Darvin appeared near us with a crack of lightning, looking disoriented. We gave him an update on the state of affairs. I wrote a letter, extolling Dimweir’s virtues and assistance and mourning his death. I then sent it off to the heads of the Shield.
After dealing with some further town business, we set off to tend to the nymph situation. Upon arriving at the idyllic glade, one of the nymphs approached us, her expression wary and concerned. When I explained who we were and why we had come, a few more heads appeared at the edge of the spring, and giggles drifted through the air.
Darvin stared, his mouth slack, while I spoke to the nymph. She said that there were creatures attacking the spring which was a problem since they were bound to protect it for the next thousand years. The creatures stayed at the edges of the spring, and when the nymphs headed to handle them . The creature looked like a fat baby with fly wings. I frowned, trying to ascertain what the creatures were while Darvin continued drooling.
Asakku and I postulated while Darvin wondered aloud about whether or not they would kiss each other. The nymphs told us that the creature came from the north and asked us to slay the thing.
It didn’t take us long to find the creature, and I addressed it in both common and Celestial. It answered me in garbled Celestial, saying it was here on orders, but would not tell me whom it was serving or why. My Celestial is a little rusty, and I think I insulted its mother…
Darvin, through me, tried to convince it we were conducting a fae and magical being census that happened twice every millennia. After a few stumbles through translation, it revealed its master’s name: Akeedar.
The name rung bells, and I recognized it as a mythic, historical figure. There were several instances of heroes dealing with a devil named Akeedar. They would make a deal that seemed rather good to them at the time, but fell folly to nitpicky details that cost them their soul.
Following that revelation, we decided we knew enough and engaged the creature in battle. Asakku blasted the beast with his flame, and the beast let loose a wet, guttural laugh. Well, that was less helpful than we could have hoped.
Darvin, conversely, flung a magic missile at it, and the beast shrieked as the two projectiles slammed into it. In pain and fear, the monster lifted its hand, howling in pain and fear as it tore a hole in reality. Darvin must have damaged it, for it lost the spell quickly. While the other two held back, I charged forward, letting loose a roar.
Unfortunately, Asakku killed it before I reached it. Why does this keep happening? Ugh. Either way, the beast was dead. It vanished, and we backed away, returning toward the nymph’s glade. During the walk, the stench of rot and death filled our noses, and we discovered patches of mushrooms that covered our way back. Darvin identified them as magical, though he couldn’t tell much more than that they were fae in origin.
Asakku looked for a way through them to no avail. Looking around, we realized the mushrooms were everywhere around us. We somehow wandered into the center of the glade without stepping on them, but I wasn’t entirely sure it would be a good idea for us to move on.
One way or another, there was no avoiding stepping on them somehow. Asakku picked up a stick and tossed it at the furthest patch he could reach to see if there was any reaction. When the mushroom broke, we heard some manner of angry screech. A distressingly humanoid face and arms grew from a maggot-like creature the size of a man clinging to the edifice of the tree. The horrifying beast bared its teeth in our direction.
Asakku turned and slashed at the beast, and Darvin retreated behind me and launched magic at the shrieking maggoty monstrosity. His jaw tightened, but the creature continued shrieking despite its terrible wounds. Moving in beside Asakku, I slashed at the beast’s face, trying to remove its head. The blow didn’t land as deep a wound as I would have expected for a maggot, but it winced and shook a little.
“Kill this thing, Asakku!” Darvin bellowed, looking a little paler than usual, though just as resolute as ever. Asakku rammed his spear into the beast. Darvin moved around us, snarling as he hurled magic through the air. It missed the maggot thing, by a few inches. A limb cracked off the tree, and leaves fell around us, shivering through the air from the shock.
Still howling, the beast shimmied up the tree, the shriek changing pitch into an almost intolerable scream. I grit my teeth as the sound made my teeth ache in my head. Behind me, Darvin let out a panicked, high scream and ran helter-skelter away in a panicked scrabble.
I dropped my sword at my feet, unslinging my crossbow from behind me, aiming it up. Distracted by Darvin’s screaming, I missed my shot and grit my teeth as I reloaded the bow. “Get him! We don’t know what’s out there!” I bellowed at Asakku. He gave me a brief nod before taking off after Darvin.
The beast launched through the air, twisting over my head and landing on the ground behind me. It howled and slashed at me with its little claws. Its little claws sunk into me, drawing blood and leaving streaks of pollen on my armor. I recoiled, firing my crossbow at it. The bolt missed, sinking into the ground beside it.
The maggot’s shrill screaming hit me like a freight train. Fear raced through me, making my heart pump faster than I could remember, and every shadow in the forest felt like it grew teeth. Sliding my foot under the falchion, I dropped the crossbow at my feet and kicked my falchion into the air, catching it in one hand. Stepping forward, I let out a yell that was half fear, half fury and rammed the blade down into the beast. White ichor oozed from the wound, sliding down its thick, leathery skin. I knew I would have nightmares about this for weeks.
The maggot slithered back from me, leaving behind a glistening trail of ichor. It rushed up the tree, moving with inhuman speed. Globs of white liquid clung to the branches and bark. Stepping back, I dropped my falchion and crouched, picking up my crossbow. My hands trembled as I fought to reload the crossbow.
A spell shrieked up into the canopy from a figure that looked like Darvin, slamming into the maggot beast. My stomach clenched. Last I had seen, Darvin and Asakku had fled into the trees, and for all I knew the figure that showed itself was… No. If the figure came closer, I’d address it, but for now that monster in the tree was the closest.
A creature that looked like Asakku came charging up toward me. I moved back and away from it, firing. The bolt grazed him, cutting a narrow track across his arm. The thing wearing Darvin’s face, launched magic after the maggot. I clenched my teeth, turning my crossbow at Darvin.
I reloaded, and sent a bolt into Darvin. The bolt caught him in the leg, sending blood spraying everywhere. The cloud over me lifted, and I blinked. My chest tightened as I realized that I had shot the real Darvin and the real Asakku.
“Now that you’ve shot me, you bitch, do you have Lay On Hands?” Darvin choked, out, glaring at me from the base of a nearby tree.
“Oh hell, Darvin,” I said, my throat tightened as I took stock of what was happening. The maggot creature had reached the canopy. I could almost not see it any longer, though through the foliage I couldn’t tell much more. Asakku had scrambled up the tree and wore a look of fury and determination.
Lowering the crossbow, I rushed forward to Darvin and pressed a hand to his back. I prayed, apologizing to Bahamut for losing my sight and my way. Power coursed through me, rushing to my fingertips, and the wound in his leg sealed, leaving behind a faint, pink scar.
Above us, Asakku and the beast chased each other through the trees. Asakku sent a gout of flame up the trunk after the beast while Darvin and I watched. I reloaded my crossbow, deflecting Darvin’s teenage advances. That boy would stick his bits into anything.
Above us, the nasty little thing howled. I walked over to the tree and gave an effort, but… it went about as well as I expected. I scraped a lot of the bark off, though. So there was that. Darvin rolled his eyes at me, and I shrugged. I couldn’t do much of anything else. What did he expect? Unable to do much, I collected my falchion and returned, watching the combat taking place above us. Finally Asakku slew the beast, ramming his spear through its head.
It took me a second to realize the spear with the maggot was coming straight down at us. I dropped to one knee, grabbed Darvin and held him close to me, thrusting my shield up above us to protect us from the falling shish kebab.
The spear slammed into the ground beside me, the maggot’s head… or maybe its tail, slamming into the edge of my shield. The creature split apart in a rain of innards spraying across the shield, spattering my armor, and coating the ground.
As soon as Asakku descended the tree, we made our careful way through the mushrooms. Asakku stopped and pointed back toward the mushrooms. “Those are people. These… These shapes. They’re people. That one’s a deer.”
I swallowed hard, trying to ignore the putrid stench in the air. “Hey… Look.” He pointed to a hollow in a tree. Not sure I wanted to know, I walked over to the tree and peered inside. The hollow was deceptively large, and the closer I got, the more I saw scattered personal items scattered about. There were some dice, a wig, some other… personal matters. Within the tree, we discovered the beast’s personal cache. A number of scrolls, potions, and so on were within the hollow. Asakku and Darvin both looked around, considering the scattered effects.
While the two men looked around, I walked around the mounds, pausing to pray. On instinct, I cleared the dirt away from one of the mounds, seeing what lay beneath. As I cleared the leaf litter and mold away from what I presumed to be the face, I heard a sharp gasp and struggled not to recoil in horror. Dimweir’s face flashed across my memory. I couldn’t save him; perhaps I could save these people. Assuming they were alive at all and not some terrible monstrosity.
I looked around, seeing perhaps a hundred people. My heart in my throat, Asakku, Darvin, and I freed a hundred and five people, many deer, and other animals. It took us the better part of daylight freeing these people. Gathering them all together, I tried to soothe their fears.
The three of us herded the emaciated, horrified people back to Whitehorn. We called Gruis, Atron, and Hardur to tend to these newcomers. Gruis immediately started arranging housing; Atron and Hardur offered to help teach them to homestead as needed.
After a rest, we returned to the nymphs in the morning. The change was immediate when we approached. They lounged about with pixies feeding them fruits and looking at ease. The one we recognized from the last visit approached us, followed by the unicorn in his human form.
“You have gone above and beyond in this matter. The fear eater was not an easy foe to slay. With that in mind, perhaps you can defend more lands than you had before. I offer you the lands around this glen, though in turn you must protect these nymphs and this glen. Should they be assaulted or injured, you should fear what might happen. Not by me, but by them. They are, after all, permitted to defend themselves.”
After a brief few moments of discussion, we agreed to do our best to protect the nymphs and allow them to protect themselves. The unicorn recommended we collect the mushrooms since they could have great value with the fae, should we trade with them. The unicorn said that there may be more work we could do if we desired more land for our kingdom, though obviously it was not the time.
The nymphs spoke to us about the mushrooms and the Fear Eater. The Fear Eaters were malicious fae, using terror to fertilize the mushrooms they grew. The spores caused fear, which again fertilized the mushrooms. Fear Eaters were marginalized to the edges of society.
The nymphs retrieved a chest from their spring and said we were welcome to any of the things within the chest. We then spent the night at the spring. Darvin indulged, if the noises from the other side of the glen were any indication. I relented and accepted a massage and good company, though I didn’t engage with them sexually. Much to their disappointment.
In the morning, relaxed, refreshed, and in good spirits, we returned to Whitehorn.