Each time I believe I have the surfacer world figured out, something even stranger crosses my path. I sometimes yearn for the quiet serenity of Gavoll, where everything had a purpose and everything made sense, but I know it is vital for us to know what we missed and to re-establish links to the surface, and so I will stay and continue to report.
My efforts to communicate with Bubbles (the “horse” I mentioned last time) continue, though I have yet to be able to re-create the sounds of her language, and attempts to teach her primordial were…unsuccessful. We are getting along through gestures and affectionate touch (she likes it when I comb her mane and feed her sugar, and sometimes nuzzles my shoulder). One of my new surfacer friends told me that the saddle and bit and bridle are uncomfortable for horses (I removed them immediately, of course! If only Bubbles could have told me!). She does seem happier without them.
I accompanied Isilmar and Harwen and Lulu and several new friends to a place called a ‘desert’. Aunt, it is horrific. It’s so hot and, there is no water anywhere, except occasionally there is an illusion of water, which is meant to pull you into a trap. Also, it is filled with enormous bugs called scorpions that try to bite and poison, and giant stompy creatures called elephants. We were there intending to speak to a king who had a meteorite which they needed to turn into a key. I think. I was mostly there for observational purposes, though I believe my observations of the desert will be sufficient for all tritons for centuries. There is no need for us to go there.
I had to return to Cradle briefly for the ritual to St. Tethys, and while I was in town, overheard a town guard bemoaning some missing scouts and the fact that he had no one to go look for them. In no hurry to return to that terrible desert place (and of course unwilling to let the poor scouts go unrescued), I volunteered to go and look for them, as did an elf named Kithylsylphestras. He is the friend I mentioned before, who told me about the saddle; he seems to know a great deal and be able to talk to almost anything. Also, his hair looks nearly oceanic- I wonder if he’s related to any sea elves? Haven’t seen any surfacers with green hair before.
Anyway, the scouts had disappeared south of Cradle, so we traveled there with Bubbles and his horse Freckles. At first, it all seemed very like the other adventures I’ve been on, trees, travel, and bright sunlight. Until we reached the border of the forest, where things started to get…weird.
We stumbled on two people under attack by gnolls (Kithyl tells me I should not call them “dog-people” as apparently there are other surfacers who are more like dogs who are people and would be really offended if I called them the same as gnolls), and fought them off and healed the two injured men. There was another, a girl, hidden in a bush. She laughed, but not because there was anything funny. She’d clearly seen horrors, poor thing. Kithyl was able to relieve some of the strain on her mind, at least, before we sent her and the two guards back to the safety of town; maybe she will be able to get some healing sleep in peace.
Before they left, they were able to give us some idea of what we were walking into. It seems the forest belongs to someone called “Queen Mab”. Kithyl seems familiar with her, perhaps she is from the same country as the Lord Oberon he serves? The gnolls were not supposed to be there, though, and were what had attacked both this party and likely the missing scouts, so it was necessary to enter the forest.
The Queen has very specific rules for those passing through her lands, but luckily Kithyl was there to explain the customs to me before I accidentally blundered into something. Most importantly, we had to stay on the path, marked out in distinct white gravel. What was beside the path looked like forest, but wasn’t, really. Or it was a different forest, in a different place, and not necessarily always the same different forest. Things got a little fuzzy, I’ll be honest. It was most disconcerting.
We fought more gnolls as we came across them- it seems some of them are in league with demons, and some are hideous dead creatures walking, and some throw darkness clouds around and attack people dishonorably from within them, and overall, I think I must recommend we do not attempt to ally with the gnolls. They are not our type of people.
Some of the denizens of the forest (creatures called “faeries”) did attempt to ally with the gnolls and betray their Queen. It did not go well for them. She sent this wizard called Auliotte, who took distinct offense to the betrayal and slew a couple of them while they were attacking us. Kithyl clearly knew her- she is some sort of Lady amongst his people (do they all have blue and green hair?)- and they agreed to team up to root out the traitors and gnolls and reclaim the forest. I think I may try to reach out to their people next- if Kithyl and Auliotte are any indication, they are quite powerful, and also seem to understand hospitality and guest-right and the importance of accepting others’ culture (which is…refreshing).
We all traveled deeper into the woods, a long, strange way, broken by traps and sounds trying to tempt us from the path. And then we found the scouts. They had been hung up, and their hearts, and their blood…I will not describe it. Suffice it to say, it was clearly blood magic of the darkest sort, a conclusion supported by the spellbook/ritual plan we found on one of the gnolls after we slew it. They are trying to summon someone they call the Blood Lord, and the only way to do so involves the sacrificial deaths of hundreds of people.
We tracked the creatures to a central glade, where we found a number of not-yet slain humanoids, along with giant effigy figures, and, once we started freeing the prisoners, a number of especially nasty gnolls. Between the three of us, we were able to slay them all, though at one point Kithyl went down and I was really worried, but then something very fast and flying came and gave him a potion and then he was fighting again. I still don’t know quite what happened there, but I’m glad it did. Someone watching?
They had a whole chest of hearts, and jugs of blood, so we had to dispose of those as best we could. I wish we could have buried the victims properly, but how do you bury someone in so many pieces? I said a prayer to Persana, and to whatever surfacer gods might be listening. I can only hope it is enough for their tormented souls.
Kithyl and I brought the survivors back to Cradle; Auliotte chose to remain in the forest to defend against whatever remnants of the gnolls or the traitor faeries might remain. I would be afraid to remain there alone, but something in her expression suggested it should probably be they who should be afraid. Kithyl seemed fine with it, so I’m sure she’ll be okay.
And now, Aunt, I am afraid I must return to the desert. I did promise to help with the quest, and my word is my bond…even if deserts are hideous hellscapes. If I survive it again, I shall write soon.
All my love to the family.
Your loving niece,