The Tale of One-Tree (FMF Unleashed campaign recap)

The Tale of One-Tree, Chapter XI: The Return to Nemnoc, Epilogue

Two weeks later, William was still busy inscribing a life trader rune onto a blade for Roza, while Roza was putting finishing touches on the finisher rune on her own enchanted blade, and was just beginning to assist Samira in putting her new woldwyrd together. Odrys, in the meantime, was leading hunting parties into Glimmerwood, and noted how the forest was slowly coming alive again now that the Orgoth site under Nemnoc had been cleansed, with the sounds of birds and larger beasts once again breaking the silence the adventurers had become used to ever since the Orgoth site had been roused earlier that year. While the adventurers were thus occupied, they had ordered the feralgeists attending them to stay hidden in their huts, and like well-trained hounds they obeyed, patiently awaiting the calls of their masters.

Heavy autumn rains were now setting in as well, and it was on one such rainy day that the sentries alerted Odrys to the approach of a lone, dark-robed wanderer from the west, who was accompanied by a spindly wold striding at his side. Odrys met the stranger, who introduced himself as Wayfarer Hamlin of the Circle, and when Odrys reported his arrival to the others, their faces immediately lit up with recognition, as Hamlin had come to them earlier that year to investigate a disruption to the ley lines in Glimmerwood. The group had found the small circles of standing stones guarding the ley lines uprooted then, and had proceeded to replant them according to Hamlin’s directions.

After taking Hamlin across the lake and into One-Tree proper, the wayfarer waited until William. Roza and Samira had finished their work for the day, and then met with them under the great ghost willow. Hamlin reported that, once again, the ley lines in Glimmerwood had suffered disruption, and that adjacent conjunctions had suffered a major drain, as if a major magical ritual had been performed somewhere in the forest. William gave the wayfarer permission to examine the land surrounding One-Tree for evidence, and assigned Odrys to him as a bodyguard, and the group also offered to accompany him on another expedition into Glimmerwood once their enchantments and Samira’s woldwyrd were complete. This prompted Hamlin to offer the spindly wold he had come with to Samira to aid her in her work, as it was a woldwright, a construct that, when directed by a Circle artificer, could assist in crafting other wolds.

For the next two weeks, Odrys accompanied Hamlin in his explorations of the plain between Glimmerwood and Widower’s Wood, during which the druid would often simply stand or sit down and close his eyes as if in intense concentration. During their daily excursions, Odrys was cagey about revealing what had been happening that year, but he did mention the toppling of an Orgoth stele in Glimmerwood, though he kept his account vague. In the evenings, Hamlin noted that there were no more fireflies among the branches of the great ghost Willow, but that the tree itself seemed to glow with an unprecedented brilliance. Hamlin also saw Odrys practice directing his feralgeist attendants, though he did not inquire further into this, simply accepting it as the workings of the Bokor William. Samira also told Hamlin about the Khadoran presence in Glimmerwood and their use of Orgoth artifacts, and Hamlin scoffed at the northerners’ foolish attempts to use such tainted artifacts.

When Samira’s woldwyrd had finally risen from the ground and been bound into service, and when the enchanters’ works were finished as well, the group only rested for one night and then finally set out into Glimmerwood as promised. The adventurers now all noted that Glimmerwood seemed to have fully become its old self once again, and after an uneventful journey towards the ruins of Nemnoc, the group found the site as they had left it, with Samira noting that there was a diffuse trickle of energy passing through the site from the north, as if from an unfocused ley line simply dissolving back into the body of Orboros.

Examining the remains of the toppled Orgoth stele, the adventurers noted they seemed brittle, which was quite unlike the normally quite impervious Orgoth stonework, and when William was easily able to chip the fragments further with a blow of his axe, the adventurers noted how their eyes, as well as the feralgeists’s, suddenly flared with what felt to them like savage joy. Hamlin, however, seemed quite oblivious of this, despite his own sensitivity to magical energies.

The group then proceeded to the stone circle north of Nemnoc, where they still found the stones lying uprooted and inert, and the gorax carcass that they had last found here now just shreds of bone. Hamlin also noted that the ley line was not flowing through the site any more, and decided they should seek out the stone circle upstream of this site to determine what was going on.

As they prepared to set out, Roza climbed a tree to scout the area from a better vantage point, and spotted a swarm of crows nearby. Directing her companions to it, they found another dead gorax, which was still quite fresh, though its stench was thankfully lessened by its demise. William then ordered one of his attending feralgeists to possess the corpse, and the spirit immediately complied, with the resulting shambling undead no less obedient than the feralgeist had been.

It did not take adventurers long to locate the next stone circle, with both Samira and Hamlin noting the swell of ambient energies as they approached. This site was undisturbed, but the outward flow of its energies had apparently been redirected southwards somehow, now passing into Nemnoc instead of through where the uprooted stone circle had been. Hamlin stated he would redirect the flow back to the destroyed site the next day, after which that site could also be re-empowered and the ley line then rerouted back into its old pattern.

During the following night’s watch, however, Roza at one point spotted a moving lambent presence among the omnipresent luminescence of Glimmerwood’s vegetation, and soon found herself face to face with a feralgeist slowly approaching the camp, its eyes firefly-brilliant; and just as the other feralgeists had done to her companions, this one now hunkered down before the shaman, its gaze lowered. When the sun rose the next day, William attempted to claim to Hamlin that he had summoned the feralgeist and bound it to Roza’s service, and tried to make his claim more believable by instructing Roza in how to approach the spirit, but the wayfarer seemed unconvinced by this explanation. When he and Samira then began the ritual to redirect the ley line back into its previous course, Hamlin then asked Samira about this, noting how he had not sensed the use of any magical rituals since his arrival, but Samira managed to brush off his concerns by referring to the well-known mastery of spirits bokors commanded – though the warlock would later whisper to her companions that they ought to be more cautious around outsiders, and that it might even become ultimately necessary for Hamlin to suffer a fatal accident if his attention should become a concern.

For the time being, however, Samira proceeded to assist Hamlin, and after the ritual had been successfully completed, the group returned to the uprooted stone circle. With the assistance of the warpwolf Bacarl and the undead gorax commanded by William, re-erecting the stones did not take any time at all, and the ritual to reconnect this site to the ley line proceeded just as smoothly, with Samira noting how her sensitivity to its flow seemed to have become markedly increased since she had enacted this rite for the first time.

After performing rituals twice in one day, Hamlin now called for the group to make camp, and told them he wanted to attempt to travel along the ley line the following day to check that the network had indeed been properly reconnected. While the adventurers were eating, however, they suddenly noticed Hamlin had frozen, watching them intently, and when they inquired about this, he told them they had just all been sitting turned in the same direction, their gazes seeming to follow the ley line’s flow.

None of the adventurers had noted this, but when they had settled down for the night, they deliberately arrayed their sleeping positions so that they all faced different directions. William then watched his companions as they slept, and to his amazement noticed that what appeared initially as ordinary restlessness and stirring in their sleep was indeed realigning his companions’s sleeping positions along the path of the ley line, with only Hamlin and Bacarl left unaffected.

When it became Roza’s turn to be the night watch, William alerted her to his observations, and asked the shaman to watch him as well as he slept. It then was, perhaps, because Roza was preoccupied with watching the gatorman in his sleep that she only noticed something was amiss when a small movement of the air carried a heavy stench to her nostrils – not the rotting-meat smell of the undead gorax, but the fouler musk of a living one, and Roza barely had time to react before the creature began to lay into her in the attempt to overwhelm its prey with a quick flurry of strikes and bites, but the nimble bloodweaver-shaman was thankfully able to dodge at least part of the blows. Crying out as much to warn her sleeping companions as in pain, Roza immediately rounded on her attacker despite her severe injuries and answered its savagery with her magic, striking with her life trader and finisher blades and finally ripping the gorax’s very life-blood from it with a spell, leaving the beast in just as bad a shape as its intended prey. Odrys was up next, but the warrior, confident Roza would not be struck down by a mere gorax, instead directed his gaze into the gloom among the Glimmerwood trees’ deathly light, and thankfully found no further attackers approaching the camp.

Then Samira rose and sent the gorax flying with a force bolt, and once this opening had created, she directed her woldwyrd to blast the prone beast with its eye’s deadly rays, slaying it. Once the gorax was dead, William instructed his second feralgeist to raise that corpse as well, though Roza at this point had quite enough of the combined stench of one already decomposing as well as one fresh gorax. Drawing on the raised awareness of the land that she had gained since becoming a host to the fireflies to find the most pungent plants she could locate, the Tharn shaman proceeded to stuff the goraxes’ orifices with several armloads’ worth of sweet-smelling herbs, berries and flowers, until she judged the stench to have been sufficiently stoppered and overpowered.

After the group had broken their fast the next day, Hamlin then stood in the stone circle, meditating silently until he suddenly disappeared in a flare of jagged jade runes. Not too long later he returned in the same fashion, and confirmed that the ley lines were flowing as intended once more. And with Hamlin’s work accomplished once again, the group returned to One-Tree.

On a lighter note:

Hamlin had at one point been nonplussed by Roza not only calling him darling, as is her wont, but also addressing him as Sir Hamlin, just like she addresses Samira as Lady Samira. The way such courtly expressions are at odds with a Tharn bloodweaver prompted the suggestion that maybe Roza had been abandoned in a city as a small child and then taken on and reared by nobility before returning to the wilderness, in an inversion of the feral-child-raised-by-wolves upbringing story…

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The Tale of One-Tree, Chapter XII, Part I – The Depths of Yokté

After Wayfarer Hamlin had left, his work on repairing the Glimmerwood ley line complete, the adventurers checked up on the captive Greylord, Oleg Ruskinovich, and found he had not been making any trouble, instead sitting quietly in the barred hut he had been confined to, and starting to look quite at home in the wilderness, with his waxed moustache now starting to become completely lost in a busy, unkempt beard and mane of grey hair.

Deciding that they were now eager to return to where the old gatorman village of Yokté used to be in Widower’s Wood, and where they already knew a third Orgoth site existed, the adventurers now quickly took stock of what supplies and allies they intended to bring along, including their soulless Iosan guest, Terys Lloryrr, as well as Juta, the young Tharn they had saved from vektiss earlier that year.

Before they set out, William then took care to explain to Terys Lloryrr that Samira and he intended to attempt to use him as the fifth host for the firefly-spirits, and inquired whether the Iosan would prefer to back out of accompanying them under these circumstances. But the Iosan simply gazed unfazed at the gatorman bokor-chieftain, his black-in-black eyes quite unreadable, and firmly restated his attention to come with them.

Setting out into another heavy autumn rain, the group then started its journey southward to the edge of Widower’s Wood. They were a bit of a stranger crew than usual this time, too, what with Samira and Terys sticking out as the only somewhat civilised-looking travellers in their hooded black robes and greatcoat respectively, as well as because of the warpwolf Bacarl and the eerily alien woldwyrd at Samira’s sides. The journey was not fast as it had been during the summer, as rain-soaked weeds clung to their legs and the ground became an ever deeper morass the closer they got to the first trees. In fact, the gatormen William and Odrys breathed a sigh of relief once the first pools and bogs became visible and they could begin to propel themselves forward in the water with their powerful tails instead of slogging through mud. Of course, they still had to account for the slower progress Bacarl and Terys made, and soon decided to find an at least moderately dry piece of elevated ground to set up camp for the night.

Darkness eventually settled over them, and for once it was quite complete, with neither the Glimmerwood fireflies and luminescent lichen nor One-Tree’s radiant ghost willow penetrating the gloom. And it was probably the very fact that the adventurers’ previous journeys, as well as their very home, did not allow them to get used to such deep darkness, that allowed William to be caught unawares while he was standing guard, as he only noticed they were not alone when something long and sticky suddenly speared out of the night, yanked him off his feet and dragged him off the little islet they had set up camp upon with a surprised yelp. Another sticky lashed out, dragging the surprised Odrys from where he had curled up for the night, and a third found the Tharn Roza, taking her on a short, spluttering journey through the swamp, until a looming shape rose up from the bog and closed its enormous flabby jaws on her.

William quickly struggled to his feet, angry that he had failed to spot the ambushers, and tried to blast the swamp troll that had caught him with spells, but missed the half-submerged creature in the gloom. Undeterred, the bokor proceeded to cast the Hand of Fate spell on himself, and thus strengthened laid into the troll with the staff Corpse-Eater and his powerful jaws, certainly making the troll regret its greedy attempt to hook what must have looked like a particularly big morsel.

Odrys, too, was back on his feet in a moment, and though he was unarmed, the powerful gatorman warrior tore into the troll with bare hands, toothed jaws, and a vengeance, making the creature wilt under his furious attack. Roza was still helplessly trapped in a troll’s jaws, but Samira sent Bacarl to her aid, twisting the warpwolf’s body for increased speed to make up for his slow progress in the swamp, and cast a spell on the woldwyrd to ready it for swift retaliation in case more trolls were lurking in the dark.

The troll who had caught Roza did not fail to notice the approach of the warpwolf awkwardly splashing through the bog, and since it had its jaws firmly clamped on its prize already, decided to try and make a run for it. Unfortunately, it was too slow, and Bacarl’s jaws tore its back open as it attempted to withdraw. Even such a grievous wound was not enough to down a creature as hardy as a troll, however, and it seemed to know it had the advantage of speed in the swampy terrain, so it did not stop its attempt to flee even as Roza was still struggling to escape from its flabby maw.

In the meantime, Odrys finished tearing apart the troll that had tried to eat him with a fitting reply from his own jaws, and with a furious roar the warrior propelled himself through the water to his chieftain’s side, where another troll succumbed to the gatorman’s berserk rage in just two more blows.

Samira then directed her woldwyrd to follow the troll trying to make its escape with Roza, blasting the creature with disruptive energies fired from the construct’s central eye, and drew off the building blind rage from Bacarl to keep him at the troll’s heels, though even then the warpwolf was no match for the swamp dweller’s speed.

Realising the peril Roza was in, William ran and swam after her as fast as he could now, after placing his enhancing spell on Odrys. But the Tharn shaman was not the helpless prey the troll had hoped for, and finally managed to force herself out from its jaws, and promptly used her own magic to pull back the blood the troll’s bite and claws had shed. And not too soon, either, as the troll, either too greedy or too stupid to give up, immediately clawed at Roza to capture her once more, but the wild swings failed to connect with the newly-restored shaman.

Then Odrys was on the swamp troll, slavering with gleeful rage, and the last attacker swiftly found its demise, ripped apart by the gatorman berserker’s jaws and claws.

Once the adventurers had then made sure that there were no more perils lurking in the dark, William decided to spend the little time that was left before dawn to cut apart the trolls’ carcasses, extracting their hearts to make theriacs of health, having become quite fond of what a boon these talismans were in battle. He was finished a little after dawn and packed the hearts away in his satchel to give them time to cure.

Even with their relatively slow progress though the swamp, the adventurers reached the area where Yokté had been with a few hours left to spare before nightfall, aided by the increased awareness of the land granted by the firefly-spirits they had joined themselves to. Unlike the last time they had been at Yokté, the concealing magics imbued in the Orgoth steles now seemed to struggle against the adventurers’ sight, and they easily spotted the vine-overgrown sinister shape rearing from the swamp. Puzzled questions by Terys and Juta did reveal that the steles were still protected from discovery by those who weren’t hosts to fireflies, however, even when they were almost close enough to touch the steles – except Juta suddenly exclaimed that she could see a shimmering shape in the air as Terys approached. Noting this, William waved the soulless Iosan back, and indeed it seemed to be that his presence at least partially disrupted the stele’s magic, though not enough to make it fully fade into view.

In preparation for their assault, William then noted the position of all three steles in an attempt to locate the central chamber, while Odrys, ever the straightfoward thinker, simply picked out a likely spot and began to dive and dig to find stone hatches leading downward, though he was unsuccessful in this, even when William confirmed that he seemed to have been looking in the right area. The adventurers discussed whether it might be a good idea, let alone necessary, to drain the swamp to access the Orgoth site, but quickly rejected the idea again, as this would not only require the site to be ringed with a dam, but also somewhere to put the water, which was not a trivial matter at all in this place of stagnant pools and lakes.

As dusk was now fast approaching, the adventurers once again sought a spot of dry, elevated ground, well removed from the circumference described by the Orgoth steles, and set up camp, with William cautioning them to have double watches that night, just in case something came creeping out from the Orgoth site.

It was while the adventurers were chewing on their rations that Roza then noted that Terys Lloryrr’s inscrutable gaze kept straying into the night, and, as was her custom, asked him “Are you all right, darling?”

Terys looked at Roza then, and in his flat voice said that he had heard that term, “darling,” before, said by parents to their children, but that no-one had ever used it when talking to him, and that he didn’t think he fully grasped its meaning. He then said he was wondering about the prophecy an Iosan priest had given him before he had set out from his country, and which he had first told the adventurers upon their return from the sacral vault near Yokté – “The empty vessel must travel to the lake that glows in the light of a lone tree.” Now that William had told him that the adventurers intended to try to use him as a host for the fireflies, Terys was wondering what this would do to him.

Listening to Roza’s and Terys’s conversation, William then suggested that the Iosan might at the very least gain a sense of belonging from the experience, to which Terys replied that those afflicted as he was were normally only used as weapons in Ios, and that he could not fathom any other sense of belonging, either. At this point Roza offered her own comfort, savage in the way of the Tharn but probably the more honest for it, saying that her own people had pledged themselves as weapons to the Circle in a not dissimilar fashion, but that she was grateful for the purpose it gave her, as well as for the protection the druids’ workings gave her people.

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This campaign has such a compelling mystery at its core. It definitely has not gone the way I expected. Can’t wait to read what happens next!

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The Tale of One-Tree, Chapter XII, Part II - The Depths of Yokté

After an undisturbed night, the adventurers resumed their search for an entryway leading down into the Orgoth site under where gatorman village used to be. Even though William and Samira had identified the largest island in these parts of the swamps of Widower’s Wood to also be at the very centre of the three Orgoth steles with their scowling faces, Odrys’s digging and diving had so far failed to find anything but mud, clinging weeds, and tenacious roots clawed into the sodden soil.

Remembering how the presence of the soulless Iosan, Terys, seemed to have a slight disruptive effect on the magics that rendered the steles invisible to most, William took the Iosan to the central island now, but there was no apparent change. Odrys resumed his digging, but to the warrior’s frustration his efforts still yielded up nothing but mud. Samira then suggested poling the water for a concealed structure, but even when Odrys put all his weight on the rod it only sank into mud and more mud, and never met any resistance that suggested a sunken stone structure like at the sites in Glimmerwood or on the plains to the east of One-Tree.

William then began to ponder that the Orgoth, surely, must have been living beings all these centuries ago when they walked these lands, and unless this area had not been flooded yet at the time, they must have built their fastness in such a way as to accommodate an entryway above the waterline. The steles were obviously too narrow to accommodate any kind of stairs leading down into the earth, but there were indeed several large mangrove trees and a few more weed-choked islands that might now conceal a hidden hatch. It was only when Roza reminded the bokor-chieftain that they had dug up and tipped over one of the steles at the other two sites that the scales fell from the gatorman’s eyes and he realised that they had been so preoccupied with the question of how to enter a submerged site that they had completely forgotten that they would have to negate the concealing magics first.

William then picked out the southernmost stele for their efforts, and though it was grueling work to dredge the heavy, sodden mud from the base of the stele, with the combined strength of the warrior Odrys and the warpwolf Bacarl at their disposal the sun had just barely reached its zenith somewhere in the clouds above when the stele finally submitted to being pushed, and after first only tilting at a drunken angle it finally slid underneath the murky water with an ignominious squelching sound.

At that moment the other two steles suddenly sprang into sharp focus in the distance, confirming that the magic had indeed failed. Quickly, the adventurers urged the Tharn Juta and Terys to get behind them, as the adventurers’ success depended on their survival, with either Terys or Juta intended as the vessel for the spirit-fireflies the adventurers were certain were being held by the Orgoths’ revenant torturers here.

Spreading out, the adventurers watched the large central island in tense anticipation. Several minutes passed, then William heard a soft sloshing sound, and a moment later dreads began clambering to the surface from submerged passageways, rivulets of muddy water spilling from their gaping mouths. The adventurers gripped their weapons tightly as a trio of masked and robed excruciators rose from the ground next, each of them taking joining one group of dreads.

The excruciator at the centre of the formation then raised a gaunt hand and pointed at William, addressing the gatorman chieftain-bokor, who was still bearing the envoy stone taken from the Greylord Oleg Ruskinovich in Glimmerwood, and demanded in a hollow voice that they drop their weapons and abase themselves.

Stepping forward and dropping to one knee, William attempted to feign submission, though it seemed he could not swallow his pride sufficiently to deceive the excruciators, and with a wave of its hand the spectre that had spoken now waved its troops forwards, with either of the two other excruciators taking a trio of dreads and leading them to either flank of their leader so as to encircle the adventurers, while the last three dreads formed a line in front of the lead excruciator, right where the island they had emerged on dipped under the surface of the swamp.

Energised by the prospect of battle, the shaman Roza called on the Devourer to grant her swiftness to counter their foes’ movements, knowing well that it was important not to allow dreads to build up momentum for a charge. At the warlock Samira’s command, armoured spikes erupted from the warpwolf Bacarl’s hide, and she sent the warbeast splashing into the water so it would reach the next island closer to the dreads before they did. Samira also cast a spell on herself to react more quickly to any opportunities that might present themselves, and last but not least sent her woldwyrd forward to secure her left flank and, hopefully, get the chance to fire at the undead Orgoth while they were still trudging through the clinging mud. William, in the meantime, abandoned his exposed position and quickly returned to the centre of the adventurers’ formation, the swamp no impediment to the gatorman swiftly propelling himself through the water with his powerful tail, and cast a spell on Odrys to twist the skeins of fate to make him even more of a force on the battlefield than the mighty warrior-berserker already was.

Wishing to prevent the Orgoth from surrounding the adventurers, Roza then summoned a zephyr to carry her as far into the swamp as possible, and though the spell sent her splashing into the bog with its treacherous roots and clinging weeds hidden under the brown surface, it had served its purpose, placing the Tharn shaman within reach of the small island the Orgoth on their right flank were heading to. Odrys followed the Tharn’s lead, and easily moved into a supporting position, while Bacarl gained the island where he could meet the dreads’ charge. Samira moved the hovering woldwyrd into position on her left flank next, but with the excruciator there still screened behind dreads, fired the construct’s eye ray at the iron-fleshed undead instead. To her shock, the ray failed to penetrate the grey flesh despite the warlock pouring power into it, and Samira now realised that her left flank was woefully exposed, with the dreads likely going to make short work of the woldwyrd. It was at that point that the Iosan soulless, Terys, realised the peril the warlock was in, and abandoned his position to try to reach Samira’s side in time.

The dreads at the centre of the advanced Orgoth undead now advanced into the swamp at the goading of their spectral master, clearly seeking to engage Bacarl as the largest obvious threat. The excruciator, in the meantime, flanked his defenders and began casting the black-rune spells of torment at the warpwolf that the adventurers had seen some of these undead use before, but thankfully both spells missed, their power expending itself harmlessly as they flew past their mark. This was just what Samira had been waiting for, and the guarding spell she had cast earlier now expended itself, allowing the woldwyrd to blast the exposed excruciator with its eye ray, though the construct failed to down the masked spectre.

On the adventurers’ right flank, the dreads barely managed to gain the island where Odrys and Roza were waiting for them, but the two warriors’ at seeing their foes fail to build momentum for a charge did not last long, as the excruciator in command of these dreads now used its ability to phase through solid matter as well as through water to rush past their line to sink its serrated blades into Odrys’s hide, their touch wracking the gatorman with agony and sending his muscles trembling.

Seeing that the adventurers’ right flank was already under attack, William quickly rushed to Odrys’s side, but in doing so also realised that he was now also within reach of the excruciator who had earlier attempted to cow him. Relishing the chance to punish the creature’s impertinence, William focused his will into a boneshaker spell, but though the missile struck true, the excruciator did manage to twist out of the way of the worst of the blast. Unfortunately for the creature, William’s power was far from expended, and the second boneshaker slammed into the excruciator just as it was recovering from the first, tearing it to pieces and sending its mask splashing into the mud.

Seeing the dreads were upon them, Roza summoned another zephyr that placed her within range to charge the undead warriors. Springing forward, she sank the life-trader blade William had made for her into the dread, following up with the finisher blade she had crafted herself, and sliced the undead’s metal-veined muscles from its dried-out bones.

Splashing through the water, Samira rushed forward as fast as she could now to support Bacarl at the centre of the adventurers’ formation, and focused her will on Bacarl to send him leaping at the advancing dreads, the warpwolf’s claws and jaws making short work of one of them and still finding the time to lash out at a second. Odrys, in the meantime, was bellowing a furious challenge at the excruciator that had dared to wound him, and the robed undead did not last more than a moment when the gatorman’s jaws, magical axe and spiked shield began their rending work. So great was Odrys’s momentum that it carried him all the way to Roza’s side on the small island where the shaman-bloodweaver had engaged the dreads, but in his fury Odrys failed to sink his teeth into another grey-fleshed abomination.

The dreads on the adventurers’ left flank now waded forward to support those of their number already doing battle with Bacarl, while their excruciator-commander surprisingly circled around behind them instead of going for the warpwolf or his warlock. Bacarl did not wait for the dreads to make the first strike and lashed out, spurred by Samira’s will, and even though he failed to rip another dread apart, the badly mauled undead still failed to return any of the blows it has received, and even its fellow abominations failed to inflict more than superficial cuts on the warbeast. On the adventurers’ right flank, in the meantime, the dreads fared even worse, missing all their strikes against Odrys and Roza.

William now charged in to support Bacarl against the dreads, but when he swung the staff Corpse-Eater the undead stepped out of the way with surprising nimbleness, and William realised too late that in his eagerness to join the fray he had neglected to cast a guiding spell on himself first.

Roza, in the meantime, continued to carve up the dread before her, and though her life-trader blade did not cleave deep despite being fed with her own blood, her finisher blade, empowered by her bloodweaver magic, found its mark, and the fell runes she had inscribed on the blade made certain that this was an injury the dread would not get up from again.

At the centre of the battle, Samira now made Bacarl lash out indiscriminately at the dreads closing in on him from three sides, hoping to at least weaken them before they could cut Bacarl apart, and sent her woldwyrd after the surviving excruciator, though the construct’s eye ray failed to down the robed spectre. Drawing in the primal power that had been building inside Bacarl and the warpwolf, Samira then infused it back into Bacarl’s flesh, undoing some of the damage he had suffered, and shrouded herself in a spinning vortex of high winds and storm-tossed clods of dirt in preparations for the dreads coming for her next.

While Odrys continued his grisly work with glee and hacked another dread apart, the last excruciator then passed through the line of his dreads, the water he was wading through not even rippling in his wake, and plunged his knife into William where he stood at Bacarl’s side. The undead torturer then pointed his blood-slick blade at the gatorman chieftain-bokor and, in a deathly voice, snarled the words “Perish, false envoy,” and with a crack the Orgoths’ envoy stone William had been carrying all this time since the battle with the Greylords’ forces in Glimmerwood shattered, finally ending his ability to understand the revenants’ hollow-voiced pronunciations.

Just as Samira had expected, one of the dreads that had not quite been in Bacarl’s reach now circled around the warpwolf and came for the warlock, but the wind she had summoned tore at the creature, making its swings go wide. Another dread who had not quite reached Bacarl yet also peeled off from the melee and went for the woldwyrd, and though the floating construct was quite nimble, one of the undead’s bladed limbs still struck home, sawing at the ropes holding the construct together. Bacarl and William also suffered further blows, but the dreads could not pierce their armoured hides and inflicted only shallow cuts instead.

William, seeing himself finally face to face with a target that his spells could reach, proceeded to blast the excruciator who had ended his envoy status to bits with a volley of well-aimed spells, though he did overtax his abilities for once and was left reeling after the last spell had caused the excruciator’s mask to plop into the mire and sink out of sight.

The Iosan, Terys, had at this point managed to gain the island Samira and Bacarl were on as well, and came to the warlock’s aid, though his thin-bladed sword failed to find the flesh of the dread that was slicing wildly at Samira.

The adventurers’ right flank was at this time nearly secure, with a single dread still making lunging strikes at Roza and Odrys. It was only fitting that the bloodweaver-shaman answered the creature’s blades with her own, but even when her empowered finisher blade struck deep into its torso, the dread was miraculously still standing. Samira, in the meantime, was desperately firing the woldwyrd’s eye ray at the dread intent on cutting it apart, but even when the warlock applied her full concentration the dread’s metal-infused flesh proved impervious. Sensing a chance to ease the pressure in a different part of the battlefield instead, however, Samira also directed Bacarl to pick up one of the dreads facing the warpwolf and throw it at the dread that was locking down her woldwyrd, but the mud-slicked undead slipped from Bacarl’s grasp. Enraged by his failure, Bacarl next clamped his jaws down on another dread’s head instead, ripping it off in a welter of ancient bone and snapping wires. Emboldened by this victory, Samira then tried to equal Bacarl’s success by swinging her voulge at the dread in front of her, but that undead proved just as elusive as the one Bacarl had unsuccessfully tried to get hold of just a few moments ago.

Realising that all the excitement was now taking place where he wasn’t, the berserker-warrior Odrys gave the lone dread he and Roza were facing short shrift, tearing its head off with his jaws in a satisfying echo of Bacarl’s accomplishment, and then made a dash to the Samira’s side as well, the water churning and foaming in his passage as he propelled himself forward with powerful sweeps of his tail. So swift was the gatorman in his fury that he gained the island Samira stood on with enough strength to spare that he could bury the axe Manyfangs in the dread’s shoulder and pierce its clammy flesh with the spikes on his shield, but even in Odrys’s rage this particular dread’s head refused to part from its spine when the gatorman fastened his teeth on it and tore and pulled, so the monster was still moving when Odrys spat it back out into the mud.

The dread Odrys had just mangled struggled back onto its feet and took swings at Samira and Odrys, but once again the whirlwind Samira had called up made its swings go wild. Bacarl, too, fared well against the surviving dreads’ assault, thought the woldwyrd did not, and the construct began to list as its animating magic began to wilt under the dread’s strikes.

Terys, meanwhile, flanked by Odrys on one side and Samira on the other, pointed his blade at the dread’s tattered body and told his companions to strike right there before plunging his own blade into that very spot, though the Iosan’s blade did not seem to be a telling blow.

Roza now summoned another blast of wing to carry her closer to William and Bacarl, close enough for her to make passage even through the sucking morass to sink her blades into the dread striking left and right at the warpwolf and the bokor-chieftain, ending the undead with her finisher blade. Samira also renewed her direction to Bacarl to pick up and throw the last dread before him, and this time the warpwolf’s claws closed around the undead’s small but heavy body. Taking aim at the dread still busy carving the woldwyrd apart, however, Bacarl missed his mark, though the at the end of his arc the undead came down head-first, its great weight finally snapping its neck as its head plunged into the muck, leaving its suddenly stiff and motionless legs and bare feet rising up from the brown water as a darkly comical monument.

Samira herself now followed Terys’s directions as she swung her voulge, the primal power she was drawing from Bacarl infusing her strike and the dread’s body shattering apart under the blow. With the path to the last dread now open, Odrys immediately leapt from Samira’s side and went for the undead facing the woldwyrd, and while the abomination had been easily able to weather the wold’s eye rays, its steely veins were no match at all for a gatorman berserker’s jaws and axe.

Taking stock of their surroundings, the adventurers saw that no other threats had emerged. And when they walked over to the island where they had seen the excruciators and dreads first emerge, they now saw the familiar outlines of hatches leading downward, though these were filled to the brim with brown-tinted swamp water.

After briefly discussing how to proceed, and with Samira busily engaged summoning the energies of Orboros to mend Bacarl and the woldwyrd, William laid the staff Corpse-Eater aside, since its length would make it an ineffective weapon under water. Odrys, too, sighed as he put the axe Manyfangs and his shield on the ground, though he reckoned that there were few threats he could not best with jaws and claws alone, and if another cage of spirit-fireflies was under their feet, as the adventurers were altogether certain it would be, he knew that such a cage’s walls would not stand up to his bare hands much longer than they would to the head of a swung axe.

Securing themselves with ropes to make sure they would not lose their way in the murky water, the gatormen then took flasks of bottled light and prepared for their descent, warning their companions that they might well come with a swarm of fireflies at their back biting and stinging at them, and that Roza should stand ready to perform the blood ritual on Terys when they arrived.

The murky waters sloshed quietly as William and Odrys slipped underneath the surface, their tails softly thudding against the nearly unseen stone walls closing in on them as they dove. In the cold glow of their bottled lights, they saw familiar stone steps beneath, and then the flasks’ dim glow became increasingly supplanted by the familiar brilliance of the cage of fireflies filtering through the murk as the stairwells opened up into the now so familiar chamber of pillars, galleries and walkways – but what that light also revealed, muted though it was by the mud-tinted waters, were the hulking misshapen forms of many more dreads silently ascending the stairs, and though the water slowed their advance down to a painfully slow crawl, it would only be little more than mere moments before they would gain the surface.

Churning the water with their tails, William and Odrys quickly turned about at this sight, and with their superior speed broke the surface just a few heartbeats later. Drawing in hasty gulps of air, the two gatormen clambered to their feet and quickly seized their discarded weapons, and Roza, Samira and Terys too raised their own weapons in grim anticipation as they listened to their friends’ gasped warning.

They were coming, and the battle for Yokté was just beginning.

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The Tale of One-Tree, Chapter XII, Part III - The Depths of Yokté

Using the time the gatormen’s ability to swim swiftly had bought them, the adventurers surrounded the southernmost hatch leading down into the sunken Orgoth facility, and stood weapons drawn and raised in tense anticipation. Samira also cast a new watcher spell so her warbeasts might the more quickly respond to the assault that surely was immiment, and Roza once again called on the gifts of the Devourer, this time choosing to channel the strength to drive her enemies before her. However, the moments passed one after another, and nothing emerged from the dark waters. The bokor-chieftain William squinted suspiciously at the three rectangular pools, trying to discern any movement underneath the surface, but the waters remained eerily still, and so he contented himself with merely casting guiding spells on himself and Roza, renewing them every few moments, while also sustaining the fate-twisting magic he had placed on Odrys earlier, though William’s fingers did grip the staff Corpse-Eater tightly in growing frustration.

Then the tension was finally broken when the hooded form of an excruciator wielding one of the strange Orgoth spears silently rose from the ground next to the hatch to the north of the adventurers, effortlessly passing though solid earth in the manner of these foul undead. Once it had fully emerged, the masked spectre leveled its spear at the adventurers in challenge, but held its ground.

Bellowing an challenge of his own, the gatorman warrior Odrys, relishing the prospect of battle, immediately responded and rushed the undead, though covering the distance did mean he had to expend his strength on running rather than bringing the full force of his jaws, axe and spiked shield to bear in a devastating charge. But the warrior’s prowess was still more than sufficient, and after his jaws had ripped half of the undead away, a strike with the axe Manyfangs ended it for good.

To the adventurer’s misfortune, however, the emergence of the excruciator turned out to have been a ruse to split the adventurers’ forces apart, and groups of dreads now began clambering out of the water, where they must have been waiting just out of sight in the darkness. Three came up behind Odrys, their bladed limbs hacking at the gatorman’s back and wounding him severely, though they failed to fell him. Three more dreads emerged from the hatch next to adventurers, who had been momentarily distracted by Odrys’s charge, and went for the warpwolf Bacarl, William, and Samira. The dread engaging Bacarl had barely managed to reach him by the time Samira’s guarding spell was unleashed, allowing the warpwolf to pre-empt the undead’s attack with a swift bite that nearly tore the dread in half before it could answer with a strike of its own. The dread that came for William took swings at the less-than-agile bokor-chieftain, but failed to penetrate his thick hide with its enchanted limb blades, while the one that had gone for Samira was too much slowed down by having had to come up the submerged stairs to accomplish anything but getting the blackclad-warlock within reach of its arms.

More dreads came up the hatch to the east of the adventurers’ main forces, and though they lumbered as swiftly towards Roza as they could, they could not quite reach her, though their presence at least served to prevent the shaman-bloodweaver from supporting her blackclad-warlock, as she would then have to leave the adventurers’ flank undefended.

And all the while these dreads were keeping the adventurers busy, two more spear-wielding excruciators had been rising up from the ground, one behind them and one secure behind the dreads on the adventurers’ eastern flank, and both of them immediately began to hurl black-runed spells into the fray. The first spell struck Samira’s woldwyrd, badly cracking the construct’s stonework, then another mystic bolt flew at Terys, making the Iosan give off an eery howl as he convulsed that was somehow more just wrong than an expression of torment. The third excruciator flung its magic at Samira, similarly sending the warlock into convulsions even as she managed to at least partially dodge the full force of the blast and passed off the rest of the damage, though not the pain, to Bacarl. Samira’s woldwyrd failed to strike true with an answering blast from its lambent eye, but seemed to have at least thrown off the excruciator’s aim, as the next spell it flicked at Samira’s back missed.

Odrys wheeled, furious at himself for having fallen for the Orgoth ruse and having recklessly abandoned his friends, and vented his rage by closing his jaws on one of the three dreads who were now preventing him from running back to his chieftain’s side. The axe Manyfangs seemed to gain a life of its own as it rose and fell and rose and fell on its own accord in the warrior’s hand, smashing the dread to the ground, whereupon Odrys pulverised its head with the edge of his spiked shield before snapping his jaws at the next dread.

William, in the meantime, renewed the guiding spells on himself and Roza, and both snapped and struck at the dread facing him, though he failed to tear its iron-infused flesh. However, the bokor-chieftain also realised that one of the two excruciators who had risen from the ground behind him was within reach of his magic, and as fortune had it he could even get it into view without taking his eyes off the dread. Dredging the depths of his potential, William flung a boneshaker spell at the excruciator who had cast its torturous magic at Terys, but did not yet accomplish more than making the spectre reel.

On the adventurers’ eastern flank, Roza now stalked forward to engage the three dreads coming for her, the strikes of her enchanted blades making the central undead stagger backwards. The shaman swiftly pursued, drawing power both from her blood as well as her soul to strengthen her blows, and after her first strike had already sliced off half the dread’s head, her second one felled it altogether thanks to the combined might of the deathly runes she had inscribed on her blade. And with the momentum of her powerful strikes having carried Roza right into the middle of the dreads, the excruciator who had been hiding behind them was now open to her magic. Drawing on the very core of her power, Roza threw her life-devouring magic at the thing, though the initial damage to its animating force was merely superficial, as the excruciator was able to dodge the brunt of the attack.

The soulless Iosan Terys, still wracked with pain, could barely expend sufficient breath to gasp insightful directions to William and Samira to aid them in the fight, and hung back for the time being, well aware that the dreads were foes he was not well equipped to handle. Samira, who was suffering just as much as the Iosan, was still able to direct her woldwyrd to fire its eye ray at the excruciator before it, but could only score a glancing blow as the spectre twisted out of the way in time. Fortunately, Bacarl proved more effective, as under his warlock’s direction he bit the head of the dread before him clean off even as his body was growing bony spikes to ward off further blows. Rushing up behind the dreads engaging William and Samira, the warpwolf then proceeded to lay into the back of the dread before Samira, but even as Bacarl picked the thing up in his jaws, bit down, and spat it out onto the mossy ground, only to pick it up again in his claws before flinging it back into the mud, the dread never stopped twitching until Samira infused her limbs with the power drawn from her beasts and hacked the dread to pieces in a frenzy of blows with her voulge.

William, in the meantime, was still proving impervious to the dread’s strikes, as they kept bouncing off his thick hide. The dreads attacking Odrys and Roza fared little better, their blades failing to bite through the gatorman warrior’s hide, or failing to find the Tharn shaman-bloodweaver altogether.

The spear-wielding excruciators at this point also deigned to enter the fray, but not only did the first fail to stick Samira with its sinisterly whispering spear, but the second, despite using its unparalleled ability to move over and through terrain, also failed to sink its spear into Bacarl despite a determined charge, and similarly could not strike the warpwolf with another of its foul spells.

The tide of battle was now clearly beginning to turn in the adventurers’ favour despite the Orgoth having second-guessed the ambush, as Odrys scissored another dread into pieces with two snaps of his jaws before beginning his vengeful work on the last dread facing him, though the undead miraculously remained standing after being struck both by the axe Manyfangs and the warrior’s spiked shield.

William renewed his guiding magic on himself and Terys, but still missed the dread sandwiched between himself and Bacarl with both his jaws and the staff Corpse-Eater. Frustrated but undaunted, the bokor-chieftain then flung another bone shaker spell at the excruciator who had just tried to strike Samira, and even as his spell finally crushed what passed for life from the thing, its disintegrating remains staggered towards the dread still on William’s flank, propelled by the bokor’s will, and the tip of the Orgoth spear it wielded struck true into the dread’s pallid flash before the spectre’s remains collapsed onto the ground.

Roza, finding herself with dreads on either side, now drew fresh strength from her blood, and opened a deep cut in the flesh of one of the undead before sinking her finisher blade into its torso, ending its cursed existence. She also managed to fling another life-draining spell at the excruciator who had rushed past her to attempt to strike Bacarl, but could do little damage, while Terys rushed into position in the centre of the adventurers’ lines, still holding back from the fight but quickly reeling off insightful stratagems to aid the adventurers in their struggles.

Samira then drew the raw power that had been building in her warbeasts back into herself before expending some to seal over the cracks in the woldwyrd’s stonework and sending her killing intent to Bacarl, who happily ripped and tore at the dread between himself and William. After Bacarl’s second strike, the metal-infused undead suddenly collapsed like a puppet that had had its strings cut, and it took William only a heartbeat to realise that that dread had been stuck with the Orgoth spear just moments ago – apparently these foul spears had a similar ability to weaken those they struck against impending destruction to what the staff Corpse-Eater granted.

With the Orgoth lines now facing total collapse, Samira next sent her woldwyrd at the excruciator that was trying to stick Bacarl with its spear, but inflicted only a glancing hit with its eye ray even at close range. Then Samira herself joined the fight and flung a force bolt at the excruciator that scattered its mask, spear, and ragged robes over the ground at her feet.

Now only two dreads remained. Bereft of further guidance they kept mindlessly attacking their last targets, and the one that Odrys was still facing managed to open a nasty wound on the gatorman’s flank, while Roza received an even worse cut that made her grunt and clutch at her arm in pain. Still, the shaman-bloodweaver not only still lived, but had managed to hold the adventurers’ eastern flank all on her own for the entirety of the battle.

And then the fight was over in just a few more moments when a raging Odrys first bit off the head of the last dread that was still keeping him from rejoining his friends and then hurled himself at the dread that had just cut Roza with a furious burst of speed. A swing of the axe Manyfangs sent the undead onto the muddy ground, where Odrys gleefully proceeded to cave in its head with the edge of his shield. And that, was that.

Silence once more enshrouded the swamp as the adventurers allowed themselves to sink to the ground, breathing heavily from the exertion of the second battle that day. Odrys quickly went around to bandage the wounded, taking a particularly careful look at Terys, who was, after all, intended as the recipient for the spirit-fireflies still trapped in the Orgoth dungeon below. Thankfully, the Iosan wasn’t as badly wounded as had first appeared, and William waved the Tharn Juta over to them again from where she had been hiding among the trees, even as Samira was circulating the power of Orboros through Bacarl, the woldwyrd, and herself, to mend both bone and stone.

William then went on to collect the Orgoth spears the excruciators had wielded, careful to touch them as little as possible while he wound them with rope and set them aside. Then Odrys and the bokor-chieftain picked up their flasks of bottled light again and made ready for another dive into the submerged Orgoth dungeon, with Terys standing ready at the edge of the hatch and their friends holding on to the ropes that would guide the gatormen on their way back.

As before, the gatormen were able to descend swiftly with powerful flicks of their tails, and as the stairs opened up into the central chamber, there was no more movement except for the fireflies incongruously dancing in the dark waters filling the filigree cage at the chamber’s core. Though unable to speak, both William and Odrys also noted that they could hear the fireflies’ buzzing even under water, and without any of the curious quality that sounds took on when you were fully submerged. Then Odrys waved at William to return to the surface, and waited for him to disappear upwards before gripping the cage’s mesh with his hands and prising it open.

Perhaps even a warrior as mighty as Odrys was a little tired after a day’s excavation and fighting, and it took him longer than expected to wrench the metal apart. Still, the fireflies finally came pouring through the widening gash in a furious cloud, and as before began to pinch and sting the gatorman’s flesh, their touch inflicting sharp pain despite Odrys’s armoured scales.

Quickly, Odrys began his retreat, and moments later was helped by his friends hauling at the rope when William broke the surface to tell them to make ready. Bacarl, Samira and Roza pulled with all their might, propelling Odrys and the cloud of fireflies enveloping him to the surface in a ball of blazing balefire, and then William stalked over to Terys and slashed at the Iosan’s arm with his ritual knife.

As the Iosan’s blood began to flow, the mass of fireflies at once rose from Odrys and transformed into a funnel cloud of swirling wings and glowing bodies, its pointed tip hungrily seizing upon the gash in Terys’s arm and channelling the entirety of the cloud into his flesh in a torrent of light. So swiftly did the blazing cloud disappear into the Iosan that the adventurers were still blinking away its afterimages several moments later, even as Terys slumped to the ground, his black-on-black eyes wide open and his mouth agape in a frozen expression of utter astonishment.

The adventurers, too, were seized by a sense of vertigo, and the world seemed to suddenly press in upon them, the stench of the swamp, the slightest stirrings of air, and the very shifting of the muddy ground under the soles of their feet now overpoweringly acute. The sensation passed after a few heartbeats, though this was more from them gaining familiarity with the sudden sharpening of their senses rather than any actual diminishment. At the same time, William, Roza and Samira felt a strange lessening of some indefinable disturbance that had been surrounding the Iosan, or perhaps it was not that he was now less, but more.

William quickly examined Terys, who was still laying motionless on the ground, and found he was breathing, though he also noted that, in contrast to the others who had joined themselves to the spirit-fireflies, the Iosan’s eyes were still the same bottomless wells of black (But perhaps, William reasoned, the Iosan’s eyes simply were too different to show the joining in the same manner as with them).

Gently shaking Terys by the shoulder now, the adventurers asked him whether he was all right, and he finally blinked before stammering that the world was suddenly everywhere, and that he saw all of their eyes glow. Terys then amended that it was not actually that the world was everywhere, but that it did not feel right any more, before seeming to realise that it was what he understood as feeling that was wrong, with everything now infused with meaning that had previously escaped him, like the swamp’s stench suddenly registering as disgusting rather than just a smell. Terys’s voice, too, had lost its previous toneless quality, as he now began to recollect how he had only been able to understand disgust as a rule that he had been taught by those raising him, and others like him, and that he had also seen – but not understood – a different quality of disgust in the faces of the Iosans taking care of him when he had been a child. Last but not least, Terys punctuated his rambling by pointing in the direction of One-Tree, clearly now feeling drawn to the village just as surely as the others, and asked what was over there.

Home is what’s over there, Samira told him.

Can we go there now, Terys asked.

Yes, Samira said, and smiled.

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The Tale of One-Tree, Chapter XII, Part IV - The Depths of Yokté

Though the adventurers were all yearning to return home to One-Tree after their victories this day, William still felt a vague sense of unease, and urged them to make sure their work was truly complete.

Obliging the bokor-chieftain, Samira sent her woldwyrd into the submerged dungeon, examining the site through the construct’s central eye as it silently passed through the still waters below. The site seemed identical to the one under Nemnoc and the one to the east of One-Tree in all respects, including the scores of small, empty niches in its outer walls, which somehow kept reminding William of soul cages.

After Samira had recalled her woldwyrd to the surface again, William suggested waiting till nightfall so they could check if something about the site changed after dark. To pass the time till then, the adventurers also decided to excavate the foundations of another stele despite their weariness, though when these labours were complete at dusk they seemed to have gained nothing more than another mask-covered stone pillar slowly settling into the boggy ground.

Still feeling unsettled, William then began to ponder what would be happening at One-Tree in the meantime, underneath which the adventurers feared a fourth Orgoth site was buried. The bokor-chieftain was wracked with apprehension, all the while realising that it would be impossible for the adventurers to return to One-Tree before another day had passed. Seeing his chieftain’s restlessness, Odrys also tried to assuage his fears by pointing out that chief Rawgash was still at One-Tree, and would provide any leadership they might need, and then got to work setting up camp on one of the larger dry islands rising from the swamp at the edge of the cleansed Orgoth site.

It did not take the adventurers long to find sleep after that day’s labours, though they did not neglect to take turns standing guard. But dusk had only just darkened into deep night when Samira, who had taken first watch, saw Terys suddenly sit bolt upright. The Iosan’s eyes flew open, a brilliant firefly blaze spilling from the orbs, and his jaw hung slack, with more fireflies dancing behind his gaping lips.

Free… a garbled voice issued from Terys’s mouth, a voice that was both unlike his erstwhile toneless speech as well as his as of this day more animated enunciation. Then he sat still again, staring straight ahead.

Quietly, Samira shook her companions awake so they could all bear witness to what was happening, before addressing the Iosan’s still form and repeating the one word he had said – free .

Us, us, us, us, the voice croaked, and then, free.

How can we free you? Samira asked, and then added whether the spirit-fireflies wanted to get freed from the soulless Terys, reasoning he might be a poor host after all.

Empty, the voice replied. William nodded sagely, and explained to the others that if Terys had truly been soulless as he had claimed, the firefly-spirits might be able to use his body to speak, as there was no spirit of Terys’s own that would interfere with them taking over that way. Then William repeated the question of how they could free the spirits.

Tree, Terys mumbled in reply. The adventurers glanced at each other, filled with an even stronger sense of unease as their fears about the threat to One-Tree seemed to have been confirmed.

Struck by a sudden inspiration, William then addressed Terys in Quor-gar, the gatorman tongue, and asked if that language meant anything to him.

Yes, the voice replied in the same language, and then groaned many, everywhere, us, us and us and us.

I promise to free you, William declared.

Yes, the reply came, and then, Hurts. Spikes. Cuts. Hurts. Once again the adventurers shared a glance, now filled with pity as they remembered how the excruciators had stabbed and sliced at the firefly swarms with those strange spears.

Bereft of an idea about what else to ask Terys, and realising that the spirits were still struggling with the concept of language, Samira took the others aside now, and wondered aloud whether any magic hiding the last Orgoth site underneath One-Tree had been disrupted now. Odrys agreed, reasoning that if the steles had protected the three Orgoth sites around One-Tree from detection, those sites might in turn have served to protect the core site, and with all three satellite sites now cleansed, that last veil of concealment might have been lifted now as well.

While the adventurers were discussing this, the scout Juta also chimed in, and asked them what they had been saying to the Iosan, which revealed to the adventurers that no-one but those who had joined themselves to the spirit-fireflies could hear the strange voice Terys was channelling. William nodded reassuringly at the Tharn then, and told her that, as a bokor, it was what he did.

The adventurers went back to their rest, but kept watching Terys for a while, until he slowly slumped backwards onto his pallet and closed his eyes again. The rest of the night passed without further incident, and when the last watch roused the others at dawn, Terys awoke none the wiser about what had happened in the previous night.

After a hasty breakfast, the adventurers broke camp and began a swift but wary march back to One-Tree, with their newly sharpened senses proving even more invaluable in ensuring swift progress than the insight they had gained from their previous joinings already had. Juta in particular again and again found herself nonplussed by the others’ ability to so easily sidestep all the unstable clumps of sodden soil, submerged roots and clinging weeds that kept threatening to trip her up.

All the while they were marching, the adventurers’ minds were still abuzz with questions. William mused aloud what they should do if they found another cage underneath One-Tree, and whether it might be an idea to perform the blood ritual of joining with all the folks of One-Tree. He did also concede that even though spirits were his business, he was wary of the repercussions of binding everybody to One-Tree in this way. Samira then interjected that not everybody was as strong-willed as them, and that there might be unpleasant side-effects to such an extensive joining, like everybody suddenly just mumbling free, free all the time.

William shook his head at Samira’s concerns, and reminded her that Terys was a special case since he had no spirit of his own, so there should not be any negative consequences to the other people from One-Tree. However, Samira was not willing to concede yet, and asked whether anybody would get anything worthwhile if everybody got to drink from the same well. The blackclad’s wisdom was persuasive, and William decided that the next joining, if one should become necessary, should be with Juta in order to maintain a balance among the natives of One-Tree with two joined gatormen and two joined Tharn.

The day had lengthened into afternoon while the adventurers were thus occupied with their thoughts, but as they approached the northern edge of Widower’s Wood, Samira suddenly realised she felt the stirrings of magic ahead, and uttered a warning to her companions. Only moments later, a bank of thick fog began to well up among the trees, with indistinct shapes bearing spears inside and a hulking figure leading them – a hulking figure with lambent green eyes.

Thinking he recognised the shape and the glow, William called out chief Rawgash’s name, and was rewarded by a guttural voice snarling the bokor-chieftain’s name in reply. Then the hulking figure began to shrink as Rawgash surrendered his primal form, while the fog began to dissipate, revealing a crowd of gatormen and Tharn standing behind the grizzled chieftain. The adventurers’ hearts sank as they realised that they not only knew all the faces that were being revealed, but that the entirety of One-Tree was standing before them.

Gloomily, the adventurers received chief Rawgash, as well as an utterly feral-looking former Greylord Oleg Ruskinovich. Rawgash then told them that, shortly past noon on the previous day, strange stone structures covered in scowling masks had suddenly appeared all over One-Tree. Then a blast of freezing cold had blown the door off the hut where the Greylord prisoner had been confined, and Oleg had rushed out, shouting that they had to leave, now, before summoning a concealing fog to cover their escape. Rawgash, too, had roared for everybody to run, and had then led the people of One-Tree south, since that was where he knew the other chieftain, William, had gone. They had not had time to take anything with them than what had been at hand, and Rawgash sorrowfully reported that some had not made it into the concealing cloud, though he did not know what had become of them.

Stricken with worry, rage and regret, the adventurers debated with the two chieftains what to do next. William suggested going to Blake’s Wheel, but Samira counselled against it, and said they should just send a runner to warn the human trading post instead. Odrys proposed going east, but that idea was quickly discarded, as the terrain was much more inhospitable there, and though the open grass steppe would prevent any monsters emerging from underneath One-Tree to sneak up on them, the volcanic activity in the area would make finding enough potable for an entire village water difficult. Nemnoc was also suggested, but going there would mean passing close to One-Tree, and that was a risk that William was not willing to take for the time being.

In the end, those advocating for going to Blake’s Wheel won out, though Samira’s caution that the trading post’s resources would be strained to the limit by such a large group of refugees was also heeded, and it was decided that should still send a runner ahead to announce their arrival so the people of Blake’s Wheel would not think they were going to be attacked.

It was at this point that chief Rawgash further counselled that no mere runner’s words would carry the same weight as the voice of one of the chieftains, though, so the adventurers conceded that it would be up to them to lead the people of One-Tree to Blake’s Wheel. Samira smirked that she hoped they wouldn’t do anything rash when an army of wild folk arrived on their doorstep, but William insisted on the plan, saying that the people of One-Tree would defend Blake’s Wheel, too, if the need arose.

And with that, they turned west, and began leading their weary, hungry and frightened people towards the bank of the Black River.

(I just did a quick count to see how long the One-Tree recap has got at this point, since it’s currently spread out over multiple files… it’s 61 regular-sized pages :astonished: )