“Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master.” – Cora
We broke camp the following morning and set out along the roads, keeping the looming cliffs off to the left. The road traveled straight through the hay fields here, and the golden grass swayed on either side of us. We noticed that there were straw thatched huts spaced periodically along the fields, but the farmers that worked there stayed well clear of the roads. The road here was obviously designed for travel, and while there were no inns or buildings along it, there were several cleared spaces and camp sites available for use.
Use them, we did. These sites made it much easier to set up and take down our camp, and our travel was quick and uneventful. I used the down time while we camped to study the book that Tobias had given me, as I had seen mention of a number of spells that might be able to aid with cam preparation and daily activities. I was able to find the descriptions of the spells, but determined that I would have to study them much more before I would be comfortable enough to cast any of them. I missed my connection to my ancestor’s wisdom keenly in this place, though I continually reached out to where their voices should be.
After about a week and a half of travel, we finally saw the edges of the hay fields. The road branched off here, with one path leading straight through the glass forest and another path leading off to the side, around the glimmering trees. The pathway that lead through the forest was littered with shards from fallen leaves and branches, and looked to be quite treacherous for the animals, though we would likely be able to pick our way through unharmed. Lan spoke up then and said that she remembered the brownies we encountered earlier warning us to stay away from the glass forest altogether.
I reached out to touch one of the trees, and found to my interest that they were very certainly alive. I also got a sense of unhappiness from them, but though I tried to use my abilities to perceive the cause of the distress, the only thing I was able to understand from them was that they did not belong in this state. Jaeger reached out to break off a leaf to study, but it shattered with a loud crack the moment he touched it. He then turned into a raven and flew overhead to scout out the pathways. When he returned, he said that it would take only about a week to go through the forest, it would take a month or more to go around it.
In an uncharacteristic display of reluctance, the party as a whole agreed that traveling around the forest would be safer, trusting in Lan’s memory of the brownie’s warning.
Before we turned around I made one last attempt to try to discover why the glass forest was so aggrieved. I had been working with Lan studiously to learn the Fae language, as everything here seemed to speak it. I had refrained from using my spell that let the roads talk to me, up to this point, because the chatter in the unknown language was nearly maddening. I finally felt like I might be able to at least begin to understand what it said, though, and so I cast it again. The chatter was immediate, and I found that I was able to pick up enough to understand the basics of what the roads were saying, but sadly, it told me nothing about the forest or why the trees were so despondent.
I made a note of where the forest was, and wondered yet again if breaking the giant mushroom circle would be beneficial to this area that had been apart from the natural order for so long that the trees had forgotten how to be trees. The more that I consider this path, the more I feel that it may be our only option here. It bears more consideration though, as I have no idea how to even begin such a task.
We took the southern path, leading around the glass forest, and continued to travel for about two days. I noticed that we could no longer see any of the farmers anywhere, but being so close to the forest thought little of it. That evening as we camped, I saw Jaeger and KelLyn huddled together over the fire, working on some form of combined spell. Nothing seemed to happen though, and as there were no explosions or otherwise adverse effects from their plotting, I left them to it. I did notice that Jaeger had gathered some of the glass shards into a pile, and that he used magic to turn them into projectiles which he flung with surprising efficiency at a nearby haybale. He seemed pleased with the results of this spell, and nodded to himself before muttering something unintelligible to KelLyn.
A few more weeks of travel took us on a slightly uphill turn. I noticed that wild onions, chives garlic, and other herbs grew prolifically along the path, and I took the opportunity to gather what I could. I contemplated adding a few of each to my little travelling herb garden, and decided that having such additions would be simple enough. I added a small section to my box, and took several of each of the wild herbs that I found to cultivate for my own.
Eventually we came into sight of the mountain, and saw a large field of bright crimson flowers. There was a ramshackle hut along side the field, and there were five old men dressed in ragged clothing sitting on the porch of the dilapidated building. They each had a pipe in their mouth, and each puff of their breath released an opaque white cloud. They watched us, silently, and made no motion to greet us, speak to us, or do anything except sit and watch. We passed them without a word, and I noticed an odd, cloying smell coming from the flowers in the field. I made a cautious note to stay far away from whatever these flowers were, and we continued along the path toward the mountian. Jaeger said something to Shalev, and Shalev looked at his compass to confirm that we were still heading east.
The paths here were loose and gravelly, but well traveled. We noticed that the glass forest had finally begun to taper off and become more odd looking. The road continued down and we found ourselves journeying beside the forest. The trees were no longer made of glass, but now were brilliantly colored in purple, blue, green, and every other color imaginable. The path lead us through the center of this forest, and we kept to it warily. The trees here also gave off a palpable sense of troubled existence, and periodically Amit would jump up onto the cart and let out a low growl. Every time he did this, we saw well camouflaged green leopards, poised to leap down on the cart, run away. I noticed that they were much smaller cats, and then realized that the pathways babble of “big cat, small cat, small cat” made much more sense.
After another two weeks of travel, we came to a clearing where we saw a herd of centaurs relaxing. I wanted to go and greet them, thinking of the centaur that I held trade with in the desert, but the rest of the party wanted nothing to do with them. The centaurs paid us no mind at all, and I sighed in disappointment at the lost opportunity as we traveled out of the clearing and back into the forest.
Eventually we did clear the forest, and exited out onto a rich pastureland with well tended farms and gardens. We saw the giant mushrooms of the outer ring of this place off to the left. The farmers paid attention to our party, but remained silent as we passed them by. The children though were excited to see us, running up to the fences and shouting to the party to ask if we had seen the centaurs, if we had bought anything from the centaurs, and a host of other questions. I grumbled again to myself about the missed chance to trade with the centaurs as the party responded that we had not stopped to talk or trade with them. The children, disappointed that we had no goodies to share with them, went back to their families, and we continued to travel and camp along the road.
After another day or so of travel, we encountered a farmer on the road who was leading a heavily laden cart pulled by an odd animal that looked like a mix between a camel and an ox. The humpbacked beast was enormous, but placid, and seemed to shoulder the weight of the yoke without a second thought. Shalev greeted the farmer and inquired about what he might have to sell or trade. The farmer said that he was looking for a plow, and when Shalev said that we did not have one, the farmer shrugged and continued to guide the plodding beast along the path.
We saw a large city with a castle built into the cliffs ahead. We saw the homes get closer together, and we saw shops, market places, and a large crater in the center with a house in the middle of the depression. As we got closer to the city, Jaeger did some magic that allowed him to appear human, so as not to cause alarm. I went to one of the closest shops and knelt down to speak to the fae inside. I was able to ask in broken fae if there was a place that we could sleep and trade. He responded in common, seeing my discomfort with the language, and said that the market would be open for trade in three days’ time, and that we were welcome to camp to the west or to the south of town as there were no inns here that could accommodate those of our size comfortably. I thanked the shop keeper for the information, and noticed that he sold barrels. I also noticed that the metal that he used was different, and when I asked politely why he didn’t use iron, he rattled off something about a stronger metal. I asked him to wait a moment, and then brought Tobias in to see the barrels and talk to the shop owner as a fellow cooper. They discussed technique and the finer points of barrel making for a few moments, with the shop keeper telling Tobias that the metal bands he used were made of a gnomish bronze instead of iron. Tobias happily purchased one of the barrels from him, and the shop keeper told us that the name of the city was Wenke. I asked him about the university and he told me that the college was closer to Emer, in the center of the bowl.
I thanked him again, and we took our things to the south of town to make camp while we waited for the marketplace to open. Once we made camp, Shalev set about making an inventory of our trade goods and deciding how best to set up and display the wares we wished to trade. The following morning, we heard an explosion. We immediately looked over at KelLyn and Jaeger, and KelLyn responded “it wasn’t me!” We looked over to the town and saw that there was smoke coming off of a roof on the northern side. Ashley and Osman went to go check out the disturbance, and I mentioned wryly that someone should probably go with them, just in case.
None of the rest of the party made any movement to do so, so I caught up to them to go check out the building. We saw a man standing outside coughing, and three guards nearby asking if he were ok. The guards went into the house and brought out a tray of smoldering ashes. I asked in in halting fae if he was alright, and he rattled off something I couldn’t understand. I asked him to wait, and then went back to camp to go and get Lan to help translate. She conversed with the man for several moments, and I caught the words for “potion” and “healing.” They continued to speak, and I asked about his gardens. The man said that he outsourced for his ingredients, and said that he would hopefully have several potions ready for market, and the preparation of these was what had caused the explosions.
We returned to camp in time to see a large cart full of odd purple roots being poured out into vats and mashed down into a gooey paste. We watched, curiously as the paste was drained onto cloth sheets and then rolled into cone shapes. We asked what this was, and were told that it was a type of sugar that would be available for sale or trade at the market. As we made our way back over to the southern edge, we passed by a pair of looming gates leading into the mountain. These gates were heavily guarded, and when we inquired, we were told that these were the Eastern Gates to the outside world, and that they were currently closed to outsiders unless special permission was granted to pass through.
On our second day of camping, a rider from the south came into the center of town. Shortly after we saw him ride through, Jaeger returned to camp to tell Shalev that the rider had run up to the guard saying Shalev’s name multiple times. Shalev was curious about this, but extremely wary, and asked that we all prepare for a fight if necessary.
The following day, we brought our cart into town and found a suitable place to set up for market. Shalev set up the trade area in formal desert fashion, displaying what wares we wished to trade in the best way possible on the brightly colored rug that he had taken from the guardroom in Sacatha’s dungeon, and then seating himself in the center and sipping cooly on some tea while he observed those that came by to look.
A farmer came by carrying an enormous slab of meat over one shoulder. We saw that he passed by several stalls with a shake of his head, much to their obvious disappointment. When he made his way to our area, his eyes lit up and he nodded his head hopefully and asked if we had any dwarven ale. We did have several bottles of an extremely good vintage remaining, and he and Shalev immediately began to barter. The man said that the meat he carried was a highly sought after cut of the odd humped back cows called water oxen. The “bacon” was cured with salt and would keep for a very long time, and that he would be willing to trade for the dwarven ale.
As they began trade discussions in earnest, the messenger looked over at our trade area and shouted “Found you!” then ran over and said that he bore a message. Shalev asked him to wait until the trade was completed, and the messenger said that it was a message from the oasis. Shalev sighed and asked again for patience while the trade was finalized, saying that his wife had waited this long, ten more minutes would be nothing.
The farmer chuckled at this, but finally agreed after several moments to trade both racks of the bacon for one keg of the dwarven ale. The farmer then brought the large racks of meat over and had them placed on the cart, while the rest of the shop owners groaned in disappointment. Shalev then turned to the messenger and listened as he was told that the negotiations between his mother and wife-to-be had been completed for the past several months and that the wedding was scheduled for only 22 days from then.
He nodded and said that he would begin preparations to depart immediately. KelLyn offered to open a portal for him to transport him straight into the heart of the oasis,and he agreed to the offer. Shalev approached the guards at the eastern gate, and requested permission to go just to the other side of the gates so that he could be transported home. The guards reluctantly agreed, and as they opened the gates with a thundering boom, the rest of the party worked to help Shalev prepare to return home.
We took two of the horses and loaded them up with the best selection of the trade goods he had worked so hard to gather, evidence of the routes he had established in his family’s name: honey, tea, porcelain, alcohol, spices, oils, and a chest full of coins and gems. I made sure that he had the gifts of jewelry and porcelain that he had commissioned specifically for his bride, and I also gave him the scroll that I carried that would grant him protection from the undead. KelLyn gifted him with a potion that would allow him to control low level undead as well, and once the gates were open, KelLyn, Jaeger, Osman, and myself accompanied Shalev through the gates to see him safely home.
As soon as I crossed the threshold of the gate, I felt my connection to my ancestors restored to me with an almost audible click. I sighed in relief, and worked quickly to cast what blessings I was able to on Shalev. That done, I gifted him with one of the bottles of extremely good wine as a personal gift, and a promise that I would come to the Oasis as soon as I could.
Jaeger worked with KelLyn in the rhythm we had seen them establish to gather power for the spell to open the portal. As the power ramped up to a nearly tangible level, KelLyn looked over at Jaeger in surprise as she said “but I have a wand for this spell..”
Realizing that she couldn’t simply release such a large amount of power in a closed space, she began to concentrate and focus the power down into a point. She used the spell that the demon prince had taught her to solidify the power into a solid, shining blue stone about half an inch across. The powerful node of water magic shimmered softly, like sunlight through water, and she looked at it for a moment before turning and handing it to Shaelv. She said that it was both a wedding gift and a parting gift for him, specifying that it was not for his wife at all. Then without another word, she turned and opened the portal directly into the heart of the oasis.
He looked surprised at this generosity from her, but accepted the stone with thanks. then mounting his horse and taking the reins of the one holding the trade goods, he looked at me. He thanked me for all that I had taught him, and said that he would see me again some day. I nodded, and watched as he rode through the portal to greet his mother and new wife. As he and Amit strode through, I saw that there were now walls surrounding the oasis, and that there was a large army standing guard along the walls. I heard the messenger snort out loud and then turn to quickly walk in the opposite direction saying that he was in no rush to return because he knew about the war and what waited.
KelLyn heard him say this and stepped in front of him with a short curse. She picked him up by the scruff of the neck and said “oh hell, no you didn’t tell us about that.” then pushed him straight through the portal to land a little behind where Shalev had walked through. Then the portal closed with a snap and Shalev was gone.
The two gnomes who had been standing on this side of the gates stared at us with wide eyes. She asked if we might be granted passage at a later date, and they quickly told her that if we returned in three months’ time that they would have a tunnel dug out specifically for us to use. The guards and the gnomes granted us permission to stay outside the gate for a time so that we could communicate with our gods, and Osman immediately knelt to pray. KelLyn began muttering to herself, and presumably her goddess as well.
At long last I was able to speak again with my ancestors. They responded quickly, with a question as to where I have been. I told them quickly of the ring, and of all we had faced. They advised and consoled me, telling me that I was on the right track. They confirmed that I could replant a sylvan tree where an existing tree once stood, provided that I had even one single piece of the original tree. This gave me a great amount of hope that I would be able to restore what had been destroyed. I spoke with them more about our current circumstances, and they confirmed my growing suspicion that the circle that kept this place apart needed to be broken. It would cause some chaos to do so, but this place had been removed for far too long, and bringing it back into touch with the world around it would help to restore it over time. Breaking the circle would also free the dragon who circled around the center, and that would be the biggest advantage that we had in dealing with him. I also asked about the spellbook that I had found, and they told me that I would be able to cast the spells when I called on them to do so , if I studied them long enough
I offered to share some wine with them, but the said with some sadness that they were not able to enjoy the gift in a physical form. They appreciated the thought, however, and I thanked them for the advice and comfort that they gave to me. It had been too long since I spoke with them, and their presence was like a soothing balm to my spirit.
Once we had all completed what conversations or prayers we needed to say, we turned and made our way back through the gate, hearing it grind closed behind us. We made our way back to the trade tent and spent the rest of the day completing trades with various vendors; honey for the odd sugar (10 lbs), tea tree and olive oil for corn oil (10 lbs), and a diverse mixture of local fruits and vegetables.
The guy we had encountered earlier showed up towards the end of the day, selling a variety of potions of attraction, ethereal reality, cure all parasites, potions of speed, levitation, and an odd clear potion with blue floaty specks in it. KelLyn approached him and asked about the clear potion. As she spoke to the man, she asked about the potions of speed, and he told her that they were made out of brownies. When she expressed concern about the brownies, the man replied that “they were dying anyway.” which instantly made me dislike him immensely. KelLyn also found his manner distasteful, and quickly finished her business with him, purchasing the clear potion and one potion of attraction.
Before he left, he confirmed that the college was straight towards Emer and to the south. He also warned us about the smoke shops, saying that we should avoid them at all costs, saying that the smoke and fumes from such places could befuddle even the strongest minds. We thanked him for the information and returned to the tent to begin packing up our belongings ot return to camp.
As we packed up our things, Ashley got up and wandered over to the potion seller. They conversed for a few moments, and the potion seller suddenly took an extreme interest in Ashley and took him by the arm to walk with him back toward the shop. It was only after we had finished packing up that we realized that Ashley was missing.
KelLyn and Jaeger suddenly looked up and started running toward where Ashley was last seen, as they had felt a surge of magical energy. The animals were all spooked, and the rest of the party had their hands full trying to soothe and rein in the horses. I told Tobias and Osman to go try to find the rest of the party while Lan and I prepared to depart.
A few moments later, there was a very large explosion on the northern end of town. We looked up in alarm to see that KelLyn and Jaeger were surrounded by some kind of warding bubble, and that nothing remained of the potion makers shop except smoldering rubble. The yellow sphere that encased them slowly dissipated, and Jaeger turned into a raven to pull a levitating KelLyn over and down to the ground. KelLyn came storming back to camp, with Jaeger still in raven form flying after her, swearing in malevolent anger. She was quite upset, and once we were able to calm her down, she told us that the potion maker had kidnapped Ashley and killed him for spell components. She ranted on about how she had then killed the potion maker because it served him right, and he had a piece of her staff that got flung away in the explosion, and was probably in the center city of Emer, and that we were never going to get out of this godsforsaken place. Then she stomped over to the cart and opened up a barrel of her beer to get a drink.
Shortly after KelLyn had finished her tirade, the city guards approached and asked for recompense of the destroyed properties. She negligently handed them some platinum from her purse and began her tirade again about unethical potion makers. The guards stammered their thanks at the kingly sum of money they had been handed, and said that the southern sorceress would almost certainly be arriving the next day to check out the cause of the explosion.
Once the guards had left, KelLyn said that it would likely be in our best interests to move out the next day anyway, as we had already packed up all of our things. Early the next morning, before daybreak, Jaeger once again turned into a raven and flew up high in order to scout the roads ahead for us. and we cleaned our camp and set out on the roads toward Emer and the college.
Shalev is gone. I knew that one day this would happen, that our paths would diverge and that he would eventually have to travel on his own. I am proud of my student, and think that he is well equipped to handle whatever may come his way. Amit travels with him, and this gives me more solace than any protection spell I could have cast for him, though I have it on extremely good authority that he is protected by more than one god.
He has departed to return to the oasis to fulfill his oath to be married. After that? His path is his own to choose. He was recently told of specific things required to become a true paladin of Ma’at, and was also told where to find those who will aid his quest. It is my hope that the roads are gentle on his feet, and that our paths will eventually cross again. If I do not see him again in his lifetime, I will hold to the promise I made to him long ago to revisit the oasis and see his children.
Travel well my friend. May you find the peace you seek, and trust that we will eventually meet again.
I was finally able to speak to my ancestors again, and the conversation was more soothing to me than anything else ever could be. Their advice and consolation helped me solidify my resolve, and gave me hope that I will be able to restore not only the tree here, but the tree in that cursed elven city as well. They warned me that I should not bind myself to the tree, as that would prove fatal, even for one such as me. I do not yet know what it will take to accomplish this task, but I have faith that they will grant me the power I need to do so.
Breaking the fairy circle here is another matter entirely. I need to talk more with Lan and KelLyn about how to accomplish such a thing. Maybe with their advice we can come up with a plan. It is also possible that the dragon, knowing our intent to free it, might offer to aid us, though I think if he could have broken the circle himself he would have long ago.