With Fort Rannik back in our hands, we mount a picket line of ogre heads to ward off any thoughts of a counter attack, Kreeg, the Magi and Hook-jaw a fly blown a centre piece at the Northern gate.
Then begins the grisly task of clearing the keep, room by room.
The carnage is appalling, more blood than it seems possible to spill, human bodies turned to grotesque purposes and wanton destruction at every turn.
We disassemble and remove the worst of the vandalism, Ogre bodies piled on the still burning barracks, human lined up for proper burial later.
It must be extraordinarily difficult for Jak and Kale but they seem determined to purge this horror and rebuild, brick, body and mind. I for one would prefer to forget much of what we saw…
Amidst the horror though, in two rooms at least, there are answers, and perhaps more questions…
Like so many others, Commander Lamatar Bayden’s quarters, were turned over and defaced, but the clumsy ogres missed a hidden cache beneath a now shattered wine store.
Inside is a pair of supple, magical boots, a collection of surprisingly poetic love letters to a woman named Myrianna and a lock of silvan hair in a golden locket.
Myrianna is apparently a Wood Nymph from the nearby Whitewillow marshlands. According to Athene, these powerful fae are inherently good creatures who play muse to mortal subjects, often leaving such tokens as this lock of hair…
Whilst this apparent ‘love affair’ is news to the Rangers, It certainly sheds new light on what Jak describes as the Commander’s regular ‘communion walks’ and instils a genuine hope that Bayden might even be sheltered there, safe and alive!
It can be no coincidence that the attack occurred during one such outing by the commander, intelligence no doubt shared by Caven or other traitors in the keep.
We take the letters and locket, intent on passing through this Whitewillow to see if Bayden is indeed there and if not pass on these letters to her. Jak insists we also take the boots which apparently allow free passage through such mires as the Whitewillow.
This talk of fae makes me uncomfortable, my father often teased me that he found me in a faerie circle whenever I asked about my mother and such nonsense always bothered me…
We finish our sweep in Lucrecia’s lair, and make a more disconcerting if significant discovery.
In a chest we find a list of over two hundred names titled the ‘Favourite customers of Paradise’ with an ominous footnote saying ‘Those who have agreed, to grant their greed, to the masters need’.
Caven’s name is there, circled, so I hand it to Jak in the hope of identifying any other traitors.
His face goes a little pale.
No Ranger’s names, but every other one belongs to a resident of Turtleback Ferry- Nearly half the town, Including the man with the Sihedron tattoo on his leg!
We have the idea to look over Caven’s body in the tunnel outside and indeed find that same tattoo on his wrist.
Are they ALL cultists or just those with tattoos?
Perhaps these people are being groomed?
Perhaps these are the most vulnerable?
Whatever the case, we must get word back to Turtleback Ferry and warn Mayor Maelin Shreed (whose name does not appear in the list) that wolves may be loose amongst his flock.
Also in the chest we find a note accompanying two gifts for the Lamia from someone signed ‘M’ (I wish these villains had the courage to sign their full name). One is an elvish spellbook and the other a section of spiked steel rod, with a faint magical aura.
I have a horrible thought that ‘M’ might be this Myrianna, but say nothing, not wanting to dash any hopes that Bayden might still be alive.
We decide to make haste back to Turtleback (I wonder if that’s where Lucrecia teleported too?) and reluctantly choose to leave our new friends to rebuild alone.
A stoic Jak, Shae and a demonstrative Kale see us off at the gate.
We promise to send assistance and supplies as soon as we can but whether we’ll return ourselves is not so certain .
Looking around at the bodies and the still smouldering ruins, it seems a massive task, but it’s a task in the right hands.
We ride back to Turtleback in a sudden unnatural rain, deciding to strike camp, just short of the settlement. We are truly spent after the battle and if we must fight two hundred brainwashed cultists, I’d prefer to be well rested.
Unfortunately though, it seems the night holds no such respite…
We wake to a strange, oncoming, drifting light and a high pitched chittering. Preparing for a fight we are surprised to see a tiny, iridescent figure with gossamer wings and fine elvish features- A Pixie!
The befuddled and bemoaning creature is in quite a state. Introducing himself as Yap he claims that his mistress Myrianna is suffering some terrible illness and knowing us to be allies of the Commander insists on our help… How he knows our connection to the Commander though I do not know?
I suppose our meeting with this fae queen has been brought forward…
We follow him through the forest, over rivers and into the mire of the *Shimmerglenns*… when the rain suddenly stops.
The way is thick with mud and groping tree roots.
The land laced with powerful magics but magics that are changing.
What once must have been a place of wonder is now corrupt, twisted, decaying.
Ghostly lights flicker in the boughs.
Shadows creep at the corner of the eye.
Strange voices whisper from the dark.
A hooded figure slides form the shadows before us.
Mahd jolts, visibly shaken, the rest of us little better, and then it’s gone, only silhouettes of gnarled trees where it stood. We reach out with our senses and find nothing , no evil, nor magic. It’s like it was never there…
We march on knee deep into a wide pool of water, except for Athene in the Commander’s boots who’s skims the surface like solid ground.
Half way across, a haunting chorus of voices swirls around us, that becomes a circle of long dead, spectral fae. They flitter around the perimeter and then they’re on us in a sudden rush like a spine chilling wave. Athene screams but again, quickly as they appear, they are gone again…
A little further on and there’s a wrecked ship. Beached on a muddy bank, many miles from the coast the ship is little more than a husk, but how did it get here? A mystery for later we move on again to arrive at a truly terrible site…
A Dryad in its humanoid form, petrified and submerged in the ruin of a huge tree, limbs smashed and scattered all around. Her face is distorted, with fear or perhaps pain and it appears that she is the source of the voices…
“She should not have fallen in love…” she says from silent eyes… and surely it is Myrianna of whom she speaks.
Athene and Wynter check for tracks and discover that this is actually the work of Ogres. Perhaps they caught this creature as it shifted form one form to another? I no little of such woodland spirits…
But it all, just raises more questions.
We ask our guide about each new horror but he can only mumble about his mistress and the fall these lands. I wonder if he too is affected it in a way we cannot understand.
It doesn’t bode well for Myrianna, perhaps she too is a victim of this ogre incursion, but she is the villain, the ‘M’ from the letter.
Yap slows to a halt as we enter an ominous circle of willows…
A terrible, spectral form arises from the earth with a scream.
The ghost of a once otherworldly beauty drifts before us.
Rendered limbs floating dismembered alongside the gaunt frame of a once faeland princess. It is Myrianna…
Eye’s dark in undeath, hair like oil, whipping and snapping with each cry she floats before us, screaming accusations.
Blaming us for the fall of Fort Rannik and the death of her lover, Commander Lamatar Bayden (at least we now know his fate), she demands in her broken voice that we go to Hook Mountain and recover his body, where by her magics she can resurrect him.
Athene and I both eye the creature with some suspicion.
If the Myrianna that was stood before us I would not hesitate, but what of this creature?
What are her real plans for Baden’s body?
Is this creature in league with the cult?
We ask a few questions, trying to sense her motives but they only seem to infuriate her.
There is something about her, something that I do not wish to anger her so I back down.
I cannot help but stand in awe of her power, she might be evil but there is something else I detect in her, the anger of the righteous, of the good.
But it is an anger on the edge, one that might teeter over into the dark.
Perhaps by helping her we can return Bayden, her and this place back to the way they were?
I am satisfied for now, for even if we would fight this creature, in our current state, in her territory, we would most likely be throwing away our lives in an uncertain fight.
Besides, we would seek out the commanders body regardless of her ill mannered request and if should suspect her of anything untoward on our return, we can fight her then.
I back out, behind Mahd who gas already cleared the circle.
But Athene remains behind…
She obviously doesn’t share my instincts and demands more answers…
Myrianna swells again, a primal force, and screams a bone-chilling tirade at Athene that leaves her dumbstruck…
I rush back in averting my eyes as Myrianna looms closer and literally drag the inquisitor’s paralyzed form from the grove and the spectre dissipates…
I hesitate for a moment between an arch of two twisted willows, and take a few steps back in, placing the chest with it’s letters and locket on the ground and quickly withdraw.
Now to get some answers form that Pixie!