.

7. The Sight of Sunshine

Written by Cyrell Silverstring

I thought I would die that day,
The day that I, the day I went away.
I look into your eyes, and suddenly I start to cry.

I never figured out why.

I should never feel this way,
I know it’s wrong, but I have to say
I miss you every day.

You sing to show to me
The sight of sunshine, plants, and flowers.
And then you grabbed me,
We drank mead and laughed for hours.

I look into your eyes and sadness turned to smiles inside.

I didn’t see me.
I didn’t know me then.

8. Going to the Moonhills (for Tiandra, Queen of Beauty and Grace)

Written by Cyrell Silverstring

Your golden eyes render all my efforts pointless.
Your golden eyes are going to kill me for sure.
One look at you and I know that these walls will come down
Because your burning eyes are bright and pure.
But there’s a place for us
In a white stone castle
By a summer field
In the Moonhills.

I’ve got a twitch in my sword hand and it makes me nervous,
And I’ve got 15 silver in my vest pocket,
And your memory marching up my veins,
And a twice-broken heart that’s far too frail to stop it.
There’s a place for us
Somewhere off in a white stone castle
By a summer field full of flowers and laughter
In the Moonhills.

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I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee
From Cyrell's Journal

We made our preparations and made our way to the city gates. As agreed upon, when asked what business we were on, I answered, “The Queen’s business. We are off to deliver an important message to the Court of Spring.” As expected (or perhaps just hoped for), they opened the gates and let us depart without another question. Swiftly, we found our way back to the Safehouse portal, and went through. Once at the Safehouse, we rested briefly before setting off again. During our rest, Daniria told us the story of her missing sister, which had obviously been weighing on her mind for some time now. It was the first time I had heard this story, and could not help but feel that it sounded eerily similar to the disappearance of Sollee. Someone brought up the question of whether or not the candle would point us in the direction(s) of our missing loved ones, so we tried it. It did indeed illuminate a path for both of our inquiries, and the same path: directly into the Fall portal. This left us in quite a predicament. This was the first time either of us had had a hard lead as to the possible location of our loved one, but came at a point in time that was critical in our other quests. This left both of us with the impossible choice of whether to go after our hearts, or to continue on our path attempting to save the Summer Court, the Living Gate, and presumably the world as we know it.

After much discussion, we both agreed that it was a difficult thing to do, but that saving our loved ones would be pointless if the world itself was lost because of that choice. The only logical thing to do was to stay the course and continue on to the wedding of Mae Ri Ahh and the Prince of Hearts. We slipped through the Spring portal, and found ourselves just outside of the wedding festivities, already taking place. The fey celebrate not only the day of the wedding, but for some time leading up to it, and this was all well under way. We began to discuss how to handle finding the Prince and what our plan of action might be, but at that moment an arrow struck Nikolai directly through his heart and nearly dropped him. Ariadne took him in her arms and tried to make for the portal to go back to the Safehouse, but he was struck by another arrow in the face, and then a black Shardmind-like creature emerged from the earth and enveloped Nikolai in its black crystal and began to pull him back into the ground. Ariadne managed to hold on to his body tightly, but his limbs were being ripped from their sockets and pulled down. I heard Nikolai desperately whisper in my mind “Get the card. FAST!” Ariadne and Heath both tried healing him, while Daniria and Balasar focused on the assassin who was in a nearby tree. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, I quickly healed Nikolai as well, grabbed his knapsack, and bolted for the portal, leaping through to make it back as quickly as I could. In the briefest moment before I passed through the portal, I heard the ground rumbling violently behind me, and both Ariadne and Daniria shouting, and I immediately knew that our attempts to save Nikolai were in vain. I arrived back in the Safehouse, landing face first on the ground, and clutching desperately at the blood-stained pack I had ripped away from Nikolai’s body.

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For All Your Trouble
Finding Friends, Old and New

Having departed from the palace, we made our way out into the city, discussing all the developments that our visit with the Queen had brought. Nikolai, Daniria, and I decided to hit the books and set our course for the library in hopes of finding any useful information on the Shardmind, the Living Gate, Demogorgon, the Court of Spring, and the Prince of Hearts. Regarding the Shardmind and the Living Gate, there was little information available that was both relevant and new to us. There was a plethora of books on the topic of the Spring Fey and the Prince of Hearts, a subject which I treated like my brief studies before meeting Queen Tiandra – I tried to focus on current events, personal history, and any information that could be used either against the Prince or to sway his opinion toward us. There were tons of stories that, if used against most people, could be perfect blackmail fodder. But this was a self-acknowledged trickster with a long history of playing different fey factions against one another or in such a way as it benefits him, such that I deemed this an unfruitful line of study and quickly moved on to other things. As it pertains to Demogorgon, there was also a very sizable amount of information, some of which was new and some of which was not, but even the most relevant information (discovering the types of beings working for him and some theories/legends about him) seemed to come up just short of offering truly helpful information in actually fighting him.

We asked some of the elder librarians for information on these subjects as well, but didn’t appear to get much further and so we left and discussed our findings by the fountain outside. It was at that point that we all noticed a commotion a few blocks down the street, but couldn’t make out much in the way of details. Just then, Heath came along and made note of the crowd, saying he figured it meant that Xandril was in some sort of trouble. We soon discovered, however, that it was not our sly rogue being harassed or arrested, but Balasar! We had left him behind at Badgermole to recover from the poisoning he had suffered, but apparently he was well enough to try to join us, just not well enough (or not prepared enough) to peacefully enter the city. We were all a bit shocked by this development, and immediately began trying to draw up schemes to get Balasar out of whatever trouble he’d gotten himself into. We figured my recent Knighthood and subsequent rise in stature within the city might be of use, but only once he had been processed at the prison, and perhaps not until the Queen held court again. That being the case, the only thing for us to do was to continue with our plans for the evening and hope that some brilliant idea might arise.

We all went our separate ways then. Nikolai went off to the temple of the Raven Queen, I attended to some shopping and selling of items, and Daniria and her new, brawny but funny Paladin friend Ariadne, agreed to meet me at the Rabid Badger tavern at dusk. I managed to sell both the ruby and golden cup I had acquired in New Beginnings for reasonable prices, and found Heath the bedroll I had promised to find him way back in Renwood. He, too, met us at the Rabid Badger, and we drank the finest mead and wine we could purchase. I may have had a couple too many pints of the mead, however, and ended up (at the psychic urging of my new mane of hair) singing a drunken song about Tiandra’s lovely eyes. The song somehow must have been good, as the next thing I knew, I was leading a procession of pixies through the streets of the city, all singing together and generally being merry. They soon saw that I was headed in the general direction of the prison, and after all the talk of a Dragonborn spy being held captive in the jail, the crowd shifted from drunkenly happy to thirsting for the traitor’s blood. I had hoped to arrive at the steps of the prison and use my position, as both a Knight and as the leader of this drunken parade, to tell the story of Balasar, of all his good deeds, of his pure heart, of his steadfast loyalty, and his love of the Summer Fey (the last part probably being a bit of a stretch). But that never happened.

Instead, the mob that had its mind set on lynching the Dragonborn began to draw everybody’s attention. Daniria and Ariadne both tried to (and succeeded at) distracting the crowd with bluffs about trouble at the city walls and intimidation, weakening the group from 20 or so pixies to only 4. I continued on, however, in hopes that my plan might still work. When I arrived, I found Nikolai arguing with the prison guards but getting nowhere. The tension of the situation and the stress of trying to clear Balasar’s name and free him took over my mind, and my hair (on subconscious cues, I assume) lashed out at the guards and knocked them all unconscious. It continued wildly whipping around in all directions as Nikolai stripped the head guard of his keys and made to free Balasar. It was still lashing around when they returned and even hit the two of them, but not nearly as forcefully as it had the guards. The three of us stepped back outside, where there was mass confusion and anger taking over the scene, and Nikolai told me to get Balasar out of there. My hair wrapped around Balasar’s neck, and did the same to Heath on my other side, and I began marching them away (trying to avoid the assembled crowds at all times).

Behind us, I heard the pixies that had been duped by Daniria and Ariadne returning, shouting and calling for the Dragonborn’s head, and I heard them clash with Ariadne, but could not make much more out of that as my focus was directly forward and not being caught. I later learned that not only did Ariadne hold her own in the brief fight, but Nikolai ended up dispersing both the mob and the guards that were waking with a clever illusion of a Chain Demon that sent them all off terrified. It was risky, but it proved to be a brilliant distraction, and exactly what was needed. I eventually found out by way of Nikolai’s new telepath abilities where I could find Daniria and Ariadne (the inn where they were set to meet), and made my way there quickly and quietly with Balasar and Heath still bound by my new unnaturally strong hair. As we got further away from the rabble, my grip on them relaxed. I received yet another psychic message from my hair, saying essentially not to worry, that it had been watching and it wouldn’t let me come to harm. It referring to itself with some sort of conscience made me think, and I addressed it back by asking who I was communicating with, only to find out it was the Queen herself. I took a few moments to ponder this, and to compose myself, then returned to my companions and before long, we were at the inn. I went into the inn first, paid for a (rather expensive) room, and quickly found my way upstairs to it. The two of them followed and rented their own room, and I left Balasar in the watch of Heath and with a warning not to stray far. I retired to my room, and spent the next several hours sitting at the window, contemplating all that had happened and waiting to see if I could catch a glimpse of any of our party members coming or going, or any trouble still remaining in the streets. I saw nothing of note by the time a few hours had passed, and went to sleep.

That night, I had terrible dreams or, more accurately, visions. I saw the Winter Fey winning and eventually victorious, saw all the terror they brought, saw the destruction of the Summer Court. It was a fitful sleep, even if it was a full night’s worth, and I awoke the next morning to find my room trashed – presumably by my hair acting out the sights of my subconscious. I made my way, later than usual, down into the common room where I found Daniria and Ariadne discussing things. They said they agreed to meet Nikolai at the library at noon, and that Balasar and Heath were staying cooped up in their room until we could determine the best course of action. We all met outside the library, and (given the delicate nature of the situation) decided we needed to find somewhere more private to converse. We inquired about and were shown to a private room near the back of the library, and we made our plans. I explained that we were clear in the eyes of the Queen, and we weighed all the options available, eventually settling on trying to leave the city through the front gates. Our first guise would be, well, the truth – that we were exiting on Queen’s business and off to deliver a message to the Court of Spring. In case Balasar’s presence among us was questioned, and nonchalance failed us, we bound his hands ahead of time so that we could portray him as our prisoner if needed.

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Winter's Sleety Dribble
From Cyrell's Journal

Safehouse Armory and Discussion:

Upon our exiting the armory and storage room in the back of the keep, we began to ponder our next steps and discussed the options at the table.

Before arriving at the safehouse and its surroundings, we had designs on making our way to Harkenwold to track down a fabled staff that either is or had once been warding the town and the countryside from some dark evil. Clearly this staff is a powerful enough artifact to draw our attention in regards to our quest to aid the Shardmind in repairing the Living Gate, but what repercussions our taking it would leave on the town and what unknown dangers there lurk are both causes of heavy concern within the group.

We could take it and leave the town utterly defenseless. We could attempt to destroy the evil and thereby alleviate the town of any need for its protection. In any case, we had the evening to discuss the topic, as we all agreed unanimously that we deserved at least one night of rest in our castle (which I have taken to calling Badgermole Hold) after the whirlwind of
recent events.

We each went our separate ways for the following couple of hours, electing to retire to our chambers and spend time working with the items we had plucked from the armory.

I spent most of my afternoon with the curious and unusual map I found in a plain but well-kept scroll case almost immediately upon our entering the armory. The map itself showed, quite remarkably, no signs of age or wear besides the slightly antiquated cartography and writing style. The depiction itself was of a land entirely foreign to my memory and studies, and therefore must have been from somewhere far off, or perhaps even from some wholly unfamiliar plane. These facts, and the incredible detail with which the lands were drawn and described, were enough to keep me intrigued; that is, until I thought I caught a glimpse of the ink shifting near the top right corner of the parchment.

That discovery would have to await further investigation – as would the unmistakably magical spear I had also found – for no sooner had I noticed this odd new mystery than a knock arrived at the door, and I immediately paused all my studies recognizing that it was well past our designated meeting time for supper and discussions.

I made my way swiftly down to the common room, and brought a round of drinks for the party and the few pixies they were engaged in conversation with. As I sat at the table, I saw it was Pollen and his attendants that were joining us. I cordially injected myself into the conversation, inquiring about the state of and news regarding the war effort in the battle against the Court of Winter.

The weight of this subject on his mind was evident in his tone and vividly strewn across
his tired face as he described the difficulties being endured on the front lines. He gave a bone-chilling account of many of the Fey creatures waging war against the Summer, but was most concerned with what he described as unimaginably powerful, undeniably evil, demonic warriors that the Summer forces were unable to stop and hard pressed to even contain when they did manage to trap one.

Both Daniria and I offered any assistance within our power to Pollen, even knowing that the battle itself seemed quite beyond our current capabilities. He on multiple occasions refused our aid, obviously not wanting to enter into any pact that would undoubtedly end in our deaths.

We continued to press him on the subject, though, even going so far as to volunteer our services as mere couriers in our desire to show appreciation for the wonderful treatment the Summer Court had shown us. Finally, once we had convinced him we were not wanting to enter into a pact, but
merely offer our help free of conditions, Pollen begrudgingly told us that the best way we could help was to rally support from potential allies like the Court of Spring (with whom Xandril is associated) and the Prince of Hearts, who is due to be married within the week, and that we should meet with the Summer Queen if we truly wanted to pursue this course.

He also noted that gaining her audience would be no easy task in itself, and left us with one final warning of the danger we were putting ourselves in.

I noticed, in the middle of our conversation, that my new map had made its way into Daniria’s pack and was sticking out in relatively plain sight. This is not the first time that an item had mysteriously been transferred between our party members, as I recalled Ishmer being involved in a similar instance only a few days prior. Just as then, there was no sign of the theft, nor particular motive, and the person who had “stolen” the item seemed altogether unaware of the situation.

Trusting Daniria, I resolved that I should remain quiet on the subject, and see if I could notice something deeper at play. Better to be subtle when a surreptitious trickster was in our midst.

The rest of the night passed uneventfully, with the group weighing the options before us and eventually deciding to attempt to help the Court of Summer instead of focusing solely on the repair of the Living Gate. We do not know how long we have to work towards finding artifacts,
but knew this fight against the Court of Winter was a pressing matter, and suspected that it had ties to other facets of our quest, and that we would be very likely to come into magical artifacts along the way.

We debated the respective merits of the different ways to assist in this fight. We could head on without the Queen’s blessing to offer gifts to the Prince of Hearts or to treat with the Court of Summer.

We could travel to the city where she held her Court and attempt to gain audience with her. We could try to find a surer way to get access before going there, but how? The only lead we had as to how to reach the Summer Queen was through Mae Ri Ahh, with whom we have built up some measure of trust and respect, but with whom meeting indiscreetly could mean danger.

We decided to send a small party back to town to contact Mae Ri Ahh, including the sly Xandril and Nikolai, who could change his appearance so as not to cause a stir in a town already on edge and leery of adventurers. At that, we called it a night and went our separate
ways.

After pickpocketing my map back from Daniria’s pack, I went on to the keep’s study, in hopes of finding any literature I could regarding the Queen of Summer and her Court. This would be a deeply political encounter, and could be disastrous if we (and I, specifically) went in without knowing whom we were addressing.
I discovered one book that recounted the Queen’s many lovers and another that chronicled her many victories on the battlefield. I found an entire volume dedicated to Queen Tiandra’s appearance and its supposed powers. Deciding this was enough, I retired to my chambers within the keep and quickly was asleep.

Meeting with Mae Ri Ahh and the Queen

The following morning, the group saw off Xandril and Nikolai on their trek back to Renwood. Daniria and I spent the morning and afternoon transcribing maps from the new magical map, including those of Renwood, the woods on either side of the Fey door, the safehouse
itself, the town of New Beginnings, and my home. It was at this point I decided to approach her about the map’s misplacement the night before, explaining the need for keeping the whole event quiet at first. We pondered possible culprits, focusing on those who would have a motive to cause dissension within the party. No names came to mind, but we both agreed to keep a wary eye out for our trickster, and to think on the matter.

Nikolai and Xandril returned that evening, having spoken with Maria and gotten an odd token from her as a sort of badge or pass to gain audience with her mother. We immediately pulled together our things and used the portal in the Keep to be sent to the frontlines of the war, which was our quickest way to reach the city. After stepping through, we were literally in the midst of a huge battle, just behind the lines of the Summer forces. It was not difficult to tell which
way we should hurry, but I couldn’t help but look behind at the things the Summer was facing, the beasts we had heard so much about from Pollen and the others.

Although I hadn’t noticed it then, other members of the group later remarked that they seemed to be real-life versions of the statue at the inn that was a part of the fire trap.

They also apparently resembled demon underlings of Demogorgon, who we know was involved in Ishmer’s Dragon dream, and in the shattering of the Living Gate. The connections to this one Demon Prince continue to spread, and I think everyone had the same thought at that moment –
that all roads are leading us to the same eventual end, an inescapable struggle with Demogorgon.

But that was not the task at hand. Instead, we needed to focus on getting to the Queen. We got as far away from the battle as possible and consulted the faerie candle for directions. We presented Maria’s token to the first guards we met, and they took us directly to the
palace. It was an elaborate place, and one we didn’t have long to comprehend, as the Queen very soon made her entrance and demanded our attention.

We observed the proper etiquette, and when she addressed us, we told her why we had come. We offered our assistance, specifically in attempting to bring the Prince of Hearts and the Court of Spring to aid in the war. She was clearly upset at hearing the mention of the Prince of Hearts, whose marriage we soon learned was to Maria. That situation immediately became more delicate, and then more so when she said she would have nothing to do with the wedding and would not give her blessing. She also was not comfortable sending a group of adventurers whom she knew nothing about and whom were not dedicated to serve her.

It was at that moment that I realized we would need a closer tie if we were to take up this cause, something more than our friendship with her rebellious daughter or a verbal commitment to do her bidding. At least one of us would have to bear responsibility for the actions taken by the group on this journey, would have to pledge themselves to the Summer Court in a meaningful way. I looked to my left at Nikolai, who appeared to be of the same mind as I, for I could almost see him about to speak up. But he already wore a burden for this group in the form of his crystalline arm, and so I interrupted his line of thought with a wave of my hand and stepped forward to kneel before the Queen. “I pledge my service to Her Majesty, and the Court of Summer,” I said without hesitation.

I should have hesitated though, for I did not even consider what came next. I saw her think for the briefest moment, turning over this development in her mind, and then settling the matter in half a heartbeat. With a nod of approval and the slightest gesture of her hand, she accepted my pledge and at the same time had summoned her Royal Guard to escort me (forcefully, had I objected) to the armory.

Unbeknownst to me at the time of my commitment, the form of my service was not to escort the party to the Court of Spring and the marriage of the Prince, but to join the frontlines at once.

A handful of Queen’s men fit me for radiant plate armor, obviously of Fey origin. I wasn’t
contending with them doing it, but did squeal a few complaints when I finally realized what I had signed up for. I probably sounded like a little girl, but I was gravely in fear of joining the fighting we had witnessed outside the city gates. Before I knew it, I was over-encumbered by the heaviest and yet most delightful-looking set of armor I had ever donned. I was not led out of the palace, however. Instead, I was taken back into the throne room, where my companions
awaited me.

Apparently, they had somehow managed to convince the Queen that I would be out of place and almost useless on the field of battle, and that I would serve her better as a royal escort to keep the party in line and ensure they did not go against her will. I silently thanked
the gods, and my luck, and my companions for this twist of fate (or perhaps this unraveling of the far more dreadful twist I had worked myself into a short time before). Again, I swore to the Queen to uphold her interests in the tasks we were to carry out, and asked if there was a certain mark or symbol I should bear in her honor and in her name. I should have known she had already considered this. With no more than her gaze, she transformed my short and tangled black hair into a flowing mane that shimmered every color of autumn, all shifting with every movement of my head and every subtle flicker of light.

I felt all at once not myself, but perhaps that was less about the hair and more about the armor that I could barely move in. If I could lower my arms, I might have been an impressive sight at that moment. I even noticed as I shook my hair out in front of me that, somehow,
sticking out of the locks were tiny flowers of myriad colors – blue and red and purple and orange and everything in between. They weren’t so much stuck into my new hair as they were growing from it, it seemed.

With that, she bid us adieu and we made our way from the throne room
out into the city…

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