Aramhethe

Flyyyyyyyyyy

"Plinker” the Kenku can't communicate except through mimicry. But if he could tell the tale of his recent adventures, it might go something like this.

So this is not exactly what I had in mind when I left Mother Hen's Flock. I mean, a bunch of crows underground seems counter-intuitive, right? Or is it just me? I mean, why not mole people? Could be called, I dunno, moru? Why doesn't someone lay a curse on some moles, tell them they have to restrict themselves to stereotypical mole-type behaviours but, oh yeah, they can't dig? And then put them in the Rootways to act as guides. It would add some pathos, some mute yearning to their tragic destiny. Whereas taking a bunch of crow people who are already lamenting their winglessness and stuffing them underground so that they can't even look at the sky… that's a few steps beyond pathos, you know? More cruel than poignant. Where's the Art in that? WHERE ARE THE FUCKING MOLE PEOPLE?

So yeah. Short version: I'm a miner now, because that plays right into my skill set.

It could be worse, I suppose. The mine is run by cloud giants and the tunnels aren't quite cloud giant sized, so that's gotta suck. Stoopy is kind of a dick but his dad seems alright. He let me keep my dreamwood dulcimer. And he plays a harp. And he's got a fancy magical golden elevator with like angel wings and shit all over it. Would be tempted to yoink that thing if I hadn't turned my back on that life to pursue my Muse. Where'er it may lead.

A pick hitting rock, each strike followed by a fart noise.

Stoopy almost squooshed the kobold though. Can't really call him Groveller anymore. The giant kicked over his cart and the kobold puffed himself up and was like, “I will not stand for such insolence, good sir!” and everyone was like, “oh shiiiiii-” Suicidal little dude but gotta hand it to him, he didn't even blink. Now he needs a new name. Ha! Fanfare. Toady. Because it's another name for a pufferfish and also… toady. Perfect.

I could just try to remember his real name, or write it down somewhere. Might actually be less effort. Inhalation, exhalation. Something needs to be done about my supply. The shortage thereof, specifically. Wait, what was I talking about?

Oh right! Wings! I've started composing an opus to keep myself sane in the mines. It started when Sparky pointed out the sound of woodwinds coming down from above, down this waterfall tunnel thingy, and as I looked up into the darkness, trying to find the source of the music, I was like, this is some real deal pathos right here. Deep underground, no sky, just a whisper of ghostly music. I've started work on the first movement which is about, you know, just the disorganized noise of existence in its raw state, right? And then, like, an ideal will begin threading through the noise, dredging scraps of a melody from its depths, and the melody will eventually become a mighty wheeling wind uplifting all who hear it. Like, more spiritual flight than literal flight, but maybe….

I feel like, if I get it right, if I can make it sound like it sounds in my head, Flowerfinger will maybe reward me with wings of my own? I'm afraid to ask, I feel like that would jinx it… but I feel like we have a sort of understanding. We're in sync. It gave me Rainbowmane, after all. And we both want the same thing: for me to be the best passionate thunderous caterwauling I can be.

Speaking of: Nudicorn tried to figure out my name which, I appreciate the effort, but it would help if I knew the word. That's kinda what got me in trouble with Hronoman, me poking through his books, trying to find the word that fit the concept in my head. My intentions were benign but he wasn't too interested in excuses when he caught me. Not that I'm great at explaining myself anyway. Disconsolate plunk. But anyway, Nudicorn gave me a list of replacements for Plinker to choose from and to be honest I wasn't really listening because while I do appreciate the thought, it's still a name that's being imposed on me, you know? It's not my name any more than Plinker is. In fact, I was so tuned out that when he asked which one I liked best I couldn't remember any of them to repeat back so I had to scour my memory for a voice to use and came up with Froetha saying, “the first one.” I hope the first one wasn't too stupid, whatever it was. Better not be Plunker or Ploonker. I can make up a stupider name than Nudicorn, Nudicorn! Don't test me!

Other than that, not a lot happened, other than a bunch of very casual nudity. Don't know where to look during bath time. Baldy made friends with a wolf man and Sparky made friends with an elfy elf – one of those ones like Sir Stentorian (RIP) – and Nudicorn made friends with a dark elf, and everyone was throwing up zones of silence and going off into secret corners to keep their friends to themselves. Twanger jumped into the river and acted like a crazy person, which is becoming par for the course. But it turned out that it was because she thought she saw Strangebrain standing in the river. And furthermore, Punchy said that Strangebrain appeared to him in his room and ate him with his eyes just before we first met the both of them. And then… I forget how it happened but suddenly we were all hugging. It was weird. I tried to maintain a stoic distance but Punchy was all like, “I love you, man,” and even Sparky was getting in on the action. Tears may or may not have been shed. I might have been too hasty in writing these guys off. Some of them, anyway.

You know, even if this opus comes to naught, I feel like my soul has grown some fledgling wings of its own. They may not be strong enough to bear me aloft quite yet, but someday. For you guys are the wind beneath my wings.

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Plinker's Not Here To Make Friends

"Plinker” the Kenku can't communicate except through mimicry. But if he could tell the tale of his recent adventures, it might go something like this.

“Punchy! You're safe!” “Oh Punchy, we missed you so!” “I was ever so worried, Punchy!” “Let's make hatchlings together, Punchy!”

Vomiting.

Okay, not that last one. Not literally, anyway. But there were some definite hatchling aspirations going on behind Twanger's eyes when Punchy was vloomphed out by Strangebrain, along with a pile of pulsating brain snot. Hey, you know who else was recently eaten by a brambly, owlesque construct? Let's revisit how that scene played out.

“Oh, it's you, Plinker.” “Were you gone, Plinker?” “Having a little rest, eh, you lazy crow?” “I'm gonna take that dulcimer and knock the goddamn beak to the other side of your head if you don't get back to massaging my bunions THIS INSTANT!”

Truth, bruv.

Whatever. It doesn't matter, it doesn't hurt, I'm done with them. I'll just concentrate on myself from now on. The road to musical excellence is littered with jerks, or something. Nah, I'll be better than excellent even. I'll be something straight out of a story, all flashing blade and piercing eyes and “hahaha!” and “have at you!” With a joke and a song for all the pretty ladies. Twanger excluded. Then they'll see how much I don't need them. Friends, tch. Relic of an outmoded paradigm is what that is.

F U PUNCHY!!

Violent strumming punctuated by the flailing of a teenager at his drum kit, if the drums were made of the clashes and screams of battle. Gradually trails off.

You're right, Flowerfinger. I still have you, and you're all I need. You'll show me the way.

But anyway, we were still in these tunnels, which I guess were mines? This thing with a mouth instead of a head wanted purple stones to eat, so everyone was like, “Of course! Anything for you, Mr. Mouth-For-A-Head! We live to serve you, Mr. Mouth-Headed-Thing-We-Just-Met!” So on our way back to the statue which had purple stones in it, presumably, that's when Strangebrain eyesneezed Punchy and a pile of goo onto the floor, and Punchy was all like, “Mom!” to the pile of goo… which was kinda funny, to be honest, but I looked around and it didn't seem like anyone else was seeing the humour of the situation so I kept my beak shut. Then Strangebrain was all like, “whoops, faux pas, excusez-moi,” and vwrrszht! vanished. Didn't know he could do that. Kinda cool.

Whatsisface, the dude of formerly nebulous sex until he grew naked out of the ground (as one does) with his manhood fully on display, you know, the one with the shadowy unicorn thing going on… Nudicorn? Almost certainly not his real name. Anyway, he went down and pried some gems out of the statue and we gave them to Mr. So-What-If-I-Have-A-Mouth-For-A-Head-Take-A-Look-In-The-Mirror-Pal-Nobody's-Perfect and he gave us… a couple chalcedonies? And that's a good trade? I mean, I'm not a gem guy but even I know that amethysts are worth at least twice as much as chalcedonies. But whatever, none of my business, I'm not here to make friends.

Then, Wilhelm scream! Boulder trap! I thought Nudicorn was out front looking for traps and such but I guess he missed that one. Crkchh! Scaly got… hmm, that's not right cuz Sparky is scaly too and, to be honest, Sparky's scales are more impressive than Scaly's. Groveller, cuz of how he dealt with the big laughing lava balloon? Sure, that works. Anyway, Nudicorn nimbly dodged out of the way of the boulder but crkchh! Groveller got smooshed. Tough little guy though, bounced right back up. Kindred spirit.

Then we crossed a bridge over a pool and there was a watery looking lady in the pool looking all distressed because two of those little imp guys were playing catch with her shawl and everyone was like, “dum dee dum, none of our business, doop dee doo,” and kept right on trucking, and I was like, why am I even with you people?! First of all, obvious damsel in distress situation, and second, watery or not, she's still mostly naked! The only thing better than Badgeruboob is Nymphboob! Eventually they grew a communal heart and helped her out, when they realized that all they had to do was bash a couple wimpy imps. Slow clap. Real heroes. Real human beings.

She mentioned that some guy named, uh, Finnegan had a crush on her (understandable) and that we'd have to get through him to get out of the mines. So when we got into the next chamber Sparky started shouting, “Finnegan! Get yo' ass out here!” more or less, and holy crap it worked: a little dude with cloven hooves and cool dreads popped his face out of the wall. He seemed pretty chill so he and Sparky had a bit of a chinwag, the upshot of which was that Sparky gave him back this little purple-eyed statuette thing which, no idea how he got that, I guess I must've been smoking 'leaf at the time (the pouch is looking pretty bare… gotta get out of the Kneld, man), and they became besties. I did not mention how friendship is a relic of an outmoded paradigm, so as not to kill the mutually advantageous vibe.

But this little Finnegan dude's hair! It was luxuriant! I held Flowerfinger up so that it could get a shufti and it was like, “do you want hair like that?” and I was like, “do I?!” by which I meant, hells yeah! And then, lo, the Flowerfinger provideth, for out of the white patch of feathers at the back of my head (which I've always been kinda self-conscious of) bloomed a trailing mane of rainbow plumage the likes of which has ne'er been seen before. Dazzling the eye, charming the heart, and bewitching the mind. I gave my head a few shakes so I could get a better look at its glamorous grandeur – and to maybe attract some attention, if I'm being honest – but did anybody notice and say, “Wow, tempestuous feline passion, cool 'do!”? Hells no!

I swear, I could burst into flames and they'd be like, “Is it hot in here or is it just me?”

They got into a fight with the imp dude from before, the fiery one, while I was shaking my beautiful plumage and watching the reflected light dance on the walls, and then a boulder dude showed up and also didn't notice my scintillating mane, which was when I gave up and remembered, oh yeah, I've evolved beyond the need for friendship and admiration. Doesn't matter, I have Flowerfinger and Rainbowmane, and together we're gonna make me the best me I can be.

I was a bit slow to twig to the screams coming from behind us, so by the time I got back to the pool area, everyone else was already fighting the greeny-silvery metal dude, the one who didn't have a head before. He had a head now, and his fist made a HWOOO! noise as it pulverized the face of one of the little gnomey diggers. Punchy was acting pretty manic, dashing all over the place and dancing around the walking statue, even giving it a pimp slap which, respect. Hard to hold a grudge against Punchy for too long. Although probably best to maintain some distance, as he's been looking a little wild around the eyes ever since he got ah-aah-aCHOOOed.

I was like, I'll show these losers what I can do, not that I care what they think of me, I'm doing this for myself… and I shook my Rainbowmane as I dashed into a battle, summoning a cloud of daggers out of the ether to bedevil the metal fiend while simultaneously thrusting with my rapier, and it, at least, noticed me, for its eldritch hum fell silent as the point of my blade connected, and the life bled from its unnatural frame.

Rainbowmane flared behind me to form two hands which applauded my victory. There's no way the others could have failed to notice that, but they just ignored it. Sparky grabbed some mining tools and started bashing the thing's head off without even glancing in my direction. I was like, “SERIOUSLY?!” Must feel threatened cuz my feathers are as cool as his scales now. So petty.

Then we headed for the exit and turned a big slave wheel dealie (I only pretended to put my back into it cuz… you know) and a big gate opened and on the other side of it was a giant, like a GIANT, all hunched over in the tunnel and looking cranky. He seemed surprised to see us. “Who the fuck are you?” were his exact words.

I'm not gonna tell you who I am, giant guy, because you'll only get it wrong or call me Plinker anyway. All you need to know is that I am beautiful… but you don't even need to know that because who cares what you think.

High fives Rainbowmane, and Rainbowmane does one of those Z snappy things.

Team Amazing away!

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Ruh Roh

"Plinker” the Kenku can't communicate except through mimicry. But if he could tell the tale of his recent adventures, it might go something like this.

So I got eaten by eyes. Some other nonsense garbage happened, as is the yoozh… like, the yoozh-ual, get it? Nevermind, waste of time. Stupid, self-defeating abbreviation….

Wait… one two three four five… it's not even an abbreviation! Must be spelled different. The usj? The uzhe? The yoosjz? No, that's six letters. I made it worse! Brazen Maid, NOTHING MAKES ANY SENSE!

clears throat

Okay. So I was just tralala'ing through the hills, minding my own business, admiring the amethyst moon, when… okay, I see the problem now. But still! I'm more than a piece of meat, eyes.

Like, I get that it's different from the outside, but from my point of view, this woman wearing a gown of purple fog started gliding towards me across the hills, wrapped in a song of beautiful, bitter loss, enough to make you go like, “whoaaa,” and I should know because I sorta yoinked some of it for my own music and that's the impression I got, like “whoaaa” when I played it, the impression I got from other people… I mean, more a muted “whoa” or maybe a “whaaa?” because I'm dealing with savages out here, not exactly refined aesthetes or whatever…. But still! It could be argued that whatever bramble creatures I may or may not bring to bloodthirsty life in pursuit of my Muse are inconsequential when weighed against the Furtherance and Betterment of Art. Try explaining that to Twanger or Sparky though. Or the eyes which, in case I didn't mention it, ate me.

In fact, that was the next thing that happened. Heartbreaking music followed by blam followed by me looking up at Fancyfeet who's all “look into my eyes…” and whoosh, up I go.

His head was roomier than you'd expect. There was a shack in the middle of a calm ocean which stretched endlessly in all directions, so yeah, little bit bigger on the inside. One side of the shack was open to the air and there was a short pier and a guy sitting at the end of it with his feet dangling just above the water. He was casting a line and he turned when I fwozhonged into existence and said, “cats making sweet if discordant love regardless of the elements raging around them! So good to see you, my boy!” There was something about him that seemed kinda familiar but I couldn't place him. And there was other stuff going on that was vying for my attention.

It was a sort of tavern. There were tables and chairs and and a bar behind which stood a rack of colourful liquors and a barmaid who, when I looked at her, phwrmphed into a different form, assuming the face of the dude who'd just been at the end of the pier. He was kinda rangy, with a wide-brimmed straw hat and black hair pulled back into a ponytail and a goatee-moustache combo that he probably thought made him look suave. Let's call him Rico. But he wasn't concerned with me, he was watching the bottles in the rack. The liquid inside them was turning purple. Sorta amethyst purple, to get real specific.

There was a bit of a brouhaha around me as the patrons of this no doubt highly respectable if headcentric establishment noticed their drinks all going strange. Let me take a moment in the midst of this unfolding scene to talk about the patrons. In the words of the philosophers: What. The Living. FUCK?! They were sort of split down the middle. On one side of the room, you had the regular-ish type people: humans and elves and dwarfs and what-have-you. On the other, you had what I can only describe as mid-transformation wereowls, with feathers sprouting out of them in weird random places, some with beaks and some not, some with one round, yellow owl eye and some with two. Some of them were trying to maintain a semblance of normality by sitting very erect in their chairs and daintily raising their purple drinks (some with umbrellas in them? and bits of fruit? why…?) between their talonesque fingers, but some were well on their way to full owlness and were squatting up in the rafters, shitting on those below. And let me tell you, the only thing worse than people poo is wereowl poo. The worst of both worlds.

There seemed to be a strained sort of detente between the wereowl half of the room and the comparatively sophisticated other half. But simmering tensions were coming to a head with this new purplification of the booze. And now little purple vines were creeping out of all the glasses, and popping the corks on the bottles. A giant dude with grey skin sitting at the end of the bar on the relatively normal side of the room – drinking out of a flagon rather than a little pinky-finger glass – seemed to find this super hilarious.

Above the rack of liquor bottles were two bright, round windows (shaped and coloured like, take a guess… got it yet? owl eyes) which Rico was now observing intently. In the pupil of each a sort of herky-jerky scene was playing out, twitchy and full of steam, but I recognized the hill where I'd just been. A noise behind me made me turn and I saw purple fish jumping up out of the ocean onto the pier and flip-flopping into the tavern. Streaks of silent purple lightning were splitting the blue, cloudless sky. I went to tap Rico on the shoulder, because his back was to me and I don't think he noticed any of this, but as I reached out he took off his straw hat to scratch his head and… okay okay, breathe… it's over now. And two owl eyes opened in the back of his head. An owl beak grew from the hair just below them and slurped up Rico's ponytail like a noodle and opened to say, re: the fish, “Oh wow, that can't be good….” in Birdbro's voice.

FUCK!!” I screamed, following it up with, “Whaaa?!” because I talked! Like, I made my own words!

Then I felt something cold and clammy and wet slap me from behind and suddenly a fish was wriggling down the back of my shirt. I flailed around like a big spazzy crow and then whaddayaknow, there's Punchy. Standing right behind me while I dance around in an unchill manner decidedly in contrast to my usual wont. My usjzh wont? No no….

I forgot all about the fish for a second. “Hey Punchy!” I said, “I can talk! My name's fucking-”

And blam! I'm back on the hill. Twanger asked me what the dealio was and I said “Fish” in the voice of Afedd the fishmonger and it was back to business as yooszjhoowul.

Some more stuff happened. We ran into Gloamtramp and broke the bad news (RIP Sturlan, never forget) and rang a bell because why not and Fancyfeet – who needs a new name now, let's call him Strangebrain – turned into a colossal mess of brambles and tried to eat us and I was like, “Not twice in one day, my lad!” and thwack with the daggers – or thwack and swish if I'm being honest – and then two screaming trees erupted nearby and turned into people who I happened to know since I'd guided them to Fogwhale just before hitching my wagon to Twanger's shooting star, one of whom I'd never been able to tell on our journey if s/he was a dude or a chick but which, now, having just sprung screaming and naked from the earth, was shown with uncomfortable clarity to be the former. My memory isn't always… I mean, I like to leave things loose so that the connections can happen, that's what makes Art, it sort of emerges on its own like a constellation from the nebulae, ya know? But I remembered this guy. His head once did this thing where shadows surrounded it and took the shape of a horse's skull with a horn growing from the forehead and it was goddamn terrifying, but not like when Twanger's head did the RWAAAAUUUUM thing, more in an oooOOOooooEEE! way. So many heads doing so many things.

The other “person” sprouting from the earth was a short dragonish dude. Kinda liked him. Hi Scaly! And then Baldy the Nerd – from that same journey – came out of the bushes looking frazzled but better than the other two and the ground collapsed and we were all falling and whump.

There was a giant floating head made of fire and a guy made of wood and a cackling little imp thing also mostly made of fire and I almost DIED (Iskyn saved me… that's her thanks, I used her real name, but that's all she gets!) and then there was a dude with a mouth for a head…? I was a bit disconnected from it all, to be honest. Strangebrain shut down after trying to kill us and Sparky dragged him behind us as we tried to get back to the surface because Punchy was still trapped inside, and I couldn't help hanging back and searching those black, crow-eating eyes for a way back in. I mean, it was weird as FUCK in there… but I could talk! I had my own words. But that doorway was closed, it seemed. All I could see were abstract purple shapes forming and breaking apart in the inky depths.

No biggie, I'm used to being misunderstood. Just hard getting back to the yoosjzhjshze. I'll always have my music though. And Flowerfinger.

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The Unchillening

"Plinker” the Kenku can't communicate except through mimicry. But if he could tell the tale of his recent adventures, it might go something like this.

So there has been a significant absence of chill around here lately. A high pressure system of definite unchillness has moved in from the north and settled in to dechillify our immediate environs for the foreseeable future.

First of all, we met our new best friend, Sir Stentorian (I know big words), who took niggling details like being whacked over the back of the head while some strange Kneldians were trying to achieve a contact high from his presumed “ravelling sickness” (apparently they took his eccentricity as a sign of the disease) very much in stride. I liked him a lot. We all liked him. He was like a flickering flame of hope in the weird thorny darkness. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying anyone could replace the Badgeru in our hearts… but he came pretty close to filling the Badgeru-shaped hole. And he had a pet wyvern! How cool is that? Its name was Greenbreeze.

Jump cut to half an hour later, as Sir Stentorian's corpse slides off the tip of Greenbreeze's pointy tail and fwmphs to the ground.

Sucks deeply on his pipe. This 'leaf just isn't cutting it anymore. Should have thought ahead and rolled Sturlan around in the pouch a bit more before I handed him over to Twanger. I mean, a senseless waste of fairy life and all, for sure… but not without some benefits.

(sotto voce) … but at least I still have you, Flowerfinger….

But I skipped over the part where Twanger interrogated one of the captive dark elves, one of the ones wearing sorta luminous purple blindfolds, and he went on and on about Yonna… vonna? or something, until she put an arrow through his eye. It's like, harsh.

Strap in, we haven't even started with the freaky shit yet. There's lots more where that came from.

Sparky went off to talk to the sparrow and came back looking very shaken. His scales were barely doing the vzzchkskss at all. Needs a new name now. Sad Sparky.

Oh yeah, and this is the part where Sir Stentorian woke up and started ranting about Greenbreeze. Chronology, man, what a pain. And then we heard a screechy, wyverny scream off to the… that way, followed by some kind of giant… goose explosion? Lots of honking, is what I'm saying. Sir Stentorian was all “Greenbreeze!” and charged off in that direction on his imaginary steed. I mean, not actually, but a steed would've definitely enhanced the dramatic effect he was aiming for, especially if it did like a rearing thing with maybe its hooves flashing purple in the moonlight….

Strumming. Wordless female crooning abruptly cut off.

Whoops. Anywho, we followed him. Came to a wyvern with a broken wing whose chill levels were epically low. It was screaming at that dude who made me play for him, you know, the dude who flung me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carried me through the Kneld for, like, ever when I first got here. Forget his name. One of the goatmen, the really drunk one, called him Lord Amalamadingdong, something like that, and the other one called him the, uh… the Tailor? He was all sprawled out with thin strands of vine attaching him to scraps of white leather or skin which were scattered all over the place and which looked suspiciously like his honking white mandogs with the trumpet mouths, just more flat and shredded. There has to be a better name for them than that. Honkies? Sure, why not.

There was another dude with an owl's head watching from nearby with his dog. Fancyfeet wasn't exactly beaky and unresponsive the way he sometimes gets, but the zone of antichill seemed to have descended upon him from on high as well, so I thought, maybe a new friend is in order? Birdbros? Which – fine, I admit – sounds lame as all hell, but… the Kneld, man! It's a fucking scary place!

Case in point: see above. Fwmph. RIP Sir Stentorian, our short-lived best friend ever.

Meanwhile, Sad Sparky was trying to save Lord Amalamadingdong from the wyvern but the jerk didn't want to be saved, kept moaning shit like, “No, leave me to my fate, my time is done….” Sad Sparky wasn't having any of it, just threw him over his shoulder and dragged him off, trailing a few of the white Honky skins. HA! Who is the bag of potatoes now, Lord Potatobag?! IT IS YOU! Would've high-fived Sad Sparky but… well, you know. He's still Sparky. Also, hate to say it, but Sad Sparky is my favourite version of Sparky. Didn't want to cheer him up too much. I mean, his scales are, like, hypnotic when he's angry, but I've got Flowerfinger now. Look at how its petals revolve! And all the colours. And the sound quality isn't great, kinda tinny like a faraway music box, but there's a tune there, as it spins. I mean, I think it's a melody but it doesn't repeat, or if it does, it takes a long, long time to circle around on itself… an ocean with notes like flashes of sunlight tinkling on the waves….

A few tentative dulcimer plucks.

So then a bunch of stuff happened, all of it crazy and/or bad. Pajamas cast a fireball at Birdbro? I'll spare the WTF's because 1) Mother Hen says it's bad to speak ill of the dead (you'll see in a sec), and 2) maybe s/he knew something we didn't? Because right after that, while Pajamas was flailing away in a cube of darkness someone vwomphed to keep him/her out of trouble, a rabbit dug its way up out of the ground and Birdbro snagged it and bit its head off and drank its blood. Twanger was like, “I'll have some of that, if you please,” and glugluglug. Blood and rabbit bits all in her hair. You think you know someone, and then they drink a rabbit. Not everyone saw it, luckily – the cube of darkness was in the way – because if they had, it would've been Vom City.

Lord Amalamadingdong was still making a big show out of “dying.” He took one look at Twanger, all covered in bunny gore, and was like, heart eyes. “Sucks to be us,” he said, “having found each other just as I cross over into the dark beyond…” or words to that effect, and croak.

Then everyone got to gravedigging, to bury Sir Stentorian and Sturlan who… okay, fine, he was getting a little past his prime. Everyone except Pajamas, that is, who thought it'd be a good idea to go poke the freaky looking dude who was playing dead and also – by the way – filled with tiny vines which stitched his wounds back together, not to mention the other vines which had bound him to the torn-up Honkies, now littering the forest and slowly inching across the ground towards him and beginning to recover enough to let out a few feeble squawks… there were a wealth of details indicating that looting the dude might not be the best idea, is what I'm saying.

Long story short, he swatted Pajamas' looting fingers away a few times before s/he decided to go for his ring, whereupon Lord Potatobag dropped his act and disembowelled him/her with the curved hook on said ring. Then croak again.

Retch.

I mean, I don't want to make light of it. It was a total bummer. But I had just watched a wyvern impale an elf lord and then an owl man rip the head off a live rabbit…. There's sort of a gore saturation point, you know? After a while, you're just like, “Huh, I guess that happened.”

Punchy hadn't quite reached that point yet. He didn't have a Flowerfinger to keep him grounded. He was like NOPE! and bolted. The others abandoned their gravedigging and took off after him. We found him a little ways away, panting a bit, all like, “I'm cool. What? You're the ones who are freaked out.”

Twanger and the Bunnyhater got to talking as we travelled, the end result of which was that Twanger blew this black horn thing that the Bunnyhater gave her and her eyes went black and there was a roaring noise from her head and a silver mark lit up on her forehead and- you know what? ENOUGH! Read the room, Twanger! We're all in a very delicate state right now. Just five seconds without some fucked up Kneldesque nonsense, that's all I'm asking. FIVE SECONDS!

(sotto voce) … what's that, Flowerfinger? you think I should kill them all…?

Just kidding… or am I?

Nah, I totally am. Flowerfinger is all love.

Technically, I suppose it was more than five seconds until the next crazy thing happened, but spiritually, it was less. Fancyfeet made a humming sound and hissed steam and pounced on the Bunnyhater, pinning him to the ground. His eyes started flashing and the Bunnyhater crumpled up and vwoosh went up into Fancyfeet's black eyes.

We were all on the same page for once. We kicked the shit out of Fancyfeet. I mean, I might have momentarily lost track of what was happening, but I got there in the end. Then we made a litter and tied him down to keep him from doing anything else weird. Enough is enough. We had one nerve left, Fancyfeet. Now we have none. Nerve murderer!

(singing softly) … Flowerfinger, my only friend, together we'll be 'til the end….

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Deeper into the Heart of Crowness

"Plinker” the Kenku can't communicate except through mimicry. But if he could tell the tale of his recent adventures, it might go something like this.

Okay, two important things:

1) I've been keeping Sturlan's, uh… what's a better word than “bits”? Remains! Next to the 'leaf in my pouch. And I think maybe pixie, um… goo? Gore? Giblets? Has the same sorta effect as pixie dust, maybe? Assuming pixie dust has any effect, I'm not a Kneldologist. And assuming that one of those effects is making your 'leaf potent as hell because I feel gooooooood.

2) I'm running out of 'leaf.

3) Wait, was Sturlan a pixie? Or a sprite. Is there a difference? Oh snap, am I a racist now?

So we found some junk after we slew the man-spiders and Pa “Lightfingers” Jamas lifted it all, as per usual. Thinking about approaching him/her for a cut of the profits in exchange for keeping my beak shut, because I have a hard time believing that anyone else is seeing this brazen shit. Fancyfeet got all weird and withdrawn again, his bulges smoothing and his face going kinda beaky again and his head twitching from side to side like an owl's. Creepy. We were just starting to bond too. Twanger climbed a tree and came back with some purple webbing. Oh yeah, we found the third piece of Grumpy's bowl too. Trumpet fanfare! Angelic choir!

4) I have a very small sorta currant-coloured flower growing out of where that thorn bit me. Little bit weird. No-one's said anything about it though so it's probably nothing to worry about.

Speedy showed up again (hi Speedy!) and did a little dance and said that he'd been manipulating us from the beginning and we were his leaf puppets pulled by the strings of his genius breeze or uhh… I sorta spaced out. He seemed pretty stoked about it all though so I gave him a surreptitious little thumbs up before he zipped off. It's nice to see people happy.

The Badgeru (sob) introduced us to her friend, who was a sparrow, because of course he was. Twanger wanted to go to Torenkh to see if Grumpy could fix the bowl but the sparrow tried to talk us into going to a place called Snooloom for big money instead. This mirror is worth some coin, apparently. No-one seemed too into it though, so the Badgeru agreed to guide us to Torenkh because we helped rescue her sparrow, with the understanding that we would consider giving her the mirror at the end of the trip as a sort of tip.

We made camp a little ways away so we wouldn't be splashing around in man-spider blood. Sparky for some reason slapped Bellyshirt awake. She was not stoked. Rolled to her feet like fwwshaaa saying that a bargain had been made and we were breaking the terms, to which I was like whoaaaa lady, I just work here. So Sparky threw the invisibility lantern thing at her and she took off with it. Did I mention that he tried to zap Speedy too? Whatever he's smoking, it's not the good stuff. I'm done trying to get through to him.

5) Nah, I lied, the vwazhoom ksksks of his scales is pretty trippy. Sparky and passionate feline caterwauling during a thunderstorm forever.

So then we continued on and stumbled across this freaky dark elf dude standing in the middle of the road, with like all the sticky-outy bits of his head cut off and his eyes scooped out and then all sewn up with glowing purple thread. And the thread was all over his body too, like angular tattoos, and the mist was swirling around him up to his waist and I was like duuuude, you are trippy as BALLS, can you play bass? Because if so, I have a proposition.

A query left unanswered. He pointed his sword at Twanger. Pajamas tried to talk to him but that only seemed to piss him off and suddenly glomp we were in darkness. And then before we even had time to be properly, “oh shiii-” the Badgeru's head had been split in half by one of his swords.

Disconsolate plunk.

Beating angel wings

are setting the tempo for

the bounce of your boobs.

Apocalyptic cacophany!

I wasn't really feeling the vibe of the scene after that so I sorta hung back. They were fine though, more or less. The freak got murderized and I was like spits audition rejected, jerk. Then we got to grave digging. Badgerubummer. Had it with the Kneld, man. But at least the sparrow agreed to continue taking us to Torenkh.

And THEN! As if that wasn't enough, Twanger woke us all up in the middle of the night making this crazy loud moaning noise, staring into the shadows and going WHOOOOOAAAAOOOOOOO, then fell over backwards. When she got up there was a massive bruise on her forehead and little drops of blood all over the place, which she swore were silver. She said she'd seen the Huntress and I was just like, nope. This crow needs his beauty sleep.

The rest of them stayed up for a while though, arguing about whether a moon could also be a star, stuff like that. Punchy seemed pretty spooked by this talk of the Huntress, which, no shit man, I feel you. Then Sparky came out with the news that his “patron” – who, by the way, you might be interested to know, is THE GYRE – told him to kill the moon. I pulled my blanket higher around my head, hoping Punchy would follow my example. Also, Pajamas just happened to mention that, oh yeah, s/he is from Old Yonaddin, which hasn't been around for, like, ever. Punchy was pretty gallant under the circumstances: he offered him/her a place to stay. Couldn't help snorting at that.

When I woke up, it turned out that they'd decided that we were gonna follow this blood, ostensibly the blood of the motherfucking HUNTRESS, because apparently we are DERANGED!!

6) But I felt reeeaaally gooood. Very “let's see where the vagaries of fate take us” sort of vibe happening in my general vicinity. And Pajamas seemed to be feeling it too. Maybe a contact high? I haven't seen him/her smoke. We should share a bowl though. I mean, whether or not s/he really is from Old Yonaddin is still up for debate, but s/he thinks his/her whole world was destroyed basically yesterday so a few puffs of 'leaf couldn't hurt.

The trail of blood led to more dark elves, this time wearing glowy purple blindfolds. We smote the shit out of them. Barely broke a sweat. I was a dynamo of daggers, spinning them out in all directions. A cyclone of sllch, a dervish of death. And they seemed to be holding a bunch of weird Kneldy people captive so not only were we badasses, but badass HEROES!!

7) And what with the moon singing and the flower growing from my thumb pulsing and chiming, it was like the whole universe was screaming, “This is it! This is your time! You're the rhythmic centre of it all! YOU ARE THE CROW OF DESTINY!” High fives for all!

But I couldn't have done it without my peeps, so let's hear it for the little people too. Applause. Take a bow, peeps, you earned it.

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Plinker's Log, Stardate Unknown

"Plinker” the Kenku can't communicate except through mimicry. But if he could tell the tale of his recent adventures, it might go something like this.

So after I did the thing where I was all laaaaaa fwoosh vwaaaaa and pretty much, I mean, come on, pretty much invented a new art form right there, with all the singing and cluck rattle bang percussion sprinkled throughout, and the purple mist enshrouding me like a cloak and making me loom like a, you know, a spectral revenant or some shit – all it was missing, really, was flashing lights – and this isn't even getting into how pumped everyone was to be in the presence of this new art form I was creating on the spot… like we were fucked until I turned the tide of battle, is what I'm saying… did anyone go, wow, good job man? Hey there, crow dude, you really saved our collective bacon, not to mention the whole spontaneous upending of hundreds of years of musical tradition, you iconoclastic genius you?

Nobody gets it. It's just me and the music, man. Me and the music. Disconsolate plunk.

So then there was some noise about the statue and treasure and more wandering around in those tunnels with the black moss. I stuck close to Sparky. Mother Hen didn't raise no fools. Twanger (yes, I know her name is Iskyn) wasn't really into it but you can't really blame her for that. Those bats and blue… Sfarts? Ffffrrrp. They really kicked the shit out of her. Oh, she can turn into a tree person now. I was kinda impressed, honestly, but didn't show it. I mean, if she's gonna call me Plinker….

A nightingale made of smoke got crushed. Sparky made friends with the water thing in the pool. The grey lady, Bellyshirt, danced in front of the statue. Its eyes lit up but that's about it. The overall vibe was downcast.

Then! This weird dude made of, like, whitey-greeny plates and brambles with these freaky liquidy black eyes dropped out of the ceiling and totally schooled Bellyshirt! Started dancing like a maniac. It was like, whaaaaa? The statue was like, YES! THAT'S THE SHIT! and its eyes went vwwwnnng and the box in its lap went krrrrshakaclunk! Then Fancyfeet turned and looked at Twanger and it was like, uh oh, but instead of jumping her – it was thinking about it, for sure – its face split open and steam started pouring out and its eyes started flashing all these different colours and I was like… I mean, if the dancing hadn't already sold me, the lights would have. Fancyfeet would be killer in my act! And the steam and all… EPIC!

The steam cleared and now there were two kids standing there, Pajamas and Punchy. They seemed kinda freaked out by Fancyfeet and kept talking about fish. But I know what it feels like to be misunderstood so I sidled on up to the big guy and sorta indicated that I dug his style and we shared a bowl. It was cool.

Oh, but before that, a little gnome thing jumped out of the ground and tried to kill us and almost did kill Bellyshirt. It's like, seriously?

Then things calmed down for a while and we were all just sorta hanging out and it was pretty chill for once, until pebbles falling and we looked up and there was a tree man watching us. He didn't hang around. Still, fuck off already, Kneld.

Then a Badger woman – sort of like Kenkus are to crows is what she was to badgers, sort of a Badgeru – climbed down the rope. Not right after the tree man thing, more like hours later. She was pretty ripe. Said some stuff about a Quickling sending her our way, probably our buddy Speedy. Needed our help rescuing her friend from spider people because of course she did. I mean, of course! But also Speedy told her to pass on the message that the spiders had the third part of Grumpy's bowl. Oh yeah, we found two pieces of it on one of the dead sffffrrrps, the one who cut off the grey weirdo's head.

But then, while everyone was like, should we go kill some spider people then? the Badgeru was all, what's over here? and started looking like she wanted to climb into the statue's box. Sparky did a thing with some dice made of bones. Yech. Twanger and Punchy had some reservations but the Badgeru wasn't gonna let it go so we all jumped into the box. There was kind of an anticlimactic room at the end of a short corridor, with a table and some junk on it. Sparky pocketed a mirror and Pajamas lifted pretty much everything else. He/she didn't think anyone noticed but I saw. I saw. You develop a fifth sense… er, wait… one two three… a sixth sense for those kinds of light-fingered hijinks in the Unkindness.

One two… yeah, sixth. Huh. Might want to take it easy on the 'leaf for a bit.

So then it was on to spider slaughter. Pajamas wanted to light everything on fire while Twanger and Punchy were trying to be all stealth assassins but in the end it didn't matter because the spider people got wise to us anyway. Fancyfeet was like “watch over Bellyshirt!” in a big booming voice and ran off which, on the one hand, hey man, I'm not a nurse here, but on the other hand, cool voice, bro. Yoink! I'll just take that and put it in the library if you don't mind terribly.

A lot of stuff happened. Our victory was not easily gained but, covered in man-spider gore, we prevailed. And everyone, friends old and new, seemed suffused with a new confidence in their abilities. Also, pretty sure one of the Badgeru's boobs popped out during the fight. Didn't know I was into Badgeruboob until it happened. So it was a day of growth and learning for everyone.

Here's our battle in poem form.

four-armed, alarm-bristling

incarnations of the spectral, insectile behind-mind of the Breydd

scuttling numb and unloved, prickling and dark in gasping

psychedelic purple lashings

whip crack

Cease and desist your kinky shit!

Your spiderous tide of chkchkclkclk has crashed

and scattered into nonsense droplets

upon the stalwart rocks of Friendship!

Peace out. RIP Sturlan.

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Plinker Does A Thing

The nameless Dragonborn and the Crow – who we might as well go ahead and call Plinker, even though he doesn’t like that name – shared a moment of muted camaraderie smoking their churchwarden pipes by the campfire when they realized that they were both partially ensorcelled by the amethyst moon and had been hearing the same seductive song whenever they looked at it and had been fighting its pull for quite some time. “Moons, amirite?” “Moons, man… moons.” Then it was back to business.

The next “morning,” Iskyn stepped into a bear trap and at the same moment, a rather frantic looking blue guy (Hronoman had said they were Xvarts) jumped out from behind a tree and pointed a gnarled stick at the party, shouting, “Freezo!” Nothing happened, aside from an outburst of high pitched laughter nearby. But sensing the party’s hostile intent and perhaps inspired by his talk with Sturlan the “evening” before, Plinker leapt forward and stuck his rapier through the Xvart's black Xvartheart. Iskyn escaped the bear trap by swelling in size and growing a layer of bark which everyone accepted without comment because it’s the Kneld, man.

Continuing east, they came to a cave into which the river precipitously descended. The Dragonborn lit himself up like a nightlight and volunteered to descend into the darkness, fairly confident that he could make it down without incident, and tumbled to the bottom of the waterfall in a cacophony of clanging. The rest of the party followed more gracefully.

They found a marble tiled chamber with a rectangular pool in the middle, down the length of which a ten foot tall woman composed of water was performing an elegant, erotic dance. During brief pauses in the dance, her features contorted into something less enticing and more reptilian; then she continued on, as smooth and composed as before. The party noticed a dead Xvart bobbing in the pool and decided to leave the water woman be.

Although the river was now basically a subterranean aqueduct, the marble regularity of the architecture was interrupted in odd places by rough stone and the walls were splotched with black moss. They came to a cavern full of the eerily muffling moss and were set upon by two bipedal bug people. Luckily, the bugs seemed disinclined to enter the Dragonborn’s light, preferring to keep to the shadows, and so the party dispatched them with relative ease. Which, one can only assume, fostered the surge of hubris which led to the Dragonborn exploring a side tunnel and leaving his teammates – albeit recently met – in darkness.

Iskyn, able to see in the dark, freed a Xvart from where the moss had it partially cocooned and while she tended to it as best she could, she was attacked from behind by another of the bug people and paralyzed by its claws. Sturlan, although unable to see much of anything, hurried to the source of the commotion and flailed out with his tiny blades. For his efforts, he was rent in twain. Sturlan Upanpey, Emissary of the Upanpey Clan and Sworn Protector of the Kneld, was dead.

The Dragonborn’s tunnel led to an exit from the cave system. But rather than follow it outside, he returned to the others, and the bug person fled from his approaching light. Plinker gathered up the Sprite’s nearly bisected corpse, since Iskyn and the Dragonborn didn’t seem to want to touch it – preferring to bicker – and the party continued down the river until it led out of the caverns once more. They decided to camp and lick their wounds.

They tied the rescued Xvart to a tree. During their rest it began to twitch its head and struggle frantically against its bonds. Iskyn took pity and released it, whereupon the Xvart took off east, away from the cavern, with the party following to see where it went. After ten minutes, one of the bug people materialized out of the shadows to attack the Dragonborn, who was taking up the rear. Its over-confidence was repaid with death. At that, the Xvart ceased its flight. Using pantomime – since the Xvart only seemed to understand the coarse, bestial tongue of its fellows – Iskyn and Plinker persuaded it to take them to its lair, which it did by leading them back upriver, the way they’d come, and pointing at the cavern entrance. Then it wandered off, despite the Dragonborn’s grumbling.

The party rested for another couple of hours, until Plinker – whose head was thrown back and eyes were glazed as he stared up at the amethyst moon – began pouring purple mist from his eyes and ears and mouth. The party retreated into the cave as the oozing mist caressed the nearby brambles, bringing them to shambling life. They dispatched the bramblemen and were getting ready to bash Plinker over the head to fix his mist-leaky noggin when the Kenku shook himself and returned to his senses. Moons, man. They continued back into the cavern.

Taking an unexplored side tunnel, they found the body of a small, wizened, grey-skinned creature under a small pile of dead Xvarts. Among his possessions were a lantern (which the Dragonborn immediately claimed) and a quiver of arrows, two of which had silvery-white fletching. Travelling further, the party came upon a young, grey-skinned Elvish woman (dressed a little bit more provocatively than seemed strictly necessary, given the situation) bound to a wall by the black moss, laughing and babbling to herself. In the centre of the marble tiled room was a brazier; above it, embedded in the ceiling, was a bird made of black metal, about the size of a large button. While Iskyn looked after the woman, the Dragonborn set about lighting a fire. The smoke from the brazier ascended and a bird took shape, composed of smoke, seemingly unable to fly beyond the confines of an invisible column. The faint song of a nightingale could be heard. After drinking some water, the grey woman said, “I think we have something for that. A birdcage.” The Dragonborn lit the lantern to see what it illuminated (which had already become his go-to move in unfamiliar situations) and when she saw the lantern, the woman seemed distressed and asked them to take her to where they’d found it.

She wept when she saw the body of the wizened, half-gnomic, half-elfin creature. But she soon composed herself and introductions were exchanged, during which Iskyn finally learned the Dragonborn’s name: Nero. The grey woman, who was named Aumeth, made the party an offer: they could keep the lantern (which was a Lantern of Revealing) if they helped her retrieve something for her client (a mirror and something else… she’d know it when she saw it). Her story: a Quickling had led her and her companions to the Xvarts with the promise that they would be of aid (“I don’t think he meant well,” she mused) but instead, as soon as they’d all entered this place, the Xvarts attacked her, then each other, and then the bug people fell upon them. During the chaos Aumeth was paralyzed and dragged off to be tormented by the bug people. Supposedly what she sought was in the main chamber of this place.

After a short detour during which Aumeth murdered a couple of terrified Xvarts in their bed – to the censure of no-one – they headed to the main chamber and found the way blocked by a collapsed ceiling, the barricade fortified by tables and chairs from the other side. Nero released his inner thunder and partially demolished the crude barrier without bringing down any more of the ceiling; then, tempting fate, he stuck his glowing head through the opening he’d just cleared and got two rays of fire in the face, knocking him on his ass. But he shook it off in a matter of seconds and leapt to his feet, ready to go.

At this point Aumeth thought to mention that there was another entrance into the main chamber, from above, which might have been nice to know, say, thirty seconds ago. So the party decided to go check it out and, on the way, they came upon another Xvart trapped by the black moss, only its nose and arm emerging to twitch feebly. Nero smashed its head in without hesitation, to Iskyn’s shock and outrage. “What?” he said. “I thought we were doing this now.”

They found the ceiling entrance, a hole in the hills, and although it was difficult to get a read on exactly how many were down there – since the moon outlined the heads of anyone looking through the hole, thus inviting sling stones from below – it was clear that the floor was a long way down. Iskyn, perhaps inspired by the Huntress, volunteered to leap down into the midst of this group of enemies of indeterminate number while Nero charged in through the front door. They agreed that this was an excellent, foolproof plan.

Their timetable was accelerated a tad when Iskyn heard chanting from below and decided to leap down ahead of schedule; luckily, Nero was already in position so the "plan" wasn't affected. During the ensuing battle, the Xvart who’d been doing the chanting cut off his captive’s head – Aumeth’s brother’s wife, apparently named Vreen – and was granted a brief magical glow in return, which didn’t do him much good because Iskyn slew him anyway. But it was a hard battle, full of Xvarts and giant bats and giant rats, and things looked pretty grim for a while and all might have been lost were it not for Plinker, who reached deep within himself and pulled out a new trick: he played a song which incorporated the one he’d been hearing from the moon, but woven around and through the woman’s beguiling voice were mimicked sounds of nature and clamour not traditionally considered musical and seemingly plucked at random from day-to-day life but rendered beautiful in this particular melodic context, and during the playing he seemed to swell in size and become much more impressive and awe-inspiring, and his example encouraged his companions to rally on the brink of death and to fell the last of their foes. Huzzah for Plinker, our Hero!

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Iskyn Mysticaltreebane

The denizens of the Kneld rallied to fight back a wave of creatures composed of twigs, and then another composed of branches and evergreen needles – Iskyn accounting for five all told – and the mist receded.

The lack of sleep, the waning adrenaline and the injuries she’d received during the fight caused Iskyn to nearly swoon. To restore her flagging energy, Hronoman conjured some magic berries for her to eat. Meanwhile, Sturlan seemed indignant that the mist had crept so far south so soon. “The moon shouldn’t be this close yet!” he said. “Is someone looking at the moon?”

Everyone noticed more or less as one a tailed Dragonborn standing among the roots of the Treeshade, staring unvaryingly up at the now quarter-full amethyst moon. Approaching him, Iskyn saw that he wore a cloak of autumn leaves, somehow – miraculously – hanging together in spite of its obviously well-travelled state. The Dragonborn was not exactly forthcoming about his purpose or origin, and not very receptive to being told not to look at the moon, even when Sturlan tried to persuade him with a tiny arrow from his tiny bow. Only when it was explained to him that his gaze was bringing the moon – and the mist – closer, and that this was not a good thing, did he deign to heed their words and look away. Then he caught sight of the fox skin peeking out of Iskyn’s backpack and his cloak of leaves immediately disintegrated with a sigh. After that, he seemed to consider himself bound to follow the Half-Elf wherever she went, without explaining why or even properly introducing himself. She didn’t exactly object, but she didn’t introduce herself to him either. BFFs? BFFs.

Then a horn sounded out at bone-quaking volume – like the Huntress’ horn in the Mara Derugwaine, but much louder – and Sir Amalanque bestirred himself for the first time. With a twitch of his fingers, he caused the subdermal briars in his manhounds to entangle and bind the two of them together into a single, pony-sized creature which he mounted and rode off to the northeast, in the direction of the horn’s source. Sturlan explained that it was the time of the Vile Gala, when the “rules” slipped for the Court of the Unmoored, and that he’d probably gone to hunt the Huntress. Which worried Iskyn, as she’d pledged herself to the Huntress, but the Sprite assured her that the Huntress could take care of herself.

After some deliberation, Iskyn and Hronoman agreed to retrace their steps and search for the point where Sir Amalanque had flung the Knocking Bowl into the brush. Sturlan, observing that they were adrift in deep waters, agreed to aid them in their quest while Gloamtramp covered the southern retreat of those seeking refuge from the moon – apparently known as Yonavora – and its mist. Gloamtramp was saddened to part from the sprite, but Iskyn vowed to look after him, and in return Gloamtramp bestowed a blessing upon her. Then, since Iskyn was still nearly falling over from exhaustion, they all camped amongst the roots of the Treeshade, everyone – except the Dragonborn – sleeping soundly under its whispering branches. While they slept, the last of the leaf scavengers quit the tree and headed south.

They were woken by Gloamtramp making unintentionally comical sounds of alarm and pointing north, from which direction the mist was once more creeping, this time streaked purple in places, almost like tentacles. When it touched the roots of the Treeshade, the enormous tree began to quake and groan, its branches flailing, and purple-skinned wood nymphs with black leaves began pulling themselves free from its bark. The party dispatched them quickly – aided by a sheet of flame Hronoman shot from his fingers, regardless of the feelings of the Treeshade – while Gloamtramp waved her branches in helpless distress. Sturlan managed to convince her to retreat before they were assaulted by another wave of the Dry-MADS (eh? eh?) which were still erupting from the Treeshade, and as they fled across the grasslands they watched the wondrous, otherworldly tree devolve into a mass of writhing, self-cannibalizing purple nymph flesh. C’est la vie.

Given her state of mind, Sturlan convinced Gloamtramp to travel east with them for a time.

Upon entering the forest, Iskyn was approached by a Quickling named Xenestrio who said that he’d overheard their conversations at the Treeshade (RIP) and knew where the Knocking Bowl was and that he’d lead them there because goodness was its own reward and they shouldn’t believe any of the nasty rumours they might have heard about him, oh no, because even if they were true, the rumours, those days were long behind him. Everyone could immediately tell that he was up to no good, but since he was the only lead they had, they followed him.

They came upon a river, on the other side of which a scantily clad Elvish woman was watching a bear try to disentangle itself from a net trap while a group of very un-Smurflike blue-skinned men about three feet high (accompanied by giant rats) tried to coax her into moving a bit away from it. Hronoman called out to the blue men in their own bestial language while Iskyn’s first move was to shoot an arrow at the woman’s feet to warn her away from the bear. The woman seemed amused by the arrow more than anything, so the Dragonborn tried to set her on fire. Twice. He succeeded the second time, startling her, and one of the blue men seized the opportunity to dash forward and grasp her hand and try to flee with her. But the blue men were not very organized, and when Iskyn made a miraculous one-shot kill through the branches of two trees, striking the rearmost of their number through the neck, the rest of them decided to boot it. The Dragonborn didn’t let them. Instead, he burned them to ash, as is his wont.

With all the blue men dead (and Sturlan questing north to vanquish the last of the giant rats), Gloamtramp explained that the Elvish woman – who, it now appeared, had fleshy scales covering her body – was one of the Unmoored and had to be taken to Torenkh to be “bound” before she caused a greater unravelling. Hronoman seemed fascinated by the woman and volunteered to accompany the Treant on the journey south, after first performing some magic on Xenestrio – who had reappeared from wherever he went, drawn by the Dragonborn’s fiery BOOM! – to detect any mischief on the Quickling’s part. Since it seemed that Xenestrio was telling the truth when he said that the blue men were in possession of the Knocking Bowl, and the Dwarf was reasonably certain that the party could handle those little guys, Gloamtramp and Hronoman set off without delay, while Sturlan – returned from his ratquest – stayed with Iskyn and the others to act as their guide.

And the party made camp.

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An exhausting wave of weirdness

When her vision returned, Iskyn was standing in a roughly egg-shaped burrow. The walls and floor were covered with spindly, intricate, thorny tendrils of bone, at first appearing random but after a second glance revealing patterns reminiscent of human forms, specifically those found carved into the shallow stone bowl in the Skeanlands (ie. the perpetual orgy), shifting continuously, making the celebrants in the orgy appear to move. Living, thorned roots invaded the burrow from the ceiling and the upper parts of the walls and seemed to be vying with the bone tendrils, trying to grapple with them and shift them, but the bones seemed oblivious to their attempts despite their seeming delicacy. Perhaps most bizarrely, all of the furniture in the burrow was an outgrowth of the bone tendrils: wardrobe, cupboard, three tables, five chairs, bed, fireplace. Wooden bowls and crude alchemical equipment had been tossed about the place, and it looked like an unsuccessful attempt had been made to overturn the bed. Impaled on the long thorns protruding from the table in the middle of the room was a great grey owl, split open, with charred strips of it dangling loose. Iskyn noticed a sweet, pungent, vaguely energizing smell in the air. The chairs around the table had been covered with coloured leather rags, perhaps to protect from the thorns; while not a leatherworker, Iskyn was fairly certain she didn’t want to know what kind of creature the leather had come from.

Also, Hronoman was tied to a chair near the fireplace and a loud banging was coming from inside the bone wardrobe.

Iskyn finished untying Hronoman just as a the wardrobe burst open and a large skeletal creature stepped out. Seven feet tall, somewhat lopsided, composed of mismatching bones and with a large, misshapen wolf’s skull for a head, the figure took in the sorry state of its burrow and said, in a woman’s voice, “Oh.” She seemed embarrassed to be seen naked and began gathering the scraps of dyed leather scattered about to cover her shame. While doing so, she noticed Hierophant the owl – who had followed Iskyn unnoticed through the “portal” and was now perched near the remains of the burnt owl, twitching its head erratically – and grew indignant that her uninvited visitors hadn’t brought a gift with them, as a sign of respect. Iskyn offered the fox skin but while the bone creature seemed amused by it, saying, “Oh, I would’ve loved to see his face when that happened,” she wasn’t interested in causing herself trouble by taking it. She was, however, very interested in Hierophant, but as soon as she vocalized this interest, the owl escaped through the burrow’s only – and crudely dug – exit.

This was enough for the creature, who seemed to be having a difficult day. Plunging her hand into the earth beneath the table in the middle of the room, she drew out a finger bone, the source of the bone tendrils. As it emerged, all the spindly bone architecture retracted towards it to form a skeleton baby, which the bone woman placed in a sling around her neck. Then, leaving all her bowls and alchemical equipment strewn about the place, she dove into the earth and disappeared, at which point the burrow began shrinking like a wound healing at super speed, forcing Iskyn and Hronoman to flee outside.

They found themselves in a twilit land of brambles and floating lights. Hronoman explained that they were in the Kneld.

After starting a small fire with fallen branches, Hronoman told (some of) his story. He’d come here intentionally to observe the stars, which he’d read remained fixed in position, unlike those in the Skeanlands. He bamfed into the bone crone’s burrow and was hit over the head and knocked unconscious before he could get his bearings. He awoke to find himself tied to the chair. The crone was performing some sort of ritual over the dead grey owl but before she could finish, a tall, bald man in black robes, accompanied by two half-man, half-hound creatures and two satyrs, dug down into her burrow – creating the tunnel through which Iskyn and Hronoman had escaped – and locked her in the wardrobe. The tall bald man snapped his fingers, conjuring a violet flame which ignited some kind of ethereal, lacy substance hovering over the owl, and his two man-dogs – who had trumpet-shaped snouts – sucked up the majority of the resultant smoke. The invaders were very jolly until a Kenku bamfed into the room. After a moment of tension, one of the satyrs noticed the dulcimer on his back and convinced him to play. The crow man reluctantly obliged and everyone was merry again until a faerie dragon fluttered down into the burrow and whispered something to the tall man, whereupon they all vacated, taking the Kenku with them. Not long after that, Iskyn appeared.

As he spoke, Iskyn noticed that the Dwarf’s armour, which had been plain wood when last she’d seen him five years ago, had been treated to make it shimmer like gold in places, and in the dim light, two tiny sparks of gold glimmered deep in his eyes.

He also told her that while rummaging around the crone’s burrow, the bald man had found the bowl Hronoman had brought with him as his means of returning home – something called a Knocking Bowl – and stolen it. So rather than spend any more time in conversation, the two of them resolved to pursue the tall man and retrieve the bowl (and maybe the Crow).

But the tall man and his entourage seemed in a hurry to get somewhere, and the thorns were thick, so the best Iskyn could do was keep pace, neither gaining on her quarry nor falling behind. After a few hours of travel, the sun that had been on the verge of setting since her arrival finally set and a hushed nightfall descended upon the alien forest. A sliver of an amethyst moon rose over the trees and whenever Iskyn caught a glimpse of it through the branches, it seemed ever so slightly fuller… and closer.

They came across a satyr collapsed in a bush, apparently passed out from exhaustion and too much drink. After some pugilistic coaxing, he told them that the tall man was a member of the Court of the Unmoored named Sir Amalanque Aurengris the Ongoing and they had all been heading towards something called a Treeshade to gather its leaves – which were apparently quite valuable in the Kneld – before it was stripped bare. To avoid further violence, the satyr – whose name was Ryuss – agreed to lead Iskyn and Hronoman to the Treeshade.

Hours later, the forest gave way to grasslands and eventually they came upon a great, spreading ash tree looming in the amethyst moonlight. Its slowly weaving branches were clad in thousands of multicoloured leaves which drifted down in a gentle, whispering rain, both from the windless sway of the branches and from the dozens of fey creatures clambering about in the shifting maze of the canopy. The Crow was among them and seemed pleased to be reunited with Iskyn, although less pleased to find her in Hronoman’s company, around whom he seemed wary and guarded. Hronoman’s feelings for the Crow – whose name, he said, was Plinker – were only a shade less severe than outright contempt.

Sir Amalanque stood at some distance from the tree, observing it dispassionately, accompanied by his two freakish dogmen. He was supremely uninterested in Iskyn and Hronoman and their questions; all they managed to get out of him was that he’d thrown away the bowl to see if it could fly.

A sprite named Sturlan Upanpey approached and sympathized with their difficulties and introduced them to his friend/home, Gloamtramp. Before they could speak much further, some of the fey creatures in the branches noticed a low mist creeping across the grasslands from the north and sounded a warning. Sturlan readied himself for battle with eagerness and invited Iskyn to join him. In spite of her extreme tiredness, she agreed without hesitation.

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Iskyn and Crow, Sittin' in a Tree, Kay Eye Ess Ess-

Iskyn grew up in the Mara Derugwaine, raised by various Eirjionek bands, with no clue as to her true parentage. As a Half-Elf and presumed foundling, she never truly belonged among them; while they weren’t exactly cruel to her, they tended to treat her as less-than. At the age of twelve, after a fight between two brothers over a woman which resulted in one of the brothers – the more reasonable and popular one – getting thrown into the Nilmist, and the winning (unpopular) brother assuming leadership over the band she was with, Iskyn decided to strike out on her own. Although she occasionally tagged along with other bands for the sake of convenience in the following years, for the most part she lived a wild and somewhat lonely life in the deep forests.

In her travels she only really formed two attachments, both to Druids tending the coenhreffnors: one to Filaethric Berringston, an elderly and kind (if absent-minded and distant) Druid of the Circle of the Shepherd, and one to Hronoman, a bookish Hill Dwarf in whose sole company she spent a Rebraiding near the beginning of his tenure as a coenhreffnor caretaker. Hronoman – for some reason less stand-offish with her than his peers were – informed her that the reason the Eirjionek were kept at arms length by the Druids (aside from their natural tendency towards reclusivity) was that the Eirjionek were considered Woven, ie. not entirely real. He, however – after looking at her through a gem (which fascinated and delighted Iskyn) – was confident that she was actually Unwoven. He also spoke to her of coensewth and Luminous Looms and Druidic cities (a seeming contradiction in terms) and magic and Skeathes, and referred to the world at large as “Aramhethe,” all of which flew right over her head. But they got along fine, and parted as friends, although Iskyn only happened across his particular grove a few more times, the last time being when she was twenty.

Five years passed, during which she heard rumours of the founding of a settlement named Fogwhale which persisted in the same position from one Rebraiding to the next. Being leery of large groups of people due to her upbringing and temperament – and also having heard rumours of strange shadows prowling the Nilmist around this new settlement – she gave the fledgling town a wide berth.

In the winter of her twenty-fifth year (or thereabouts… no-one actually told her when her birthday was), in the days leading up to a Rebraiding, when the Huntress’ Horn sounded faintly throughout the forest, she came upon Filaethric’s coenhreffnor and found the old Druid crumpled and unconscious among its roots, without a mark on him. She brought him into his hut and tried to revive him, to no avail. He was responsive enough to drink water when she put it to his lips but his mind seemed elsewhere, trapped in a place of suffering. His owl and constant companion, Hierophant, was absolutely no help during these difficult times. Only once over the next few days did Filaethric awaken, to whisper, “Watch his left hand….” And shortly after, he died. Iskyn buried him near the tree he so loved.

Exhausted from digging in the frozen ground, she slept (outdoors, as was her wont) and was woken in the middle of the night by the sound of a crow man knocking on the door to Filaethric’s hut. When she called out to him, he sprinted past her and climbed rapidly up the coenhreffnor, where he watched her from a safe distance. Eventually – although communication was difficult, seeing as the crow man spoke through mimicked sounds and phrases rather than traditional speech – an accord was reached between them and the crow man convinced Iskyn to help him exhume Filaethric, whereupon he placed a strange gold-veined acorn in the unfortunate Druid’s mouth and waited for something to happen, which it didn’t. Discouraged, he returned to his perch in the dreamtree and smoked his pipe and played discordant tunes on his dreamwood dulcimer. The owl continued to be no help whatsoever.

Around midmorning a fox man, clad in the manner of a lord (with his left hand cradled to his chest), suddenly spoke from next to Iskyn, somehow having managed to ninja his way deep into her zone of awareness. Her keen senses penetrated his illusion and saw that he was not actually a six foot tall fox but a fox of the four-legged variety, albeit large and mangy and feral-looking. He asked her permission to approach the tree, speaking with exquisite courtesy, but she declined. He seemed quite confident in his charm, however, and approached anyway, stopping only when one of the crow’s daggers whistled out of the tree and sank into his back. Iskyn retreated closer to the dreamtree’s trunk to stand guard over the Druid’s body and, seizing the opportunity, the fox darted forward and scratched a deep gouge into the tree’s nearest root with a filthy claw on his left front paw. Having accomplished his objective, he tried to flee, but an arrow from Iskyn’s bow nailed him to the forest floor. When she went to retrieve it, nothing was left of the fox but his empty, bloodless pelt.

Things went badly for the coenhreffnor over the course of that day. Knowing that Filaethric used to play music for the tree, Iskyn tried to rally its fighting spirit with a tune from her flute – accompanied by the crow man on his dulcimer – but an infection spread from the scratch, up its trunk, darkening its golden veins as it went and turning its leaves white and papery. By midnight the tree was black and motionless, and Iskyn knew that the nearest living coenhreffnor was days away; even travelling at her fastest pace, she wouldn’t make it before the Nilmist. Still, there was nothing left to do but try, so she and the crow man dragged Filaethric into his hut and set it ablaze before departing.

Or such was the plan, but as they warmed themselves for a moment by their impromptu pyre, they heard maniacal laughter coming from inside the dead coenhreffnor. As they approached it slowly, a cracking sound was followed by a hole appearing in its trunk. A head covered in rust-coloured fur poked out… and dropped out of sight again as soon as it saw them. Iskyn decided to follow it and, with much cajoling, the crow man reluctantly agreed to join her.

After widening the hole, they climbed down the inside of the hollow tree and found themselves in a round cave. A hyena standing near the cave’s only exit (other than the hole in the ceiling through which Iskyn and the Crow had descended) fled outside upon seeing them, into a land of eerily red light. Upon the walls of the cave were painted primitive scenes of a tree being split in half and some sort of ravenous wolf-headed (or perhaps fox-headed?) beast with blood dripping from its jaws rising from the splintered trunk.

Iskyn decided to take a peek outside and saw that the cave was situated at the end of a long ravine, its grey walls streaked with violently reddish stone. Nettles and boulders littered the floor of the deep canyon, and overhead an enormous crimson sun boiled in an oppressively gloomy sky. Further down the ravine she saw the strange beastman conferring with several of his fellows and gesturing in her direction. She decided that, in this instant, discretion was the better part of valour and scurried back up the rope.

And so she and the Crow fled through the winter forest, pursued by the hysterical laughter of hyenas. For a time they seemed to be drawing ahead, due to Iskyn’s familiarity with forest terrain, until she happened upon a Feyroad and decided to follow it north, in the hope that it would lead to some refuge from the imminent Nilmist. The hyenas followed, and began slowly gaining. The pursuit continued through the night, and the morning, and the afternoon, until snow began to fall and the winter sky to darken once again.

Whereupon Iskyn and the Crow came upon a large stone bowl sunk into the floor of a clearing, in suspiciously good repair and strangely bare of snow. Into its sides were carved scenes of interlocking, orgiastic debauchery and in its centre, on a circular pedestal, was a stone chair, on which it appeared that someone had recently tied a rabbit and burned it. Eerie, multicoloured points of light bobbed and drifted in the air around the chair.

Iskyn went looking for a some kind of forest creature to burn, telling the Crow to wait by the bowl as the hyenas drew ever closer. But when she returned to the bowl, having caught a vole, the Crow was nowhere to be seen. She searched hastily for some trace of him but as there were no birdprints leading away from the bowl and the hyenas were only getting closer, she approached the chair without him.

Before she could sacrifice her rodent, the lights swirled in through her eyes and ears and nose and mouth, buzzing warmly inside her head, and everything went dark.

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