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  • Writer's pictureJames Finger

MKT020: Grove of the Furries

8th-12th of Eleint (The Fading) – Summer 1486

Location: Neverwinter Woods, The Grove of the Furries


The Mickale trio made good time through the southern downs of the Starmetal Hills west of Tribor. They travelled for three days living off the land until Pinko’s ancestral home, the Neverwinter Woods, loomed before them. The dense treeline beckoned them to the dark safety of its canopy. As soon as he hit the eaves of the forest, Pinko felt a wave of calmness wash over him, but it was quickly followed by a deep sense of unease. It had been just over a month since he fled the orc raid that had magically trapped him in wild shape form and devastated his commune, but since meeting Smacky and then Seeps, life had gotten more complicated than he’d ever imagined growing up protected in the Druidic grove. Now he was being hunted by the Order of the Gauntlet, had promised Smacky he’d help him track down whatever killed the half-orcs brother, and seemed to run into rampaging giants wherever he went. But that would all have to wait, next he had to face his own demons. The vision he’d had of his mentor Getafix pleading for his return while the commune burned in green flames, loomed at the top of his thoughts as the party pushed through the trees deeper into the Neverwinter Wood. At least the Order shouldn’t be able to follow them here.


The closer they got to the Grove of the Furries the more signs of orc activity grew until they were so obvious that even Seepage couldn’t help but notice the damage and detritus the creatures had left in their wake. A lot of the carnage was fresh, trampled paths, hewn logs, and stripped animal carcasses were abundant; there must be a large encampment somewhere nearby Pinko thought. But there was something else in the air only he could feel. A growing numbness and depression, like the very earth was sick. Animal life was scant, bird song silent, and even the plants had taken on a strange demeanour. They were alive, but not living, something was very wrong. As the druid entered a clearing and inspected a particularly warped and twisted young beech tree in its centre, the sudden onslaught on his psyche sent him to his knees. A painful flash fired from the tree’s bark, through his fingertips and up behind his eyes. Rapidly shifting images of death, the forest in decay from horizon to horizon and the slaughter of elves, animals, and even the local Uthgardt tribes, assaulted his senses, all spiralling outwards from a dark shadowy epicentre that filled the land with shades of grey and the marching boots of mutated and deformed orcs.

“Youz ok dere Pinks?”. Pinko opened his eyes to see Smacky leaning over him with a concerned look on his face, the large branch currently serving as the barbarian's crude two-handed club resting on one shoulder. A tiny freezing Ray of Frost slapped him across the face. “What the hells Seeps!” the wood elf yelled as he shot to his feet at the icy shock. “Oh good, you’re awake, just checking. When you screamed and convulsed after touching that tree I had to do something to check if you were dead or not.” explained the tiefling with a distinct air of being under-appreciated as usual for her helpful efforts. Pinko turned to the tree and cautiously reached out again. Nothing. The smooth bark felt chilled, but whatever had triggered him was gone. “Let us move, the Grove is not far now, there is evil afoot in the woods.” he warned as he exited the clearing. “Oh good, evils usually give a good fight.” said Smacky to his retreating form. “Plus, I don’ feelz as bad smashing nasty things into little bits.” he philosophised. “I’m a nasty thing, wanna smash me?” asked Seepage coyly with a flick of her tail across his nose. Smacky never knew how to respond in these moments, so blushed and plodded quickly off after Pinko.


Normally the sneaky barbarian would be alone one these scouting stints, but this time Pinko had insisted on coming along and Seeps didn’t want to be left alone behind so Smacky found he had company as he crept the last few yards towards the devastated village on his belly. He knew he was not smart, even by orc standards, but this, this he was good at and took some pleasure in ‘shushing’ the other two making a relative racket beside him. From a slight rise on the east side of the Grove, Smacky was struck by awe and sadness as he scanned the remains of Pinko’s home. The natural beauty of the place was breathtaking. A large spring flowed briskly from a crack in the low hill on the far side of the clearing and tumbled down into a winding brook over mossy shelves. Whether it was magical or a natural water feature he could not tell. The trees surrounding the glade were enormous, hundreds of years old at least, though their trunks were scarred and blackened in places, most likely from the magical explosion Pinks had told him about that rolled over the area during the raid.


Several small dwellings of stone were evident, but they were covered in sod and built in such a way as it was hard to pick them from the naturally undulating earth. Many were collapsed or torn asunder. In the middle of it all was a raised ring of bare earth, thirty feet across and outlined by mushrooms. The henge was positioned so that no matter where you stood within the village, you could clearly see a white stone obelisk in its centre, engraved with delicate carvings of every animal Smacky knew to be native to these woods and many he did not. As the group observed in silence, a great stag bounded forth into the ring and stared directly in their direction. It stomped the hard-packed earth with a front hoof and raised its head high, a thick grey mane flowing from antler to chin. “Should I blast it?” asked Seeps, hopeful of a meaty hot dinner. “I think that would be unwise,” replied Pinko, standing and striding into the light. “He’s cranky enough already, and being trapped as a deer for over a month won’t have improved his disposition.”

Getafix Appears in the Grove of the Furries

Fishing into the stinky pouch he’d made Smacky fill with his magical mushroom poop all those moons ago in Nightstone, Pinks slowly approached the stag. He counted his blessings that the Order of the Gauntlet guards who stripped him of his valuable items had not thought this bag of precious shit was worth collecting. “Greetings Master Getafix, it has been some time. Sorry for the delay…” The stag snorted contemptuously. “...but I believe I can help. Hold still please.” Pinks scooped up two fingers of the foul-smelling fermented muck and dragged a thick line down the creature's long fuzzy nose. Instantly a white light began to shine and spread over the cervine form, the wild shape falling away and shrinking until only the slender form of a proud but elderly wood elf with an elaborate collar and headdress fashioned of the buck’s antlers remained. “It is about time young Pinko.” he accused sternly, before breaking into a big smile and bringing a large snail shell horn to his lips. The fluttering note filled the air with something between a bird call and the wind through the trees… and over a dozen woodland creatures responded, nervously approaching the mushroom ring and forming an orderly circle around Getafix, restored Master of the Grove of the Furries.


“Watya means no metal weapons?” pouted Smacky as preparations began. Pinko had acquired a new Druidic token to focus his spells through, and Seeps even received some precious mica and other spell components to assist the channelling of her magic until she could figure out how to contact her dark patron again. The best the barbarian could rustle up was a heavy wood and bone club to replace his tree branch. “Sorry Master Smacky” the nervous druid apologised, we do not keep any products of iron. Will this help?” He handed the cranky brute a well-made long bow and a dozen arrows with barbed blackthorns for heads. Smacky eyes widened in joy. He thought Peraclis looked like a blonde Pinko, if Pinks ever bothered to wash the dirt from his fair skin and was missing his left eye. The young druid had a viscous deep scar down the side of his face he said he'd received during the assault on their village. Where his eye should have been, a smooth white pebble rested in the socket instead. Smacky wished he'd paint a dot on it or something, it gave him the willies. “Dat’s betta!” the half-orc exclaimed, appreciating the craftsmanship of the weapon and noticing the acorn at either end. “You makes this Squirrel boy?” he asked. Peraclis winced. Until Pinko restored him an hour ago, he’d been trapped as a grey squirrel since the orc invasion and was still just as twitchy, even after Getafix healed his mangled face as best he could. “I did, fletching is something of a hobby of mine. Keep it, I have a spare.” Smacky ruffled the elf’s long hair roughly. “Cheers big ears! Let’s find doze orc boyz and smash 'em some good!”

“What can you tell me of the orcs Master? I felt a strange presence in the clearing a mile to the North, the forest seems ill.” Pinko walked slowly with Getafix around the Grove as the recently restored druids of the commune and their woodland creature helpers began the cleanup in earnest. “Power most foul. No mere Orc War Chief should wield the kind of shadow magic that swept over us. Since the attack, we’ve been able to do little but watch as they entrenched themselves not far from here.” Getafix looked mournfully at the less than a score of druid-kin who had survived the assault. “A darkness creeps outwards from there, suffocating the birds, beasts and even the plants in an ever-growing circle. It is as if all light and colour are drained from the world, leaving only shades of decaying grey. Skullstompa their leader calls himself, a huge wild orc, and too clever by half. I’ve not seen him since he desecrated our henge, but his army seems in fear and awe of him, harvesting every living creature they can and dragging it back to their camp. We are now too few to oppose him… but perhaps, you and your friends can. He stared at Pinko with respect. This was a genuine request, not an order, that is not how the Grove worked. “Will you aid us?” enquired Pinks. “I am needed here," Getafix replied without hesitation, "should you fail, I must seek others of the Emerald Enclave to help, though I fear they will come too late. I will not stop any of your brothers and sisters who wish to join you on this task, and the blessing of the forest shall be at your back. Return to the clearing and follow your senses, the camp will not be hard to find, a trail of death will guide you there.”


So it was at dawn the following day the Mickale Trio accompanied by Peraclis and five other Furries druids seeking revenge, set out on Skullstompa’s trial. As Master Getafix predicted, locating the outer perimeter of the orcish camp was not difficult. They made no attempts to cover their trails and every step towards the invaders increased the feelings of dread and despair the party felt. Indeed, the vibrant greens, golds, and even browns of the woods seemed to become muted and stale. All sounds and signs of life faded, right down to the clicking of insects. Before dusk, Smacky came trotting back to the main group having scouted ahead. “I’s found dem! Big camp, but I can’t get closer, dey got guards hiding in the trees. After dat, looks like dey cleared a big area. Many fires.” he reported. “How many fires?” Seepage enquired. “More dan dis!” Smacky kicked off one boot and held up both hands and one foot, hopping and wiggling his exposed fingers and toes. The gathered members of the Commune stared at him with mixed looks of curiosity and confusion. “We should take a closer look.” suggested Seepage and before Pinko could put the usual caveats of not attracting any attention to herself, the tiefling had disappeared into the gathering shadows. Smacky clapped, fetched his boot, and snuck after her. The remaining wood elves looked to Pinko, who simply shrugged, raised a finger to his lips, and beckoned the group to follow him quietly.

Orc Camp
Finding the Orc Camp was easy... infiltrating it not so much.

The guard was silhouetted against the campfires beyond. “Rookie error.” thought Cockseepage as she crept towards the light. She rifled through her spell component pouch. While honeycomb was plentiful in the forest around the druidic camp, the snake’s tongue was trickier to find. She’d only get one crack at this. As she approached the lookout she rolled the serpent tongue in the honey, drew an arcane symbol along its length and placed the sweet forked muscle in her mouth, all while making sure Smacky was watching over her in case this went south quickly. It went south quickly. Things started so well, she got into earshot range and Suggested that the orc lookout approach and hand over the two wicked-looking daggers he’d been picking his teeth with… and he did! He was also very surprised as Seeps expertly flicked them in the air, caught both cross-handed and buried one into each side of his neck silently, cutting off any chance of a scream. So she was very disheartened when his buddy who’d been watching the whole affair from a tree branch above let out a long shrill call on a crude horn and sounds of alarm began to roll out from the camp.


Two arrows hit the sentry simultaneously from different directions, one from Smacky, the other from Peraclis who was approaching with Pinko and the others. The two bowmen, surprised at their accidental coordinated execution, smiled at each other as the dead orc fell from his tree. There was no time to celebrate though as the sound of war drums seemed to close in on three sides.


Stealth was abandoned, the members of the Grove used their druidcraft and local knowledge to outpace the pursuing warband. Tangling vine traps, hails of thorns and erupting earth hindered the hunters, but their dedication to the chase did not falter and after only a mile or two the cliff walls of a sharp ridge hindered further retreat. Pinko examined their surroundings. A strong moon-glow bathed the forest with more than enough light for attempts at hiding to be futile. Black fletched arrows broke through the foliage and the fugitives made a desperate retreat towards the looming stone cliffs, unexpectedly breaking out into a desolate open field of debris. The shallow ravine appeared to have been blasted flat outwards and with great force from the dead end a few hundred feet ahead of them, and the origin of the explosion was frightfully clear. A swirling grey and green portal rotated slowly at the apex of the chasm, dark tendrils of mist flowing outwards and upwards, enveloping the land and stretching away in all directions. Pinko was fairly sure he’d found the source of the corruption draining the lifeblood of his home.

“HOLD DA LINE!” cried Smacky as he clubbed yet another orc into the mud. In the open they’d be dead, swamped by vastly superior numbers, so the defenders of the Grove clung to the treeline using it for cover as best they could. A wild-shaped druidic wolf slammed into a rock, reverted to elven form and lay groaning at Pinko’s feet. “We can’t hold them, we must risk the portal!” He yelled back, hurling Produced Flame into the line of advancing foes. “It reeks of the Shadowfell. I am not going back there.” grunted Cockseepage as she spun an Ekky blast around Pinko’s fire and doubled the impact on its target. “What’s the one-eyed git doing back there, we could use a hand!” the tiefling complained and gestured to Peraclis who was sitting cross-legged with two other druids softly chanting, a dull glow slowly building between them. “I don’t know but whatever it is we need it now.” Pinko replied as war horns blasted and scores of orcs abandoned whatever caution they were exercising and charged toward the dwindling party for the final kill.

Fantasy Portal
Caught between an orc army and a portal to another plane of existance you'd think the choice would be pretty clear...

“Nimloth, Gal-beri, Hi!!!” Periclis’ group chanting crescendoed and an eruption of light radiated towards the sky. The wave of orcs winced and faltered. “GET BACK!” the young druid called in common as the beam crashed to earth and spread in a line inches from Pinko’s nose. When it hit either side of the canyon a wall of interlocking vegetation erupted and knitted together forming a solid barrier between them and the orc army. The wounded were dragged to the clearing and healing magic flowed. Periclis collapsed, spent. Smacky ran to his side, quickly followed by Pinks. “It will not hold them long, the forest has been weakened, and I fear it is failing faster with each passing minute. You must end this, we will delay them as long as we can.” Periclis passed out. Looking towards the swirling portal Pinko knew he’d find Skullstompa on the other side. Without waiting to see if the others were following, he turned and strode to the end of the ravine, disappearing into the swirling mists of the ominous portal to the Shadowfell.

 

Next Episode: Skullstompa

 



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