Following the attack on Kira and Elleandra, there was a flurry of activity at the inn. The guards who showed up first questioned the party about the incident and appeared confused about the specifics of the attack. The party became somewhat angry and defensive, but the situation calmed down when Arisphistaneles and the captain of the guard, Zul, arrived.
It was quickly realized that the half-giants were the same ones that the party saw earlier with Tethrades when he attempted to enter Altaruk. The party was taken to the north wall and shown a defiled section of ground where it was likely that Tethrades used his magic to allow the half-giants entry into the inn. Zul also informed everyone that a small section of wilted bushes was found near the south gate and that he suspected a defiler had slipped into the fort.
Kira was studying the defiled earth and as she walked into the center of the zone, her feet began to take root into the soil. The others watched in awe and disbelief. Kira had a look of pain and elation on her face as she stood in the defiled land. Then, with a surge of power, the land began to change into a rich earth with small plants rapidly growing from it. With another surge, the area of fertile land expanded to nearly 100 feet in diameter.
Amazed at what they witnessed, Arisphistaneles ordered the area sealed off until he could determine the best course of action. The rest of the party was moved into the barracks where they could discuss what to do next without being overheard by the citizens of Altaruk. Morg inspected the dead half-giant and discovered that he had some of the silver-red crystals on him. Iorskan questioned the captured half-giant who revealed he had been hired by a man matching Tethrades’ description to steal the crystal. The half-giant had been paid in advance at Grak’s Pool and Iorskan examined the coins that he was paid with.
The party eventually decided that they would head out and follow a group of pilgrims while the Veiled Alliance agents Birk and Arnye would attempt to track down Tethrades. They learned from the captured half-giant that the most likely route for Tethrades was north along the road towards Silver Spring, although his ultimate destination was unknown.
At dawn the party headed out from Altaruk, following behind a group of about two dozen pilgrims. Li-Am trailed after the party, keeping to himself and keeping an eye open for trouble. As they followed the pilgrims Morg brought up his concerns that this may be part of the Dragon’s Levy, which was due to occur soon. Jarvix used the Way to probe the pilgrims minds again, and all he saw was a vision of a forest. Iorskan shared with the rest of the group that some of the coins carried by the half-giant were ancient metal coins of House Madar and wondered what the implications were.
The day’s journey had been an exhausting one for the group, both physically and mentally, as the pilgrims took no rest, marching on through the hottest parts of the day. The party marched on for nearly nine hours, heading east and southeast through the shifting dunes. The desolate sands began to change into sparse grasslands and on the horizon a forest was barely visible, a forest where none should have been.
Without warning, an odd noise came from behind the party and as they turned to investigate they saw a figure on an immense bird. The figure appeared to be a human female, and she appeared to be wearing brown armor of some sort and clutching a large sword. As the giant bird flew closer, the group could make out some words the woman was screeching…
Away! Away, servants of Rafernard! Your blasphemous devotions shall not reach your master! Death to the Forest Maker! Death to her followers!
With this, the woman dismounted the bird and the two charged at the party. Jarvix used his powers on the woman, who the party recognized as the missing ranger Culler Aktryn, and determined that something had unhinged her mind. Although the ranger and her bird were worthy opponents they ultimately were no match for the battle-hardened adventurers. However, the bird’s tactics of grabbing and dropping its prey was too much for Li-Am who fell unconscious after his second fall. Iorskan finally knocked out Culler, causing the the bird to flee, and then revived Li-Am.
Culler was tied up in some modest shade and Jarvix sent a message to Arisphistaneles letting him know where his friend could be found. Jarvix had recognized the ranger’s sword as one of the fabled Swords of Tyr, and Iorskan claimed the blade for himself.
Kira, who had adopted the form of a tiger during the combat, noticed an odor coming from Li-Am and it was discovered that the remains of Gwyn that he carried were beginning to rot. Kira used her skills to treat the remains and keep them from deteriorating further. After a few minutes rest, the party raced to catch up with the pilgrims.
The Forest of Rafernard
Rising up in front of of the party was a beautiful forest, with varieties of trees both commonplace and legendary. The forest was several hundred yards wide and shrubs and grasses covered the ground, extending far beyond the borders of the trees. The grassland and bushes extended about a half mile to their left and right. The sounds of birds singing in the leafy green trees, and an unexpected but nonetheless refreshing cool breeze wafted over them, carrying the scent of fresh flowers.
Before the party could enter the forest, there was a great rustling, followed by a burst of bright light. Before anyone could react, a humanoid with radiant skin and gossamer wings appeared from the trees and hovered in the air above, its wings unfurling majestically.
As a tremendous feeling of well-being flooded the party, a melodic voice, soft as a summer breeze, yet impossible to ignore, addressed the party…
Welcome to the Forest Reborn, you poor, mere mortals! I am Rafernard, and I have created this impressive miracle you see before you.
Well done, worthy pilgrims, on your surviving the grueling trek! For now, wander the woods at your leisure; eat of the fruit of the trees, drink the cold, clean water. Follow the path to the right and you shall find places to sleep built on the branches of the big trees.
There is still much to be done, and we have enemies who would see this forest destroyed. Rest for now, for soon we must decide what actions to take against our oppressors. The battle will be difficult, but the end result, the reforestation of your land, will be worth the struggle.
Once again, welcome! Eat and rest now. You are safe. Any questions you have you may ask of me tomorrow.
The party had questions and didn’t want to wait until the morning. Rafernard listened and answered for a while, before declaring that further questions would have to wait until the morning. She declared that she was an Avangion and the restoration of Athas was her objective. The enemies spoken of were the sorcerer-kings and their boot-licking templars who would oppose a shift in power. She had no idea why the pilgrims were compelled to seek out the forest, but has welcomed them and provided for them.
After Rafernard’s departure the party headed to the right through a curving trail between the trees. They occasionally passed a small group of pilgrims who appeared to be in much the same stupor although there was a look of contentment on their faces now. After a few hundred yards, the party reached a fork in the trail, they headed to the left, towards the center of the forest.
The woods ended at a circular plaza measuring almost 200 feet in diameter with paved stone and low-slung benches for visitor’s comfort. Around the circumference of the plaza were various statues of numerous races all with the look of wisdom on their carved faces. The party noticed that there were a number of races they could not identify, the dwarven statues had beards and there did not appear to be any statues of Dray.
In the center of the plaza stood a massive tree growing in and around a short stone tower. The tree’s appearance left no doubt that it was a Tree of Life. Song birds could be seen picking at seeds scattered on the tiles and flitting from statue to statue. The area emanated a quiet power of peace and tranquility unlike anything ever seen in the world.
The party looked around the plaza for a few minutes and found that the tower had a door in the floor leading down into the earth and a staircase leading upwards. They decided to rest in the trees and discuss what they should do next. Although the forest was a miracle they remained suspicious of the situation which appeared too good to be true. Before falling asleep, Jarvix sent another message to Arisphistaneles informing him of the forest and its location.