It's A Long Way To The Bottom (If You Wanna Hack And Slash)

Nature Walk Part II

And just when I thought we all did okay...

1124, E.R. (Elven Reckoning), 14th day of Spring

We set out with Apple in the morning to head for the lair of this woodland spirit we were to save. I was surprised to see Elle and Degan awake with the rest of us, they certainly kept me up for a while with their pungently odorous smoking last night. Habits are habits and The Lady in the Room certainly knows I have my own, but I like to think of myself as a considerate scoundrel. I don’t see a need to bring any unwanted attention to this secluded grove, especially when its inhabitants are being so kind as to let us stay here… not to mention the business with the troll, Bruta’s treasure.

We arrived at what looked like a pile of dead branches and tree trunks, lightly dusted with pathetic flowers trying all too hard to look as though they were thriving. Apple introduced us to our investigation site and was off before any questions could be asked. I suppose he knew more about what lay beneath than we did, and -most justifiably – wanted to stay no longer than necessary.

Just as I had the same thought, I heard Talmanes let out a groan of frustration under his breath as we must have both quickly recognized the similarities between the brambles that stood before us and the impenetrable growths which imprisoned Bruta. To our surprise and delight, this thicket yielded to Degan’s blade quite easily. I led Keydon to a patch of healthy grass, took my flint to my lamp and readied to enter.

Almost immediately, the floor beneath us took a sudden drop to a cliff, the bottom of which was out of sight to us all. Without question or hesitation, Degan began his descent down the bramble covered cliff side, the only delay was his zombie-like meandering toward a phosphorescent fungus on the wall. But as soon as he trimmed a chunk of it and placed it in his jar bound to his neck, he was over the edge and on his way out of our sight. I don’t know what it was- why I get these sudden fits of bravery, but I was just behind him. I fastened my lamp to the back of my belt using the drawstring of my belt pouch (ever since I was taught to do this, I never saw its usefulness -until that moment, when I realized the hood of the lantern would prevent the flames from igniting my ass. I’ll still leave it as a scenario-specific tactic), and found myself descending to an unknown depth.

On our way down, I nearly stepped on Degan’s head, he had stopped and was holding a hand up for me to do the same. He turned and said that he heard groaning, but couldn’t see what it was. “Probably just Talmanes dreading another thicket of brambles”, I thought to myself. Then I heard it, too. Before I could respond, another sound -a louder, familiar one from above took my attention away. It was Elle, plummeting toward the two of us. I have no idea how I did it, if she were falling any faster or weighed even a straw heavier I might have failed, but I reached my arm out and caught her. As I steadied her with my hand to her back I saw her companion, Slim was gripping tightly there. For the first time ever, the creature seemed terrified beyond repair. I felt sorry for the little guy.

Degan and I continued downward, dreading the creatures our imaginations were assigning to the groaning beneath us. At the edge of my lantern’s light, I could see them: earth golems? Botanic… zombi— “Zombies”, I heard Tal’s voice say softly from above us.

“Brought back by some foul plantli—iiiiii-” Elle was plummeting toward me again without finishing her sentence. Deja vu, my own strength surprised me again. I didn’t have time to celebrate or even ask if she was all right, Degan called my attention downward, the damn things knew how to climb. I drew my dagger and climbed down carefully.

I thought for certain that my ears would have been accustomed to the blast from Degan’s pistol by now, and that assumption was incorrect. As he fires into one of the shambling humanoid mounds I felt the urge to cover my ears, it was fortunate that I quickly realized I hadn’t a free hand to do so. I was carefully making my way down to the creatures, I didn’t want to fall at a time like this. “Aaaaieeee!” speaking of which, I looked up toward the scream expecting Elle to whiz past me to her death. I’m sorry, it’s not that I hope for that, it’s that my catching hand now had a dagger in it. But, she wasn’t falling, she had a ball of flame in her palm and hurled it down toward the things beneath us. I wish I could say I was relieved. I was rethinking my earlier though, I was now I was wishing she had fallen.

Bolts whizzed by me into the beings below, they barely seemed to notice. Balls of energy hurled themselves unerringly into the creatures, causing them to groan in what I was hoping was pain. Degan, in a feat of heroism was able to reload his pistol while clinging to the wall, he blasted one in what I assume was its face. It let go of the wall and tumbled down. I was slowly approaching the second, now a charred pincushion of crossbow bolts courtesy of Elle and Talmanes. I awaited its arrival, gripping my dagger close, but I hesitated too long. It made its way to me and whipped its appendage across my torso, bruising me badly and I’m quite certain it had broken something. I felt useless, and too tired to hold to the wall. I could not see the ground beneath me, but the landing still seemed safer than withstanding another blow as such. Is this where it would end for me? I meet my demise to a plant zombie on a wa——-WHIISH! A crossbow bolt had flown right past my head and into that of the thing at my feet. it was taken straight down to the ground which was coming into focus for me now. I looked up in time to see Talmanes lowering his crossbow from his chin. He paused a moment, if I could have made out his image more clearly, I am certain his look would have been that of “Why did you approach? You know I had this one”.

Elle was kind enough to offer the service of her healing wand. Kind enough? Hell, she definitely owed it to me. Though, I suppose whatever favors I had done for her with my well-timed heroism, my ill-timed heroism was not her fault.

We made our way into an open chamber, the ground was uneven, muddy and rocky. The lamp revealed a thicket of brambles between the arches of stalagmites at the far end of the room. The thicket had blooming flowers at its weakest points, Degan and Elle recognized them. They were the flowers and thorns found in the foreheads of our plant zombies behind us. Thinking it best to avoid them, Tre unleashed a blast of flames at the brambles. Before we could see the magnificent result of charred branches and open archways, Tal, Tre and I received a response to Tre’s magic in the form of a blast of acid. The burn was painful, but not terribly so. We had little time to recover, the light of the flames was attracting two more shambling zombies. These foes proved less menacing on foot, Degan even opted to use his sword for the most part. Vicmorn readied his nunchaku and we all moved in on them.

Weaving in and out of the scattered stalagmites and gracefully side-stepping the charred remains of the bramble, Degan along with Vicmorn, Elle, Slim and I closed in to overpower them in the fray while Talmanes and Tre launched spells and crossbow bolts past us at the creatures. After the last one fell to the ground more lifeless than we had found him, we moved on ahead to a winding corridor.

I dropped my lamp and joined Vicmorn in a stealthy trip to the first bend, we looked around the corner to see pitch black everywhere but for a faint glow from the phosphorescent fungus on the wall, barely illuminating the shape of another plant beast. We called the rest of the group forward, which unfortunately bought us the attention of the creature. Another fierce melee which we thought would end just as before; however, these creatures were not the storm of swinging appendages that we were used to. They began staring Degan down, as if to break his will or morale, I couldn’t tell which. After we had taken a few swings and taken one of the beasts down, Degan nudged the one in front of him aside and began to saunter toward what looked like a patch of rotten gourds. We continued our fight assuming he understood something which we did not.

When the last beast fell, we looked on Degan with horror. The vines of the gourd patch had bored their ways into his forehead! I thought for sure this was the last I would be seeing of my half-kin companion. We began slaughtering the patch of plants, not knowing which vines were part of it and which were ecology hanging from the walls. All the while, Degan stood in a stupor, shaking. His eyes were staring straight ahead as if he were not conscious of what was happening. Suddenly, he broke form the trance and swung his sword down the center of the gourd in front of him. The vines around us dropped like curtains, I nearly vomited as the ones in his head wormed their ways out.

The injuries to his head were but a bit larger than pinholes, and there was not much blood. He seemed to be alright, but he was different. I can’t describe it any more gingerly, and knowing the truth now I can say he was dumber. Still, he marched forward with us after we healed up and ventured into a large cavern ahead.

More fungus dimly lighting the walls around us, even with such little light it was easy to tell this cavern was tall and deep. Ahead of us was a twisted bridge of wood, bramble, vine and all other sorts of foliage. It made a sort of log bridge into a darkness with a so far invisible end. We could hear the stillness of a pool beneath us, barely making sounds as particles from the ceiling found their way into it. Not eager to go for a swim, we kept single file to the center of the bridge and walked very slowly across.

After a good half a minute, perhaps 40 feet of slow, careful stepping I thought I had heard giggling. At first I thought I had been hearing imaginary sounds, after all my head was starting to ache. Then I calmed myself, thinking it had to be Degan laughing in his herbal stupor. Talmanes quickly ripped away my solace as he pulled back the cord of his crossbow, and he could not be mistaken lest Tre, Elle, Slim and the others were as well. Everyone had weapons drawn and looks of confusion on their faces.

I turned to see what looked like small children in robes… except their heads were huge and their skin a grayish blue. One of them stuck its face out and bugged two pale orbs at me; a sudden dread filled me as I realized those were its eyes.

Wasting no time at all, Talmanes had a bolt through one of their skulls. I could hear unfamiliar screams from behind me, I was comforted that the three behind Tre, Talmanes and myself were fairing well in their battle. I stood the line with Tre at my side and Tal launching bolts from behind. One of the whelps approached so eagerly that he fell right into the drink below, a danger that had not occurred to me until just then. I heard a wild battle cry behind me, followed by a splash and laughing. It sounded like Vicmorn. Tre tried to maneuver around me and slipped in as well. No one was screaming for help, which could have meant the water was calm or it wasn’t water that they were splashing into. I approached one of the tiny things, dagger drawn. I was still shaking a bit from this whole ordeal. As I tried to take a jab at what I was hoping would be its kidney, I felt the ground slip from beneath my foot, I dropped my lantern. Suddenly I was off the bridge and still in the air as the light went out. That moment was worse than what followed, the split second of falling without even seeing what I was falling to. I felt wetness and a splash, there was no odor so I assumed it was water my body had found. While treading water my hands found my lamp bobbing about, I grabbed it and began to swim toward the violet glow on the walls.

The battle soon ended up on the bridge, and Talmanes was able to direct all of us through the darkness. Tre, Vic and I found our way to some viney growth on the far wall which we were able to climb up. We regrouped and found ourselves before another thicket. Degan barreled through us all and cleaved his blade through it. I stopped trying to light my damp lantern as the room filled with what seemed to be… sunshine?

As we entered the archway, the cave opened into a vast arboretum, walled in as the rest of the cavern with the violet fungi tracing the edges. At the far end, center of the wall we could see a large pool of water with a tree that was at least 4 times the size of the others. Elle took the lead as we heard a voice, enchanting but intimidating. The voice greeted us as intruders and commanded our leave. Elle began to reason with the spirit, saying that we were friends and we have come to assist her and her tree. Strangely, the spirit heard us out for half a moment before bellowing out “Leave or die”.

Sometimes I have to learn to speak to myself without using my lips.

It couldn’t have been louder than the rustling of leaves beneath us, but I muttered to myself “Leave or die? She touches these leaves of ours and she dies…” it was as if I had spoken the command word for a sorcerer’s clockwork golem. Degan, silently and determined drew steel and marched toward the tree. Before Elle or anyone could react, the Dryad shouted an incantation and the leaves and grass around us began writing and attempting to hold us into place. We were trudging through as though it was a marshy fen, she first attempted to bewitch Tre with her charms. It apparently failed, so her next move was to put him a deep sleep. I had already drawn my dagger and whiped it down with the leaf provided by Sofia, I knelt down to try to shake Tre awake. Suddenly, I heard a burst and the Dryad shrieked in agony. I turned to see Degan cackling not but 5 feet away from the Dryad’s tree, engulfed in flame. i looked around and saw Elle, Slim and Vicmorn were falling victim to the vines that continued to writhe, their reach about the cavern growing.

Talmanes was drawing nearer to the Dryad, I had awakened Tre and made my way with my dagger drawn. The tree witch touched a nearby trunk, smiled a devious smile at us and was gone. Seconds later I heard Degan grunt in pain. With lightning speed, she had made her way to him and put an arrow in his back. He fell face first into the ground. Just then, Vicmorn and Slim made it into range. Vicmorn smacked her with his nunchaku while Slim began assaulting the flaming tree. Elle’s arrows flew true, but they seemed not to phase the Dryad at all. Tal Manes and I trudged and marched toward her as she moved from tree to tree with her magic. Talmanes was having much less trouble than I, though I was fairing better than Tre. Talmanes, with a grunt of frustration through his crossbow aside and drew a great, two-handed blade and ran toward her. I took this opportunity to work behind her, she had to have a vital spot to hit. Rays of flames were flying from Tre’s hands, but they all missed the witch.

As I approached through the thickets, I heard Elle shriek. I turned to her, she was fine. I turned my eyes to see where hers were, it was Slim. Slim lay next to the tree’s pool, which was slowly being dyed red, he had two arrows in his back and was motionless.

I don’t know if it was my anger or my fear, but my habit of hesitating never seems to help my accuracy, another swing and a miss when I should have had a vital strike. Just then, the Dryad began to look around wildly, she implored that we let her save her tree. Elle demanded that the elixir be imbibed immediately, and the Dryad agreed.

I couldn’t believe the forgiveness I was seeing. Elle had just watched as this tree spirit launched a fatal barb into her companion and now she was demanding that the spirit surrender and be spared. This was not trickery or enchantment, this was duty and understanding I was witnessing. I had a new found respect for Ellenoir. I believe Talmanes had a similar system shock, for even that Soldier of Gorum rested his weapon at his side and watched as Elle and I dragged the body of the unconscious dryad to her tree after she imbibed Sofia’s elixir.

It took her a few moments to awaken, Tal and Degan took advantage of this time to pluck some fruit from her tree. That is to be taken literally. After she woke, there was no speaking to her, she ignored all comments and sat at her tree and wept. Only time can heal the tree’s burns now, but I fear there is not enough time in the cosmos to heals the burn left on the Dryad’s soul.

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