Back to The Second Order of Dragonlords

Tree

The Second Order of Dragonlords Part 6
May 25, 2020

My love,

We’ve rested for a moment and have decided to move on. Briar is more calm now, and her friend Herkus is in the form of an owl-squirrel and… I guess he is taking up residence in her hair. I was going to offer to comb it for Briar later, but I’m glad I didn’t. Otherwise where would Herkus hide? What an odd thing to write.

Corinna led us towards a place called the Mossy Temple. I’m a little surprised we had traveled this far, but the Horn of Selesnya was important to us being heroes. Corinna told us that her friends and companions were in the temple, but a dryad and a few satyrs would be found inside as well. Oh, and I cannot forget more goatlings. Disgusting creatures. I’m sorry to say I memorized their forms.

The mossy temple is an old ruin covered in vines, weeds, and has trees sprouting from it. There are (or were) marble columns all around it. Most of them are still standing, but the rest are cracked and smashed. Shadow told me that this place is ancient and I believe him. Clio immediately felt uneasy but was insistent that we keep going.

Corinna showed us the entrance and passed through. As Shadow and Torag approached, two very large tree roots sprung up and began strangling them, but Briar and Clio took care of them pretty fast. Clio did that neat thing with her mind blades. Or energy blades. Or brain blades? She called them something once, but I don’t remember. Psychic? Psi… Something blades.

Briar had conjured a little ball of fire and burned away the one gripping onto Torag. She can make fire like me! But she has a lot more control over it than I do. Remember that time I tried lighting a campfire with my spell? I was picking splinters out of your cheeks for days! Actually, I told that story to Briar when she and I were looking around the temple and let it slip that I wear your Mask, that of my late husband. She was shocked and tried to say something, but I tried to brush past it. It’s not that it was a secret that you are no longer with me.

I… It’s been ten months. I know you’re with the Morninglord now. I’m trying to be strong. I’m trying to move on. Hold my head up, like you always said. I’m a hero now.

We got passed the strange tree roots at the entrance of the temple and found a large marble statue of Amalj’aa holding a mirror that aimed moonlight into the lower level of the temple. Actaeon tried to talk me into wearing a halfling Mask and lowering me with a rope, but just as I was about to succumb to the peer pressure, Torag found another path behind the statue. Corinna told us that what Torag found was the path to the temple basement where her friends were.

Beyond the statue was a large pool. Actaeon said it was an old bathhouse. It absolutely stunk, having probably not been cleaned in centuries. As Actaeon crossed it, a weird gray slime jumped at him. More of those awful tree roots wrapped around him and dragged him under the murky water. I shouted to my friends and struck the slime with holy fire, but Actaeon was gone!

Torag ran into the water to free Actaeon, pulling him up just as another root pulled Torag in next. Shadow and Corinna fired arrows, killing a slime, while Briar rushed in and burned away the other. Clio chopped down the tree root closest to her. Only a moment later, Torag burst from the water, having shredded the root with his bare hands while holding his breath.

And then something awful happened to me. Something I’m a little ashamed of. The gray slimes. They were so… gross. They reminded me of Mother’s cooking. Remember when she made that… what did she call it? I don’t remember. Anyway, I threw up. Dia was kind enough to tell me she’d omit that from the tales she would write about us. Briar held my hair back. That was nice.

Corinna showed us the stairs leading to the basement and we descended. In the depts, we found the most magnificent view. The room is lit by moonlight from the statue’s mirror above, light enough that we could see fairly well. In the center of the room was a very large Tree stump, hewn down in a past age and overgrown with leaves, vines, berries, and mushrooms. Unlike the earthy and rotten smell above, this place smells very pleasant.

That feeling of pleasantness withdrew immediately. Actaeon was leading the way and asked Briar to come with him as she had experience in natural things like this place. Ahead of us, we saw a young man pursued by two of those ghastly goatlings. Actaeon quickly threw his javelins – the two that I had bought him! – and killed the goatlings without much effort. Some more attacked them from behind, but Briar cast a spell and sent them flying. Two more goatlings bit into the young man and he fell to the ground, bleeding. Torag, Shadow, and I ran in as fast as we could. I said a quick prayer to stop the man’s bleeding while Torag and Shadow dispatched the enemies.

Corinna came up and recognized the man. It was her friend, Sostrate. Briar fed Sostrate one of the healing berries she found on the Tree stump to wake him. He told us where the other people were being kept. We asked Dia to watch over him while we looked around.

Briar burned the bodies of the goatlings as a sacrifice to her god. Actaeon helped her in his own strange way (by cutting off their hands and collecting them). Torag started sniffing to look around. Shadow helped him, and they both found a strange smell coming from a staircase leading up to another area. They continued scouting around while I tended to Sostrate’s injuries. Clio…

Clio seemed so sad. She stared silently at the Tree stump for a while before Briar approached her. I am sure that the stump was once a great tree, but someone had cut it down to a waist-high stump. It was covered in clover and surrounded by different plants. Clio and Briar spoke but in a language I did not understand. Only later did Clio tell me what they said. The stump was the remains of a birthing Tree of another dryad. Dryads, I guess, are connected to their one Tree. The dryad who came from this Tree perished when someone chose to cut it down.

At length, Torag and Shadow reported what they found. Footprints led in the direction Sostrate had indicated. Our group followed the path to an alcove of mushrooms. There we found eight more of the young teenagers, all paired together, flirting and giggling together. Actaeon and Torag went to step forward but Clio and Briar called to them. They said the mushrooms had a weird toxin in them that would make you lightheaded and woozy.

Clio also noticed a strangeness in their glazed eyes. She said that the mushrooms likely were making them act strange, but she could also recognize some magical power clouding their minds. It seems that other nymphs like Clio had the ability to charm people, and that was what happened to these kids. They waved stupidly at us before going back to their… what’s the word. Not lovers. Significant others? They doesn’t seem… Well, it’s difficult to put into words. Their attraction to each other seemed flighty and forced. It wasn’t real.

I suggested that we leave them behind. They were obviously not going anywhere. Actaeon and Torag tried to drag some of them away, but the kids just started punching and kicking. A few more goatlings around a corner saw us and tried attacking, but Shadow and I put them down without effort. We opted to leave the kids behind, asking Dia, Corinna, and Sostrate to watch over them.

We had two paths in the temple left to explore: one to the west through the cave, and one up the stairs from where that strange smell came. Shadow suggested it smelled like something cooking, and we all came to a horrible realization: the goatlings chasing Corinna outside the temple were trying to eat her. We came up with a quick plan. Briar and I would investigate upstairs in disguise while the others remained downstairs and waited in case something should attack.

I hid around a corner to undress, making sure that Clio and Shadow were not looking at me. Then I wore the goatling’s Mask. This is probably the most awful Mask I’ve ever worn. I must have looked hideous! Clio commented that I was covering up my stomach. I guess that wasn’t necessary. The fur on this horrible Mask was covering up enough of-

Briar turned herself into an owl-squirrel, too, just like Herkus. Herkus was in Clio’s care while Briar jumped up onto my shoulder. We crept upstairs while our companions waited below, moving as silently as we could. My cloven hooves kept making taps on the stones, but the sounds from the new corridor we found ourselves in muffled our movement. Behind one door, I could hear more goatlings. I had a feeling I could have fought them off without too much trouble, but I didn’t want to make a racket just yet. Briar snuck forward, watching down the halls for me.

At the end of the hall was another passage to the right and a large wooden door. I could smell it pretty easily now. The smell of something cooking. Horrible thoughts went through my head, but we had to report to our friends first. The door at the end of the hall is where we heard female voices. Perhaps this was Demetria? We did not want to find out. I didn’t, anyway. Briar later told me that she was more than willing to fight right now. I am much more willing to hide behind Shadow.

We returned and reported our findings to the group. They were eager to come up the stairs and investigate with us, but had heard voices from the other passage in the cave. I quickly removed the goatling’s Mask and redressed myself before joining, but Briar chose to stay in her owl-squirrel form.

We wandered down the small path until we found a sort of grove at the back of the cave. The sources of the voices we had heard came from a dryad and three satyrs. They all stopped talking immediately when they saw us, but they presented no threat. In fact, the dryad approached and told us she and her friends were here to speak to Demetria on behalf of the kids her goatlings had abducted. Demetria’s antagonizing of the mortals was not a good jest and would draw the attention of too many people. People like ourselves, no doubt.

Briar, as an owl-squirrel, was almost playing with the third satyr. This satyr seemed to enjoy this, until Briar shifted back into her normal form. The satyr was enamored with her, so she started asking him questions about this place. Briar told me afterwards that the satyr knew whose Tree was cut down in the center of this temple. It belonged to Demetria’s sister. And it was cut down by Estor Arkelander. The man who I was searching for!

Clio spoke fey-speech with the dryad for a while before we took our leave of the dryad and satyrs. Around the corner in a private conversation, she told us what the dryad had said. They were waiting for Demetria because it was taboo to barge into someone else’s temple. Demetria was angry that the Tree had been cut down. She made a pact with Khar’shan, the Lady of Dreams, to receive power and punish the mortals. Demetria was the master of the Mossy Temple. And she was still upstairs.

Briar had been overhearing Clio’s conversation with the dryad while speaking with the satyr. The dryad mentioned something else when Clio asked how she and the satyrs had gotten in and past the slimes and tree roots that were attacking us. The dryad responded that these traps were supposed to hunt mortals, not feykind.

Back to The Second Order of Dragonlords