Six shadowy, wraith-like, faceless female forms approached from the direction of Qheldin’s Mask, commanded by an unknown force.
Ryton was poisoned, sickened, wounded, and weakened as he stood against a giant four-armed Nightwalker and its undead shadow slaves. Aeron had withdrawn, badly wounded and weakened from fighting another giant four-armed Nightwalker and its shadow minions. Jordan in her dire wolf form weathered the most brutal attacks, but was still poisoned, sickened, and helplessly restrained by tendrils of shadow. Varia and San’dorial were imprisoned in a cube of force by her brilliant and murderous brother, Adros. Neiriel and Miriel were moving freely and still alive, though Miriel was badly wounded. Aerith had taken flight, sprouting radiant wings, and was holding his own, fighting like a furious angel against one of the Nightwalkers. Of those that the party attacked, the green-cloaked Ethylene was down either dead or dying. Cyran had already been killed by Aerith, but his body had disappeared. And Adros, the real Adros, was nowhere to be found.
That is until Miriel found Adros … right behind her. Before she could suitably react, Adros encased her in a sphere of force and then casually approached the cube with his other prisoners. Meanwhile, the six shadowy, wraith-like, faceless female forms had surrounded Neiriel and reached out towards her. The place where their faces should have been glowed an eerie gray glow and Neiriel felt something being drained from her like sand poured through a sieve. To her horror, she saw the faceless she-wraiths that attacked her start taking her appearance as her own features became dull and faded. Thinking quickly, Aeron shattered the Diamond Elemental Gem Of Earth he possessed, and a massive creature of earth and rock sprung from the ground and moved to engage the faceless wraith women. Aerith had dispatched the Nightwalker he was fighting back to oblivion and engaged the second Nightwalker, which had just gutted Ryton unceremoniously and swatted down his bloodhawk companion, Nyx. But with the demise of the first Nightwalker, dire wolf Jordan was freed from her shadowy restraints and recovered from her maladies in short order. Quickly, she moved to engage the second Nightwalker, even as the surrounding shadows feasted on what little strength remained in Ryton’s body, devouring it until naught but skin and bone and darkness remained.
Suddenly there was a thunderous BOOM! and the second Nightwalker staggered back. In the sky was a giant eagle closing in fast. In its clutches hung a platform with the figure of a person on it. The giant eagle circled the clearing, and then the figure, a man in dark iridescent armor, jumped down towards the remaining Nightwalker, blade in one hand, crossbow in the other. Arcturus Hellsbane plummeted towards the giant creature of death and darkness, ready to send it back to the shadows. But the speed at which Arcturus fell threw off his swing and he missed his mark, bouncing helplessly against the Nightwalker’s immense form and landing with a bone-cracking THUD on the forest floor. Dire wolf Jordan charged in to distract the giant monster, but once again was seized by the shadowy tendrils surrounding the creature and held fast in place as the Nightwalker took one of its massive clawed hands and cut down Arcturus.
Then … an agonizing scream of pain. Neiriel. The she-wraiths were still upon her. Though the Earth Elemental stopped a couple of them, enough got past it to once again surround Neiriel and take what they came for. Helpless against their assault, Neiriel’s scream faded to nothing as her faceless body fell to the ground. Aerith, hearing the scream and seeing his kin fall to the ground, bore down like a bright arrow in the night sky towards the wraith women that surrounded Neiriel. Likewise, a furious Aeron sliced his way towards Neiriel’s body while his Earth Elemental continued to pummel the she-wraiths into the forest floor. All the while, dire wolf Jordan, held fast by the shadow tendrils and unable to retreat or flee, felt the full onslaught of the Nightwalker as it ripped at her wolf form until it gave way.
BOOM! Another shot could be heard from the giant eagle. The Nightwalker stumbled, and then slowly dissipated into wisps of darkness as it toppled, unable to withstand the barrage from the giant bird, wait … no. On closer inspection there was a rider on that bird, with a hand cannon hoisted at his side. Toggel Thunderwhistle had been the instrument of the Nightwalker’s downfall. But it was for naught. Even as the Nightwalker’s shadow tendrils vanished and released Jordan’s now elvish form, she was surrounded by hungry shadows, and a new one had arisen from the emaciated body of Ryton, hungriest of all. Another scream, this time of Jordan, as the shadows plunged their inky fists into her very soul and drained all the strength from her. She fell as the shadows swarmed over her body feeding incessantly until there was just the frail and brittle body of a dead elf girl in the dark. Meanwhile, Aerith and Aeron dispatched the remaining face-stealing wraith women, who all looked just like Neiriel now.
Satisfied that he had made his point, but disappointed that most of his pets had been vanquished, Adros summoned up a steed of shadow and rode to the prostrate form of Ethylene. “Get up, Ethyl. I do not think your game is going to work. Time to go.” She took Adros’s hand, having realized he was probably right, and mounted his shadow steed and sat herself behind him. But before Adros and Ethylene could make their leisurely exit, a tidal wave of water crashed into them, the phantom steed, and the surrounding shadows. San’dorial had teleported free from the cubic force prison, leaving Varia behind, and unleashed a torrent of water at Adros and his remaining allies. The phantom steed vanished, and its riders dropped onto the now wet forest floor. Aerith was on Adros immediately and struck him across the temples of his head, stunning him. The gravity of the situation sank into Ethylene and she quickly cast a spell that brought Adros back to his senses. Seeing that they were quickly becoming surrounded and outnumbered, Adros waved farewell to the surviving party members, then both he and Ethylene vanished with an audible POP!
Miriel found herself released from her spherical prison, just in time to see the shadow of Jordan’s corrupted spirit arise from her dessicated body, and Aeron angrily and tearfully shred the evil shadow of Jordan with his scimitars until there was nothing left. Meanwhile, Aerith cradled the faceless head of Neiriel in his lap as he desperately poured every bit of healing energy he had into her limp and nearly lifeless form. With all the foes vanquished, Toggel landed his mount, a mechanical construct shaped in the form of a giant eagle, and quickly moved to his friend Arcturus’s fallen body. And though Arcturus’s body was there, his spirit was elsewhere.
“I am ”/characters/svelvara" class=“wiki-content-link”>Svelvara, Chooser of the Slain." a dark-winged seraph spoke to Arcturus’s spirit. “Kelemvor, Judge of the Dead bid me to come and give you a choice.”
“The choice is made,” the dark seraph spoke, but no mortal would hear. An eerie blue light encompassed Arcturus’s body, and when it faded his skin was blue, but he was breathing and still alive, clutching a gold coin. Likewise, Neiriel seemed to begin her recovery as her facial feature slowly started returning and she took a breath. Meanwhile, Varia still remained in her cubic prison as Aeron took the body of his kin, Jordan, and walked of into the forest alone carrying her.
“I am done here,” San’dorial said with ultimate finality. He then summoned an invisible servant to carry the frail and lifeless body of Ryton away towards the forest. He then took the critically wounded bird Nyx into his arms like a sleeping baby. As he left, he turned to Miriel, and in Elvish said to her, “These people do not care about you. If you stay here, they will get you killed. Come home.” And with that he walked off into the forest night.
The party remained in stunned silence for who knows how long, until Varia’s prison finally vanished and she embraced Miriel with a tearful hug. Arcturus awoke also at that time, blue-skinned, golden-eyed, and sporting a long blue tail.
“What happened to you?”, Toggel asked.
“It’s a long story,” Arcturus answered.
Deeper in the forest, in the shadow of an old oak tree, Aeron Oakstaff laid the necrotic body of his cousin, Jordan Oakstaff, into the earth. He performed the druidic funerary rites as best he could remember from watching the old druids who had took him in so many years before. At the end, Aeron fashioned a thorn armband and put it on as he began a dark and primal vow, intending to seal it with his own blood. Just then, a deep elvish voice from just beyond Aeron’s night vision spoke to him. It said, “Would you give up the inner peace of the ancient animal spirits for …. vengeance?” Aeron answered, “I would do anything to see those responsible brought to swift justice.”
The deep elvish voice continued. "These are the final days — the signs are clear: the Sundering of the World comes. These “hyenas” have slaughtered the beasts, destroyed the trees, poisoned the water, and murdered both kin and kith. Now, the Dark Hunger rises to devour the Moon, hunting the hunters. There is no garden to which you can flee. There is nowhere to hide. The Sundering is upon us — when will you Rage??"
At that, Aeron’s thorn cilice tightened painfully around his arm, almost growing in length as it dug and grew into his flesh. A sheet of his elven blood now coated the lower half of his arm, dripping from his fingertips. The pain immediately hurled Aeron into his primal rage. He let loose a mighty roar, and channeled his rage as he had never done before. “I WILL RAGE UNTIL THOSE RESPONSIBLE ANSWER FOR THEIR CRIMES IN BLOOD!”
Then a voice, like leaves in the wind answered Aeron’s bloody cry. “Then … bleed out and die, Aeron of the Or-Tel’Quessir. For you and your people’s complacency is responsible.” This voice was different from the other one. It sounded feminine, and though it was low and soft, it cut through Aeron’s raving roar as sure as one of his scimitars. The female Voice of Leaves then seemed to grow harsh, like the angry rustling of dry autumn leaves in the wind. “Withdraw ”/wikis/Fenmarel/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>Fenmarel Lone Wolf! I entrusted my woods to your people, and their insular isolation and haughty arrogance has brought their own doom. I will see if this one chooses to follow suit." Then the Voice of Leaves tone became soft. “So Aeron of the Or-Tel’Quessir, do you truly wish justice visited on those responsible?” Aeron answered, “Justice is the only thing I want, stranger, but I must do so following the path taught to me by the druids of my circle. To do otherwise would be a betrayal of their memory.” The Voice of Leaves responded, “Then, be very careful when you ask for justice … mercy might be safer.”
At that, Aeron’s thorn cilice ceased its tightening and loosened. “And I am no stranger to you, Aeron. I was there when you were born. I have protected, and fed, and sheltered you from that day to now. Aeron is he born from a sea of trees,” the Voice of Leaves whispered. “You know of my family?” Aeron asked. “The memory of the trees are long. That Old Fey Oak ”/wikis/Rillifane/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>Rillifane was wise to have favored your line." Aeron’s response was skeptical. “I did not know the Lord of Leaves placed his blessing on my family. Who are you to know of such things?”, he asked. “I am the spirit of all forests. You are as much my child as you are Old Fey Rillifane’s.” answered the Voice of Leaves. “Most mortals call upon me as ”/wikis/Mielikki/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>Mielikki."
’Now the Circle completes again", Mielikki spoke with finality.
“I will not fail you, Leaflord, nor you, Forest Queen.”
And with that, Aeron began to stride back to his companions with renewed purpose in his heart, body, and soul.