Old February 10, 2018, 10:30 PM   #16 (permalink)
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Her horse whinnied in terror, the mere sight of the walking trees causing it to rear on its hind legs and nearly hurl the Esh’lahier woman from the saddle. Sheer instinct tightened Tiyribi’s slender digits around the reins, buckling her in place for the moment. As the horse’s rear hooves struck the earth, it started to bolt in the only direction down which any creature would have fled under such duress – the opposite way. The violence of the horse’s wild jerks slammed against the Esh’lahier’s thighs, adding credence to her fear that its frenetic response would ultimately spell her doom.

With the grace that only elves possessed, Tiyribi timed her dismount precisely as the horse dug its front hooves in the grass and started to gallop away. The ground absorbed the brunt of her descent, and the parting swat that she delivered to the animal’s rear did little to add urgency to its hasty departure. Faster than a butterfly fluttered through the open air, her mount dashed towards the shadows between another set of seemingly innocuous trees, leaving its rider to fend for herself against the terrors that lumbered towards them.

Tiyribi was fast, but the nearest treant had longer legs, which covered the span of her wild sprint with far less steps. The heat of its emerald flames kissed her in the back of the neck as they smashed into the ground, scorching grass and broken branches alike as easily as dragonfire. The flare of green light that followed was blinding as evidenced by the way that the dwarves winced, some of them raising their hairy arms to shield their eyes. Fortunately, Tiyribi’s back had been to the explosion during her desperate roll.

But there was no time to celebrate, not yet.

Get ‘er! Get ‘er!” Falgen’s command could be heard amidst the thunderous steps of the treant trio. To their credit, Gimut and Bax rushed towards Tiyribi, their battle-axes in hand and appearing less than menacing in the face of such giants. The sound of a twang! subsequently followed as a crossbow bolt zoomed above Tiyribi’s ducking head and thudded into the fire-breathing tree’s trunk torso. If it felt the impact, the treant did not show it, and it was upon Tiyribi a second later, its mouth opening wide and spewing forth another cloud of intense flames.

Feth . . .” Gimut’s curse was the last thing that the Esh’lahier heard before the flames suddenly slammed down upon her, the one-eyed dwarf and Bax flanking her side, and Falgen, Nitwit, and Thric close behind, their faces contorted in all manner of emotions – dread, defiance, fear.

A deafening boom resonated through the air as the magical fire crashed into Tiyribi’s Force Field, wisps of emerald diverting and rolling around the edges of her shimmering purple barrier only to dissipate harmlessly past them.

W-what da feth?” Falgen, who had covered his bearded visage in preparation of death, was standing directly behind Tiyribi. “We-we’re alive!

A mage! Longlegs is a damned mage!” Gimut hooted, and there was nothing except elation in his throaty voice.

Standing many feet above the five dwarves and the Esh’lahier, the treant narrowed its burning eyes as if surprised. The onslaught continued though as it unleashed breath after breath of searing fire at Tiyribi’s barrier, which held and continued to protect the group.

A second later, a large, boulder-sized fist wrought of solid wood punched against the wall of force, then another, then another, as the other two treants pummeled against the sorcerer’s shield.

Lass! Whadda we do!?” Falgen cried out from behind Tiyribi.
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Old February 11, 2018, 04:04 PM   #17 (permalink)
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For a moment she let her gaze follow her horse as it made its frantic escape from the roaring, thundering trees. It wasn’t the first creature that had been lost on one of her misbegotten adventures, Tiyribi marked, and it still inherently saddened her. But pity could only go so far and it was forever a poor substitute for the more pressing need of survival.

Better sense had kept her from utilizing her arcana in the middle of the Dolwoods, and it was evident that such had been a rather poor decision. She felt the terrible warmth across her back and began to panic, thinking through that the fire was most likely magical in nature and burns became the smallest of her worries. She grimaced and did her best to pull her body closer into a ball as she cowered on the ground. The terrible sound of flames roaring crossed her ears and paralyzed her in utter panic, expecting the absolute worst.

But then, it passed, and she became aware of a pair of the dwarves standing somewhere beside her talking somewhere over her. It was a slow matter to open her eyes back to the world and register exactly what had just happened and that she was still breathing and most importantly, that she was still alive. The shadow of the dwarves’ weapons raised and primed gave her some minor sense of security. Rolling onto her back, Tiyribi then measured that there was no real damage there. The fire hadn’t touched her and her dodge had been in time, and they were still alive.

They were all still alive.

It took a bit more time for her thoughts to register before adrenaline took over once more. The Force Shield was crafted out of sheer experience and the habit built up over eras with precious little thought behind its design. Still, it seemed to serve exactly its purpose as she heard the terrifying sounds of collisions hitting against the energy net and kept the worst of the treants’ fire at bay.

It was then that the woman registered that the dwarves had come to rescue her even though it had been with axes that hadn’t seen any actual action and that they were still huddling around her out of a most likely mix of altruism as well as survival instinct. Tiyribi appreciated the former and couldn’t much fault them for the latter, and while the Zerdargians seemed to be chewing over the idea of what she had just done to save them all and whether it was better, worse, or just a pleasant surprise in comparison to their situation, her attention was inevitably swept back toward the three treants that seemed less than pleased that their first round of attacks were rendered mostly ineffective.

“Shooting normal arrows does nothing. Try igniting them in the flames that they left and shoot them back.” Her voice was loud and far more authoritative than usual with each syllable becoming clipped in the process. “Can you get close enough to cut them down?” Her focus still worked to maintain the shield protecting them all against the treants’ punches, but another part of her mind began working again, this time pulling on the destructive tenets of her craft and sending a wave of the purest form of Force Essence that she could conjure aimed directly at what appeared like the closest treant’s eyes. There was the dangerous hope that keeping the spell simple and lacking complexity would keep the Dolwoods from interfering with it too much. What effect it had on the treants, though…

…well, one thing at a time.
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Old February 11, 2018, 07:05 PM   #18 (permalink)
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The treants’ punches landed against Tiyribi’s Force Shield over and over again, every strike threatening to shake the very threads that held the spell together. Had they been mere humans or orcs, it would have taken significantly longer for the Esh’lahier to notice the wavering strength of her defensive shield, but these magical creatures struck with the power of titans. And the sheer rage that drove every clenched bark-fist into the barrier was only highlighted by the roars that followed.

Nitwit nodded frantically as Tiyribi barked her orders with the authority of someone used to being followed. Near the edges of her periphery, the beardless dwarf plucked a crossbow bolt from his quiver and tentatively stretched it towards the emerald flames to ignite it. And the missile did ignite in an explosion of fire that melted off the bolt’s head and left half of the remaining shaft in his fingers. The young Zerdargian yelped and staggered back behind the safety of the Esh’lahier mage, then hurled the broken bolt harmlessly at the fire-breathing treant.

Feth. We’re gonna get burned alive,” Falgen somberly noted beside Tiyribi. To the crimson-bearded dwarf’s credit, though, he nodded firmly when the sorceress bade him and his brethren to try cutting the treants down with their axes. Most would probably have scoffed at the practically suicidal suggestion, but the Zerdargian had clearly been in his share of predicaments before.

Ye ‘eard da lady, boys!” the dwarf leader shouted, “Time ta put yer balls ta da walls!” Whatever that phrase meant, the Zerdargia’s courageous bellow had the effect of eliciting several hoots from his nearby companions.

Bax was the first to roll away from the protective scope of Tiyribi’s Force Shield, a battleaxe in each hand as he charged the treant to their left. So preoccupied was the beast with trying to shatter Tiyribi’s shield that it did not see the huge orange-bearded running towards its long mortal-like legs. “Diiiiieeeeee!” he shouted, and his war cry was accompanied by a successive series of twangs from Nitwit’s crossbow, each missile thudding in close proximity to one another below the treant’s mouth. Thric was close behind, a two-handed war hammer cradled in his large hands as he wound it back like a bat and swung it at the living tree’s enormous foot.

The other two dwarves, Falgen and Gimut, raced towards the treant on the right, their silver axes and shields glinting in the gloom of the forest as they separated on each side of the beast to distract it. The treant on the right, seeing the two miniscule dwarves, discontinued its flurry of punches against Tiyribi’s shield to address the new dwarven threat.

Which left Tiyribi with the fire-breather . . .

There seemed to be no end to the treant’s power as it continued to vomit its magical breath at the Esh’lahier. And although it was impossible to discern the thoughts inside the beast’s mind, its snarl and seething glare betrayed its frustration.

Raw Force Essence gravitated towards the archmage like an old friend, swelling like a blood-infested blister that was ready to explode at any moment. When she released her spell, it manifested in a surge of blinding purple light, overpowering the flames that met it halfway and rolling into the treant’s face. A deafening roar burst from the creature’s jagged mouth as bark shattered into splinters, the spell completely removing one of the treant’s eyes and causing it to stagger back several long steps.

The emerald flames temporarily ceased as the badly wounded creature stumbled, green ooze dripping down its newest cavity. Its remaining eye flared with fury as it stared in disbelief at Tiyribi, but the treant was wounded – badly.
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Old February 11, 2018, 10:10 PM   #19 (permalink)
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Gods, this was going badly.

It was pity, not fury, that dressed her visage when she watched the youngest dwarf try her suggestion to ignite his projectiles in the treant’s flames and was met with only failure. He had, at least, tried. In truth it had been her mistake in imagining that the emerald-colored fire was anything remotely ordinary. It was a miracle that it hadn’t climbed the rest of the way up the bolt and covered the poor, hapless dwarf in flame from head to toe. With enough time Tiyribi could have mimicked what she had created on the fields on Primus Gaudeo against the Xetan attack by imbuing the militia’s arrows with small explosive nodes of Force Essence or even the process of creating fire by kinetically moving pieces of the treant together through telekinesis, but both of those processes were complicated, delicate things that were better done with preparation, not on the fly.

But what then? Her mind was racing as she already started measuring just how long they had before the Force Shield gave way. The treants were strong, as was to be expected from their size, and the intensity of their fire didn’t exactly help matters either. She thought for a moment about recasting or at least strengthening the integrity of the weave, but then was interrupted by the rather crude battle cries as the Zerdargians sprung into action.

In that, it seemed, these dwarves did their forefathers and brethren proud. They moved fearlessly forward, axes and other weapons in their hands, and ran straight at the treants without hesitation. Again the Centripaxian governor had to marvel at the sheer spine of the shorter folk and their insatiable ferocity in battle, grateful that these, like many of their Zerdargian and Daelgian people, fought for their side and not against her or the Empire at large.

But then there wasn’t much more time to muse on the point as that still left one treat, and the closest one to Tiyribi, otherwise unoccupied and hellbent on its attack. Every thud made her shudder. Every renewal of the creature’s flames made her grimace. One false step and Falgen was entirely correct—the sphere she had created would quickly morph into a crematorium for them all, and there would be none around to mark their passing. Gods, what Aeternian spirit had so befouled these woods to create these creatures?

For the moment, though, that was merely a distraction. They had to survive first, and then such questions could be asked later. Her hastily-constructed spell had done its work, tearing a hole through the treant’s face and, most importantly, making it move backward and give them just that much more space to breath in safety. The scream the thing let out was enough to still the blood in one’s veins, but Tiyribi had no time to contemplate why a tree experienced pain. The wound was enough of an opening; now she just needed to capitalize on it.

This time she repeated the trick, casting the same simple spell aimed at the one remaining good eye in the treant’s face. Blinded and wandering in pain was less of a danger than a creature with sight and fire pouring out of its mouth, the elf estimated. It would also at least decrease their number of opponents by one. She could only hope that the Zerdargians were having a bit of luck themselves with the other two.
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Old February 12, 2018, 12:32 PM   #20 (permalink)
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Another agonized, unearthly roar from the right confirmed that the fiery-bearded dwarf and Gimut were faring well against the towering monstrosity. Several limbs that had belonged to the treant’s hands were no longer attached to the creature, finding new roles as prospective mulch for the verdant soil. The two dwarves were working in harmony with each other, Falgen continuously circling and drawing the treant’s attention while Gimit maneuvering around it to deliver vicious chops of his many-notched axe.

To the left, the three other dwarves were managing but with far more difficultly. The barrel-chested Bax had lost one of his axes during the melee, a huge red gash trailing down the forearm of his empty hand. The treant seemed preoccupied with the largest of the Zerdargians, its massive fists swinging back and forth as if attempting to bat the huge dwarf all the way back to his homeland.

The flurry of crossbow bolts that repeatedly thudded into the treant’s large trunk slowed it down somewhat along with Thric’s well-timed swings into the creature’s legs, but a frantic and well-timed backhand sent the white-robed priest flying twenty feet into the air and painfully onto his back, leaving Bax and Nitwit to desperately fend for themselves.

With time temporarily on her side, Tiyribi harvested the necessary Forece Essence to replicate her earlier spell. Despite her previous reservations about spellcasting inside the mysterious Dolwoods, the explosive ball of energy materialized at her will shortly before she launched it a second time into the gnarled face of the furious treant. Having already learned its painful lesson about the power of the small woman before it, the creature tried to turn away when the sorceric fireball sailed towards it, but it could not avoid the brunt of the impact. The force energy smashed a few feet below the creature’s remaining eye, causing shards of wood to rain down upon the ground. Some of them bounced harmlessly off Tiyribi’s remaining Force Field.

The treant’s shriek was deafening as it lumbered over and fell onto its side, green ooze pouring out from the gaping wounds that Tiyribi had lethally inflicted and staining the forest floor. As it languished on the ground, a soft but deep groan emanated from the shadows of the trees, as if the glade itself was mourning for the fire-breathing creature. If the dwarves heard it, they did not visually acknowledge the same during their fights with the remaining treants, but there was something about the eerie noise that seemed to tug at the inner parts of her very soul.

There was no time to register what exactly the strange feeling was, though, as bark, branches, and twigs suddenly snapped and creaked from far behind the five dwarves and the Esh’lahier mage. Three more massive sentinels approached ominously from the tree line, their fiery eyes and mouth burning with anger as they stormed towards the intruders.

With treants at their rear, two treants before them, and thick woods on either side, Tiyribi and the five dwarves were trapped.
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Old February 13, 2018, 09:11 PM   #21 (permalink)
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Events were transpiring surprisingly better than Tiyribi had originally anticipated. Her assumption that the armed dwarves, being the famed hunters and descendants of Cetheron as they were, would be able to handle themselves against the pair of treants was proving to be correct. The part of Falgen and Gimut were fearsome indeed, managing to cut down pieces, limbs, and everything else of the treant they faced and leaving gruesome wounds throughout its bark. The other three were alive but seemed to be having a harder time of it, with the arrows in their foe’s face having done little to slow it down and the priest and Bac only barely managing to land blows.

But the one before her? That terrible stream of fire had, at least, stopped, and her second copied spell seemed to do the same trick and destroy the other side of its face. Still, the thing had seen the second attack coming and its dodge managed to save its other eye, rendering it weakened but not blind as Tiyribi had hoped. Would it be enough? She stood, watching silently as the treant shivered and staggered and seemed to threaten one last, desperate attack before it finally fell to the ground with a terrible thud that echoed throughout the entirety of the Dolwoods, if not the province beyond, too.

And then, the rumble. She had heard the creature’s death scream with some measure of satisfaction, but the next sound came after it was already well-dead and left only shivers of fear running throughout her veins. What was that? The pale elf spun, half-expecting to see a chorus of figures responsible for morning the treant’s passing, but was greeted with nothing more than thick woods to be the cause of the noise. That the Dolwoods were sentient was a matter of record; that they mourned the passing of such a twisted creature made her fear of what they might conjure next.

But there was little time to consider the future as her attention turned back to the dwarves still fighting the last two. She was about to run over to see what she could do to assist them when another noise, this equally as loud and perhaps even more terrible than the first entrance of the three treants, came rumbling through the woods. Her attention swung behind her and over her shoulder now, eyes narrowing. Was it another groan? Another death cry? Were the Dolwoods mourning more of their own, or…?

…and soon enough her question was answered, and in the most unexpected and undesired of ways. More. That was the absolute last thing that any of them would have wanted to see, the lady was sure, and she felt the paralyzing fear beginning to set in over her senses. How many were there? Where were they coming from? Was something conjuring these monsters of unimaginable nightmares or were they merely the natural denizens of this terrible, awful, no-good wood?

She shivered, knowing all too well just how much the first three had stretched the makeshift group with two more treants still left alive and imagining what pains another three fresh things were capable of inflicting. They couldn’t. There was no possible, foreseeable way that they would be fortunate enough to survive another onslaught as not only were the treants ferocious, but they also displayed the ability to learn and adapt to their foes just as thoughtful creatures would. Thus the three new ones exposed far more of a threat than their previous brethren ever hand.

Or maybe that was the answer.

Glancing down at the destroyed treant still fallen before her, its emerald-colored flames still smoldering and the ooze of what she presumed was its lifeblood soaking into the forest’s floor, an idea began to form. While the process of creating fire eluded her particular arcane talents, the previous treants had provided some out of the spew of their mouths and that, perhaps, could be used against their fellows. She gathered up the destroyed treant’s body, using more essence to scoop up the surrounding dirt and foliage that remained aflame under its power, and flung it with all the force she could muster at the approaching three, hoping that some of it would collide and the rest of it might catch the flame on anything nearby.

It didn’t fix the issue of the two that remained close and still alive, but Tiyribi would have to continue to trust the Zerdargians to hold them off just a bit longer for that.
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Old February 14, 2018, 05:32 PM   #22 (permalink)
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Tendrils of force essence swiftly enveloped the fallen treant and the burning grass that had become its deathbed, scooping everything up in invisible hands as if they weighed nothing more than feathers. Even a giant would have had a difficult time hefting the massive creature in the air, but the powerful magic that flowed from Tiyribi’s pallid fingertips completed the maneuver with ease. Resembling a bond fire, the dead treant and the scorched earth levitated ominously for a split second before the Archmage hurled them across the open expanse that separated her from the three newly-emerging sentinels. They had already begun their vengeful charge towards her, their great, powerful, and lengthy strides promising them swift retaliation against the tiny Esh’lahier woman who had slain their ancient brethren.

But they would have to wait.

The massive corpse that was the fire-breathing tree launched towards them like fiery pitch, slamming viciously into the center treant. The ancient creature snarled savagely, trying in vain to lift its thick arms up to block the tree-turned missile. The sheer length of the dead treant was impossible to dodge in such close quarters, and the other two creatures on either side of the center sentinel were struck by a combination of burning grass, trunk, branch-hands, and branch-legs. A shower of green embers subsequently spat into the air, briefly illuminating the glass-covered glade in an emerald glow. Beneath it, the three treants flailed desperately to push the corpse off of them and to rid themselves of the burning grass.

Tiyribi’s gambit had purchased herself valuable time, but it would not be long before the three reinforcements recovered from her crafty attack.

Over ‘ere, Longlegs!” Gimut’s deep cry rang out from behind Tiyribi, where the dwarves’ battle had raged on. One more treant corpse laid atop the grass, butchered to pieces by the combined axes of Falgen and Gimut. The treant that they had slain had been diced into multiple segments and could easily have been mistaken for a pile of oversized firewood but for the eerie ooze that leaked out of the treant’s trunk and orifices and stained the ground. The one-eyed dwarf was bleeding from multiple spots along his arms and chest, but he waited dutifully behind Tiyribi as if he had been preparing to join her against the three other treants. “We gotta get outta ‘ere!” He urged, waving her towards him and the others.

The last of the three original treants was badly wounded, but sometime during Tiyribi’s spellcasting and Falgen and Gimut’s intervention, the creature had lost an entire leg and hand, effectively crippling it and leaving it roaring on a knee. Falgen had ordered his companions away from the beast, apparently deciding that it was no immediate harm to them and that their time could better be used attempting to escape from their dire situation.

Glad yer on our side, lass,” Falgen said, his fiery-beard caked in green and crimson. Nearby, Thric and Nitwit were on either side of Bax, supporting their large comrade, who had suffered a nasty gash down his neck and multiple lacerations on his body. “But we gotta move. Dem trees are gonna be on us soon.” He glanced towards the previous paths that awaited them, his glum expression conveying that he would rather risk whatever dangers awaited them down any of them rather than deal with the remaining treants. However, his hairy face suddenly darkened.

Where three routes had once been, only two now remained. The green fog of the southern path and the shadowy one to the southeast.

Ferget da fethin’ stag,” Bax grumbled. No one objected.

Behind them, one of the treants released a beastial howl, and it almost sounded like laughter.
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Old February 18, 2018, 06:55 PM   #23 (permalink)
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Well, that worked better than intended. In truth, though, anything helpful would have been unexpected while in the Dolwoods. The elf watched with some small measure of satisfaction as the downed treant’s remains collided hard with his fellows, sending one tumbling to the ground. The remaining flame and other debris she’d lifted from the forest floor also managed to do its work, rendering the other two incapable of pushing forward on their attack and, one could hope, wounded, if not otherwise rendered incapacitated.

But all three were still moving and otherwise alive, if such a word could be ascribed to the mystical woodland creatures, and appeared to be more angry for the delay caused by the mortal pieces of one of their own than anything. Tiyribi frowned, instinct driving her to bite down on her lower lip as she regarded their attackers. What were they? Where had they come from? It was easy to imagine that such creatures were merely conjured figments from the malicious imagination of the Dolwoods that were intent on defending their domicile, but was it really that simple? Was there something else driving it all?

Gimut’s yell drew her attention back to the present. For a moment she remembered the dwarves’ purpose for being in the woods at all and wondered if the trees had had ears enough to hear it, but decided against saying anything about it for the moment. After all, survival remained the most pressing and obvious concern. She quickened her pace and sprinted over to where the dwarves had downed their adversaries, glancing over the Zerdargians to take a quick stock of what had been done and what was left. One treant was down and rendered to nothing more than kindling. The other was wounded, and severely so, thus leaving only the oncoming new set as the remaining threat.

But the dwarves themselves had also suffered in the process, Tiyribi noted, as she marked the eye patched dwarf’s wounds. She felt it too, that gnawing feeling in the pit of her stomach and the tingling in the back of her consciousness, warning that it had been far too long since she had been put in such strenuous, dangerous circumstances and she was far from prepared. “I’m glad you’re all right,” the Esh’lahier finally said aloud, the words softened by the realization that their safety was temporary at best and that they recognized the same.

She glanced back at the three treants as one released a terrible, rumbling sound as they began to ready themselves for a renewed attack. Her gaze went back toward the horizon of the woods that surrounded them and she frowned again. “Yes, we should.” Her attention swirled back to the escape options before rounding to the dwarves once more. “That looks safer than the other way,” Tiyribi suggested, gesturing over toward the southeast direction that at least had less of an ominous fog threatening it. “But do you remember from which way we entered?”
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Old February 20, 2018, 04:44 PM   #24 (permalink)
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Grim was the only word that could adequately describe the five faces that stared up at the Esh’lahier. Robbed of the brimming confidence that had armed them earlier, they wore their nervousness as plainly as the glass that dressed the surrounding woodlands. Hoisted between Thric and Nitwit, the heavily-wounded Bax continued glancing over his burly shoulder at the living trees, whose violent thrashing had already begun to shake off the corpse of their burning brethren. Although far larger than his companions, it was evident that the stout dwarf wanted no part of the sentinels again.

To the southeast, the shadows swirled ominously beneath the treetops as if acknowledging the sorceress’ decision. They were thick like splotches of ink, nearly impenetrable to the eye and constantly shifting from limb to limb. It was difficult to tell if the movements were real or simply byproducts of the sunlight striking the glass-encased trees from various angles. What was strange, however, was that the wind was minimal if not nonexistent, and the leaves and branches did not bob or sway as they were prone to do elsewhere in the empire.

I-I think dat way, lass,” Falgen stammered, pointing behind them in the direction from which the three treant reinforcements had arrived. However, where a pathway out of the forest had once been, it was now sealed off by a dense wall of trees and shrubs. The overgrowth was rampant; it was as if an entire century of growth had suddenly sprung to life during the short time that the five Zerdargians and the Esh’lahier had battled the sentinels. “Er, at least it was.” The red-bearded dwarf shook his head dismally. “Dis ain’t good.

A nervous gulp from Nitwit sounded from behind Tiyribi.

Ain’t nothin’ we can do now, fellas,” Gimut grunted, the old dwarf trudging forward towards the pathway that Tiyribi had selected. “We gotta move a‘fore dem trees get up.” The one-eyed Zerdargian rolled his shoulders back determinedly and raised his battle-axe in front of him as he led the way.

An eerie cold greeted the party within ten steps of passing the shadowy threshold. The forest was dark, bordering on night but for the occasional rays of sunlight that penetrated the glassy canopy above them. Gimut walked slowly at the front of the group, although his steps slowed as the shadows grew heavier around them. The other dwarves, too, were wary, and sometime during the trek the white-robed Thric had produced what appeared to be an anvil-shaped pendant in the hand that was not supporting his companion.

The magic was palpable here, radiating off every single leaf, branch, and strand of grass around them. Whether it was the flora itself that was magical in nature or the gray air or something else was impossible to determine, but there was an ominousness about it that seemed utterly necromantic and virulent in nature.

It was not long before a strange, almost manmade-looking pathway not more than five feet wide loomed before them. Cobbled stones formed what could only be described as a veritable highway through the Dolwoods, only each individual stone was covered in layers of thick moss as ancient as the trees themselves. On either side of the pathway, there were beds of glassy grass that stood like frozen blades threatening to impale anyone unfortunate enough to stumble off the road. There were trees, too, standing on either side of the path like guardians, although the even intervals at which they had been spaced suggested that they had deliberately been planted at their respective locations.

The moss-covered road stretched ahead of them into the darkness, yet there was a hint of pulsing green light coming from wherever it ultimately led to, and as it pierced the shadows and reached back towards them, it seemed to shine directly on Tiyribi.

"Uh . . . what da feth is dat?" Gimut wondered.

Do we-do we go forward er turn back, lass?” Falgen asked, his eyes tracing the beam of light that seemed all too engrossed with their mage.
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Old February 23, 2018, 01:20 AM   #25 (permalink)
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In the slight moment of peace they had so eagerly stolen from the three new treants’ attack, Tiyribi finally settled a long, quiet study on the larger dwarf that had been wounded during the first round of combat. She frowned, knowing all too well that they were far from any actual medical or healer’s help and that the threat of their oncoming foes would keep them from finding such for quite some time still. Her gaze fell to the man supporting his brother, but she said nothing, opting instead to ignore the situation entirely for fear of offending the Zerdargians’ sense of pride.

Dwarves, after all, were a sensitive and equally stubborn bunch. While this band of hunters had proven themselves five times over in just the last few minutes, the elfin woman had no intention of accidentally alienating them at this latest and most critical juncture. They may not have been as mistrusting and xenophobic as the usual Daelgians she had dealt with in the past, but she had little doubt that that could very quickly and irrevocably change without warning.

Falgen’s gesture pulled her attention back behind them to where their three newest foes could be seen, and she couldn’t help the crestfallen feeling sinking to the pit of her stomach from appearing also across the pallid features of her face. “There’s no returning that way then,” Tiyribi replied rhetorically, her eyes narrowing. Whatever hope had been built when one of the dwarves seemed to remember their directions better than she was now forever dashed underneath the treants’ thundering footsteps held back only by the remnants of one of the previously fallen. The unspoken truth was that they were all running out of time and decisions would need to be made, and quickly.

But escape? She heard Gimut’s complaint and could have easily echoed it with one of her own, but it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. The latter, though, she did agree with and could, at least, enact that. “Yes, let’s.” She glanced over at Bax and considered again making an offer of help, but then decided against it. “And we should hurry.”

It didn’t settle well with her that the only viable options seemed to be further into the accursed Dolwoods, but given that they had already suffered a near-casualty with the first wave of treants and more were inevitably coming, going backward was out of the question. She moved forward then in the same southeast direction that she had gestured before and picked up her pace. In such circumstances the woman was most certainly not above running, but Bax’s condition still weighed heavily on her mind as well as the rest of the dwarves’ current constitution.

Gimut’s question brought her attention back toward the front and landed it most squarely on the oddest road she’d ever seen. It appeared to be a methodically-crafted creation, either by the hands of mortals or some magic, and, at first glance, was far more welcoming than the deadly shafts of grass growing up on each side. Tiyribi stopped suddenly, reluctant to move forward. “You can’t trust it,” was all she said at first, knowing well that anything that looked to be welcoming and safe in the Dolwoods would most likely be a person’s very grisly end.

The greenery on the stones bothered her immensely but even that paled in comparison to the terrible sinking feeling overwhelming her when a strange halo of emerald-colored light appeared in the distance and then pinpointed her.

Gods, she hated the Dolwoods with every fiber of her being.

“It’s either forward toward that or back with the treants.” Neither was much of a comforting choice, she knew, but they had seen what the creatures were capable of—and that whatever conjured them had no intention of stopping. “I’d elect forward but, just…watch your step.” She dared to be the first to set a timid foot down on the moss-covered rock, eyeing the needle-like flora beside it with half of her attention and the other fastened on whatever it was that insisted on glowing in the distance. To say she didn’t much like their options would have been an understatement, but with no exit behind and threats spawning from every tree, it fell to a matter of the unknown being strangely more comforting than the fear they had already met.
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Old February 27, 2018, 01:08 PM   #26 (permalink)
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A hurried nod came from Falgen when Tiyribi suggested that they proceed forward. The thought of facing the treants a second time wore heavily on the Zerdargian’s grim visage, and the way that he occasionally peered over his broad shoulder in the direction that they had come from lucidly conveyed his reluctance to ever cross paths with the fire-breathing monsters again. “Aye, lass. We can’t go back.” His thick lips folded in a grimace when he noticeably regarded the much larger Bax, who, despite being suspended between Thric and Nitwit, was still having a difficult time placing any weight on his legs.

All five watched closely as Tiyribi bravely stepped ahead of the group, placing her foot delicately on one of the many moss-covered stones that formed the unique pathway that led deeper into the Dolwoods. It was firm beneath her boot. The rock did not wobble or shake under her weight, a testament to a level of deft masonry that could be found not only in Primus Gaudeo but other cities like Zerdargia as well. “It’s old, real old,” Gimut noted behind Tiyribi, the first of the five dwarves to join her on the manmade pathway. “But well made,” the rugged warrior added.

One by one the remaining Zerdargians followed after the sorceress, leaving the grassy floor that had ushered them up to this point in the enchanted woodlands in exchange for the cobbled road. With the treants somewhere behind them, there was only one way to walk: forward.

The beam of emerald light continued to fixate on Tiyribi as they advanced, following her like a shimmering shadow. No matter which way she moved, it always seemed to center on her chest. Where it was coming from was difficult to discern due to the limited lighting beneath the forest’s thick leaves, but it became evident soon enough that the green light was not from the sun’s rays beaming down from above. Indeed, the twin suns of Telath were not even visible from their position in the forest.

On either side of the road, the glass-covered grass continued to stare up at the travelers with their bladed points, daring them to deviate from the path. Dwarves were not notorious for their gracefulness, but the five Zerdargians had no difficultly staying towards the center of the road and away from the edges. None of them, it appeared, had any strong intentions or desires of being impaled.

The road stretched on for quite some time, the forest eerily quiet other than the patter of boots atop the moss-covered stones and the clinking of Zerdargians’ armor and weapons along the way. After nearly half a candlemark of walking, though, the path suddenly ended at the edge of a cliff, or what appeared to be a cliff anyway.

A wide chasm opened before Tiyribi, covered in a concoction of mist and shadow, which made it difficult to gauge its depth or to determine what sat at the bottom. A wide bridge covered in more moss but wrought of finely-carved stone loomed ahead of them, leading towards what appeared to be nothing more than another thick segment of the forest. Two statues carved from white marble and fashioned in the images of two majestic stags flanked the entrance to the bridge. Time had dressed them in tattered garments of moss and ivy, although the mastery of their sculptors was impossible to ignore.

It was here that the beam of light that had followed Tiyribi slow slowly receded from her and escaped across the bridge, leaving a glowing trail in its wake for the party to follow. The bridge stretched almost one hundred yards, and it was wide enough for at least three carriages to travel abreast. Whatever stone rails had once been installed were mostly intact but had been deeply eroded over time.
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Old March 1, 2018, 10:44 PM   #27 (permalink)
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And in there, Tiyribi agreed fully with Falgen. Exit from the Dolwoods the way they had entered was simply not an option. She glanced over the unlikely assortment of dwarves one more time, reluctance and regret written both equally in her expression. It had been a far cry from the day of curious exploring that she had imagined, but in some strange sense fate had been kind in sending her a set of paragons of what Zerdargia had to offer. The irony of Esh’lahier and dwarves was not fully lost on her, but necessity always did have a way of overcoming even the most deeply inbred prejudices.

So then it was forward, and it was the only option left. The lady didn’t much like the reality that there was no other recourse but further into the Dolwoods and toward the mysterious green light that seemed centered on her very being. For now, though, it strangely seemed like the less dangerous option out of the set, albeit a rather ominous one. Out of habit she bit down lightly on her lower lip as she gingerly placed her foot on the nearest greenery-coated stone, taking careful stock to ensure that her weight was matched with something solid and tenacious underneath before letting her full weight fall upon it.

One step was made. So far she hadn’t died. That, she supposed, was a small victory. Slowly she set down another step, and then another, and then another, and soon enough, she was actually walking forward at a pace—a tentative one that was most certainly slowed by her doubt and fear, but at least they were moving forward. She glanced back over her shoulder at the line of dwarves that stretched out behind her, finding some relief in the thought that each second brought them a little further from the three treants behind, dressed as it was in the paranoia of what new dangers might possibly lay ahead.

But they weren’t moving terribly fast, Tiyribi knew, and the treants would not be distracted with the remnants of their fellow and its flames for too long. She frowned. Every instinct warned her that moving faster across the strange rock would merely be inviting danger. Gimut had pointed out the age of the road, and covered as it was in foliage, the rock was made just that more precarious. Then, of course, was the realization that it had appeared seemingly out of nowhere in the Dolwoods of all places, and Tiyribi was far more certain that it was anything but a blessing.

“Old and dangerous,” she said under her breath. It was a statement of the obvious, particularly as her eyes wandered over the fearsome-looking grass that threatened to waylay them on either side, but it needed to be said regardless. “Let’s hurry as we can.” She doubted that the Zerdargians needed reminding about the danger that the blades of grass presented as well as the treants behind them, so the warning was far more for her own benefit than theirs.

As the group pressed on Tiyribi became acutely aware of how the strange green light never left her chest, leading onward like some unknown beckoning finger. She liked it not one bit, but the other options still seemed far worse. Over time there were no rumbling sounds heard behind them or any other ominous thing around them, and then the path very unceremoniously deposited them on the side of what appeared to be a vicious canyon.

The sight of sculptures and a bridge did nothing to calm her nerves. Nothing was ever as it appeared in the Dolwoods, she kept reminding herself—even the sight of civilization. It was just a new threat hidden in everything it was not. Tiyribi stopped, taking a moment to measure the size of the situation. A bridge over a divide filled with nothing but space did not comfort her, nor did the appearance of what appeared to be the same antlered deer that the Zerdargians had mentioned as their quarry. But behind them? She glanced over her shoulder and saw exactly what she had expected—darkness, shadow, and no exit.

And then the light continued to move forward. If it hadn’t been ominous before, now the sight was completely paralyzing.

“Well,” she said finally, not bothering to measure the resignation that made its plain debut in her timbre, “I suppose it is onward.” And with another delicate step forward, she walked onto the bridge.
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Old March 2, 2018, 04:23 PM   #28 (permalink)
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There were no signs of the four treants behind them. No furious roars. No thundering steps. No shattering branches. Whatever real or imaginary power held the mighty beasts at bay remained unseen, or, perhaps, the giant trees had simply opted for another route to outmaneuver their rapidly-fleeing trespassers. Regardless, their rear was clear for now, although how long that would be the case was anyone’s guess. But if there was one thing that the five dwarves and the Esh’lahier agreed upon, it was that the unknown road ahead was far more preferable than the one behind them.

Aye, lass,” Gimut concurred when Tiyribi commented about the hazards of their route. The moss was thick and pervasive, forming a slippery layer atop every single stone that formed the road. Beneath it, though, the masonry was nothing short of impressive. Whoever had laid each piece into the earth had expended painstaking efforts to ensure that every segment fitted perfectly and seamlessly together. Had the moss not been present, one could easily have rolled atop the stone without ever encountering the slightest bump.

The glass-frosted grass did not deter Tiyribi or her unlikely companions from moving onward, and it seemed to wait eagerly, excitedly as the party passed it by way of the cobbled street that ran straight through it. Even when they reached the chasm, despite its bottom being imperceptible from their vantage point due to the eerie fog that filled the void, there was a pressing feeling that whatever was at the lowest point was as malicious as the bladed grass.

Best watch yer step,” Falgen reminded as Tiyribi bravely advanced onto the bridge. He and the other dwarves joined her soon afterward, Thric jerking his chin towards the two statues that flanked the entrance and eliciting a shrug from their fiery-bearded leader in the process. Whatever determination the dwarves had had in them prior to entering the Dolwoods, the battle with the treant had seemingly and swiftly reshuffled their priorities.

The ancient bridge was firm beneath them, testifying to an exceptional measure of skill considering how old the structure must have been. The outer rails were wrought of stone and stood a few hands higher than Tiyribi’s waist. There were no support beams or lines above them, which meant that there were likely great pillars below that were reinforcing the bridge’s integrity. “N’ ‘ere I was expectin’ it ta crumble,” Falgen muttered nervously beside Tiyribi. The dwarf held his axe uneasily in front of him as if expecting something to leap upon them at any moment.

But nothing did.

On the contrary, the trek across the bridge was relatively peaceful save for the occasional creak of stone. The green light that had centered on Tiyribi earlier continued to glow down the center of the walkway, leading onward and onward until they neared the end of the bridge itself. The uncanny mist that covered the chasm made it difficult to see more than twenty paces ahead at any given time, but when they finally reached the other side of the chasm, the outline of a large and sprawling structure gradually materialized into view.

A castle, or what might have been a castle at one point in history towered over them. Where majestic spires and guard towers had once soared above the trees, there were crumbled ruins and stony stumps in their stead. The majority of the front wall remained intact, although it was missing a number of crenellations along the ramparts. Ivy and moss decorated the ancient walls like a cloak, the inevitable byproduct of centuries of growth and neglect. Strangely enough, though, as abandoned as the castle appeared on the outside, torches could be seen all along the castle, blazing with emerald flame.

Eh, dis dun look good,” Gimut grumbled, and the old dwarf shifted uneasily, his armor clanking in the process.

Ahead of them, the main gate built into the ruin’s outer wall was open, the gate itself, wrought of black iron, twisted on its hinges and crumpled unceremoniously to the side.
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Old March 3, 2018, 09:11 PM   #29 (permalink)
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It unsettled her even more to see the obvious signs of someone having crafted the road and bridge in the Dolwoods. Tiyribi’s past experience in the enchanted forest had been nothing short of savage, from unbridled wild magics to flora and fauna that seemed to have only the most malicious and mischievous of intents against anyone foolish enough to cross their domain. Never had the Esh’lahier imagined that anyone would have ever wanted to inhabit the Dolwoods, let alone build well-engineered features like the cobblestones or the great deer statues inside it.

And then, of course, one had to wonder if the mode of transportation meant that this questionable someone wanted someone else to follow it, and deeper into the woods. She frowned. Every instinct in her conscious mind screamed that this was a mistake, to turn around immediately and run as fast as they could back the other way. But one more look over her shoulder assured her that escape in that direction was as unlikely as a pleasant conclusion occurring from the way before them. The treants might have been gone, but the forest’s fog still looked just as ominous and the trees had closed up upon themselves to ensure that no one, not dwarf or elf, would find an easy route to backtrack from today.

So that left onward. And with gritted teeth, Tiyribi did just that. She was shocked to find that the bridge was solid underneath her feet, though that was infinitely preferable to plunging down to the unseen depths of the canyon below. And yet she still didn’t feel at ease, particularly when the green light that had been pinpointing her like some type of accusatory finger beckoned them further onward, begging almost, that they continue to follow. Something was wanting them to come forward, and farther, and faster. It was the very stuff of nightmares, Tiyribi marked.

And yet there still remained very little choice to the opposite. A few more steps brought them to the middle of the bridge, and still they walked. By now their pace had slowed some, having lost the imminent threat of the tree creatures hovering behind them, and she made accommodations for the wounded dwarf in the process. “Once we make it out of the woods, I can perhaps see what can be done about that,” she said aloud, gesturing toward his injuries. She wasn’t a thaumaturgist and she dare not risk casting any sorts of complicated magic in the sentient woods. Dallandra’s eye had been a matter of life and death, after all—an entirely different circumstance driven by the most severe necessity.

Never had the lady felt more relief in her life than when they came to the other side of the bridge and solid ground made its presence known underneath her feet once more. Gods, she hadn’t even realized she had been holding her breath for the majority of that trip until it came out in one large rush of expelled air. She stopped for a moment under the pretense of catching her breath and silently counted the dwarves one more time as if to assure herself that no one had been unexpectedly lost over the railing’s edges during their trek across the divide.

But then whatever solace had welled within her soul was ever so quick to evaporate once more when she looked up to where the green light gestured and saw yet another piece of crafted architecture betraying just how closely they were following in the footsteps of another. “A castle?” slipped out of her unintentionally. She knew that some had dared to build homes on the far edges of the Dolwoods for the natural resources it offered, but they were very, very deep into the forests by now. This had to be something else entirely.

The ornate detail and exquisite craftsmanship seemed to answer exactly that, too. The woman’s eyes roved anxiously across tower and window and arch and door, measuring that whoever had built this had done it with the utmost attention to detail and eye for elegance in mind. This was no simple woodsman’s hut or a plain farmer looking to make good on the land. This was something far and away more grand indeed, which simply sent another shiver of fear through her spine at just how many ways it could end so badly due to that.

The light inside did even more to unsettle her, making it obvious that whoever lived here was indeed home. Why the outside had fallen into such disarray was beyond Tiyribi’s comprehension. Why the illumination inside was green bothered her even more. And why anyone would want to live this deep in the Dolwoods unless they were some ominous spirit themselves shook her to her very core. But the light had continued on, and thus far, had not steered them wrong—either due to its altruistic nature, or because it was saving them all for some other more devious purpose.

“I don’t like the look of this,” she mused, and yet still took a single step forward. “But mayhaps we ought to see who’s home.” There was an unspoken question accenting her words all the way through, though her movement toward the open gateway served clearly enough as her personal answer to the situation.
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Old March 5, 2018, 12:20 PM   #30 (permalink)
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Thanks, lass. It’d be greatly appreciated.” The white-robed dwarf nodded gratefully as he continued to hoist one side of his wounded companion along. Bax’s bleeding appeared to have stopped underneath his armor, but the huge dwarf was still having a difficult time placing too much weight on either of his feet, hence his constant need to have Nitwit and Thric supporting him. Like most dwarves, though, he was tough, and the Zerdargian tried earnestly not to grimace or frown through what was certainly a most unpleasant journey.

Tiyribi’s breath materialized like an eerie ghost when she finally released it, the white vapor swirling before her only to be abducted by the thick gray mist a second later. Whatever tales she had heard about the notorious Dolwoods had never included a manmade road let alone the ruins of what once might have been a majestic castle, yet both loomed around her as tangibly as the dwarves that now stood beside her. That the magical glow had led her to the ruins was increasingly evident, but for what purpose remained unclear

Standing next to Tiyribi, Falgen shook his head in agreement, his battleaxe never lowering in front of him. Gimut, who flanked the Esh’lahier’s opposite side, turned his head from left to right, assessing the vacant ramparts and the weathered entrance before them. “Ain’t never ‘eard o’ no castle ‘ere,” the one-eyed dwarf said, his voice grim and suspicious. He did not appear too pleased that Tiyribi, too, was visibly as astonished at the rest of them to find such a structure in the middle of the accursed Dolwoods.

Looks haunted ta me,” Bax mumbled from behind. The prideful dwarf removed one arm from around Nitwit’s shoulders and reached for the battleaxe that was strapped to his back, the movement slow and sluggish but evidencing a level of stubbornness that was the trademark of all dwarven-kind. Nitwit frowned concernedly when his companion detached from him, but the young runt of the group did not dispute his companion’s decision. Instead, he used the opportunity to reload his crossbow.

When Tiyribi stepped forward, Falgen chortled. “Ye got guts, lassie, more n’ I’ve ever seen. Ye sure ye ain’t no dwarf?” There was admiration in his voice, and he nodded approvingly before joining the Esh’lahier woman in proceeding towards the battered gate, one hesitant and cautious step at a time.

At one point in time the gate might have stood regally beneath the stone archway that formed the entrance through the outer wall. Partially unhinged and barely hanging, the iron had eroded over time and was covered in moss, much like the cobbled stones of the street that had led the party to the ruins. The torches that flanked the main gate continued to burn brightly though, casting emerald light in a myriad of directions and illuminating the pathway for the six adventurers to follow.

The road continued into a square-shaped courtyard that was large enough to host an entire marketplace of vendors. Abandoned wagons lingered on the left side of the square, some still stocked with bales of hay. There were also several holey and dust-ridden tents along the inside perimeter of the courtyard, which was probably where vendors had frequently occupied to sell their wares.

On the other end of the square was an archway through a second wall that led further into the stronghold. Beyond it, an enormous keep could be seen staring down at the courtyard and the surrounding lands. Emerald light filled the various windows and murder holes. There was also a staircase to the left that led to the ramparts, and to the right, another tunnel that proceeded towards a cluster of smaller buildings that might have been barracks or servants’ quarters.

I dun like it,” Falgen grumbled, “n’ I dun like them birds either.” He pointed his axe towards the looming battlements above them, where rows and rows of black-feathered birds sat on the walls gazing down upon the Zerdargians and the Esh’lahier. Their eyes glowed a fierce green.
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