The night was troublesome for all of the companions, the unnatural sounds of Blackthorne’s Garden made sleep difficult, and when sleep did come it was restless, leaving everyone with a vague feeling of having escaped a nightmare. They gathered their belongings, leaving Vandora to watch over her sisters. Phandria evoked a druidic spell to gain some insight into their surroundings, from what she described, they choose to continue on the path.
Alluvian lead them along the path between stretches of unnatural trees until they sighted a mass of trees, vines and even stone that gave off a subtle light as if lit from within. It gave off the impression of a building, while at the same time a large chaotic jumble of plant overgrowth. There was some uncertainty over what to do, clearly the edifice was unnatural, but all their magics had indicated that Syl’varia and the stricken Beloved’s were further inside the forest. The “building” for lack of better terms, could be a trap or costly distraction. Za’kazhin was still a threat and at an advantage here in his own territory. The appearance of a robed figure in the doorway galvanized them into action.
The figure gestured for them to follow into the “building”, the group formed up, with Ragnork taking the vanguard position and the ranged combatants supporting him. The warrior was able to get a better look at both the figure, and “her” location, as he reached the threshold. The interior resembled a temple or other large gathering place; the remains of a statue’s head, held in place by plant growth dominated the far side, what resembled worn tapestries at first but were revealed to be long wisps of spider webs hung from overhead. Samnymian noticed a sizable black spider riding along the back of Alluvian’s pack, and dispatched with a quickly evoked spell. The woman like figure continued to watch them quietly from the center of the room. Ragnork cautiously approached, but could sense no direct threats.
The robed woman spoke in oddly ephasized elven, as if she spoke the language of the elves, but in a different way. She introduced herself as “Ah’ranexa”, and began answering some of their questions, informing them that she was here to observe Za’kazhin and Lord Harin’dalin’s progress. When asked if she would object to someone interfering with their progress, Ah’ranexa stated that clearly, if they were easily stopped, then they were hardly worthy of her notice? She addressed Alluvian as “Oathsworn”, clearly noticing the bow the rangeress carried. The robed woman also offered Gretel a gift, but having received more than her fair share of “gifts” from mysterious and evil beings, she politely declined. The only hint of animosity about her was as they left, she invoked a prayer of a sort, “In Lloth’s name, Maiden’s Warding so Sworn.” which appeared to trigger something in the armor worn by Ragnork.
Leaving the mysterious woman behind, they continued on the trail until they neared the trail that would lead toward the center of the twisted forest, and their goals. Looking over the crossroad was another jagged, towering spar of petrified wood, although there was no sign of the Drow druid, Blackthorne whom had used the last as a perch. The assumption proved premature as the area around them once more erupted in flame, clearly a repeat of the previous Firestorm spell. This time the group spotted a miniature crow taking wing from close by. Spells and arrows flew and the bird tore through the sky, up toward the top of the tower spar. But Alluvian was able to send two more arrows up at her quarry, dropping it. As the tiny bird plunged ground ward, the wildshape faded, Za’kazhin Darkthrone, the Drow druid, landed with a cruel thud in the thick of Whispering Trees.
Samnymian spotted the druid’s body amongst the tress, seeing the wounds already beginning to close. He sent several more spells into the figure to keep it from regenerating while Alluvian dragged the corpse from the wood. Ragnork finished the druid off with a quick stroke from Kel’Elaedrial, severing the head from the rest. They made quick inventory of the magic and other valuables, leaving the corpse behind. This time they caught their foe by surprise, making impressively quick work of him.
The path toward the center of the (now deceased) Drow druid, Za’kazhin Blackthorne’s garden proved more treacherous as it drew closer to their destination. Spine launching plants lined the way and the “safe zone” between their path and the Whispering Trees faded, forcing the adventurers to pass close enough to fall under the threat of their whispers. Ved’Rail used his bardic ability to try and bolster his companion’s resistances to the tree’s allure. It was partially successful, the power of the tree’s appeared greatly amplified the closer they got to the center of the dark garden.
In the center of the garden they beheld their destination. Ahead of them lay the sundered remains of one of the great Elldrasils, the trees of the ancient Elven homeland, now a massive, shattered stump in the center of a moat-like lake fed by the numerous tributaries that wound through the surrounding garden. It appeared that Harin’dalin was using the remains of this long dead great tree as an outer wall for a fortress he had constructed here.
A ramp lead up to a large black metal gateway, the material and style reminiscent of the tower they had visited near the Westron Mountains. Bound to the gates in heavy chain was one of the two Beloveds of Ehlenestra. The elven woman was unconscious, coated in a sickly looking moss and showing signs of torture. They freed her, but not without triggering an alarm within the fortress. They identified the substance coating her as Obliviax, or memory moss, a plant that consumed the spells and memories of any sentient being it comes into contact with. They preserved as much of it as they could, in hopes the woman’s memories could be restored.
The gates began to open, revealing a human the bore the telltale black tear streaks that others under mental control had. The human asked who they were and Ved’Rail quickly responded, “We are the Seven.”, playing on the rumor they had heard that Harin’dalin was awaiting “The Seven” and Syl’viaria’s warning to “Beware the Seven.” The human nodded then opened the door wider, “The Master will want to see you.” and bid them enter.
Within the remains of the Eldrasill, the elven lord had constructed a series of connected towers that surrounded a vile looking tree that was rooted in the remains of the Eldrasill’s trunk, its own roots digging into the rock hard wood like parasitic tendrils. This black tree, its twenty foot round trunk dwarfed by the Eldrasill’s remains, stretched up a good eighty feet, its limbs free of leaves but surrounded by a fine swirling mist similar to the invisible lurking tentacled creature encountered out in mist filled forest. Odd red stones, radiating a faint glow, could been seen embedded in the base of the black tree’s trunk.
Samnymian approached the tree as the human servant led the group to the nearest tower. As he grew closer, his heart was filled with such crushing despair that he flinched back, cautioning his friends to keep away from the vile thing.
Entering the tower, the servant led them past several heavily armed and armed guards, clad in armor similar to that worn by Ragnork, but of a simpler design. He bid them wait while he fetched the master, begging them make themselves comfortable before departing.
Quickly deciding not to wait for Harin’dalin’s arrival, they used magics to determine that Syl’viaria was up higher and in the center tower. Ved’Rail unlocked an exit door and the group departed, making their way down a curved hallway and into a store room with several sets of weapons and armor. A spiral staircase beckoned them upward. The next hallway took them to the third tower.
Within the third tower was a chamber with two exists and a statue of a nude elven dancer, baring a pair of wicked blades. Upon entering, the statue proved to be a golem when it animated and moved to defend the location. Alluvian and Ragnork engaged the thing in melee while Ved’Rail went to work on the lock of the closest door. The door opened, only to reveal an enclosed balcony that looked out over the black tree and the surrounded petrified heartwood.
The golem, while a deadly opponent, was dispatched without loss of life. Ved’Rail and Samnymian went to work on the other locked door. The door opened, revealing a regal looking elven figure. Clad in black robes with silver and red trimming, he looked upon the strangers and the rocky remains of the room’s guardian and asked, “Who are you?”