Thursday, June 9

The Magic Crossbow, Pt. 2: The forest of Darkness

It's a stormy morning here. We're supposed to be going downriver, but it the weather's bad, I wonder if we will. Dad is leaving this morning, and I just wanted to get some thoughts down before we see him off. The situation with Gloria is still frosty, but here rescue yesterday helped a little bit. I think fighting the bandits actually helped. Maybe I was thinking about the situation all wrong. What if she wasn't afraid of me, but put off that I had somehow surpassed her? Well, if that is the case, we should be on equal footing with now. She was already out when I woke up this morning, but I'm sure that over then next week, as we travel downriver to Carabos City, we'll have time to hash everything out. I ate breakfast with Dad, and he's out getting resupplied before heading northeast to visit Sister. I hope she's doing well. The rumors around town say that the orc tribes are moving again. If they push much farther south, they'll be on the Tungian border. Fortunately, the Paladine Dwarves take their commitment to security very seriously, so it's been years since any of the deep tunnels have been active. She shouldn't have to worry about Drow raids. I wish I could be going with Dad. It's been too long since they came to visit. I bet little Edbert is walking by now.
Speaking of the Drow, or the dark elves, I should say, I should be getting back to my story about Grandfather. So, he, Glorianna the Halfling Mage, and Rose the Elven Cleric left town the next day after the attack.
“Glory and I were a bit leery after the attack. We wanted to recruit some more help. At the very least some more muscle or a trap finder. Rose talked us out of it, though. She said we were in a race against time. The more time she spent in the cities, the worse it would be for her friends and family. It wasn't something we could argue with. So we resolved to trust her experience in the woods to tip us off to any traps we might come across and trust in our own strength. That morning, we headed south along the trade road. Occasionally, we would meet the occasional passerby from another direction, or refugee fleeing from farms on the edge of the forrest. Their stories were vague and terrifying. They claimed that a curtain of night was approaching from the Ironwood Forest. This was another confirmation of Rose's tale, so we hurried on our way to confront the menace. Soon, we were caught in a fierce thunderstorm. Glory said it was odd. It wasn't magical, but an effect of some greater magic. I took heed of her riddle and climbed a nearby ridge, seeing what I could see. Far to the south, I could see the forest, or more rightly, I could see the dome of black night where the forest should have been. What I could make out through the driving rain was a shadowy force spreading out from the woods. The dark elves were using some sort of magic to blanket the forest in permanent night, and the effect was spreading.”
“What about all the animals in the forest grandpa? Were the animals OK?” I was a pragmatic child. I looked up at him with a shining, child's face. Grandfather hesitated. To this day, I don't know if the next part of the story is truth, or part of the lie he told to reassure an eight-year-old girl that the world was a good and safe place.
“We-ell,” he said, drawing out the word as he considered the question. “Animals, animals have special senses. They can smell fear, and magic, and evil. That's why an animal knows if you are afraid, or it runs if it sees a fire, or things like that. Animals have instincts, and the animals of the Ironwood forest had some great ones. Now, the woods in question are magical, and the animals there are even smarter than your average ones. Most forests have regular animals, like deer and rabbits and...”
“Tigers!” I said insistently.
“Quite so. Big tigers that hunt in the forests. But a forest full of magic plants has magic animals, because regular ones wouldn't be able to eat and things. So this forest was full of unicorns and displacer beasts and shocker lizards.”
“Grandpa, what's a shocker lizard?”
Grandfather chuckled, probably eager to get off topic. “Well, sweeting, do you remember when we went to the royal zoo and saw all the animals?”
“I liked the tiger the best! It was big an' orange.”
“Do you remember when we saw the velociraptors?”
“Uh-huh. It was neat when they fed them, and they jumped on the meat.”
“Well, a shocker lizard is like a velociraptor, but very small, and instead of big claws and teeth, it can use lightning magic. They live on the branches of ironwood trees and hunt mice and small birds.”
“Can the mice use lightning too?” I asked, my imagine working feverishly.
“Mice? Of course not!” Grandfather said, playfully. “Who'd ever heard of an electric mouse. The very idea! But in any case... All the animals in the forest were very smart. They saw that big curtain spreading over their forest and they knew it was high time to move on. So they used their powers to protect themselves. The displacers displaced, and the unicorns got all the little animals together and used their powers to make barriers against the evil elves. And the ones that couldn't do that left the forest. So while I was standing up on that hill, I could see the giant eagles flying off to the mountains, and the xorns digging their way out. And running right up to me in a panic was the biggest owl bear you've ever seen!”
“So the owl bear is charging up the hill, and he's not stopping for anything. There was a mad, fearful glint in his eyes and his beak was drippin' foam. Now, I know that if I looked behind me down the way I came and saw that if he kept goin', which he was sure to do, he'd run right smack into a farm. A farm full of nuns. It must have been one of those retreats out in the hills, for prayer, and hard work, that sort of thing. It was on the other side of the hill, and hidden from the road. Well, I know those ladies would be in a sore spot if that owl bear came through and tramped up all their crops, so I had to put a stop to it. I took out my spear, and set my feet down. I was ready for him. He was big, must have been ten feet tall if he was an inch, and he was so fast he might as well have been flying! But I dug in and caught him, here, in the shoulder. He clawed and tried to bite, but I held on, and...” Grandfather gaged my expression. “And soon enough he calmed right down. I patched up his wound, and he scampered off down the trail towards another forest. I was a bit worried about him, but I had more things to worry about. I climbed back down, and told the other two what I had seen. We didn't have any time to spare. The magic of the Dark Elves was spreading. Soon, everything would be stuck under a magical canopy of cloudy, moonless night. And nobody would be allowed to stay up a second past bed time, either!”
“Oh, no! What did you do, Grandpa?”
“Well, being good adventurers, and keen on helping our new friend Rose as well, we pushed on down the road and into the forest. The wall of night felt like it was reaching out to grab us, and the wind was pushing against our backs. I went first. It was like walking into a cave, but I knew I was still outside. The air was suddenly very cold, and the wind just stopped. Everything was still on the other side of the spell. Still, and dark, and silent as the grave. Rose and Glory followed me in, and Glory spelled up her staff to glow like a torch. Under the spell-light, we pushed through the magical darkness, and into the depths of the forest. But now it's time for you to go to bed, young lady.” My grandfather picked me up and set me on the ground again. I always complained, but he never started a story again when he reached the cliffhanger. He'd always say, “well, if you're good, we can pick it up here tomorrow.” It was a pretty effective bribe, when I was a child.
Dad should be done stocking up by now. I should probably go back to the room and make sure I'm ready as well.