Old January 28, 2018, 08:02 PM   #1 (permalink)
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[Dolwoods] Shall We Dance Again? [Striker]

Timestamp: Cryxatum, Spring, Era XXV Post-Fractum

And here she was…again.

Why, she cared not to contemplate. One experience had been enough to warn her of the maliciousness of the sentient wood and to keep her away to avoid any more faeries in little girls’ bodies getting knives through their eye sockets. And yet she had come back, and again, and then once more, throughout the recent eras, as if something was bound to change, if only she presented herself as a humble enough petitioner for their guidance in the world of the arcane. It was insanity at its finest, she realized, and she had the odd knick-knacks and acquaintances to prove it, and yet it still wasn’t enough to stop her again.

It had been a lack that had been nagging at the edges of her senses since she had first studied in Arconis. Aeylrian mages seemed to be particularly fond of the artifacts they named staves, although her Ethgan’torian colleagues were always less concerned with their existences and more with the purity of their spellcraft. She supposed that it was the latter that had formed her more thoroughly than the former and thus, while she had considered it off and on, she had also paid it no significant or serious heed. There was always something else more pressing to attend to, after all, between her obligations in the Concordia Incola and more personal ones throughout the Empire. Her own private studies and interests were very often the first things to fall by the wayside underneath the shadow of obligation, and this was no exception.

But now?—now the Empire was peaceful with no immediate threats, her children had grown old enough to mind themselves for some periods of time without needing her constant intervention, and her husband had his attentions occupied in Arium or some other remote place. It offered her the briefest of reprieves from being constantly needed, and she had every intention of using it to its fullest. Thus again, as particularly lately she had been in the wont of doing, she left word in the gubernatorial household that she’d be back within a brightening and that in her absence matters could be tended to by her lord chancellor, and then she slipped out into the shadows and the world beyond.

It was testing her luck, but it also seemed appropriate somehow. The report that the Dolwoods had been transformed somehow had reached her desk some eras ago, but she had paid it little heed. Many strange things had come from their southern shared border with Enamoria as a result of the Xetan invasion, and Tiyribi had assumed that this was just another symptom of many. Now, though, with her mind clear as well as her schedule, she found her curiosity piqued again to see if the woods that had afforded her some of the strangest circumstances of her existence behaved any differently if they were glass, and if they would serve to help fill that strange lack she had in regards to her arcane practice.

She road alone, as was sure to irk many of those around her, but Centripax was her land and she had a desperate need to shirk everything she had become to it in an effort to restore clarity in her senses. She was dressed and equipped simply, as nothing more than a traveler, as she had no intention to do anything but satisfy her curiosity on this particular journey of fancy. Perhaps that had been her mistake all along—presuming to have designs on the Dolwoods at all, to think that they would behave in such a way to allow reasonable passage and events. Now she found herself surprisingly more open to the entire ordeal, as it would serve as a far and away greater source of entertainment than she had had in cycles.
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Old January 30, 2018, 07:47 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Other than the crisp breeze that swirled across the sprawling Centripaxian Heartlands, the last remnants of winter had been thoroughly supplanted by the budding spring. Where fields of powdery snow had once blanketed the earth, verdant grass had sprung with vigor and overrun the land for as far as the eye could perceive. Wildflowers returned in droves, complementing the endless ocean of green with vibrant reds, yellows, blues, and purples. The trees, too, ever steadfast against the grueling cold, flaunted their fresh legions of leaves and cast shade down upon all who sought refuge beneath them from the twin suns that illuminated the world from above. It was a beautiful stretch of the season by any standard, an auspicious sign of many blessings to come.

The journey southward proved relatively uneventful for the Governor of Centripax. Other than the periodic merchant that she passed along the way, her only other company was the occasional family of songbirds that greeted her from nearby trees or the random squirrel that hastily dashed across the dusty road before the Esh’lahier’s horse could trample it. Unlike the northern regions of Arium, where highwaymen and criminals could be expected around every twist and turn irrespective of the direction that one traveled, Centripax was less renowned for such antics, and this brightening was no exception to that fortunate norm. Either the felons were still hibernating from winter, or they had simply chosen more lucrative routes to terrorize – the way to the Dolwoods, after all, was not frequently traveled.

And for good reason.

Even if the Esh’lahier had never laid her amethyst eyes upon the legendary forest before, it was unmistakable even from afar. Towering trees that had haunted many adventurers over the eras formed the imposing edge of the esteemed glade, only they were not the stalwart and powerful living organisms that had been the subject matter of countless bards’ songs throughout the ages. They were white, as if someone or something had literally dressed every leaf, limb, bough, and trunk in snow. That no water dripped from the branches in the mid-afternoon confirmed that whatever substance cloaked the span of the Dolwoods was not precipitation. It resembled crystal or quartz more than anything else. And it had certainly not been present when Tiyribi had last visited.

The Dolwoods was accessible from multiple breaks in the tree line, but the most natural entrance appeared between two enormous redwoods that created an opening large enough for twenty men to enter abreast. Whatever foul play had cursed the already accursed Dolwoods and transformed it into a veritable forest of glass had done nothing to dispel its ominous pall. On the contrary, though the sunlight that bounced off the vast canopy of crystallized leaves painted various rainbows across the ground, shadows still lurked around every nook and cranny as if waiting to devour anyone brave enough to enter. Unsurprisingly, the tales of survivors venturing into the Dolwoods had been few and far between as of late.

I dunno, Gimut. I dun like da look o’ this.” Outside the entrance to the Dolwoods, a stout dwarf with a fiery-red beard shook his head apprehensively as he studied the glass trees. His powerful arms, arms that had probably mined thousands of pounds of rock, ore, and other metals over the centuries, were folded across his broad chest. Beside him, a slightly taller and older dwarf with thick brown hair that was divided into two yellow-banded braids appeared equally as uneasy.

Me neither, but da money is too good ta pass, and ye know we’re needin’ it,” he replied, and his response elicited a silent but agreeable nod from his companion.

The two dwarves were not alone. Nearby, a large dwarf with an orange beard and muscles that would have shamed a giant sat on a log running a whetstone along the curved edge of his double-sided battle-ax. Even while seated, it was clear that he was tall for a dwarf and could have been mistaken for a short human. Seated next to him was his polar opposite, possibly the smallest dwarf that Tiyribi had ever seen that was not a child. His beardless face hinted at his age, though the enormous crossbow that he fumbled with in his lap was anything but adolescent.

Most peculiar of all, however, was the last dwarf kneeling on the edge of the makeshift encampment. Pristine white robes covered his burly form from neck to ankles. His head was bowed, and clutched between his large hands was a small anvil-shaped pendant.
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Old February 1, 2018, 09:45 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Freedom has become a painfully elusive state in the last decade, growing progressively more intangible as the eras continued to progress. For now, though, Tiyribi Andares has it, as stolen and furtive and most likely fleeting as it was, and she was determined to enjoy every moment that it would last. As much as she typically thrived in the obligations she had willfully chosen over her life, sometimes she needed these precious moments of forgetting that they all existed in an attempt to somewhat remember who and what she once was.

So while the better part of her sense nagged at just how much trouble she had left behind, she did what she could to silence it and found pleasure instead in the mere curiosity of seeking out this “wood made of glass”. The more malicious part of her memories wondered if the event had managed to kill the malevolent spirit inhabiting the Dolwoods at last, and enjoyed the prospect. It had only ever brought her trouble in the worst and most mischievous sort of design, after all, and she’d rest better if their southern border was free of such misunderstood curses.

But then, she had met Dallandra here, and Hira, and had learned far more about herself and her abilities than she ever had from her endless hours of study and mountains of books. In that way, Tiyribi supposed it wasn’t entirely wrong—just unpredictable, which was quiet nearly as bad. Still, it did currently serve as a most pleasant distraction and if she managed to determine the cause or at least the consequences that this change to the woods would enact?—well, one could argue that she was seeing to duty as well as diversion.

That matter of diversion presses even further as voices, the first she’d heard in candle marks, interrupted the better part of her internalizations. Her eyes narrowed slightly and habit drove her to pull back slightly on her horse’s reins to slow its steps to a walk. While custom dictated her natural wariness, she had marked that they hadn’t noticed her nor seemed to be the least bit interested in anything but their own conversation. It was a public road, she reminded herself, and they were public as much as she was.

Her instinct was to guide her mount to walk steadily up to and then past what appeared to be a small contingent of dwarves discussing—business? She couldn’t much tell, and it certainly was not in her demeanor to interject in personal matters that did not concern her in the least. So while she cast a sweeping look from one dwarf to the next, marking garb and the items both nearby and held, she said had no real intention of stopping to interrupt. Instead, she merely nodded politely in their direction with a simple, “Good day,” to leave them all on their way.
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Old February 2, 2018, 07:38 PM   #4 (permalink)
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The two dwarves who had been conversing prior to Tiyribi’s arrival were the first to turn when she neared; it was not long after that the two who had been seated on the fallen log and the one who had been praying also pinned their attention on the loan Esh’lahier. If any of them perceived her as a threat, though, it was not evident from their leisure reactions, for none of them reached for their weapons or sprinted for any nearby. The burly, orange-bearded dwarf actually lowered the battle-axe that he had been sharpening earlier to gaze silently at the newcomer.

Near the entrance to the Dolwoods, the dwarf with fiery hair studied her closely, his brown eyes filled with a measure of intelligence and calculation that the others seemed to lack. His stare was not rude or challenging, but it lingered longer than would have been necessary under most casual encounters. He half-turned when Tiyribi continued towards them, as if waiting for her to pass so that he could return his attention to his one-eyed companion and whatever it was that they had been discussing earlier. It was only when Tiyribi failed to deviate from her course that he cocked a bushy brow.

Er, good brightenin’, miss,” he stammered, apparently surprised by the woman’s greeting. Said surprise remained stamped on his face when Tiyribi guided her horse past the two dwarves and proceeded towards the entrance to the Dolwoods.

Ya see that?” an astonished voice could be heard from the red-bearded dwarf’s immediate companion as the Esh’lahier passed, and it was followed by a loud chuckle. “Feth me bumhole, Falgen! Longlegs is walkin’ straight in dere. C’mon. Dun tell me dis girl’s braver than ya!” Another laugh could be heard from behind, and the clamor of orders being barked out to the others soon ensued.

The makeshift path between the towering redwoods narrowed once Tiyribi passed them. A veritable forest of glass greeted her, from the crystal-clad trees to the glistening bushes and shrubs that dotted the earth. The shadows seemed to noticeably shift the further the Esh’lahier traveled despite there being an eerie absence of wind inside to shift the leaves. And more than a dozen pairs of eyes peeked at her from the darkness, likely belonging to the woodland creatures brazen enough to claim the Dolwoods as their home.

Whatever transformation the enchanted forest had undergone might have enveloped it in glass, but the air was thick with strange magic, oozing from the limbs of every tree and branch as if screaming for release. From her vantage point atop her horse, it was difficult to see too far ahead due to the shadows, but the pathway stretched further and further and deeper into the glade.

Tiyribi had not traveled more than a stone’s throw through the entrance when the clamor of heavy boots could be heard behind her, loud enough to alert every single denizen in the Dolwoods that it had more than one visitor this brightening. And then something – a branch or twig – snapped behind her.
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Old February 3, 2018, 04:48 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Politeness dictated that she wait until she was certain to be out of the dwarves’ sight before she allowed the small grin to inevitably cross her face, but the action was significantly harder to control than the intention. Years in Centripax had acclimated her to the quirks of the shorter folk’s culture as well as the delicacy of their pride. At the moment, Tiyribi had no desire to wound the latter, particularly as the small group seemed to be quite capable of doing that amongst themselves, and thus used the fullness of her attention to keep her gaze straight ahead as she and her horse continued their ambling pace into the woods.

Dwarves in the Adminstrate were an expected, rather than uncommon, sight, and dwarves with tools no exception. But dwarves in the Dolwoods?—axes served them well on the battlefield and picks in their workshops, but in a magical forest now reported to be made entirely of glass that bordered on elven lands, they all seemed very out of place. Of course, so did she as a lone rider into said woods, but such was another matter entirely.

The slow pace she’d elected to take gave her ample opportunity to study just how true the reports had been. Trees that once hung so ominously against the sunlight with their wicked-looking branches and foliage now shimmered in that very same illumination, appearing like the windows in the great religious cathedrals that dotted her home city. And yet despite the surprising physical change to the Dolwoods’ flora, it still had lost none of its imposing and suspenseful nature. Tiyribi could feel the shivers running up and down her spine at the mere look of the shadows and the unsettling stillness that sat so deeply upon them.

It bothered her immensely. Instinct drove her to pull her traveling cloak more tightly around herself, despite knowing just how futile the effort would be. This part, this latent maliciousness and evil, had not changed, and it still elicited the same dark distrust in the pit of her stomach as it had the half dozen other times events had gone tragically and uncontrollably awry during her last visits here. Now it was simply made more painfully ironic when placed against the backdrop of the strange beauty that the glass trees made.

Her better sense demanded she turn back, and she very nearly did when she heard a sudden and surprising sound from behind. She stopped, using one hand behind her to support her turn in the horse’s saddle to see if she could make out exactly what it was that seemed to be following her. Assumption made it out to be the group of dwarves, but trust while fear still ran so palpably through her bloodstream was in precious limited supply. Tiyribi wouldn’t have been the least bit shocked if it had turned out to be an undead lich with a cabbit riding on its head, given her past experiences, but caution incited her to at least see if such a thing existed at all.

“Who’s there?” she called out in as loud a voice as she could muster.
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Old February 3, 2018, 08:00 PM   #6 (permalink)
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The shadows continued to dart around her, shifting as frequently as the wind changed directions. They flitted across the branches and darted from one leaf to the next, only to suddenly reemerge elsewhere as if serving as the inky eyes of the Dolwoods. There was a veritable aura about the lurking darkness here. It was living, breathing, and watching the Esh’lahier woman’s every single movement. Although some might have attributed the eeriness to the glade’s diminutive inhabitants scurrying from one vicinity to the next, the air tingled with an ancient magic that was both insidious and foreboding.

Pulling the edges of her cloak closer around her slender shoulders did little to mitigate the cold that permeated the woodlands. Sometime during her entry, the temperature had noticeably plummeted, and it was somewhat reminiscent of the frigid peaks of the Great Mountains. How that was possible considering the spring warmth that had bathed her pallid skin outside only minutes ago was uncertain, but the white air that materialized in front of her with every breath was a testament to something amiss.

Her double-pointed ears soon attuned to the abrupt crack behind her, and when she turned, the presence of five dwarves filled her vision. They followed behind her at a distance of at least four horses, suggesting that they had been mindful not to travel too closely to her. The one-eyed dwarf led the line behind him, although his head was turned towards the rear, a scowl written on his lined visage as he glared at his companion in the rear – the beardless dwarf, who carried an oversized crossbow in his arms. The others, too, had their attention on the young runt of the group.

Ye idiot, Nitwit!” the one-eyed dwarf barked, removing a hand from his battle-axe and pointing at the remnants of a broken branch, a piece of wood on either side of the young dwarf’s foot. “What did I tell ya about watchin’ where yer goin’?! Now she knows we’re followin’ ‘er!

Nitwit lowered his head, his shoulders sagging. “Sorry, boss.

With a heavy sigh, the red-bearded dwarf, who had greeted Tiyribi earlier on, broke away from the neatly-formed line and approached the Governor, stopping a fair distance away from her and tilting his head completely backwards to regard her. “We’re very sorry, miss. We didn’ mean ta alarm ya,” he apologized. “Me comrades ‘n I are searchin’ fer somethin’ here. We weren’t sure ‘bout comin’ in cause o’ da rumors, but then we saw ya, and we thought, if this girl ain’t afraid, then maybe we ain’t need ta be either.” His accent was thick and distinctly Zerdargian.

Aye, Longlegs.” the one-eyed dwarf nodded in affirmation. “We were hopin’ dat maybe ye know these woods n’ could give us directions.

All five dwarves gaped at Tiyribi hopefully, oblivious to the fact that behind them, and well within the woman’s line of sight, the entrance that they had all passed through only minutes ago was completely gone, sealed away by a wall of trees and not even a drop of sunlight perceptible beyond them.
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Old February 4, 2018, 06:43 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Gods, she hated the Dolwoods.

The shadows unnerved her. The chill ran straight down to her bones. And she couldn’t shake the ominous feeling creeping across her mind that something was watching her, waiting for her, just beyond how far she could make out in the dark foliage. Gods, this was a mistake. As much as her curiosity has piqued at seeing the truth in the rumors and the strange beauty that the glass made, she now fully regretted leaving the safety and security of her comfortable home.

Instinct, then, made her begin to pull back to turn around when the sudden sounds behind her surprised her into stopping. Her brows furrowed and she felt a flurry of fear and dread start in the pit of her stomach, but it was soon all put away when it wasn’t a cabbit-wearing lich that materialized, but rather the same dwarves she had seen just outside the woods’ entrance. She released a small sigh that she didn’t know she had been holding and as the whiff of frost encircled her lips, she marked again that it was terribly cold, and far more than it had any reasonable right to be during spring in Centripax.

The lady visibly relaxed as the dwarves made their introductions, although half of it was more appropriately a reprimand that they had been caught at all. She stifled the most of a smile at that, considering how impossible the thought of a quiet dwarf was, but said nothing. She let the party scuffle out the worst of their disagreement before the bearded one offered something of an explanation and the one-eyed one made his demand in a far more direct and offensive tone.

Still, this wasn’t Primus Gaudeo, and while the better part of her dignity riled at the idea of being called “long legs”, Tiyribi swallowed it down, hard, and reminded herself that she had left all of that behind on this spontaneous journey at the start. So, instead, she tilted her head in a slight nod toward the first dwarf and then met the half-gaze of the other evenly and without the smallest hint of censure. “You didn’t have to follow me. The road is public, after all.

Again she eyed the tools in the party’s hands. “What exactly are you trying to find, sirs? I’m afraid the Dolwoods aren’t particularly friendly to travelers or collectors alike.” She shook her head and took another deep breath, noting that the effort seemed to just make her colder. “I’m not terribly familiar with the immediate land here, but I will help if I can.
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Old February 4, 2018, 09:36 PM   #8 (permalink)
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The red-bearded dwarf winced, then lifted a huge hand behind his head and scratched uncomfortably. It appeared that he was at a loss for words, a situation that was apparently rare for the ostensible leader of the group. “Ya see, miss, we were-

We thought da monsters would attack ya first,” the beardless dwarf interjected, beaming widely and obviously grateful that he could assist his stammering superior.

Nitwit’s comment elicited an enraged “Moron! from the one-eyed dwarf, who made a daunting step towards the young runt to pummel him (and it seemed like he most certainly would have succeeded) before his companion grabbed him firmly by the arm. The older Zerdargian shot one final glare at Nitwit, but his temper seemed to subside shortly afterwards as evidenced from his subsequent huff and the irritated shake of his head.

Okay,” the Zerdargian leader corrected himself, holding his hands up apologetically to the Esh’lahier woman. “Let’s start over, miss. Me names Falgen. Me comrade ‘ere is Gimut,” he gestured towards the hot-tempered dwarf, then pointed his finger to the huge dwarf near the rear with Nitwit. “Dat’s Bax. Da priest is Thric, and ye just met Nitwit. We’re from Zerdargia.

Nitwit smiled and waved. Thric, the dwarf in pristine white robes, bowed, and the orange-bearded Bax nodded.

As I was sayin’,” Falgen started again after sparing a knowing glance at Nitwit, “we’re lookin’ fer a beastie, a stag. A big stag.” He held his arms out as wide as possible. “We got a buyer in Primus whose gonna pay big fer its head.

Aye. He said we can’t miss it,” the one-eyed dwarf expounded. “N’ fer what he’s offerin’, we ain’t.

Falgen nodded slightly when Tiyribi admitted that she was not too familiar with the immediate area. “Still, it sounds like ye been ‘ere before, miss, which means ye ain't unfamiliar either. We’d be appreciatin’ any help ye can give, and o’ course we’d cut ye in on da profit. Whaddya say? Do we have a deal?
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Old February 6, 2018, 12:36 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Well, she couldn’t much fault the dwarves for their strong survival instinct. In truth, Tiyribi doubted that she would have done much differently if the situations had been reversed. Thus it took the better part of her self-control to stifle her amusement at the creatures’ blunt honesty rather than annoyance at their confession to using her as a testing decoy of sorts. After all, it was incredibly refreshing to actually be told rather than having to survive through all the sycophantic flattery and lies that regularly filled her days in the gubernatorial halls.

So, instead, she managed to keep everything but the slight sparkle in her pale lavender eyes from manifesting and instead most pointedly and purposely turned her attention toward the Zerdargian. Each introduction warranted another polite nod of her head toward the indicated dwarf, though she knew all too well that she’d probably barely remember them by the next candlemark. It had been the better part of two decades Tiyribi had now spent in Centripax, and yet dwarven names still perplexed her by sound, meaning, and pronunciation.

“Zerdargia?” she finally said aloud. “I see. I am honored to meet you. My name is Elena.” It was a pseudonym she had adopted a few times before, though in truth it was now becoming just one of many in her collection. There may have been some truth in the conclusion that she was becoming far too fond of appearing incognito and less keen to her actual persona, but such things were better left to be considered at a much later time. “Hunters? I did not realize bounties from Primus Gaudeo traveled so far.”

Then again, there was very little that she did realize about the undercurrents of her own city, Tiyribi acknowledged. There was a certain naivete that came with the security of her position and its surroundings. “I’m afraid I shan’t be much help hunting a stag. Have you been in these woods before?” Given their nervousness the answer seemed obvious enough, but it still seemed curious that Zerdargians would be brave enough to venture into a wood long rumored to be made of magic of the most malicious sort.
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Old February 6, 2018, 12:16 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Aye, Zerdargia,” Falgen confirmed, stroking his fiery beard reflexively as the Esh’lahier woman introduced herself. “And it’s a pleasure ta meet ya, Elena.” His eyes roamed her figure briefly, and it was clear from the way that he regarded her attire rather than her physical features that he was assessing her value to the group instead of entertaining any lustful fantasies about her. His examination ended as soon as it started, and he simply nodded when Tiyribi expressed her surprise that someone in Primus Gaudeo had commissioned the Zerdargians to complete a task all the way in the Dolwoods.

We’re kinda famous,” Nitwit bragged, a smile lighting his hairless face as he adjusted his giant crossbow and rested it over his shoulder. This time, none of the other dwarves voiced their dissent.

Falgen, too, smiled at his subordinate’s boast, then nodded to Tiyribi. “We should probably be movin’,” he said, jutting his chin towards the open path that the Esh’lahier had been traveling down earlier. “We ain’t been ta these woods before, but we’re knowin’ da rumors.” He puffed his chest out and started forward alongside the Esh’lahier and her horse, the other dwarves following behind him except for Gimut, who traveled shoulder-to-shoulder with him.

Ye can leave da stag huntin’ ta us,” he reassured Tiyribi as they walked. “We just need yer help ta find it. A couple o’ farmers told us da woods are filled with strange magic n’ it causes da trees ta come alive and eat people.” Whether or not he believed such tales, he did not say, but the reserved tone in which he recited what he had heard suggested that he did not discount them either.

Aye,” Gimut agreed. “N’ one lad told us if ye wipe yer ass with a leaf from da woods, yer bumhole will itch fer cycles.” He laughed, and the others nervously joined him.

The jest elicited a grin from the red-bearded dwarf, but he merely shrugged. “Anyway, lass. We ‘eard da stag dwells around da heart o’ da woods.

The temperature remained cold as the group traveled southward and deeper into the forest, following a singular path between the legions of crystalline trees that seemed to stretch on forever. It was not until half a candlemark passed that the route branched off into three directions, left, middle, and right, which corresponded to southeast, south, and southwest, respectively, from their vantage point.

The green fog that continued to linger beneath the canopy of leaves above them was denser down the center pathway, covering the treetops and occasionally glowing with lime-colored light. The rightward path was far more welcoming, the eerie mist less dense and therefore allowing the party to see clearly another patch of open woodlands. A squirrel darted across the opening, pausing only to glance at the newcomers before diving and disappearing into a nearby brush.

The last pathway was darker and draped in shadow, possibly due to the time of day or the way that the sunlight overlooked this segment of the forest. Or perhaps the leaves were merely thicker and more hostile towards the light. It was difficult to tell, but the shadows seemed to watch the dwarves and the Esh’lahier intently as if bidding them to enter.

Falgen scratched his chin. “Tell me ye seen this before, lass?
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Old February 8, 2018, 07:11 PM   #11 (permalink)
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“Famous?” she repeated, curiosity instead of disbelief accenting her tone. “I’ve no doubt about that.” In her experience, Zerdargian stubbornness often served as an adequate substitute for real talent in a particular skill. In fairness, Tiyribi had little doubt that the dwarves were exaggerating too greatly about their abilities as hunters—or, at least, only enough on the top to embellish the story.

She glanced curiously back at Falgen who seemed to the more sensible of the crew. “Why do you believe the stag is here in the Dolwoods? I’m sure there are plenty of other great beasts that ought to have satisfied your customer’s particular tastes.” The dwarves had affirmed that their compensation had been great indeed, but she wondered just how great given that it involved wandering into a wood long rumored to be pulsating with magic as its very lifeblood. Her limited time in Dargis had served as proof enough that dwarves and magic weren’t much of a mix, and given the crew’s nervous behavior just outside the trees, it seemed that they were true to their kind.

At the mention of the farmers’ descriptions, she nodded solemnly. “I do believe they spoke the truth to you in that,” she replied, her tone utterly devoid of levity. She had had enough experiences with the Dolwoods’ particular brand of mischief to stand as living proof to just how tame the consequence of a strange itch would be when surviving a run-in with the glade. Still, it did serve to show just how unfamiliar and out of their depth the poor group of Zerdargians were and Tiyribi couldn’t help the sudden swell of pity upon thinking about just how quickly and completely such naivete would serve to be their demise.

Another cold breath of wind made her shiver, and she wondered again at the marvel that stood as the Dolwoods. The feeling wasn’t much helped when the bearded dwarf made note of the sudden change in the woods around them, as if the very foliage was knotting itself together to form an insurmountable wall. She didn’t like it, and again the tempting thought of just simply turning about and returning home crossed her mind—though at the moment, Tiyribi had very little idea where that direction would be, given that the trees seemed to have filled in what she remembered being the Dolwoods’ edge.

“I—” she started, then stopped suddenly. “No.” The lady frowned and adjusted her weight slightly in her saddle. “I’ve heard of the Heart of the Woods. It may be the safest place in this entire forest, though I am not certain that your intentions of slaying one of its creatures will be taken particularly well.”
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Old February 8, 2018, 08:41 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Well, dis ain’t no ordinary beast, lass,” Falgen answered with the shake of his head. “If it were, we’d just go huntin’ n’ kill da first deer we saw, ain’t dat right boys?” The red-bearded dwarf chuckled, and the others joined him, albeit uneasily. Whatever it was that they were hunting had clearly given them second thoughts. And but for the generous compensation that they alleged to have been offered, it seemed doubtful that they would have ventured into the Dolwoods otherwise.

It’s da horns,” Falgen clarified, “magical horns, we ‘eard. Me buyer said they’re made o’ gold or somethin’, but they’re worth a fortune.” He nodded emphatically. “I dunno much about magic or deer, but if killin a stag’s gonna mean dat me n’ my boys don’t gotta work fer a whole era, we’re gonna do it.

The white-robed dwarf cleared his throat from behind. “N’ give Cetheron his share too, right Falgen?

Er, right. Of course,” the Zerdargian agreed with a sheepish smile.

The dwarves mumbled softly under their lips as Tiyribi confirmed the rumors surrounding the haunted woods. It was common knowledge that dwarves detested strange magic, and these five were apparently no exception.

Y-ye seen ‘em?” Nitwit quivered from behind, his large hands tightening around the butt and the base of his oversized crossbow as he stared frightfully at Tiyribi.

Tiyribi’s sobering revelation did nothing to improve the group’s mood. On the contrary, they seemed more nervous than ever now. The enormous Bax, who had been relatively silent thus far, shifted restlessly from heavy foot to heavy foot, his gaze wandering across the surrounding trees as if expecting one of them to come alive at any moment and terrorize them.

Ye’ve heard o’ da Heart o’ da Woods?” Gimut asked, his bushy brows shifting quizzically as he turned his gaze to Falgen.

The dwarf smiled at his comrade, a clear boast that he had chosen wisely in incorporating the Esh’lahier in their plans. “We can be fast, lass, really fast. We’ll get in n’ out in a jiffy. Da woods won’t even know they’re down a beast.” he nodded excitedly, then glanced pointedly at the three paths laid out ahead of them.

So uh, which one do ye think is da way ta da heart?
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Old February 9, 2018, 12:54 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Ah, yes. She had rather forgotten just how crass dwarves could be at the bones of their nature. A slight frown formed across her face unbidden at the thought of the creature they described meeting its gory end at their hands—and all for a single magical part. While Tiyribi couldn’t much fault the Zerdargians’ business sense, she did find the entire matter rather less than proper. Her own encounters with magical creatures were rather slim which merely added to her confidence that such should not be harassed and most certainly not hunted to remove horns or any other appendages.

“I’m not sure that is the wisest plan,” she said aloud, her altruism getting the better of her usual sense of reserve. “Itching will probably be the least of your worries.” She didn’t much like the habit of interfering in other persons’ business, but the combination of the dwarves’ intentions and her past experiences with the Dolwoods warned that their business here was sure to not go well. Considering the fact she was in rather close proximity to them and had somehow been involuntarily adopted as guide into their group, it was easy enough to imagine that whatever consequences Dolwoods or gods or spirits would have in mind for their defense would extend to her as well.

Thus out of instinct she shifted her weight uneasily whose effect spread to her mount who moved anxiously from foot to foot as well. She was about to explain herself further when Nitwit pointed out a them somewhere behind, and she felt herself shiver. “Them?” she repeated, looking curiously at the dwarf. “Who do you see?”

The rest of the dwarves’ questions were slightly more expected and thus did much to distract her, if not fully calm her nerves. “Yes, I’ve heard of it. It’s been recorded many places. But I’m afraid I don’t know where it is, exactly. I’ve never actually seen it.” Again she cast a critical look over the cadre of Zerdargians, passing from tools to weapons to beards in each’s time. “I think you vastly underestimate just how personally the Dolwoods take offense.”

Again she looked behind her, finding nothing more than closed trees and confusion. Whatever way they had all entered from was now gone, disappeared forever underneath the Dolwoods’ style of play. “I’d not linger long.” It was spoken as much for their benefit as for her own as she began to actively search out some semblance of direction to find her way back out of the forest.
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Old February 9, 2018, 03:04 PM   #14 (permalink)
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The color in Nitwit’s hairless face drained completely as he slowly unwound a hand from his crossbow and pointed a stubby finger up and over Tiyribi’s slender shoulder. Other than the Esh’lahier woman, the remaining dwarves had been too preoccupied with their own conversations to pay the runt of the litter any heed, which was, based upon everything that Tiyribi had witnessed thus far about the Zerdargians’ interactions, probably a common experience.

Such oversight would likely prove costly.

At first it was difficult to discern what exactly Nitwit was pointing at when Tiyribi turned to investigate. The shadows continued to shift beneath the canopy of leaves, darting from one place to another like spiders scurrying away from the daylight. But it was not only the shadows that moved along the tree line this time. No, the silhouettes of three gigantic, towering figures broke ranks with the remaining sentinels and stepped forward as a easily as any mortal might walk the realm.

Leaves rustled, branches groaned, and roots snapped as the three enormous treants emerged from the camouflage that their ancient kindred so effortlessly provided. Formed from redwood trees and clad in glass-like armor, every one of their steps caused the earth beneath the Zerdargians and the Esh’lahier to quiver under their weight. As they drew nearer, their faces became more visible amidst the shrubbery and boughs that decorated their heads. Eyes that glowed with emerald fire glared at the new intruders, and the crude mouths carved out beneath them roared with unbridled rage.

The bellows drowned out what remained of the party’s previous exchange.

By Cetheron’s beard! Dem trees alive!” Gimut shrieked, and his battleaxe was out instantly in front of him as he started backing away.

The terror was evident in the dwarves’ eyes, and all of them started to scramble backwards, their weapons drawn and raised before them.

Lass! Lass! Come back ‘ere!” Falgen cried out to Tiyribi, desperation in his voice. “Hurry!

Falgen’s warning was the last that could be heard before the treant in the center, which stood the height of at least two veritable giants, opened its bark mouth. Jets of emerald flame shot forth from the opening, rolling towards the Esh’lahier and her horse in a hurry.
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Old February 10, 2018, 03:50 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Well, it wasn’t a cabbit, nor was it a lich, but in hindsight Tiyribi almost wished that it had been.

Instinct drove the expression of pure shock intermingled with fear across her pallid features as Nitwit’s comment drew their attention to the fact that they were indeed very far from being alone. While rumor had always postulated that the Dolwoods had a life of their own, Tiyribi hadn’t expected that it would take such an accurate and physically-manifest form. She cast another look in the younger dwarf’s direction, wondering if and when he had first seen them, and if he knew anything about what they were and why they were here, but the patent fear on his face was enough to silence those questions for a much more appropriate time.

She clutched the reins in her hands a bit more tightly, feeling the panic settle in from herself to the mount still standing beneath her. Whatever words or thoughts she might have generated were utterly frozen at the sight of trees, large and brambled, and moving. Never had she seen such a thing in her entire existence, and to know that it was created in the Dolwoods?—that assured her that their purpose and their intentions were anything less than frightening.

Saying anything to the dwarves quickly became a moot action as they voiced exactly what was going through her own mind—though with their own particular Zerdargian flare. Falgen’s cry brought her attention back to the present, and she marked again just how little time they evidently all had. In one smooth motion the elf dismounted, deciding that the animal’s unpredictable nature would make it more of a danger than a saving grace, and hit it hard on the rump in the hope that instinct would take over and the horse would make its way out of the woods safely.

Scurrying toward the dwarves, she kept one eye on the trio of walking trees and the other marking where the Zerdargians had mounted their makeshift defense. “Do you have—” and then Tiyribi cut off the rest of her thought as the very same thing she was about to ask for spewed out of one of the trees’ mouths. She ducked, pulling her head down in a vain attempt to mitigate the worst of the damage, and rolled as fast as she could out of the way, opting for a sideways track to try to avoid the trail of the fire.

“Get under!” the Esh’lahier shouted. For the moment, her usual caution about casting in the mischievous woods was tossed to the wind as she hastily constructed a half-spherical shield from Force Essence. It was large enough to span the entire group standing beneath it and, hopefully, enough also to block the onslaught of the flames. But fire?—from living trees? Her mind was still reeling and finding it difficult to concentrate.
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