Returning from the Hinkelmann farm in the north, the companions set about a variety of tasks before turning in early to prepare for the druid’s ritual in the morning.
Vahn sat down on the ground, arraying his javelins around him in a circle, and focused his divine energies as he meditated. A red swirling mist began to pool around him before streaking away to the northeast…from where an answering whinny sounded. Enormous hooves slamming the earth, a horse of incredible proportions pounded it’s way toward vahn. Mottled grey, its shoulders of such girth as to make it’s huge legs look almost undersized, it slowed as it approached the paladin, lowering its head. Red eyes blinked at him, passively, as it submitted to its new master. Vahn had summoned his celestial stonehorse, Animus, and it came to him in the form of a specialized breed from his mountainous homeland.
Steed summoned, Vahn set off in search for a proper leatherworker to construct a saddle that would suit both goliath and beast, and eventually found his way to Tyrik. Thin, skin nearly as tanned as her products, with gray hair and sinewy muscles, Tyrik appeared to be a master of her craft, both working leather and tanning her own. Calling forth Animus, Vahn was impressed with her efficiency of movement as she measured the two of them, named a price, and promised a ready saddle on the morrow after the ritual.
Seer’ke’shin hurried to his rooms upon returning, whipping out his notebook and writing furiously of the days events, his new acquaintances, and his pondering thoughts on the ritual to be completed on the morn.
During the course of the day, a large wagon was pulled into the center green, and people wandered by all day, dropping off items inside.
As the party settled for the evening, Asade prepared herself for the earliest morning departure. Several hours she awoke before dawn and began the quiet trek west to the standing stones where her ritual would take place. A chill night, the stars shining brightly, she was comforted by the night noises of owls hunting and leaves whispering. Lost in thought considering her task to come, she almost missed the slight hint of movement by the stones as she approached. Seeing it, she called out, and the faint motion resolved itself into a cloaked figure, who darted behind a stone and drew a crossbow.
Faelar the Windwalker was startled from his reverie by a coarse oath and a cry from behind him, and instantly sought cover to ascertain the danger. Seeing a half-orc clothed in furs and leathers, he identified her as a druid from her bearing and accessories. Standing down, the two of them began to discuss, with surprise, why each of them was here. Faelar worried that Asade Nar did not fully understand the significance of the elven grave markers he had come to pay respects at, and study, while Asade couldn’t believe that anyone uninvolved in her coming ritual would even know of the ancient stones.
Withdrawing peaceably to the nearby trees, Faelar sat and watched the druid begin her ritual. Seating herself amidst the twelve stones and placing her hands upon the ground, she gathered her natural energies in a swirl of shining green motes that dug themselves into the earth around her, and immediately began to grow into reaching vines covered in thorns. These continued to grow until a brambled hedge several tall and perfectly round encircled the druid, placing her in the middle of a green tower wall a few feet high. Flowers of nightshade and lilac sprouted from this leafy edifice, and as the visible magical energies faded away, she maintained her posture, eyes closed.
Ke’shin, who had left only a short time after the druid to satisfy his enormous curiosity about the ritual, arrived at the tale end of this performance. Slipping into his mage sight, he viewed the energies inhabiting the druids body, and saw that the ring of plants surrounding her were steadily pumping faint waves of energy into the surrounding area. Continuing to cast, and recast his magical sight, he watched for any change.
Over an hour later, in town, the folk of Guldin Falls began to awake, sending runners to every door to rouse every person. Preparing for the journey, a number of torches were lit, and Xarrai pulled out his Driftglobe and cast Daylight. The town was instantly bathed in the glow of a miniature sun, illuminating the path for all. Amid the amazement of the residents, however, Vahn mentioned that perhaps he should put it out. The ritual involved the townspeople journeying to a place, and culminated with the rising of the actual sun. Perhaps, for the sake of symbolism, they should put out the small star riding at Xarrai’s shoulder. The tiefling, seeing the rationale, agreed, and rescinded the magical light.
After marshaling the crowd into two lines, Tai the Blacksmith gave the order to move out, and they headed towards the stones. After an hour of travel, they reached them, and the people began to take their items from the wagon, and stood, staring at Asade, waiting for a sign to begin.
As Vahn slid away to patrol the outside of the gathering, Asade sensed the presence of the village folk, and silently, without moving, caused snow to begin to fall on the assembly. Taking these crystalline flakes as their sign to begin, Tai issued the command, and the first to approach the sedentary druid was a pair of children, a younger sister and an older brother. Clutching onto a porcelain cup from a tea set, the girl approached the hedge, and as she laid down her sacrifice, the brambles came alive, gently taking, embracing, and enfolding the cup, drawing it deep into the leaves and thorns.
Ke’shin, with his magical sight, saw that with each person’s sacrifice, a pulse of greenish-blue magic shot from the item they gave up and into the person’s hand, where the energy began to writhe inside them, tracing a ghostly path in their bodies as though following their veins. From hand to head, down the other side, to each leg, the heart, and back, the energy flowed. The hedge itself visibly began to grow, bulging in size with the offerings given. Children gave toys, crafters sacrificed tools, and many pieces of jewelry and personal mementos passed into the brambles green embrace.
When every other person had come forth to give up their items of great personal value, Tognik was carried forward. Gesturing for his human steed to put him down, he dragged himself, one-handed, the remaining distance to the druid’s perch. Reaching up with his free hand, a plain wedding band on a glittering silver band was held up, and an errant vine reached down to pluck it from his grasp.
With this last offering, as the black of night gave way to purple, and crimson at the world’s edge, Asade understood that the time for the last sacrifice had come. Eyes still closed, she reached down to her belt and draw a small, sharp knife. Slashing both of her hands across the palm, she thrust her hands deep into the loam at her sides and threw her head back in a primal scream. Her eyes blasted open as greenish-blue energy poured from her eyes and mouth, shooting hundreds of feet upward before cascading down and encapsulating her in a painfully bright pillar of light, and then and rushing out from her in an unending stream. The leading edges of the expanding ring swiftly passed the gathered humans and raced into the surrounding forest, growing brighter and faster with every second.
Ke’shin watched, open-mouthed, as the energies inhabiting each villager grew in intensity and added one more step in their cycle, connecting into the ground at their feet before returning to their bodies, completing a circuit between every person there and the land they stood upon. A latticework of energy zipped through the ground, between them, crackling with wild energy.
Faelar, too, was shocked to see the blue-green energies pouring forth from the druid. Unlike the rest, he also saw spectral elven hand reaching up from the earth to the people of Guldin Falls, taking hold of an essence within them and binding it beneath the soil.
Just then, the leading edge of the sun became visible over the horizon. As dawn broke, so too did the druid’s scream, and the last vestiges of power cut off from her body, and trailed after all that had coursed from her before, disappearing into the distance. Withdrawing her hands from the earth, Asade had time to note with satisfaction that the cuts she had made were already silvered scars, joining the others on her palms, before her eyes rolled back and she slumped into unconsciousness, a gigantic perfect, ringed faerie mound surrounding her just inside the standing stones, it’s grassy surface bearing lilac and nightshade.
Looking exhausted, the villagers cheered and pulled from the wagon a pole-hammock, a construct similar, but, considerably more comfortable, than a litter. Carrying her back to town on their shoulders, she awoke perhaps five minutes from town, and asked to be set back on her feet.
As the people began the trek back, Faelar and Ke’shin stayed behind to examine the standing stones. Reading the elven writing, Faelar explained that these were elven burial stones, detailing the stories of eleven elven bloodlines leading up to the breaking of the world. Hearing this detail before leaving, Vahn’s immediately perked up, staring hard at the half-elf. Continuing, Faelar explained that the writing above the obelisks detailed the bloodlines themselves, Gantar beget Methild beget Sudryl and so forth. At the center of the obelisks was a hole drilled through the granite, representing the Breaking, and the text that followed told the stories of what happened, in vague poem form, to the families of each bloodline.
Faelar managed to find enough writing that hadn’t been worn away to translate the names of five families, and with Ke’shins aid, managed to lift the broken end of a stone and mend it to discover a sixth. Taking notes and rubbings of these six stones, Faelar resolved to continue his study after moving on.
Elsewhere, as the residents of Guldin Falls trudged to their homes, pulling out tables, chairs and blankets. Men went to pre-dug pits and lit tinder and dry woods they’d placed the day before and began cooking meats. People ran onto the green carrying baskets of fruits, cheeses, smoked meats and vegetables. The Shimmerspindles rolled casks of ale and wine from the tavern into the central space and a town-wide picnic began.
As the companions partook of the food, Asade asking for the druids traditional recompense of meat, cheese, an apple and water, they noticed both the exhaustion and exultation of everyone around them.
Xarrai amused a group of children with sleight of hand card tricks, not using any of his actual magic. Vahn surveyed the group from the edge of the party, while Ke’shin, returned from his study of the stones, hurried to his room, and Faelar unlimbered his instruments for entertainment. Asade noticed Bilsner, who had been absent from the ritual, carrying a small pack and heading north, out of town.
Returning later than their companions, Faelar and Ke’shin noted that the ‘village green’ was now actually worthy of its namesake, the grass beneath the villager’s having turned a vibrant, healthy green. Faelar used his magics to create the illusion of a story for the village, telling a series of moral fables for good behavior and farming. Vahn pulled an empty cask to him and drummed an accompaniment to the bard’s performance, Moving through a number of other tales, Faelar ended his performance with a grand epic of the hero Drizzt Do’Urden; his narration told of the elf hiding his identity behind a mask, sheltering his dark skin from the eyes of those around him. Hating the necessity, he used the subterfuge to continue to do good where elsewhere others might not have accepted him.
The magical musings and music ended, the party regathered, Asade sending a pigeon messenger to call Ke’shin down from his room, and they considered their next move. Ke’shin explained that the tower east of town was home to an archmage, Fyzkik, who specialized in magical constructs, and with whom the College Arcana had lost communication. Worried that the constructs of this mighty mage may be running awry, it was Ke’shin’s task to investigate the tower and ascertain the situation.
The rest of the party, aware that the gem Bilsner had discovered was, in fact, the eye of a Gahleb Dur, and had originated east of the town near the falls where this tower was said to be situated, also expressed a desire to go. Asade worried that the disappearance of her grovemates and their failure to continue to ritual in prior years might be related to this mage, or to the undead constructs they’d found near town. Faelar, in search of a story to collect and tell, was immediately intrigued by these goals, and saw in the party an opportunity to capture a momentous story.
Now an agreed company of five, they resolved to head east in the morning, the party spent the remainder of their evening relaxing and recovering from the ordeal of the ritual.