Burning Sky Session 11

One of the ghasts raked its claws into Cyrus, who pulled himself free and avoided a bite from the other. Uttering an infernal curse, Cyrus’ sword burst into a green flame blade and sliced into the second ghast, the flame then jumping to the first.

Xireas cast toll the dead, but it had no effect.

Both ghasts lunged at Cyrus, the first poisoning him with its putrid fangs, the second rebuffed by a shield spell.

Eyvindr moved up, viciously mocking a ghast for no effect.

With another green flame blade, Cyrus cut the jaw of the second ghast and burned the first.

Ulfgar sprung forward and crushed the nearest ghast’s leg with his staff, and took its other leg out with a kick, leaving it dead.

Crystin hit the remaining ghast with a ray of frost as I moved into position, Torrent close behind.

Xireas hit the remaining ghast with a fire bolt as it raked Cyrus one again.

“Gods, rot your eyes,” Eyvindr called with vicious mockery.

Ulfgar connected with a jumping roundhouse kick to the ghast’s side.

Crystin blasted it with a ray of frost.

“Creature of the dark,” Torrent yelled, holding out her holy symbol, “I command you to flee!”

We heard a rumbling from the stone tree as the ghast turned to flee. Cyrus slashed into it with his sword and I finished it with a bonk on the head.

We peered into the opening that had appeared in the side of the stone tree and found a stairway leading down, bathed in a blue luminescence.

“I am pretty spent, my friends,” Eyvindr warned.

“I think we’re all pretty spent, but not too harmed,” I replied.

We all turned to the arguing between Xireas and Haddin. Cyrus moved to backup Xireas.

“Listen, this is my daughter. I get to say what she does and doesn’t do!” Haddin insisted. “I look out for her, not you. Mind your own business!”

“Haddin, can I have a word with you,” Cyrus asked, passively, “privately?”

“Fine!” Haddin agreed, looking over at Crystin tentatively.

Xireas walked away with Crystin, I began examining the entrance to the stairs, and Eyvindr was moving to join me, but was distracted by the argument and bumped into Torrent.

“Haddin, mate, we’re all here on a dangerous situation,” Cyrus urged. “What’s the problem?”

“There’s no problem as far as I’m concerned,” Haddin rationalized. “I’m trying to help her conserve her spells so she can protect herself in the dangerous place.”

“You know, she’s not using up her spell power, right?” Cyrus refuted with a clear look of disgust. “And secondly, if you guys don’t help us here, and we go down, you’re not going to get through this forest by yourself. So maybe a little cooperation would be in your best self-interest.”

“Listen, mate,” Haddin replied, “My daughter is my business and I tell her what to do. NO one else here. We’ll help when we can. And that’s that!”

“I see you treat that girl poorly again,” Cyrus threatened angrily, shoving Haddin in the chest with a stiff finger, “and your head’s coming off.”

“The sooner we get the hell out of this place,” Haddin replied as Cyrus turned his back on him, “the sooner we can part ways.”

“You know we can part ways now if we’re so distasteful, frak-face!” Cyrus countered.

“Here, here!” I blurted.

“We’ll be finished with him soon enough, my friend” Eyvindr placed an arm on Cyrus’ shoulder in consolation. “Just try to keep a lid on it. I’m with you 100% when it comes to the girl. If he lays so much as a finger on her, we’ll back whatever play you make. Let’s try to endure his...unpleasant company for the time being. We have enough problems right now.”

“I’m trying, I’m trying” Cyrus heeded Eyvindr’s words.

“You look injured,” Eyvindr noticed. “Perhaps this elixir might help.”

“Oh!” Thanks man!” Cyrus gratefully quaffed the potion of healing.

In the distance, Crystin was urging Xireas, “You mustn’t be mad at my father. He’s just looking out for my best interest.”

“Do not apologize for that man,” Eyvindr responded, “or his behavior.”

Tears streamed down Crystin’s eyes as she turned away.

“The entrance looks clear, folks,” I called everyone back to the task at hand. “It’s all lit up for us. It looks like it goes down about twenty feet. Ulfgar, do you want to lead the way?”

“Sure, no problem,” Ulfgar replied, proceeding to tap the stairs with his staff as he descended, with the rest of us following, except for Torrent and Xireas, who guarded the entrance.

The twenty-foot diameter chamber below radiated peace and patience; the soft blue air whispered with a hallowed, distant song. The chamber’s center was dominated by a tall white statue depicting an elven woman plunging a greatsword deep into a rampant stag. The sword, though carved of stone, looked like it was made of wood and covered in vines that entwined the elf woman’s hands. At the statue’s feet were two immobile figures. The first was dressed in the uniform of a Shahalesti soldier from decades past, his body wreathed in pale flames that struggled to burn. The man’s eyes were closed, as if he were in a deep slumber. Likewise along the ceiling, tree roots growing down from the surface flickered with fire, but the flames were subdued, as if the blue light held them at bay.

The second figure, a young male elf with red hair, wore the robes of a priest, though he carried no holy symbol. Numerous claw wounds marked his face and body, and he did not breathe, though his body showed no signs of decay. His arms were spread as if he fell in battle, and a mace lay inches from one of his hands. It pointed to an elaborate glass display case near the wall, which had been shattered, its contents missing.

Eyvindr quietly sang an unfamiliar tune.

I examined the bodies, detecting no sign of life from the undecayed cleric, while the other seemed to be in some suspended state. Explaining what I found, I suggested this might be a good place to rest for the night.

We examined the area, including the display case, walls, floors, and mace.

Eyvindr read the Sylvan writing on the case that indicated that it had contained a lock of Anyariel’s hair.

The mace appeared to be of exceptional quality.

Confirming that we could open the door to the shrine from the inside, we called Xireas and Torrent inside, and hunkered down for the night.

My sleep was disrupted by nightmares that started with the soothing sounds of clanging bellows and the scent of the hot forge. Then it became smoky and difficult to breathe. At my feet was an unconscious orc. Cyrus’s face flashed before me, whispering, “I’m gonna kill ‘em. I’m gonna kill ‘em,” in my ear. “I don’t have a problem with that,” I replied. A wound appeared on the orc’s throat as its life drained away. The scene faded and was replaced by the prisoner in the canyon. Cyrus was interrogating him and threatening him. I was keeping the others from seeing what Cyrus was doing. As he killed the prisoner, the heat and light from the forge diminished further. An angelic voice seemed to echo around me, “Redemption is yours.” I woke up hot and sweaty, as if I had been in the forge.

In the morning, Eyvindr conveyed that he had discovered the mace, in addition to being exceptionally well balanced, could cast cure wounds once a day. But he said it was too heavy for him to wield and we agreed to give it to Torrent.

Casting detect magic, Torrent pointed out that a faint magical aura covered everything, especially around the suspended Shahalesti soldier and the mace.

We searched the two bodies, but found nothing of interest.
After spending an hour searching the village, discovering nothing but a well-preserved two-foot long red, lacy cord among the dried out husks of corpses, we decided to head upstream.

The wind coming down the river was fairly strong. Three times during the trip upstream, a cinder cloud of burning debris swept across us, covering the whole river like a tsunami of flame. Each time we soaked our cloaks in the stream and ducked down under them for shelter until the cloud quickly passed us by.

As soon as the third cinder cloud passed, I spotted a large strange-looking, red-scaled man lurking behind a burning tree.

As we were rising, the man leapt forward and grabbed Crystin, placing the blade of his giant spear at her throat he challenged, “You must pay tribute before you can proceed on this path!”

I moved forward and cast bless on Cyrus, Ulfgar, and myself, and asked, “What is your tribute? I’m the payer.”

“You must give me something of value,” the salamander-looking man replied.

Crystin bit the man and pulled herself free.

“Here’s my tribune,” Eyvindr countered, casting shatter around the man, who quickly jumped aside.

As Torrent closed in, she was whipped by the man’s flaming tail, and stabbed by his giant spear.

“A tribute would have been much easier on you,” the man sneered, its spear dripping with Torrent’s blood.

“Whoah, whoah, violence isn’t necessary,” Cyrus urged. “Why don’t we give you a magic weapon?” Seeing that his words fell on deaf ears, he stabbed the man twice with his sword.

The man ignored Haddin’s command to, “Drop your weapon and negotiate!”

Ulfgar flailed with a flurry of blows in the air.

Xireas hit the man with blindness.

I flanked the man and hit the man with my spiritual weapon and whacked it with my hammer.

Eyvindr stabbed the man with his rapier, and cast healing word on Torrent.

Torrent hit the man with her new mace as the man swung blindly, stabbing Ulfgar with its giant spear before regaining its sight.

Cyrus stabbed it with his longsword.

Haddin cast charm person on the man, but it had no effect.

Ulfgar continued to swing wildly, but caught the man with a kick at the end of his flurry.

Xireas hit the man with magic missiles.

I bashed it with my spiritual weapon and my hammer.

Crystin staggered the man with her own magic missiles.

Eyvindr stabbed the man again with his rapier, and cast healing word on Ulfgar.

Torrent cracked the man in the head with her mace, dropping it dead in the stream.

Cyrus retrieved some jewelry from the large man’s corpse.

Torrent used her mace to cast cure wounds on herself.

After traveling for five hours, we reached a point where the White River fed from the mountains into the valley below. Here a beautiful waterfall cascaded over the sheer side of a tall cliff face, its waters pouring off the roof of a small shrine that sat on an island in a lake at the base of the waterfall. The area around the pool, the cliff face, and the pool itself all had burning vegetation on them, but it was thinly spread, and strong winds from the confluence of cold mountain air and fiery drafts created a constant haze of steam and fog.

An equine shadow moving slowly through the fog, stepped out of the fog revealing itself to be an emaciated unicorn, its once white coat turned gray from ash, his horn chipped and burnt. It came to a stop forty feet in front of us, its horn glowing softly as it examined us.

“I am Nelle, and I guard this place,” it spoke. “You all may approach.” Then it turned toward Haddin and its horn turned a reddish hue, as it said, “However, he must stay away.”

“We thank you for your welcome,” Eyvindr replied. “This man, Haddin, is a traveling companion and nothing more. We graciously accept your invitation and we come seeking a solution to cure this forest of this curse.”

“Come forward then and refresh yourself,” Nelle bid us. Then turning toward Torrent, it said, “You look wounded.” Its horn glowed as it touched Torrent and cast cure wounds on Torrent. Nelle then did the same to Ulfgar.

“You come at an opportune time,” Nelle told us. “This place needs heroes to save it. I’ve been guarding this place for some time and some strange creature has come and taken this forest as a body. It occasionally comes to me in dreams.”

“Indomitability?” Cyrus asked.

“Yes, I think that’s what it calls itself,” Nelle confirmed. “It comes as whispers on the wind. It comes as strange dreams, and I’ve heard it call itself a child of Trilla.”

I grumbled at the mention of strange dreams.

“This Trilla or Trillith, I think was some type of young gold dragon that was captured and enslaved, and as a result these creatures were spawned, and it came here and—I don’t know the details—but somehow embodied this forest. If you follow this river downstream, you may be able to find some way to kill it. As you said, it calls itself Indomitability. Or maybe release it so it doesn’t harm the forest any longer. You’ll find their village of creatures called the Seela. They were fey who once carried the song of the forest from one to the other. However, they are now trapped. Sometimes I can still hear their song on the winds. In better times, these fey would sing their song and communicate through the forest itself. Although I do believe that somehow the fey magic is still helping this forest to endure after all these many years of it being on fire. Come in for a moment. Follow me.”

Nelle led us back into the waterfall’s mist.

Cyrus was trying to lead a hesitant Crystin in until Xireas grabbed her by the end and pulled her forward, instructing Haddin, “Now you stay here!”

We were led to a small cave behind the waterfall where we could hear the cries and moves of many beings.

“The cries you hear,” Nelle informed us, “are from those that Bhurisrava was able to save and bring here for me to tend to, hoping that one day there might be a cure to their affliction. They were the ones who remained. Others fled. Some went west to Dassen and beyond, while others wound up in Gate Pass and sought refuge within the walls of that city. Bhurisrava asked me to watch them, because he felt that he might be tempted to put them out of their misery the longer he stayed here and watched them go through this agonizing pain.”

“Did Bhurisrava hide something here with you?” Cyrus asked.

“He did not hide anything here,” Nelle answered. “He brought these folks here for me to watch and tend to until he could figure out how to cure them and bring this place to peace. Although, I haven’t seen or heard from Bhurisrava in some time—I fear for his safety.”

“Was he a young, red-haired elf?” Cyrus asked.

Yes, your statement may only confirm my suspicion, but yes,” Nelle replied. “Did you encounter him?”

“Well, he seemed dead, but his body was not decayed,” Cyrus explained. “How long did this come to pass?”

“The forest has been on fire for many years,” Nelle explained.

“I think the curse will be lifted if we can destroy Indomitability,” Eyvindr concluded.

“If we just free Indomitability,” I questioned, “would that be sufficient?”

“I suspect freeing Indomitability would release his hold on this forest,” Nelle guessed. “Although he’s evil, and destroying him would probably be beneficial.”

“He wanted to make a bargain with us to free him,” Eyvindr explained, “but he was also threatening us, and he did seem evil. I don’t have a strong desire to free him, but we do wish to lift the curse of this terrible forest if we can.”

“Yes, I’m hopeful that you heroes will take up the task,” Nelle expressed, “and help these poor people here.”

After Eyvindr related Bhurisrava’s journal entry to Nelle, the unicorn replied, “I don’t know anything about him hiding anything. All his actions weren’t privy to me. He mainly came to me to watch these survivors or victims in hope that he could heal them. One final word of caution I should tell you, be careful if you’re using any teleportation magic. I inadvertently used this across the river. I ended up getting burned. I’m not sure if it’s tied to this forest fire, but I suspect it was not, because it was never a problem until recently.”

We confirmed that the teleportation problem was not limited to the forest.

Nelle pointed its horn to a small sculpture of an eagle and a dragon chasing each other in a circle. We realized from our conversations that they were local lore here, teaching different morals. The statues were formed of clay, feathers, and scales. “Each of you can take a piece, and if you eat it, it will be as if you are consuming a potion of healing and it will help you, and it will help you in your quest to help clear this forest, but you must make haste. Your presence here is disturbing the fragile minds of these victims I’ve been tending to.”

I asked Nelle if there was anything we could do Bhurisrava or the soldier, but the unicorn had no ideas, but did think that Anyariel died fighting Indomitability.

We thanked Nelle and went on our way downstream.

When we returned to the village, we decided to rest the night in the tower.

While we were setting up our gear getting ready to rest, Cyrus pulled Eyvindr and me aside, “I’d like to talk to you about Haddin. I think travelling any further with him is not only undesirable but actively against our interests. He repeatedly has refused to render aid in dire circumstances and actively prevents Crystin from participating in our defense. He thinks he can just use us as meat-shields so he can get through this forest alive. The guy’s clearly an asshole and I think we should kill him.”

Looking at Eyvindr, Cyrus held up a hand to stave off any objections. “I understand that may be distasteful to you Eyvindr but hear me out. It is obvious that he is magically dominating his daughter. In my book that is just as bad, worse even, than slavery and that I cannot abide. If, in our travels, we ran into a band of orcs,” he looked across the room at Xireas, “or Drow with prisoners taken as slaves, wouldn’t we interfere to free them? This is the same thing. I do not think we should turn our heads to this abuse just because he is human or the enslavement is mental…this is just as monstrous.

“And let us not forget, the Unicorn specifically denied him access to it’s sanctum. That’s an unmistakable sign of the evil in his heart, innit? A universal condemnation of the nature of his character. And that's what you stand for, no? A cause you can get behind, eradicating evil?

“Even after all this, if you still want to spare his life, although I don't see why you would want to, we should divest ourselves of his company immediately. At the very least we should send him packing and rescue Crystin from this oppression."

Eyvindr pulled out his father's pipe and unconsciously opened his pouch, seeking to fill it. He realized that he had no pipe-weed—in fact he had never really smoked; he carried it as a memento, rather than a vessel with which to support a habit. He smelled the bowl and lowered it thoughtfully.

"Haddin is indeed an asshole," the bard replied, stumbling over the last, rather uncouth word. "And I agree—the man is evil; the best that could be said of him is that he is wholly without scruples. And if he were to make any move against you or our party, I would drive my rapier through his gut without a second thought.

"But the simple fact is: he has not. We cannot execute a man for thought crimes. At least, I cannot. His one actual transgression—controlling and manipulating his daughter with magic—could from his point of view be a misguided means of protecting her from harm.

"There will be a reckoning with this man, no doubt. But the time is not yet ripe, I deem. Though I should like to hear Angradin and Ulfgar's thoughts on this grave matter."

The bard hastened to add, "your point about drow and slavers is well—taken, however. And I respect your moral clarity. Expelling him from the company may become necessary. Oh, what I would give for the power to dispel his enchantment and release Crystin from his thrall!"

“As much as I might enjoy making flatters with Haddin’s face,” Angradin grumbled, and removed his helmet to massage his temples, “methinks there be more appropriate ways to remove the girl from his thrall rather than so quickly resorting to the blade. Your insights may well be true, Cyrus, and the slaver’s claims of protecting the slave is no justification of slavery, but this situation is between family and ripe with extenuating circumstances.”

Angradin pressed his palms hard into his eyes as if trying to remove an inner sight from view, and added, “Who hasn’t succumbed to the occasional lapse in judgement? I’m loath to condemn one to death based on what might be in their heart. Perhaps we should focus on how we can send Haddin packing without kidnapping his daughter.”

Cyrus looked from one companion to the other, his face unreadable. “Blimey, I can’t say I’m not disappointed, but also not surprised. Listen, I’m not condemning him for his thoughts but for the evil act he is performing right before our very eyes.

“Eyvindr, you implored me to refrain from killing because you wanted to preserve your conscience from being complicit in what you consider to be evil acts. Here is evil happening right in front of you and allowing it is being complicit.

“And Angradin, months ago you told me the reason you left your clan and your home was to spread Moradin's principles and the workmanship of his wisdom. Now, I don’t know anything about dwarven gods but I suspect that slavery and oppression aren’t part of the dogma. Am I wrong?”

Cyrus half-turned to the room and tried to catch Ulfgar’s eye. When he did, he waved him over. “I wanted to talk to the two of you first because we’ve been together the longest, but Eyvindr’s right, we should consult Ulfgar as he’s a part of this now.”

"Help me understand,” Eyvindr beseeched, “is it his use of magic to control her that troubles you? If he controlled her solely by his authority as her father, would that stir you to condemn him to death?

"Though he uses his magic upon her, which we agree is an immoral act, he has not compelled her to do evil, nor has he forced her to perform any difficult or unsavory labors. He has merely prevented her from rendering service in our aid, which we would not require of her in any case, nor would we of anyone. I have concerns for her autonomy and her welfare, but these concerns do not have a clear solution at the moment.

"I am of a mind to focus on freeing this forest of its curse, if we are able, and to escape the forest if we are not. Either way, we must deliver the intelligence to the proper authority. These are my highest priorities.

"If you are committed to freeing Crystin from her father, I am with you. My hope is that this will not require Haddin's blood, for if it came to that, the daughter may resent us for our help. And again, my feeling is that the time is not yet right to deal with him."

"Perhaps I didn’t preface this correctly,” Cyrus explained. “I think robbing someone of their free will whether physically or magically is wrong and evil. And in this particular circumstance we are in a position to do something about it. Yes, we have larger goals in mind but we are perfectly capable of being concerned about more than one thing at a time, let's not fall victim to the fallacy of relative privation. We should at the very least not enable this criminal act by escorting and defending Haddin through this forest or anywhere.

“As for fatherly authority,” Cyrus made a derisive sound, “that excuse only goes so far. Regardless, an overly strict father is a far cry from magical domination. I ask you, if he had her chained up in the basement and only allowed her out to cook and clean for him and claimed it was for her ‘safety and protection’ would that fall under his fatherly authority in your eyes? What is happening here is far worse than even that.

“Also, whether he has compelled her to perform evil or unsavory acts is irrelevant. If a slavemaster treats his slave well and only has them perform benign and simple tasks, is there still not an offense being committed by the very fact that a person is enslaved? Haddin has not merely prevented her from rendering unneeded service. He has subverted her ability to live freely, think for herself and make her own choices."

Cyrus stopped, sighed heavily and continued in a more subdued tone. "Despite how it seems, I am not thirsty for his blood, as I said in the beginning if you all want to spare his life, so be it. We agreed to work in concert and I’m sticking to that. We don’t have to kill him to free her but keep this in mind, any outcome that does not end with him leaving with his master/slave relationship intact or him coming to a sticky end will most likely result in his return looking for revenge."

"Were you a barrister before turning to a life of adventuring?” Eyvindr teased. “You have argued your case admirably. But you have tried to put me in a position of defending slavery, which I am emphatically not. This is another type of fallacy, and I beg you abandon this line of reasoning." Eyvindr took a deep breath. "We are not so far apart as it may seem. As I have stated in so many words: I agree that Haddin's treatment of Crystin is unacceptable. And I agree that it must be reckoned with. If in your eyes it cannot wait another day, I have a proposal: let Angradin or Torrent cast a bless upon the girl, in hopes that this will bolster her resistance to his enchantment. Then we may see her true disposition toward her father, and act accordingly. For without this information, we are dealing in hypotheticals."

Angradin returned from the chores he was obviously using as distractions from the intense, though hushed, debate. “That would require a better understanding of what exactly he’s doing than I have, and knowing when he’s going to do it. I was thinking we could take him to the shrine and Xireas could put him to sleep. We might have to beat him up a bit first, and we would want him bound so he doesn’t catch up with us. Maybe we leave him a note that says to stay put and we’ll bring his daughter back safe and sound. This would also give us some time to talk to Crystin without her being under his influence. Or before we resort to that, we can confront him. We can demand that he refrain from using his enchantments on the girl while they’re both in our care.”

Then he turned his attention to Cyrus, adding, “I’m sure we can think of some other options before you go slitting another man’s throat, because it does seem like you’re thirsty for the man’s blood, Cyrus. I’m glad to hear we’re all committed to working in concert, because after all we’ve been through in this short time, I would surely come to your aid if needed.”

Ulfgar, finally coming out of his trance-like meditation, uncrossed his legs and deftly rose up in a single swift motion.

"Forgive me as I was lost while communing with the Gods on this matter—but I did overhear some parts of your speech.

"That Haddin is hiding his true intentions from us, and that he is exerting an unholy influence on his daughter is abundantly clear. The Gods speak with us—we have only to listen...and the Unicorn refusing entry to Hadeen was indeed an ill omen.

"I think we are all in agreement that we must protect Crystin—from any Evils that we encounter, including her father.

"And Haddin is evil—of that I have no doubt—as would be any man that seeks to subjugate another...Perhaps we were too quick to allow him into our party in the first place, but at the time it seemed the right thing to do.

"However, it is still unclear to me the exact nature of the foul enchantment being performed here. Crystin still seems to have a mind of her own—though fearful and subservient to her father no doubt. Perhaps by supporting her and keeping her safe she will see fit to express her desire to leave her father behind even if in private, and by the Gods if that happens we will aid her!

"By acting rashly, could we be placing Crystin in even more danger?"

As we were preparing to sleep for the night, we heard wisps of song emerge from the ever-present roar of the forest fire. Sung in a mournful minor key, but with a discordant trace of hope in the voice, the aural melody sounded like something from the swallowing depths of an endless dream. For a moment we thought we saw images of tragedy and history at the edge of our vision, but then our attention snapped back to the real world as we realized the song was real, and its singer was close.

We sent Xireas upstairs with Crystin and Haddin, while Cyrus and I peered out of the arrow slits. Walking toward the tower, we saw an ashen and emaciated young Seela woman, with shriveled fairy wings.

Eyvindr greeted her as she opened the door.

“Why thank you,” she looked at us in wonder, and then appeared as surprised as we were when from behind the low walls of the bridge appeared four other fey creatures, poised to attack.

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