Travelers to and from the town of Pella’s Wish (near Yew) had been disappearing without a trace since the middle of Spring. No signs of struggle, the goods they were taking to market never showed up in another vendors’ cart, no one was running around flush with coin from robbing them. Ynnivax and Mazlor asked Fergus, Josef, Willie, Pyria and me to look into it, and we brought with us some new companions – a couple of rangers, Beth and Airk, and the cheerful Rani, a littling like myself, a thief/fighter.
We reached Pella’s Wish on the eve of the 43rd day of Summer. It had been abandoned during last year’s war on the orcs and their unnatural allies. Some villagers had returned to restore their farms and rebuild the houses. We talked with the headman, Thomas, and the local lord, Pisani, who thought goblins were responsible for the loss of the four dozen or so people who’d been snatched away since the 35th day of Spring.
Boraen and Talvi, accompanied by other tribesfolk – Toraq, Einar, Nana, and Duna – joined us in Pella’s Wish. And then Wikton wandered over with a sardonic grin to assure he bore Fergus and me no ill will. He’d been tinkering about after his release from durance vile in the south. That evening, we wandered to the wishing pool that had given Pella’s Wish its name. I wished for gems and good food; I expect Fergus asked for his hair back. I don’t know about the others.
The next morning, Talvi got the scent of one of the disappeared and we set off, she and the two rangers leading us on foot. We took the trail towards the littleling castle, just a track through the grasslands, scarcely wide enough for a wagon or a couple of riders. There were evident signs of a heavily weighted group ahead of us – they must have come up from the south and skirted Pella’s Wish while we had first breakfast. When we got underway after second breakfast, they were a good 2-3 hours in front.
At dusk, Talvi, Pyria, Rani, and I spied the smoke of their campfire. The rangers and I crept up to a copse near their camp, while Talvi and Beth edged close on the other side. We watched and listened as a good dozen or so men set up a camp and a picket for their four horses. No special alert or tension in these travelers.
Until, that is, when Rani popped up and introduced herself. Beth and I came up to support Rani, explained about the missing villagers, asked if we can join camps, as the main party rushed up and Airk dropped from the trees to join us. Taken aback by our numbers, they are nonetheless polite.
These travelers, though, were a bit evasive. Theirleader, Dunmore, would not tell us of his mission. They had come up from Dracott, so Willie and Josef were among neighbors, at least. They seemed to want to stay out of the maddening and often bloody religious squabble. Dunmore said the Lightbringers had gone too far, and lamented the incursions of the orcs. But he is noncommittal on law vs. chaos, and took offense when the ever-tactful Boraen as much as accused him of being a slaver. We withdrew to the grove for the night.
The next morning, they left as we were policed our camp. Theirs, too –they’d left the fire unbanked and ground littered in their haste. We rode a few miles behind them, came to a crossroads, with a heavily-traveled trail to the east. Dunmore’s party went on north past the crossing, but we hoped this was a clue to the whereabouts of the villagers. At the end of the path I saw a copse of trees, enclosed by a tall hedge, a single opening to the south. This seemed a druid’s circle, but I felt little peace.
Boraen called out a greeting to those within, and perhaps a dozen humans come out to make us welcome. We asked about the disappeared – and Thomas’ wife Crystal pushed to the front, apparently unharmed. Others from their party were also here, but one did not pass some test and thus died. That sounded like some of the rougher druidic mysteries – where you overcome an obstacle or are destroyed by it.
Most of our party headed off in pursuit of Dunmore. I had to stay to root this out, and Wikton agreed to accompany me on the test. Rani stayed to spy out the village. Fergus, Josef and Wllie decided to spend some time together.
So Wikton and I were escorted to the test area, climbed down a ladder into the ground. Leading away from the pit bottom was a tunnel, walls covered in vines. Wikton and I came to a place where the vines flowered red. I had just about decided the villagers were using poppies, thus their glassy-eyed calm. But poppies, though red, don’t have trumpet flowers.
We heard a tumbling behind us and found Fergus, Willie and Josef in a pile, coming to and untangling themselves. A little to the side was Rani, groggy and angry at being attacked. The ladder Wikton and I had used to gain access was gone! Looks like we all would take the test. Perhaps this circle would become mine and some of my company might join me in keeping the circle. I won’t write the tests we had to pass, but with my leadership, we went through a puzzle maze quite quickly. We’d all have been accepted as initiates into a druidic school. But there were more challenges ahead.
Where there should have been a gathering of higher-level druids to question and test us, there were in fact five, garbed and armed for ritual battle.
Wikton hurled his hammer and charged. I quickly cast faerie fire, limning all our foes. The chief druid and two of his acolytes were quickly killed. Rani tied up the last two, and I took the chief druid’s staff and bracers. I assumed leadership of the circle by default.
We went on into a great cavern, arching high over our heads with vines and roots, limbs and leaves all over the walls and dipping into the shallow pool to one side. While we checked along the walls for an exit, a large leaf plunged down and covered Fergus’ face! We tried peeling and slashing at it, ripped it free and into bits just as Fergus felt he was breathing his last! The shredded leaf fell to the floor, the gentle light in the chamber disappeared, and much lamenting came from the captured druids in the last room. The vines shriveled away, revealing the entrance to a chamber holding boxes and chests – and a few skeletons!
Another exit led out into the village, where we found all the people stunned and weeping. The longer they’d been controlled, the worse off they were – our captive druids the worst of all. We waited overnight, and the most recently captured had largely recovered. The rest of our party rode back in, accompanied us all (save a small party heading for Yew to sing our praises!) back to Pella’s Wish. We used the horses and carts to take the goods and treasure with us, tried to be fair in the division of spoils and still leave some for the villagers. I think I’ll pass these bracers on to Pyria, so she has some protection, maybe can get some more spells off. And the good will of a magic user is surely worth something!