The Road to North Hampshire - Tobold's Hollow
The Road to North Hampsire - Tobold's Hollow
The road to one of the more prosperous regions around Kiana is flat, clear, and well-travelled. Signs mark the way to North Hampshire and Kiana. There are two pathways to follow; one which skirts a tree-filled dell called "Tobold's Hollow" and one which cuts through the murky woods. The pathway through the hollow is shorter, but numerous signs warn of danger--in the local Hafling script of course, for who would imagine a foreigner would come this way?
The hollow has always been one of the last holds of wild things in Kiana. Years ago, the Home Guard cleared the last of the goblins from it's hidden depths. However, something evil has awakened within the hollow since the Battle of Kiana. While numerous patrols through the hollow turned up nothing, livestock from the surrounding farms have been taken and the hollow is suspected in more than one case of a missing person known to have chanced travelling through it alone.
Down in it's depths, beneath the canopy of trees that blocks out the sun, one feels almost as if the trees themselves are watching yew. Should you need to take the faster path to North Hampshire, it is recommended to to so on a swift steed with numerous escorts, and to never tarry toward nightfall when the evening mists creep in.
((OOC: From Lorimar 1 - the Kiana Mile))
Once Vjerdt and Pasquella took the left fork and descended into the wooded dell, the ice gnome's cheer started to diminish. Something felt wrong. It was as if the worlde became more silent, or the silence became more dense, or the density became more dark. He couldn't really put his finger on it, but Pasquella also seemed unnerved, and continued on only due to his gentle prodding.
"Worry not, Pasquella," he whispered to the old pony, reassuring her but maybe also himself. "This is the safe route, remember." He looked around nervously. Was he being watched? "Imagine what would have happened if we had taken the right fork! That's where the real danger lies."
The very idea of how dangerous the right fork was in comparison made him shudder. Or perhaps something else made him shudder.
From: The Green Griffon Inn (and the skies Above Kiana).
Miiya spiraled down to the edge of the hollow and alighted on the empty road leading into the trees. Her search of the road between town and the forested dell had been fruitless, Vjerdt was almost certainly under the treacherous canopy of trees. She considered overflying the wood and shouting his name, but she remembered how the trail had zigged and zagged when she had walked it with Cahron. There was no guarantee she would fly within earshot of the blue-haired gnome.
Rubbing her arms, Miiya peered into the dimness beneath the trees. The last time she had entered the hollow, it had been in the company of two great warriors, her brother, and a powerful sorceress. Even then, she'd barely escaped with her feathers intact. She did NOT want to go into the hollow a second time.
Maybe Vjerdt would be fine. The Trow and other monsters had not appeared until close to eventide. He was on horseback, Zenfe had said. Perhaps he would speed through the hollow and pop out the other side, none the worse.
And maybe he wouldn't, and it would be all Miiya's fault... She couldn't live with having condemned the poor gnome to death and then doing nothing about it because of cowardice. "I'm a Storm Dancer." She whispered to herself. "I can do this!" She insisted in an unconvincing voice.
Her hands found the hilt of her new dagger, strapped between her wings. Her satchels and waterskeins felt like leather armor. "I can do this!" She insisted.
So steeled against her fear, she ran into the wood, wings bent to avoid clipping the trees, but providing enough lift to give fleetness to her mad dash toward danger.
Miiya did not call Vjerdt's name. That would draw too much attention. There was one clear path through the hollow. If the Gnome had left it--or been dragged from it--then he was likely already beyond Miiya's help.
"Verjdt!" Miiya was relieved beyond words to find the gnome whole and hale upon the path as she came up behind him and alerted him to her presence with a soft call. She was not pleased at just how far into the hollow she had run before reaching him, for it seemed he was more than past the halfway mark.
For a moment she entertained the idea of pretending all was well and seeing if they could not finish out the hollow without incident. But, no, the Aeros girl was too honest (and too visibly frightened) to carry out such a ruse. Vjerdt might be justifiably angry with her for steering him wrong, but better he know the danger they were in beforehand, than remain ignorant to it. "I've steered yew wrong! This wood is that danger I warned yew against!" She said in hushed tones as she reached him. "Forgive me, it was an accident!" She insisted.
Now the harder question remained to be addressed. "Yet we be more than halfway through the hollow." Miiya guessed. "The guard may come from Kiana to assist us, so I think it safest to turn back... unless our passage through has already attracted some threat." Miiya said. "I don't know what to do. Another hour should see us out of here if we quicken our pace forward." She guessed.
It was sweet of Miiya to imagine Vjerdt speeding through the hollow. In truth, it was exactly the opposite. The gnome was hesitant in his progress, and Pasquella was gradually more and more resistant to move forward. Despite the growing and unexplained sense of danger around him, and perhaps unwisely, his and his pony’s instincts slowed them down. The road zigged and zagged, this way and that, under whatever dim light penetrated the thick canopy above, and it took them a long while to move forward. The gnome was tense, his hand ready on his dagger, his eyes darting to all directions.
And so, when he suddenly heard his name, the gnome jolted up, dagger revealed, translucent azure, a sharp shard of ice, ready to attack. His face was less that of the timid gnome who Miiya encountered at the Green Griffon, but rather more alert, eyes narrow, jawline taut, set in the survival mode engrained in him from childhood at the Krowne.
“Lady Miiya!” His facial features softened somewhat as he realized it was her. She was quick to apologize and explain, and Vjerdt was quick to forgive her. “Well, that does explain a lot!” He chuckled, albeit nervously.
The Aeros detailed her dilemma, and Vjerdt pondered it. He was somewhat emboldened by her presence, or at least reassured, although the dark trees around them were still much of a menace. At least he was not alone, and she seemed to know the area. Still, he did not sheath his dagger yet.
“Where I am from there is a saying,” he whispered to her: “Going back is always longer than moving forward.” Did that made sense? He wondered now. Did anything he was told up there make sense? Still, this is all he had. “Perhaps we should get out of here as swiftly as we can.”
He gestured forward, deeper into the hollow. If only Pasquella could be convinced to move faster.
Miiya was glad to have direction, and she was cheered to see Vjerdt looked armed and ready. Of course, the last time she had entered the hollow had been in the company of a huge Skyld, some sort of demon, and a powerful sorceress, and even then she had barely escaped with her skin. Miiya tried not to dwell on that memory.
She was glad the Vjerdt wasn't angry--or at least wasn't wasting time on showing his anger--at her mistake. She hoped they could make it through the hollow with no reason to change his forgiving attitude.
"Okay." She agreed. "Can yew make him go faster?" She gestured to the rather saddle-backed horse the gnome had rented from Zenfe. If Vjertd revealed that he was having trouble getting the recalcitrant animal to move with haste, Miiya would take the initiative and slap Pasquella on the hindquarters and a shrill and startling "Hyah!"
Miiya would have to dive aside to avoid a kick from the startled animal. What remained to be seen was whether Vjerdt would be unhorsed should Pasquella buck, and whether the shock would actually send the reluctant steed into a gallop
"Well, it's actually a 'her' and I don't seem to be able to get her to move any faste... Oh!"
At that moment, the Aeros slapped the pony on her backside and cried out some sound Vjerdt had never heard before. This was definitely not how they used to prompt the Nuukii to move quicker at the Krowne. The gnome was startled, but Pasquella might have been even more so, for she neighed and bucked - throwing Vjerdt to the ground. He let out a loud cry despite his better judgement, barely clutching to his dagger. Pasquella was faster now all right, but she galloped all by herself down the road, disappearing in the dark woods, the voice of her hooves swiftly enveloped by silence.
Was this some kind of trap? Miiya seemed innocent enough - but here she was: giving him a "letter" from folk he had never heard of; "accidently" telling him to take the left fork; driving away his steed, leaving him alone with her in this foreboding hollow. How naïve could he be?
He stood up from the ground, the ice dagger glowing in the darkness in his hand, his pale blue eyes narrow with distrust.
"Who are yew?" His whisper was equal measure fear and menace. "What do yew want from me?"
Well, that had backfired in a pretty spectacular fashion. Miiya observed, as she rose and dusted herself off. She had known horses could kick. She hadn't known them to stand on their hind legs and throw their riders. Then again, she'd never actually been ON a horse before. "Crap." She said.
Any thought of rushing to Vjerdt's aid was stymied by the dagger in his hand and his angry expression. Well, at least he didn't seem to have suffered any serious injury from his tumble. Unfortunately, he now seemed to think Miiya was an enemy. Which, all things considered, was kinda fair. Miiya was not the type to walk on eggshells, but she had been trying to when it came to her benefactors, the Crosswaters. Now that she'd lost cousin Vjerdt's horse and sent him into danger on the road to the shire, she'd well and truly fouled the nest.
Miiya backed away from the menacing Gnome. She was not sure how to answer his angry questions. "I-I told yew my name and my story." She insisted raising her hands to show they were empty. Yes, she had her brand new dagger sheathed between her wings, but she was pretty confident she could run from Vjerdt if he was REALLY angry enough to attack her. "I don't-- I'm not--" Miiya was not the wordsmith her brother was. Cahron would have had a ready retort or calming words for Vjerdt (and probably more sense than to slap his steed), but Cahron was not here and Miiya did not yet have much experience dealing with angry strangers or acquaintences. "--I don't know what yer talking about!" Was the best she could manage.
Miiya really wanted to get out of the hollow. She also wanted to stay on the Crosswaters' good graces, but that seemed like it wasn't in the cards any more, so she'd settle for not leading cousin Vjerdt to his doom. She took a breath, swallowed the lump that was trying to form in her throat--she was a Storm Dancer, dammit!--and tried again. "I just want to get yew to yer cousin's place in one piece!" She blurted out.
((OOC: I might have mixed up “bucked” and “reared” in describing Pasquella’s response. Oh well, it’s canon now!))
The winged woman’s befuddled response caught Vjerdt off-guard. She had no alibi ready, it would seem, so either she was innocent or even more cunning than he thought. To feign such cluelessness could be an act of artistry indeed.
“Yew don’t know?” He hissed at her. “Leading me into these dark woods in pretense of some invitation… Giving me the wrong directions… Scaring my steed away… Do yew really not know what I am talking about?!”
And still, he was stuck with her here. Whether she was part of the trap or entirely guiltless, all he had was her as his only way out. So either she would lure him to his demise, or help him get out of here – following her will give him fifty percent chance of survival; leaving her and going on his own seems far more dangerous. At least now he knows not to trust her, he could walk behind her, ice-dagger pointed at her back…
But then, Miiya blurted something else that in the current context of utter surrealism and distrust made Vjerdt lose whatever composure he was trying to regain.
“My cousin?! Who in the Worlde is my cousin?!?!”
He shouted this with sheer frustration and disbelief. Louder than he probably should have, he realized as his voice carried far and away into the creepy hollow.
--straight into the descending branches of a monsterous Hickory tree!
A year ago, in a swampy lowland within the hollow a battle between infernal forces had taken place. In the end an ancient Blood Speaker had been consumed by a Necromancer. After the Blood Speaker was vanquished it's evil residual miasma had slowly permeated the ground around a gnarled and twisted Hickory tree. The fire set by the party that had dispatched the ancient puppet master had burned itself out in the damp dell, and left the tree damaged, but still alive. For a year its roots had drawn in the foul magick and spread it througout its scorched and gnarled trunk, branches, and leaves.
What resulted was something dangerous. Perhaps the ancient Hickory had once been related to an Ent or a Treelock. It was neither now, nor was it just a tree. It could move, albiet slowly. It could sense and think, albiet dully. And it could hunger. And this it did sharply.
The commotion on the road had drawn it. When it sensed many creatures, or the presence of axes, or even more dreadful; fire, it held itself still while its hunger gnawed. Now, it sensed only a few creatures. They had no axes. They had no fire. They were food. While the pair on the road argued, the Hickory had moved--as if just tossed by the breeze--to lean over the noisier of the pair; the winged girl.
It had sensed how the winged things took flight when they spread their feathers. It had trapped and consumed many an unwary crow or starling with it's branches. This giant bird upon the path would make a much more filling meal. It must catch the winged one now, before she flew!
With a great groaning and creaking, the bewitched hickory tree dropped the smaller and more supple of its branches all around and above the Aeros girl even as it stomped out onto the pathway between Miiya, Vjerdt, and Kiana, it's roots curling and piercing the ground to anchor it with every step. If it caught her, it would slowly compress Miiya's cage with larger and larger limbs and branches to sweep her inward toward it's broad scorched trunk.
The Aeros made some valid points, Vjerdt had to admit, which made all the more angry. He sneered at her and cried: “I am a foreigner newly arrived! I was confused! Yew were the local one delivering missives to people yew knew not!” There was a kernel of truth in this, at least as a description of Vjerdt’s experience of the events, but even in his ears this line of argumentation seemed quite lame. Never mind, he will convince her that he is in the right later. Were these trees moving? Ridiculous. This place is spooky.
“So yew’re just going to abandon me here, are yew?” He called after Miiya as she began her retreat. “Was that yer plan all along?”
But then she turned around with what seemed like an earnest warning. If she was correct, then he is better stay with her, but now she was leaving and there was not much to be done about that.
O Mighty and Cold Orem, the trees were moving! The gnome barely had a glimpse of the branches reaching towards Miiya and had no chance of shouting a warning when she was trapped within the terrifying tree’s forceful grasp.
“Dammit,” Vjerdt hissed. He had very little trust towards the Aeros now, but she did seem to show some kindness a moment before, and he knew that his chances alone in this strange place are much slimmer than with her.
The mists that irritated Miiya earlier that day might just have become a blessing now. The ice gnome felt the moisture in the air. That should be enough. When he left the Krowne, he had hoped he would be granted the gift of escaping his gift, but he could not see any other option at the moment.
Vjerdt focused on the air in front of him and exhaled. A cold, icy, translucent breath came out of his mouth, almost like a cone shaped cloud of wisps, gathering around the air, freezing it. Quickly icy shards were floating within Vjerdt’s reach and he stretched his arms to them, not touching them but allowing his fingers to dance around the ice, forming it into larger shards –
Until a large four-pointed star with jagged edges, made entirely out of ice, manifested in front of him. Vjerdt let out a low grumble, his blue eyes narrow and determined, and hurled the star at the tree – aiming at the place where the branches grappling Miiya joined the trunk, hoping to severe them enough to allow her to escape.
Vjerdt growled in satisfaction as the ice star hit the tree. A howl of pain came out of its maw and the gnome grimaced in disgust. What was this abomination?
Miiya disppeared from sight, which Vjerdt hoped was a good sign. Hopefully she manged to escape rather than eaten by that maw. The gnome rebuked himself for caring about the shifty Aeros but did not have time for that since the tree's attention was now on him.
Nuts and twigs were shot at him with startling velocity. Vjerdt instinctively cowered, protecting his head with his arms. It hurt. A lot. He knew that the damage was not lethal in any way, but he could feel the pain and imagine the bruises that are to appear on his pale skin.
Grunting, he crawled on the ground towards the tree, trying to reach near it but not too near. The Aeros was nowhere to be seen. He was probably alone now for all he knew. Vjerdt dug his fingernails into the earth of the hollow, concentrating. From his fingers, thin veins of ice spread into the ground and towards the Wicked Hickory. If this will work, they will freeze the tree's roots or at least his base, giving Vjerdt some leeway to escape this monstrosity.