My eyes feel as though they are clamped shut, but I force them open. At first the light is dazzling, but gradually the puckered faces of my companions resolve themselves. They are leaning over me, all four of them. Above is a dappled canopy of trees.
The forest. Yes. I remember.
The pressure in my chest eases and I try to sit up. Can’t. Something restrains me. Tree tendrils, green and supple, shoots sprouting every which way to cover me in a blanket of foliage. But it is a healing bind and I am not afraid. I close my eyes again and allow the soft song of the forest to lull me once more to sleep.
The next time I wake, an unfamiliar woman peers down at me. A cloud of white hair frames a face of a thousand creases. The vines have vanished and she helps me sit. Long shadows carve up a grassy clearing beside a well-tended hut. Birds hop along the ground and flitter among the tree tops. A couple of blue wrens perch on the woman’s narrow shoulders. There must be hundreds of birds in many varieties.
Alix notices I am awake and comes over first, followed closely by Intan. Both look hollow-eyed and brittle. They try to explain what’s going on, but they talk over each other and I have trouble understanding. Calwyn and Saffir arrive next and somehow I piece it together from the four of them.
I have been dead. This I do not remember.
As they talk it gradually comes back to me. Our abandonment by the bugbears and then the injured ogre. The surprise attack in the night by the owlbear. But I have no memory of the two giant beetles that attacked us the following afternoon… My stomach queases as they describe my death and then the merciful arrival on a giant eagle of Mahendra, the druid who has given my life back.
I give a silent prayer to Nievor, goddess of the vine, who has watched over me all my life. And another to Emrys, god of the forest, who has proved so benevolent. May he continue to watch over this new life I have been granted.
We loiter at Mahendra’s hut for another day while I recuperate, but I feel dull and listless, not sure what to do with myself. Saffir and I hunt, but this does not bring me peace as I mourn the doe we kill. It is not until Mahendra returns with a young white wolf that my spirits start to lift.
The wolf is beautiful. She has silky white hair and eyes blue as the sky. I desperately hope she will be my friend.
At Mahendra’s request we battle and defeat a hydra. It is the least we can do, and I relish the opportunity to repay even a tiny portion of the debt I owe to her — and also my companions for the cost of the spell. Despite its six heads, the hydra doesn’t stand a chance and I cut out its heart to take back to the lady.
My wolf — I have already started to think of her as mine, but I mustn’t hope too hard — has accompanied us on this mission. My heart rejoices when we wade out of the swamp and she is waiting.
We bid the lady Mahendra farewell and head back to the monastry with the intention of killing Dulgahar.
When we arrive, the others ignore my suggestion of watching carefully for a day or so to see the extent of the three-fang forces. Even though it has been several days since our departure. We head immediately for the secret door, intending to sneak down into the basement to tackle the necromancer, without the three-fangs being any the wiser.
Alas, the way is blocked and we are seen. We sneak around the rear of the monastry, creeping along the outside of the broken wall, but they know we are here. We are hailed by a hill giant on the wall. He doesn’t sound threatening and, bearing in mind our previous alliance with the three-fangs, we venture closer.
A mistake. They spring the trap and we are forced to battle a force of orcs and kobolds who try to sneak up on us. Saffir, Calwyn and I make relatively short work of them. But, in the meantime, Intan and Alix have been confronting the hill giant, whose friendly guise has vanished entirely.
My gut wrenches as Alix drops unconscious to the ground. Yet Intan is still standing.
But then the hill giant picks up Intan — our fearsome paladin — as though he were a rag doll and throttles him.
We can do nothing but watch in horror.
The hill giant warns us to leave and dumps the inert body of our friend to the ground. Intan crumples in a heap, his armour clinking, beside Alix.
I can hardly breathe as we steal closer. Calwyn summons a floating disk to carry Alix, but I am forced to carry Intan, who — oh, the horror! — is dead, his neck clearly broken.
The others take my gear and his armour, but still he is a large man for me to carry. When I can go on no longer, we stop for the night.
My wolf is still with us and she sleeps at my side. I have decided to name her Ylva.
It is an eventful night, with Calwyn almost carried off into the trees by a giant spider. Alix is still unconscious. We are not in good shape.
In the morning we are approached by another giant beetle. Heeding something Mahendra said to me, we do not attack but instead offer it food and it wanders off. I give thanks again to the god Emrys and vow not to be so quick with my sword against the natural creatures of this forest.
Although I do wish the creatures would leave us alone.
Alix wakes, but we are still debating what to do with Intan’s corpse when Mahendra arrives on the back of her majestic eagle. A glorious sight! We pool our resources — already much depleted after my own resurrection — but manage to raise the funds for Intan’s resurrection by staking his newly won armour, which accounts for half of it. It is a shame to lose the fine chain mail and Intan will rue its loss, but it is the only way.
We bide our time in the forest while Mahendra performs the resurrection and Intan recuperates.
But we have decided to return to Hyden’s Ford. This expedition has not yielded us the treasure we anticipated and now we have spent nearly all we gained on two resurrections. We will cut our losses and depart.
At least I have gained one treasure. My wolf. My beautiful Ylva. She will come with me.
Hyden’s Ford is much changed. There are soldiers everywhere, plainsfolk — my people — skewered on stakes, and I am afraid. The townspeople eye Alix and me askance and mutter about plainsfolk in league with goblins in the north.
The woman known as Fat Swethin has agreed to equip us for our next expedition, even though we have no money. We will owe her, of course.
And while we decide what that expedition is to be, we bide our time in Hyden’s Ford’s only inn, where the proprietor knows us and still seems well enough disposed towards Calwyn at least.
Ylva must remain hidden from these southern invaders and I count the hours until we may leave this cursed town.
Another very eventful session, during which I started rolling up a new character… very stressful. But Ash survives to fight another day, with an animal companion to boot!
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