Burning Sky Session 12

The four fey, Seela rebels, charged forward, daggers drawn, the first two stabbing into the Seela woman, who stumbled into Eyvindr’s arms.

Eyvindr cast bane on three of the four Seela rebels, and stepped in front of the woman to shield her.

“Please,” the woman cried, giving bardic inspiration to Eyvindr, “they are my villagemen. Don’t kill them.”

Ulfgar charged the agile rebels, battering the one in the lead with a flurry of blows from his staff, an elbow, and a kick.

Torrent cast spiritual weapon, bonking the Eyvindr’s attacker.

Cyrus threw his handaxe and hit Ulfgar’s attacker.

“Why don’t you go inside,” I suggested to the Seela woman as I squeezed onto the bridge and cast spiritual weapon.

From the arrow slit on the second floor, Xireas shot a ray of frost, but missed.

Feeling inspired, Eyvindr stabbed Ulfgar’s attacker with his rapier.

The Seela woman cast Tasha’s hideous laughter, and the Seela rebel attacking Eyvindr fell, hysterically, to the floor.

Ulfgar dodged his attacker’s stabbing dagger, and caught a thrown dagger from the one in the rear, but was unable to counter.

Torrent cast bless on Eyvindr, Ulfgar, and me.

Cyrus leaped over the laughing Seela and struggled trying to shove the one in the rear off the bridge.

I squeezed past Ulfgar and shoved past his attacker, knocking him out cold with my hammer.

The two rebels carefully backed away from Cyrus and me, and jumped over the side of the bridge, extending their shriveled wings and glided downstream.

Eyvindr stabbed his rapier into the laughing Seela rebel.

“Come back if you value their lives,” I shouted, but they glided to the shore and ran downstream.

Ulfgar took out his rope and we tied up the two incapacitated rebels.

Torrent cast cure wounds on Ulfgar.

We dragged the two bound Seela rebels into the tower.

Torrent, Ulfgar and I agreed to stand guard over the rebels, while Eyvindr led the woman upstairs with Cyrus to be interviewed.

Turning to Crystin, Xireas said, “Honey, why don’t you go upstairs and help them out. I think they need another female up there to help them get the information out of that lady. A bunch of tough guys, another female up there would be helpful.”

“What do you mean,” Haddin objected.

“You should go upstairs, Crystin,” Xireas continued, ignoring the objections. “They really need you.”

Looking tentatively at Xireas and her father, Crystin asked, “You really think so?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Xireas assured her, “you go ahead.”

“Uh, I need you right here,” Haddin demanded.

“No you don’t,” Xireas replied, ushering Crystin upstairs with one arm, “I’ll be here to keep you company. We have a bit to talk about anyway. You go on upstairs, honey. It’ll be just fine.”

“Okay,” Crystin meekly acquiesced and went upstairs.

“I didn’t tell her to go upstairs!” Haddin continued to grumble and complain about his authority being overridden. “She’s my daughter. Don’t tell me what to do.”

“Listen, fat lip!” Xireas demanded. “You don’t control her. She can go upstairs. We need her.”

“You don’t tell me what to do!” the father argued. “I’m Haddin, and that’s my daughter. I’m getting kind of sick of your attitude!”

“Anytime you feel man enough,” Xireas beckoned.

As Ulfgar tried to step between them, I tried to usher him away, but the monk was too quick and waved me off.

“We all must grow,” Ulfgar advised the two. “We all must spread our wings. You have no fans here. You best keep your tongue.”

“Gods dammit!” Haddin cursed, storming across the tower.

Upstairs, Crystin approached Eyvindr, asking, “Xireas said you might need my help…”

“Yes, we were about to talk to this fey woman who came to our door with a song and learn what’s transpired in her village and your presence could be a boon to our conversation.”

“Okay,” Crystin agreed, meekly. “Just tell me what to do.”

Cyrus suggested Crystin helped bandage the Seela’s wounds, which she did as best she could. She also mended the Seela’s torn garments.

“Why were your fellow villagers attacking you?” Eyvindr asked.

“There’s been a bit of a conflict at our village,” she explained, “and there’s a faction that wants us to stop singing our song. You see, our song maintains the forest and it also maintains us. Without the song, we would all perish along with the forest.”

“Wouldn’t it be in their best interest to support you then?” Eyvindr enquired.

“You would think so,” she began to elaborate. “We’ve been at this so long. Let me tell you our story. My people, the Seela, people were born of the very forest itself and have lived here for time beyond memory. In better days we would sing news from one end of the forest to the other through the rustling of leaves in the wind. Some 40 years ago however, we began to notice a disturbance in the nature of the forest… an evil fire spirit had begun to endow its power upon several dying animals, who struggled to stay alive disturbing the order of things.

“At that time, we called upon our hero, Anyariel, to come confront the monster. In its spirit form the monster was formidable so we sang and summoned the living energy of the forest and forced the fire spirit in to the body of a stag. As the mighty battle raged on between Anyariel and the stag, it seemed Anyariel was gaining the upper hand. The mighty stag, wounded, fled into Lake Seela where our hero, Anyariel, pursued. She fought the beast underwater wielding the blade cut from the wood of the oldest tree in the forest. With her last breath, she wielded a mighty blow that trapped the fire spirit to the bottom of the lake. In the years that followed the fires spread throughout the forest and cursed this land.

“The fire spirit has brought destruction to our forest and so we sing. We sing day and night to keep it trapped for, you see, our lives are bound to the forest itself and if the spirit were released to complete its destruction it would surely mean our demise.

“There is one, however, that may hold the secret to our salvation, a dryad by the name Timbre who lives within the oldest tree in the forest. She has been on fire the entire time and in agonizing pain. Her grove is inaccessible and blocked by fiery beasts and walls of flame. And yet if you could find a way to reach her, we may have a chance…”

“What would we have to do if we reached her?” Cyrus asked.

“She might have the information we need to free the land and kill the fiery beast,” she exposited.

“What’s your name?” Cyrus asked.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I’ve never seen people from outside the forest before. I’m Tiljann. We’ve been pretty much singing twenty four hours a day for the last forty years, and some in our camp have grown weary of the constant work of singing to maintain the magic to keep the forest and us alive. And so they’ve come to the unfortunate conclusion that they’d rather rest in death than continue the arduous song that maintains us. Still, they’re our family, our villagers, and I wouldn't want to see any of them dead, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sparing their lives. I know you’re mighty warriors and you could have easily dispatched them. It’s harder to do what’s right sometimes than it is to do what’s easy.”

“Yeah, well we’re not a bunch of murderers or anything,” Cyrus quipped, casting a side-eye toward Eyvindr.

“No, this is true,” Eyvindr concurred.

“Oh my gods, that’s so sad!” Crystin sighed.

“Tiljann,” Cyrus stated, “I can’t speak for anybody else, but I’m willing to help you. But we might need a few things from you. Do you have the ability to dispel magic?”

“I don’t,” Tiljann replied, “I wish I did, but I don’t, and I’m not sure if anybody in the village can either. We’ve been so drained from this...but we can certainly ask our leader when we get there.”

“Alright,” Cyrus acknowledged. “Do you have any way of conferring a way for us to pass through fire without dying?”

“To get to our village,” Tiljann described, “we won’t need to pass through the forest. We just need to follow the river downstream.”

“Yes, but the dryad’s location is engulfed in flames, no?” Cyrus clarified. “I mean there’s nothing we can do if we’re incinerated before we get there.”

“If I had a way, I would happily volunteer it,” Tiljann “I can come with you and try and figure out how to get there. Perhaps how to overcome those issues. I’m sorry. I don’t have an easy answer. I’ll come and I’ll help if you want me to, with whatever resources I have.”

“Do you know where we can find the fire spirit?” Eyvindr inquired.

“I believe that Anyariel fought it into the lake,” Tiljann reiterated. “And it’s at the bottom of Lake Seela.”

“Where is your village again?” Eyvindr asked. “And what is the name of your village?”

“Our village is the village of Papuvin,” Tiljann shared, “and it’s some miles downriver.”

“Are you familiar with the elves in exile?” Eyvindr asked.

Ah, yes, we shared the forest with the elves that were here and unfortunately many of them fled once the fire took hold after the evil creature infected this land. Some of them died. Other refugees fled to the human encampment to the west and to the east.”

Cyrus and Eyvindr agreed to help.

“I think we’ll go downstairs and talk to your town’s folk and see what they have to say,” Cyrus stated. “We’re not going to hurt them, but we’d like you to stay up here for the time being until we’re done talking to them. Crystin will stay with you.”

“Please don’t hurt them,” Tiljann pleaded. “Everyone has just been so overwhelmed by this all these years. People are just trying their best to find a way out of it.”

When Cyrus and Eyvindr came downstairs, I informed them, “They haven’t moved.” One was sitting quietly while the other was still unconscious.

Cyrus said, “Hey Torrent, would you mind going upstairs and seeing to the woman’s wounds?”

Torrent eagerly went upstairs and Cyrus quietly filled Ulfgar, Xireas and I in, and we all agreed to help.

“Why did you attack Tiljann,” Eyvindr asked the conscious Seela rebel.

Because we want the song to end and she refuses to let us end our suffering,” he replied.

“You have a death wish then?” Eyvindr questioned.

“If you were singing night and day in constant despair,” the rebel justified, “after forty years, you might have a death wish too.”

“I do not know the depths of your despair, sir,” Eyvindr sympathized. “I’m sorry for your forest. We have seen the pain of the elves in Gate Pass—the elves formerly of this forest—and we wish to help, if we may. We bear you no ill will, but we wish that you would restore your hope. Shake loose the despair that has gripped you.”

“How could you do that after forty years of us trying to—you know—trying everything we could do—you know—to rid ourselves of this curse. Nothing seems to work. How could you possibly help us?”

“Have you tried talking to Timbre?” Cyrus offered.

“No one can get to that old crow,” the Seela rebel rebutted. “She’s cursed just like the rest of us.”

“We can.” Cyrus insisted. “Will you set aside your suicide and let us try?”

“I do not know if we can succeed, my friend,” Eyvindr implored, “but there’s no harm in trying. We are travelers trapped here in this cursed forest with you now, and we wish to restore it to its glory. Will you aid us, or at least not stand in our way?”

“We only have a day or two in here,” I added. “After forty years, you can give us a day or two.”

“Allies, you are lacking,” Ulfgar postulated, “and we are willing to be your allies. Do not forsake this chance.”

“You really think there’s a chance?” the rebel asked, looking up at Eyvindr with a glimmer of hope in his eyes. “Vuhl tells us there is none.”

“There is always hope,” Ulfgar pontificated. “Hope is a choice.”

“Perhaps there is a chance,” the rebel hoped aloud.

“We have met Indomitability,” Eyvindr bragged, “and we fear him not.”

“By the gods, I shall surely not stand in your way if there’s a glimmer of hope to save our people.”

Eyvindr untied him, cast healing word on his companion, and asked him to explain our intentions to his comrade.

In Sylvan, the rebel, Payor, conferred with Fagan, his wide-eyed companion. “Brother, I think there are some heroes here that might actually be able to help us with the forest.”

After some back and forth the Fagan replied, “Don’t be a fool. Vuhl has told us that no one can help us here. The only way out is to stop the song and relieve our suffering.”

“Perhaps Vuhl is wrong,” Payor rebel countered. “Perhaps there is another way.”

Eventually Fagan began to come around, and though his voice hinted at insincerity, they agreed to let us give it a try.

“Where is this Vuhl?” Eyvindr asked.

“He’s back at the village,” Payor answered.

Cyrus untied Fagan and, after considering the various risks, we allowed them to leave, agreeing that we had more to gain by demonstrating our good will.

We assured them that we were not their enemy and that we were here to help, and offered to speak with Vuhl if we may.

“Sure , sure,” Payor nodded. “I’m sure he’ll want to—you know—explain his view when you meet him.”

At Fagan’s urging they departed.

Once they were out of sight, I suggested we rest in the shrine. Cyrus indicated a desire to search the village more, but Eyvindr convinced him it was not worth the time.

Gathering Eyvindr, Cyrus, Xireas, and Ulfgar close, we discussed what we wanted to do with Haddin, and eventually formulated a plan.

After carefully scanning the surrounding area from the arrow slits to ensure we were not being spied on, we made our way to the shrine. When we arrived, we were unable to open the secret door in the tree until Torrent used her channel divinity like she had the first time the door opened.

Everything inside remained the same as when we departed, and we quickly settled for the night, taking turns standing guard, as usual.

In the morning, Cyrus revealed that the red cord he had found in the village changes color to a darker shade, while wrapped around the hands or wrists of two people at once, if both people share a common ancestor within three generations.

Ulfgar suggested we wrap in around Haddin and Crystin to ensure they are related.

“Crystin, do you mind holding this end,” Ulfgar requested, holding out the red cord, “and oh, Haddin, can you hold the other end?”

“What is this nonsense?” Haddin barked.

“Oh, please,” Ulfgar dismissed, “just entertain us.”

Cyrus and I demonstrated the cord on ourselves as we explained that we were just trying to validate how it worked.

“That sounds like fun,” Crystin replied.

“Fine!” Haddin relented, snatching the cord. “Give me the damn thing!”

As it was wrapped around their wrists, the cord quickly turned black.

“Look at that,” Cyrus wowed. “It works.”

“This may come in handy,” Ulfgar surmised. “Let’s hold onto this in case we need to confirm parentage down the road.”

We tried the cord on the two bodies preserved in the shrine, but the cord remained red.

As we were preparing to leave, Torrent led Crystin upstairs, out of the shrine.

“Hey, Crystin,” Haddin called, “where you going?”

“They asked me to help get ready,” Crystin explained.

“We have to get our own supplies in order first,” Haddin grumbled.

“Could you give me a few minutes,” Crystin asked Torrent, “to take care of our stuff?”

Torrent glanced down and began to acquiesce, when I interjected, “Why don’t you let her go. We want to talk to you.”

“We are a party,” Ulfgar expounded. “We are all working together. If you are working on your own, you are not part of the party. You pick a side, and you let us know.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Haddin objected. “I’m a sick old man, coughing up a lung. My daughter’s gonna help me pack my stuff.”

“You can pack your stuff well enough,” I contended. “I’ll give you a hand.”

“You’re part of the party,” Ulfgar maintained. “You’re not as weak as you seem. Don’t tease me, old man. I’m not in the mood.”

I nodded to Torrent and she took Crystin outside, along with Tiljann.

“What the hell’s going on around here?” Haddin protested.

“We’ve got some things to talk about, Haddin!” Cyrus replied. “And we don’t want our daughter to be present.”

“We just want to establish some ground rules,” I hinted.

As Eyvindr paced the small, crowded chamber, Haddin’s glare moved from one of us to the next. Cyrus closed the door behind Torrent, Crystin, and Tiljann.

Leaning into Haddin’s ear, Eyvindr menaced, “You have not exactly endeared yourself to me and my friends.”

“Yeah, so what?” Haddin pushed back. “You’re kind of a jerk yourself.”

Eyvindr eloquently recited a litany of the times we had saved Haddin, from when his home was invaded, to the latest challenges in the forest, adding, “we have received little in return and we are tired of your abuse of Crystin and we implore you, to cease your ensorcellment of her, and free her until we are free of each other and can go our separate ways. We demand that you release her from your enchantments.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Haddin refuted. “Abusing my daughter? She’s happy to be helping me.”

“She doesn’t look that happy to be helping you,” I charged. “This is what we want from you. If you’re going to continue with us, then until we leave this forest, you’re going to have to stop using any enchantments on her. [Including] any of your charms, or commands, or suggestions, or whatever it is that you do to influence her with your magics, you must cease.”

“Who the hell said I did any of that?” Haddin challenged. “She just respects her father and she does what I ask her.”

“Are you agreeing to our terms?” I asked.

“Agreeing to what terms?” Haddin stymied.

“What I just said,” I replied.

“What did you say?” Haddin stalled.

“You need to not use any magic to influence your daughter,” I insisted, “or anyone else in this party, until we leave this forest.”

“I haven’t used any magic on any of you folks,” Haddin deflected. “Not that some of you haven’t deserved it to begin with, but with your attitude towards us… And what’s between me and my daughter is between me and my daughter. It’s none of your damn business! Our family matters are our own. Who the hell do you think you are trying to involve yourself in my family?”

“It doesn’t work that way, old man,” Cyrus chided him.

“It certainly does,” Haddin held fast.

“Are you saying you haven't used any magic to influence your daughter?” I questioned.

“I’m saying, mind your own damn business!” Haddin retaliated.

“So you will not agree to these terms?” I questioned. “Is that right?”

“Which terms?” Haddin stalled. “To not ask my daughter to—”

“To not use any magic to influence your daughter,” I reiterated.

“I don’t need to cast a spell to influence your daughter,” Haddin insisted.

“Are you agreeing to our terms or not?” I demanded.

“Yeah,” Haddin conceded. “I’ll agree to that.”

“Okay,” I informed him, “I’m going to put you under a zone of truth, and you will have to agree to those terms under the zone of truth. If you try to resist, that will be considered a refusal. Do you understand?”

“Yeah, I understand, dwarf,” Haddin nodded after some hesitation. “Just cast your damn spell!”

I cast zone of truth so that only a portion of the chamber was affected.

“Do you agree to not use any magic to influence Crystin,” I asked, “or any other member of this party, until after we leave this forest? Yes or no?”

“Yeah, I’m not going to cast any spells to influence her?” Haddin deflected. “I don’t need to do that.”

“Are you going to use any magic to influence her?” I specified.

“What’s the difference?” Haddin parried.

“Yes or no?” I demanded.

“I don’t need to cast any spells,” Haddin argued, “so I don’t know what the difference is.”

“This will be a refusal if you don’t agree,” I maintained.

“What’s the refusal?” Haddin dodged, “I just answered your question.”

“No you didn’t,” Cyrus pointed out.

“Do you agree not to use any magic to influence Crystin,” I reiterated, “or anyone else in this party, until after we leave this forest?”

“Yeah, I’ll agree to that,” Haddin conceded. “Not unless you have it coming.”

“That’s not acceptable,” I replied.

“Well, you agree not to attack me,” Haddin bargained, “I’ll agree not to attack you.”

“Do you agree to release Crystin from any magic influence you might currently have on her?” I asked.

“My daughter requires guidance that only I can give her, and no one else,” Haddin sidestepped, “so I will be the person that gives her that, and neither you or anyone else in this room can make me do otherwise.”

“Is that a no?” I clarified.

“Hold on,” Eyvindr interjected. “Stay your fury, Angradin. Why does she need this guidance, sir?”

“I am her father, and it is my right—my birthright—to guide my daughter the way I see fit,” Haddin argued. “Not the way you elves, or dwarves, or half-breeds, or whatever the hell you are, think that I should be taking care of my child.”

“Oh, and he’s a racist too,” Cyrus uttered.

“We’re talking about magical influence, not fatherly guidance,” I stipulated. “Is that a no? Do you refuse?”

“So what?” Haddin challenged. “And what are you gonna do about it?”

“I’m going to resort to plan B,” I replied.

“What? You’re going to attack me because you don’t agree with how I take care of my kin?” Haddin questioned. “You, the heroes, are going to attack an old man taking care of his daughter? Is that it? Real tough guys! All five of you, surrounding me down here in this room.”

“Pretty much,” I agreed.

“Yeah,” Cyrus concurred, “that sounds about right.”

“I’ve had enough of this nonsense,” Haddin stated.

“We have to,” Eyvindr acknowledged.

As soon as I tensed to take Haddin down, Ulfgar leaped across the room and hit Haddin with his fists of the broken air, slammin the old man into the wall, leaving him on his knees, clutching his chest and coughing.

“The lowliest dog ever whelped in a gutter would be ashamed, sir,” Eyvindr said with vicious mockery, stepping away from the fray

Xireas tried to cast blindness on Haddin, but he resisted, and pushed away my grasp.

With his cloak in hand, Cyrus wrapped it over Haddin’s head.

“Help!” Haddin mumbled under the heavy fabric, “They’re murdering me down here!”

Ulfgar squeezed in close and pelted Haddin with his staff and a couple of punches to the gut, leaving Haddin limp.

Xireas hit the limp Haddin with four magic missiles.

“Just revive him,” Xireas responded to our collective shocked expressions. “It occurred to me after this all started, with your line of questioning, Angradin, that if he was maintaining a spell, or some kind of charm over her that we could perhaps dispel, that perhaps his imminent death would break his hold on her release her from whatever he has on her and perhaps you can now bring him back with a healing spell.”

Cyrus removed his cloak and I examined Haddin’s injuries, ensuring he was in stable condition.

I cast guidance on Ulfgar as the monk tied Haddin up. We left food and water nearby as well as a note that read: “Stay here where you will be safe. We will bring Crystin back safe and sound.”

We quickly departed the shrine and joined the others.

Both on their knees, Torrent was consoling an uncontrollably sobbing Crystin.

“Are you alright?” Cyrus asked.

“I don’t know what you guys did down there,” Torrent explained, “but at first she couldn’t help herself but to try and get through this door, and then, moments later, she just fell to her knees and started crying and just became very emotional. What the hell happened?”

“We broke his hold over her,” Cyrus explained.

“Yeah, he got his comeuppance, is what happened,” Xireas added. She turned to Crystin, “How are you feeling?”

“I—I don’t know what to feel,” Crystin sobbed. “It’s been so long. I’ve been under some type of spell for so long—oh my god I can’t believe my own father would do this to me!” Her sobs gradually turned into unintelligible blubbering.

Throughout her sobs, we made out, “I’ve been under his spell for as long as I can remember,” and, “please take me away from here,” and “I never want to be around him again,” and “I begged you, don’t let him take me again.”

“You’re free now,” Eyvindr consoled her.

“We will not let him impose his will on you again,” Ulfgar added.

“Do you want me to kill him for you?” Cyrus offered.

“I don’t want to kill anyone,” Crystin stammered, “I just want to get the hell away from him.”

“That’s what I suggest,” I interjected. “Let’s get as far away from this place as fast as we can.”

“You never have to see him again,” Eyvindr promised.

“Thank the gods,” Crystin cried.

Crystin gradually composed herself as we made our way downstream. She revealed to us that Haddin that during a fit of rage he had burned his spellbooks, but had developed some way of keeping her perpetually under his influence.

After three or four hours, we heard a fey song in the wind. Ahead, the shores of the river widened, and the banks slowly rose until they were ten feet or higher. Fires still crackled with resilient fire atop the cliffs at these distant banks, but this wide area was free from flame. The ever-present ash was thinner here, and we could see the gray surface of a murky lake a mile ahead, seeming to stretch away for miles more. We realized that where we walked was once part of the lakebed, which must have been burning away slowly for many years. The heat here was weaker, but still sweltering without magical protection.

From down the river and around a distant cliff, a haunting chorus pierced the sounds of the inferno. There was magic in the air, and its song was like a dirge. The flames of the trees dimmed as it swelled, but the voices singing it were weary, and the fire seemed unquenchable.

“That’s the Song of Forms we’ve been singing for so many years to keep the fire at bay,” Tiljann explained, humming along with it.

Eyvindr sang along as best he could. Tiljann explained some of the lyrics to Eyvindr, and the half-elf withdrew his shawm and played along as she sang:

“So as we were born from the First Tree, so as from our homeland’s breast was cut a living blade, as this our lives are bound to thee, the forest’s heart in Timbre’s glade.”

As we approached the village, we all quaffed another stand the heat potion.
The Seela village consisted of a dozen stone-walled huts. There were several caves in the cliff-face and a watch tower on the shore. Three Seela stood atop the tower, singing the Song of Forms, their voices carrying across the lake and echoing back like a chorus of dozens. A simple wall of burning foliage lined the shore.

“Greetings to you all,” Ulfgar began proselytizing, “I bring you the greetings of the gods of the four elements, the Tin Reaver Kraken, the World Shaper Worm, the Flame Bringer Dragon, and the Storm Chaser Eagle. We come with you with glad tidings. We’re here to help you in your quest to free the forest.”

Villagers gathered around as a drum beat in the background.

Eventually an older Seela emerged from one of the caves and glided down to us. The old man embraced Tiljann and expressed his concern for her well being.

Tiljann relayed the events leading to meeting us, hopeful that we could help her people.

Tiljan introduced the Seela man as Papuvin and invited us all to rest in his cave.

Papuvin led us to his cave, and asked, “What brings you here? This is a very odd place for outsiders to be.”

“We were just passing through,” I began.

“...and we decided to save your forest,” Cyrus added.

“We have come to help. We’ve heard your tale of evil Indomitability that is trapped beneath… We’re hoping to free the forest and aid this world.”

“Well that would be helpful,” Papuvin replied. “How do you plan on doing that?”

“Tiljann told us about a dryad that might have answers,” Cyrus explained.

“You must be thinking of Timbre,” Papuvin responded. “I see. Yes, Timbre lives inside the original tree of this forest. It’s quite difficult to get to her. I hope you can get there without incurring too much pain. Our lot in life here seems to be to keep singing the song until this curse passes.”

“What can you tell us of this journey?” Ulfgar inquired. “It’s imperative that we reach her.”

“We can show you where that is so you can go find the lair of Timbre and see if she can offer any assistance. Although, I would warn you that she’s become quite despondent from the constant pain and suffering she's been enduring all these years. Unlike us, she’s sort of become somewhat like one of the fire creatures here, and so she’s been in constant agonizing pain for many years. That tends to bend a person’s mind after some time. You’re welcome to rest here and stay for some time before you go on your path.”

“I think time is of the essence and we should be on our way,” I suggested, and my companions agreed.

“Where can we find this Vuhl?” Eyvindr asked.

“Vuhl has a different view from many of us regarding what we should be doing here. Vuhl seems to think it’s not worth living anymore, having to sing this song endlessly, and has convinced many of the villagers that it’s better to stop singing the song and end their lives than it is to carry on and protect the forest.”

“Why doesn’t Vuhl just commit suicide and leave everybody else alone?” Cyrus asked.

“He seems to think that we all need to be set free,” Papuvin explained. “There are fewer of us now that are willing to sing the song and keep things going, but it makes things much more difficult for us now. There are only seventeen of us left.”

“How many followers does Vuhl have?” Eyvindr enquired.

“Probably twenty,” Pauvin shared.

“Just over half the village has been converted by him,” Eyvindr noted.

“It’s very difficult to do anything other than maintain the song now, because those that sing must still rest and recuperate before they can start singing again,” Papuvin elaborated. “So the few of us are on a constant cycle of singing and resting and the like. It’s become very difficult. Even more difficult of late.”

“Do you think that Vuhl might try to hinder us in our attempt to save you?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Papuvin admitted. “He’s a suspicious sort, so anything is possible, I suppose.”

“I’m sure he is,” I queried. “Is there any way we could leave here to find Timbre without him knowing?”

“Probably not,” Pauvin acknowledged. “There’s not many of us and word gets around. He probably even saw you coming into the village.”

“What does Timbre’s home look like?” Cyrus asked. “It’s a tree in a glade that’s on fire…surrounded by fire...”

“Timbre lives in a grove about a mile north of the village along the path of a dry riverbed, in a gorge.” Papuvin explained. “It’s a large clearing surrounded by burning roses and thick trees, beyond which is a hill, completely engulfed in fire. Atop the hill is an old willow tree. The Shrine of Anyariel was fashioned after that tree. She lives within the tree itself.”

We all suspected that Vuhl was probably being influenced by Indomitability and that we should leave quickly, without engaging him.

Papuvin agreed, revealing that “Vuhl appears to have recently had a revelation that his life is meaningless. He wants the Seela to embrace death, to stop fearing it, and to stop singing so that death can come to them. He says that by freeing the fiery stag, their spirits will be free to die, along with the forest.

“Vuhl has been acting strangely for the past few weeks, taking longer to respond to questions than seems normal. One Seela adept using detect magic noticed, quite by chance, that Vuhl seemed to be affected by some familiar transmutation effect, though the adept thinks he might just have been sleepy that day, and be misremembering.”

Some other villagers joined us and we learned of a nymph named Gwenvere, who had turned into something horrendous. Many believed she was tainted by an unfulfilled, jealous love for Anyariel. Anyariel’s heart was only for the dryad Timbre, however, and even before the forest was set afire, Gwenvere and Timbre were rivals. They said that Gwenvere occasionally emerges for small, meaty sacrifices, hungry for the burning meat of animals. When Anyariel died, Timbre donated a lock of her lover’s hair to a shrine, and sometimes Seela, who went exploring, heard the dryad weeping for her lost love.

Also, unrelated to this, the Seela said there was once a group of merrow that lived in the lake.

Finally we bid farewell to Tiljann, Papuvin and the other Seels, and departed the village.

We followed the path as instructed by Papuvin. About a mile north of the Seela village, along the path of a dry riverbed in a gorge ending with a beautiful stone staircase that led up to a thirty-by-fifty-foot clearing surrounded by burning roses and thick trees, beyond which was a hill, completely engulfed in fire. The hill was forty feet in diameter, surrounded on all sides by walls of fire, their damaging heat waves pointing inward. Atop the hill was an old willow tree, almost identical to the willow in the Shrine of Anyariel. Curled beneath it was a woman whose wooden flesh flares with horrible fire.

The clearing itself was still fiery, its grass flickering with fire. At the end of the clearing stood a pair of giant boars on fire, appearing as guardians of this place.
“Oh mighty lords,” Eyvindr bowed, “we seek an audience with your master.”

The boars snorted and bristled and the woman was unresponsive.

After repeating his plea in Sylvan with the same results, Eyvindr continued, “I implore you, let us pass. We must speak with your mistress.”

“We wish to continue Anyariel’s labor,” Eyvindr called out to Timbre, “and free the forest. We need your help.”

At the invoking of Anyariel’s name, Timbre began to stir, her face and body horribly burned.

“We have come from the shrine of Anyariel,” Eyvindr continued, “where we paid our respects.”

Timbre looked up at us and slowly began to crawl toward us. When she reached the boars, she muttered, “Bring me my love’s hair. Don’t come back without it.” She crawled back to the tree and curled up, unresponsive once again.

Following the directions provided, we sought Gwenvere’s pool, four miles from the Seela village.

When we arrived at Gwenvere’s pool, we found the most beautiful place in the fire forest. Crimson flowers crackled atop an island in the center of the pool, their embers drifting lazily in a slow breeze. Tree branches swayed above the water, their heat almost hypnotic. However, the water itself was flat gray, scattered with patches of burning reeds, was coated in ash, and scattered along the shore were bits of animal bones. On the south wall of the pool was a cave.
“Gwenvere, Gwenvere,” Eyvindr called out, “wherefore art thou?”

Recalling that, hungry for the burning meat of animals, Gwenvere occasionally emerges for small, meaty sacrifices; we hunted down a small squirrel.

A cautious head poked itself out of the water, looking curiously at the squirrel we dangled toward her.
“We bring an offering to you, Gwenvere,” Eyvindr entreated, “in hopes that you can render aid to us in our time of need. We wish to help the forest and finish the labor of your love, Anyariel.”

Eyvindr approached us cautiously, emerging from the water as Ulfgar brought her the sacrificial meat. She grabbed it in her gnarled hand and took a bite out of it.

“Thank you for this delicious offering,” Gwenvere greeted us. “Now tell me, what is your quest? What is it that you’re doing here?”

“We want to stop this endless fire on the forest,” Ulfgar reiterated. “We want to put out this curse.”

“We want to kill Anyariel’s rival, Indomitability,” Cyrus added.

“How are you going to do this?” Gwenvere asked.

“We were hoping you could tell us,” Cyrus replied, “how to kill him.”

“If that’s something I could have done,” Gwenvere acknowledged, “I would have done it already.”

“Perhaps you have some token of Anyariel that could aid us in our quest,” Eyvindr suggested. “A lock of her hair, perhaps.”

I cast guidance on Eyvindr as he entreated Gwenvere.

“What would you use my love’s hair for if you had it?” Gwenvere inquired.

“We wish to bring it back to the shrine of Anyariel and pray for guidance,” Eyvindr responded, “on the spirit of Anyariel.”

“Wait here,” Gwenvere responded, disappearing under the water.

After a couple of minutes, Gwenvere returned, poking her head out of the water once again. “If I were you, I wouldn't waste my time praying at the shrine. That won’t help you.” She held up a lock of hair. “But I suspect if you take this to Timbre, that might be more helpful to you.” She offered the lock to Eyvindr.

“We thank you for your generous offer,” Eyvindr responded, taking the lock of hair. “We hope this Timbre will give us the boon we need to defeat Indomitability and free the forest of this curse.”

“Just kill the bastard so I can get my lake back,” Gwenvere implored us.

“As you wish,” Eyvindr bowed as Gwenvere disappeared into the water.

We returned to Timbre’s grove and presented her with the lock of hair.

Timbre approached us, the boars parting before her. She took the hair and held it close, smelling it.

She told us that when the Shahalesti first assaulted the Innenotdar elves, the warrior Anyariel came to their defense. With a blade made from the Tree, Anyariel died imprisoning Indomitability. The Seela are directly tied to Timbre and the forest itself. The sword has to be bonded to a living creature, and is still bound to Anyariel.

“Which of you will step forward to bind yourself to the sword to save this place?” Timbre asked.

“Wait my friends,” Eyvindr halted us. “I think whoever takes up this weapon will be forever bound to this forest. I will do it.”

“Are you sure?” We asked.

“I have an affinity for the elves of Gate Pass and I wish them to be returned to their home,” Eyvindr explained, “and I cannot ask any of you to live among the elves and fey folk of this land.”

After a brief contemplation, Timbre spoke, “The bond with Anyariel has now ceased. The moment you touch the sword, you will be forever bound to it, and with that you will have the ability to save Seela and the forest itself.”

“I accept this burden and this honor,” Eyvindr replied.

“However, once you pull the sword,” Timbre added, “you will have to fight the beast itself, although in a weakened condition. But as long as the bearer of the sword survives, so will the Seela and the forest will take root again. You, Eyvindr, are their last hope.”

“My friends will fight with me, I assume,” Eyvindr stated.

“Wish you all the success in the world,” Timbre replied. “Good luck to you.”

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