One: Ordered by Gods
Where Lizards Weep
When Lizards Weep
Out of the corner of his eye, Thalazzar registered that the clockwork might not survive, its gears bashed and metal plates greatly distorted. Arek and Domaldi, reinvigorated by dwarven prayers, rushed once more into the marsh to drag its hulking form out of the path of the rampaging bramble beasts. In the dark shadows of the swamp, their glowing red eyes could not be hidden easily as they advanced on the withdrawing companions. With steelstone hammer and hobgoblin blade, the pair would have given any other rational beast considerable pause, but not these creatures. The gremlin horde of Gnarrgyn could not be easily seen, but their presence was also keenly felt by the companions. They could hear their malicious chatter as they skittered over the brambles, ripping and tearing as they swarmed forward ever closer to the grove.
The conjurer knew that he and his companions would be safe from his Gnarrgyn horde within the grove's protective aura. His companions did not. What's more, they could not easily tell how many of the wooden creatures lay beyond their sight and whether they could enter the grove. Scraped, torn, drenched, bloodied and soiled, the companions fought there way backwards towards the peaceful sunlight of the grove behind them. From there, some form of sylvan fey was rendering them assistance as fine arrows flew from the grove to strike their vicious bramble stalkers in the shadows. Even though he stood within the grove's soft light, he could see little of their new ally save for wisps of long flowing hair amongst the stalwart oaks, dancing like leaves in the wind.
Thalazzar distractedly twirled the tip of his moustache around a single finger as his other hand gently repeated a rune form in the air, a linking sigil to the Abyssal realm of Gnarrgyn from whence his gremlins had come. His chin lowered in concentration, his tall red hat drooping perilously forward, the wizard sensed that the battle was won and that the gremlins had pursued the creatures deeper into the swamp. Ending his arcane concentration and leaving his horde to dissipate, Thalazzar looked about to see his companions collapsing onto the blue flowered mound to catch their breath.
Their host was far more beautiful then any of them had imagined. Her delicate willowy form and deep bright eyes were entrancing. But, to Thalazzar's chagrin, the creature was most interested in Tiberio and his music. Resting within the enchanted grove, the dryad explained her long vigil over this place, once tended by druids of old. She asked Tiberio of his music, having heard of the tune he sang to the lizard tribe (DM's Note - She did not hear the Lizardman song, she observed the divine origins of Tiberio's lyre, and recalled "Apollo's siste" who has gone missing past "the big wall," so she asked for a song). With a sly grin, Tiberio began his song once more.
Although Tiberio's Draconic was far less fluent than his own, the minstrel captured a great deal of the essence of the lizard dialect, admittedly far different than Thalazzar's native kobold tongue (DM's Note - Not sure what Tiberio actually played). It was the emotion behind the words that made it such a powerful performance. The words lisped off his teeth, a sad but romantic lament of the conflict between duty to one's tribe and one's land, torn between saving family and saving home waters. Things, perhaps, more heartfelt to a cold-blooded tribal lizard, but lyrics that brought a strange beauty to these dark, wet lands nonetheless. Their dryad protector seemed genuinely stirred by Tiberio's tribute to the marsh she had watched over for so long, surprised by the human's ability to articulate the beauty hidden between the bramble, mud and root. Whatever ills the companions had committed in these lands prior to that moment had been forgiven.
The wizard felt rested and whole as the sun dried their clothes and eased their battered bodies. Thalazzar removed his boots, put on his soft pointed slippers for the first time in days, if only for a short time, and stretched out on the grass.
And then a surprise as the dryad gifted them some items from the old druid burial mound beneath them (DM's Note: The Items belonged to the druids that had trapped her here so long ago. They constructed her barrow glade, but you do not know who or what if anything is buried there. Nor do you know from whence she extracted the items). To Thalazzar's care, an enchanted staff of deep black ash. Holding it in his hand he could immediately sense its age and latent, foreign power. Divining its magic, tiny sylvan lettering glowed green amongst the natural twists and turns of the charcoal coloured wood. He could sense great powers within, powers of conjuration not dissimilar to his own, but certainly powers beyond the abilities of anyone within their little group. To one of elfin kind or perhaps someone with a mastery of druidic arts, this staff would be a great prize of tremendous value. Holding it in his hands and running his palm across its smooth, dark surface, Thalazzar distinctly felt the elemental wrath churning within it - undiscriminating energy like a hurricane in a forest. While none of them could unleash it, this indeed was a kingly gift.
Thalazzar stood in the grove and gripped the ashen branch tight, letting its energy infuse him. He imagined that this was what Stooped Birch must have felt like, his thick legs rooted in place for centuries if he chose, absorbing Sentar's powerful natural energy into his gnarled ancient limbs. Such a shame that he could not wield this power thought the wizard. The old tree's jibes to abandon his dark arcane ways and embrace the druid's path now took on a new irony Thalazzar realized with a smirk. "Kalthanalas" in Sylvan it read - a bearer, a master, an origin, a mystery? Sitting down again finally with his back against the grove's oak guardians, Thalazzar softly touched the staff to his cheek, feeling its energy tingling the ends of his beard as he watched his companions exploring their other gifts.
Peering out into the shadows beyond the grove Thalazzar noticed for the first time the silent stream running over a rocky, shadowed entrance and the quiet beauty of this place. With Tiberio's notes lingers in his ears, he could almost hear elfin singing as he closed his eyes.
An excerpt from Domaldi's Journal