Puzzles and Predicaments

Dear Diary,

Things started to get scary. I found myself in total darkness, so I took out my Ioun torch, and surveyed the landscape. Ahead of me there was a sign, with two arrows pointing in either direction. To my right I could hear groans of pain, in a woman's voice. The arrows presented a choice - I could go right, into the cave, and rescue a fair maiden, or I could go left, and escape the forest.

I gathered my wits and my conscience, and decided to venture into the cave. I wasn't sure why I was doing it. I generally tend to avoid dark and dangerous caves with screams of pain coming from them, but for some reason I couldn't stand idly by while someone innocent was in pain. So I pressed on, despite my common sense telling me I would regret this.

I took a side passage, more to delay the inevitable than anything. The place was covered in spider webs, and just when I thought I'd reached a dead end, I spied a tablet before me. It had written on it, a riddle.

"A precious gift with no beginning, nor end, and in the middle there is nothing."

I puzzled over this a while, and eventually came, through roundabout reasoning, to the answer: A ring.

The passage before me opened, revealing a shortcut to the chamber where the maiden was bound. I recognized at once who it was - Elspeth Casterfall! She was bound in spider silk, standing on a platform with a deadly trap hanging overhead. We spoke a second, and I devised a way to get her out. I rolled a boulder next to the overhanging trap, and with a few minutes of work from my dental tools, I had disabled the thing. I cut her free from the silk and reveled a moment in my victory.

She, however, looked a tad displeased. Said some confusing things about how she was expecting someone less shifty. Someone more like a Paladin who could be easily outwitted. I didn't realize it at the time, but she must have been talking about Lance! She hinted that she was working with the druids, though she hated all magic users, bigots that thought themselves gifts from the gods. The druids were going to abolish the powers held by all spell casters by disrupting the 'weave,' and so she was aiding in their cause.

In any case, she said, it was time for me to die before I caused any more damage. Without warning, she transformed, and before me lay a massive spider. Probably a boon granted by the twisted druids. In my shock, the thing got the drop on me, and lunged forward to bite. Fangs tore through my sleeve, and I felt the sting of poison. But I am a Vishkanya; poison holds little fear for us. Thinking quickly, I drew and tossed a tanglefoot bag at the vile creature, rooting it in place. I hurled a couple daggers at it, pegging it squarely in the eyes. The fight was over.

I withdrew my daggers, and learned that the magical returning one I had found before was pretty much broken. Barnabus later told me that it was probably because of the magical disruption, but at the time I had no idea. When I called it back to my hand, it kept flinging itself in random directions. The creature before me turned back in Elspeth. She spoke more words of hatred before she expired, and I cast her aside, cursing her for betraying us. On her person I found a handwritten note, which read "You have our support." I was surprised to find that the seal wasn't that of the druidic cult, but the Okolona Mage's Guild. Quite Curious. She also carried a large stone ring, with a strange weave on the top. I pocketed it, and exited the cave through a newly opened passage.

Outside, in the dim light of the forest, I found a path to follow, and followed it to a clearing where I saw Barnabus. We exchanged greetings, and explained what we'd gone through since we'd been separated. Scruffy showed up through another path, and he relayed his tale to us as well.

Barnabus had been faced with riddle upon riddle, threatened by exploding runes if he were to answer incorrectly. I'm glad my tabled wasn't trapped as such. At the end of his trial, he was awarded another golden ring, much like mine, but with a slightly different design.

Scruffy had fought a slew of spiders, and stolen a treasure from one of their nests before running off. He was looking worse for wear from the fight, and Barnabus patched him up a touch. Apparently his treasure was much the same - a strange ring with a pattern.

We didn't have much time to ponder this - a dryad appeared from the underbrush and taunted us, demanding to know what we were doing in her forest. We tried to make peace with this dryad, but she wouldn't have it - she instead ran off down a path, and animated an assassin vine blocking our way.

Barnabus and I felled the vine quickly, and then we made haste down the trail, following the dryad. She seemed playful - like she was testing our mettle. We caught up to her eventually, with stunning displays of skill on all our parts. We found her in a clearing, sitting on a rock before a stream. She seemed indecisive as to what to do with us, and decided to leave it to chance. She conjured up two urns in front of us, one filled with dark river rocks, the other with light. She explained that she would pick an urn at random, and then draw a stone from the urn at random. If she were to draw a dark stone, we would have to fight her and some of her "forest friends." If she were to draw a light stone, she would provide us with advice and send us on our way. But first, she would allow us to move any of the stones from one urn to the other.

Barnabus and I began to puzzle through the problem, but Scruffy had the solution almost instantly. We would leave one light river rock in one of the urns, and put all the rest in the other urn, giving us almost a 75% chance to gain helpful advice. We commended the gunslinger, and Barnabus asked if he had a history of gambling. Scruffy denied the inquiry shiftily.

The dryad drew forth a light stone, luckily, and gave us advice. We would be able to reverse the druid's changes to the forest "When the lay of the land is as the back of your hand." Then she turned into a tree.

Thinking it was the right thing to do, I scaled the tree, and scoped out the land. Morrigan, the leader of the druidic cult, was residing at a lake near the center of the forest. That was easy enough to spot, and my dagger seemed to have some sort of magical dowsing property, pointing north to the very center of the forest. All about the land, there were signs of the druid's tampering. Streams had been rerouted, leaving behind empty beds, cliffs had been flattened and plains dragged up into hills, a whole slew of things that were sure to disrupt the magical flow. And there were other disturbances in the lay of the land, more subtle and overgrown ones. I noted that they looked akin to the symbols on the rings that we found.

I relayed the information, and we decided to go investigate the nearest one. Some bushwhacking was necessary, but Scruffy got us through more or less unscathed. (We did have a slightly painful run-in with a pitfall trap, though.) When we arrived at the clearing, we found a standing stone with the same symbol as the one on scruffy's ring. We touched the ring to it, and there was a slight magical dissonance, but it seemed this wasn't the place to kickstart repairs on the forest.

We kept moving, and bushwhacked our way to a path that would lead us to the center of the forest. We followed it a short while, and then found a trail of discarded masks - the sort that Erashi carried. We decided to follow it, and it led us to a clearing with a circle of standing stones, engraved with the symbols of the rings. Erashi had evidently discarded the ring she had found.

Barnabus puzzled over the rings, and the strange woven knot that was engraved on the largest standing stone. he fitted the rings together carefully, and they locked into place and shrunk into a small, finger-sized ring. "When the lay of the land is as the back of your hand" he whispered thoughtfully as he put the ring on, and admired the woven symbol of the completed puzzle. In the center of the circle, a small-scale model of the forest appeared. We rushed to check it out, and found that it was in lifelike detail. We could see animals moving, water flowing, even, if we looked hard enough, ourselves, sitting in the clearing. But when we reached out to touch, our hands went right through it.

Only Barnabus could manipulate model, using the hand that held the ring. Scruffy and I took up guarding positions as he re-routed the streams back to their original places, mended the cliffs that had been pushed down, straightened the ley lines, opened the closed pathways. And when the forest was back to its natural state, the diagram vanished, and we found we were no longer alone.

A pack of wolves had entered the clearing, perhaps drawn in by the disturbances of the land. We took up battle positions, Scruffy firing with his musket and me with my shortbow. Barnabus scrambled onto one of the standing stones and began casting spells.

When the first wolf fell, something strange happened. It turned into a person! These weren't regular wolves, they were shape shifted druids, come to investigate the upset of their newly instated order. More were showing up, including the one who had escaped us last time - it was Penelope.

A skirmish broke out, and we felled the druids that had flooded in. We left Penelope alive, but just barely. One of them tried to offer me a position of power, but under scruffy's eye, I resisted the temptation. When the last of the druids was struck down, and the magical effects and summoned creatures disappeared, an eerie silence flooded the area. It was time to get some answers, but first we had to get out of the clearing before more druids showed up.

—Dr. Leto Lumos Light

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