And there it was, a village grown out of the living trees. I don’t know how the Elves convince trees to grow like that but it’s a hell of a talent. Last time I saw an Elf village I was 7. Last time I entered the woods I was 7. They’ll pay for that.
The village was grown around a central pillar, one of the old Iron obelisks. I’m pretty sure the pillars are older than the spindlers, no idea what made them. Nakura told me once that if you look at them just right under the full moon you can see some kind of writ on ’em. Never tried it. Not sure I’d like what I saw.
I knew better than to startle Elves. So I just stood there on the outskirts, ahem’d as politely as I could and tried not to look too out of place. After a while one of them seemed to take notice and loped over. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an Elf, so for your benefit I’ll tell you about ’em.
Elves stand around 7ft tall, but they’re wiry and rangy like spiders with only half the limbs. Their faces are almost flat but wide, tiny noses, huge eyes, and broad cheeks that fill out to the beginnings of their long knife-like ears. They have six fingers on each hand, not sure how many toes. It’s not exactly something you ask about. And they smell of… of… moss, I think. They smell like a forest after a heavy rain…
This Elf was pretty average, judging by the Ironbark they were clad in they must’ve been a guard or whatever the Elf version of a Warden is. They looked down at me, and made a few starts at words until they found their tongue.
“You have walked too deep plain-lander. This is sacred ground and you are not welcome.”, They said it as a statement. It wasn’t a threat. It was just a fact.
I knew I’d only get one chance to make the right impression and if I fucked it I’d probably end up dead. I drew a breath, and said, “My kin are being murdered by something we do not understand, I have come to seek the wisdom of the Elves that this scourge might be stopped. Please forgive my trespass.”
That was about as much bootlicking as I could stomach. I hoped it was enough for the Elf.
[Compel: Weak Hit] (What does Aralu ask in return?)
They regarded me for what seemed like forever. If you’ve never been stared down by an Elf I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s like they look at your bones straight through your skin. After a brief eternity they finally blinked and said “A strange convergence then. Perhaps you are the messenger. Come with me. We may trade.”
They turned and strode into the village, I took another breath and followed. I didn’t have a whole lot of choice.
[Gather Information: Weak Hit] (What new information or danger will complicate my quest?) [We brought, this on ourselves, someone summoned it] [The Elves will want their head in exchange for help]
The Elf led me to one of the houses, it was like an oak tree had grown around a massive bulb, 30ft or so wide at the base and tapering upwards into a normal looking tree. The door didn’t look carved, it was as though the hole had just grown that way. A thin curtain of beads the only barrier to the outside world. As we passed through I realised they were bones, small and light, bird perhaps. Poe pecked at my shoulder nervously.
I was shown to a low table, around which some moss cushioned the ground and gestured to sit. The Elf sat across from me and finally spoke again. “I am Aralu, protector of this stead. I see you bear the mark of a Warden. It is well that you wore it.”
“I am Zanita, Warden of Raven Wood. Do you recognise this?” I showed Aralu the parchment with the ghoul rune on it. It’s hard for an Elf’s eyes to get any wider but Aralu managed it. Not surprised as much as bitter to see it.
“I know it, and I suspect you do too, Warden. We have seen the signs that one such as this was stalking the land. One of our own fell victim to it a day or so ago.”
“And will you help us? Is there some way to stop this thing? To kill it even?”
They looked at me and said “These creatures don’t just appear, Warden. They are summoned. There is a boon of sorts for the one that calls them, even if the creature brings ruin to those around them. I will help you, for a price.”
“And what is your price?” I asked, heart in my mouth.
“You will bring me the one who called it forth. They will face our justice. By their actions Elf blood has been spilled and there must be a reckoning. If not for the summoner then for the community that shelters them.”
Another statement. A fact. If I didn’t bring them the scumbag that summoned the Ghoul then all of Raven Wood would pay the price.
“What makes you think a human summoned it?”, I asked, but I already knew the answer.
“Because no Elf would be so stupid, Warden. We have lived through these terrors, fought wars to eradicate them, watered the forest with our blood to see them gone from this world.”, their words were stern.
“Fair”, I said, “Then before I go is there anything you can tell me that will help me find the summoner? What’s this boon you mentioned?”
[Action: Affect Theme: Resource]
“Look for one who has recently come upon great fortune, rich in something, not necessarily coin. The creature grants the wish of greed as recompense for its freedom.”
“Thanks.”, I took off my medallion, and looked at it. I swore. I swore to Aralu on this Iron, I swore for my parents and my honour. I would bring this criminal to justice.
[Swear an Iron Vow: Weak Hit]
Aralu nodded. I think they understood the gesture but Elves are hard to read. They let me rest there the night as the sky was darkening. It’s not wise to walk the woods at night, everyone knows that. The next morning I gathered my things and readied myself for the walk back to Raven Wood. If anything I had more questions than answers but at least I was moving forward.
[Reach a Milestone: I have potential allies in the hunt for the Ghoul now]
Before I left Red Home I took a moment to properly assess my injuries from the fight with bandits and patch myself up a bit.
[Heal: Miss; My injuries were worse than I thought: -1 Health]
Well, nothing to do but soldier on. I started walking…
[Undertake a Journey: Miss] (What perilous event gets in my way?)
I heard the screeching chitters just as the little bastards burst out of the undergrowth, Marsh Rats, 3 of ’em and hungry by the look of ’em…
[Enter the Fray: Weak Hit; Take Initiative]
I angled my spear for the first one and took a stab
[Strike: Strong Hit: 3 harm (dangerous=6 boxes)]
I stabbed it through the skull, spun and impaled the second through its gut. The miserable creature wasted its dying breaths trying to eat its own pack mate. I turned to the third and lunged.
[Strike: Miss: Burn Momentum (7): Strong Hit: 3 harm (dangerous=6 boxes)]
I struck true and it squealed.
[End the fight: Strong Hit]
Dead. All dead. Marsh rats didn’t taste great but it was meat. No point in wasting it.
[Resupply: Miss: -1 spirit]
I must have been more tired than I thought. I completely botched the butchering and ended up with nothing useful. What is wrong with me… Fuck it. Onwards.
[Undertake a journey: Miss] (What perilous event is stopping me now?) [Action: Initiate, Theme: Corruption: My food has started to rot: -1 supply]
This wasn’t going well, I was injured, running low on supplies and feeling downright miserable. I needed to stock up on food. I needed to hunt, but this time I was going to play it smart. I turned to Poe and said “I’m going to need to your help, mate. Fly out, scout, and when you spot some game keep them occupied while I close in.” He gave me a peck that I had come to know as acknowledgement and flew off.
[Secure an Advantage: Strong Hit with a match (aw yis)] [Twist: Poe found something else, something Shiny]
A few minutes later Poe returned and tipped his head north, that meant follow. He’d found something. I snuck through the underbrush as best I could while Poe flitted from branch to branch, leading the way. We arrived in a clearing surrounded by bushes and low branches, you’d never know it was there. And in the center was a mass of rags and rotted furs and leather and bone. I edged closer to get a better look but in my heart I already knew what I was looking at. I carefully searched through the remains until I found it. The other half of my medallion. This was my fathers’ corpse, it had been here, lost, for just over a decade. And there, in the leaves was his sword. Shining like the day it was made.
As I lifted the sword I felt something strange, a sense of peace, of rejoining. It whispered to me through my blood and warmed my heart to hold it. I heard, as though from a great distance away, a voice saying “It’s been too long, petal”. And I stopped and cried and screamed and let my pain go. I knelt there, just holding that sword, rocking and crying for a good while. It felt right. Sometimes you just need to.
[Catharsis: +1 Spirit]