We join our characters, after last week's bloody shenanigans
-- the forest (and beyond?) of the druidic Forest Oracle still beset by unseasonal winter and besieged by mad, foreign animals -- mid-repose as they are taking a load off inside the TARDIS-tree of the nymph. The interior is not designed for the habitation of mortals and is utterly spartan, yet strangely comfortable. Everyone lies down on a bed of leaves. Matthonwy the bard tries to explore a little bit, but the nymph is having none of that shit, and after encountering some trippy transformations of three-dimensional space, Matthonwy decides to leave well enough alone, though still demands refreshment, and finds himself unpleasantly assaulted via nose and mouth by a root system that force feeds him moisture, sap, and nutrients, which is horrifying in its own way, but refreshing nonetheless.
Elyx the necromancer, whose spellbook burned in a hotel fire several days prior, is given the opportunity to copy some spells out of Matthonwy's book, whose repertoire seems mysteriously similar to that which was found in Elyx's book that went missing shortly before turning to ash in the aforementioned hotel fire. Elyx is suspicious and accusing. Feelings have been hurt, trust broken. Dwyn the druid gets all zen and druidy in the tree and just chills with his wolf, Wolf. Pudgit the thief takes the kobold, henceforth little Pudgit, to teach him some of Pudgit's skills, namely ropes, and knots, and the myriad uses of both. Little Pudgit is enlightened.
In the morning, the party awakes and bids adieu to the nymph tree, exiting to find only an orc-shaped patch of mushrooms where the fungused cadaver had been the night before, and no sign of the fourth, nymph-charmed orc, apparently sent on errands unknown. The party sets out to cross the Great River (the toponyms in this module!), and, having been advised by the nymph that the best way to the Forest Oracle is to avoid the bridge to the east on account of orcs, peel off south along the river's edge, looking for another way to cross. After a few hours travel, they come upon an ambush of dog faced humanoids -- bugbears! -- laying wait near a ford across the river, while some giant, compact-car sized frogs lurk in the shallows, also unseen. The bugbears wear the colors of what the party now knows is a faction from within the Temple of Elemental Evil; the frogs appear to be natural predators who have not yet made their move.
The ambush is a dismal failure however, as the inattentive bugbears are themselves taken unawares when an eagle-eyed Dwyn spots then and, from 80 yards away (2nd edition everyone!) casts a druid spell. The bugbears don't even notice, except for one who impotently hurls his dagger at the spellcaster, on reflex, realizing even while doing it that no one can throw a knife 80 yards. The bugbear ambush is immobilized as branches and brambles leap up from the earth to ensnare them. The frogs, instead of being a third faction in a large melee, now find themselves in the position of wild carnivores served prey on a platter, and use their pink firehose-sized tongues to yoink the helpless bugbears out of their entrapment and into the frogs' mouths. It is a terrible sight and the screaming lasts ten minutes. Wolf looks on, unmoved. Sated, the frogs lurk off up the river.
There is an unknown path heading off to the west, back into the forest, but the party has a goal, and crosses the ford to find an encampment which presumably held the bugbears' companions, who appear to have had a great view of the carnage, and who, not having the highest morale in the first place, definitely fled on seeing their friends devoured by giant wild animals. The bugbears, it seems, had been making a stew from the corpses of slain druids of the forest. Our party, it turns out, is not particularly squicked out by cannibalism -- only Matthonwy the bard finds the consumption of human flesh to be anathema. The druid Dwyn sees it as part of the cycle of life, Elyx the necromancer is generally cool with stuff like this, and the halfling thief Pudgit just generally seems to have never learned a cannibalism taboo. Or maybe he did, but forgot it. Pudgit helps himself hungrily to some soup, picking out bits of druid clothing as necessary.
After a cursory looting, finding a leather circlet and some cash, they move on, heading east and then north east into the forest, ultimately arriving where Dwyn and especially Elyx started: Castle Karn, of Bartholomew son of Bartholomew. The castle still lies in smoking ruins after the zombie attack that ended Dwyn's wedding to the younger Bartholomew (unconsummated), annihilated the garrison, and started Elyx on her journey after she amputated her own hand for fear of zombie infection. Corpses litter the landscape. Elyx begins to sob quietly. The party is prepared to move on and give the ruin a wide berth when they hear something within calling to Elyx, and, of course, they move to investigate.
In the inner courtyard, they find a circle of dead piled high around a massive thing beneath a broad linen or tarp of some sort. A bald, bearded old man in a gauzy shift several dozen yards away (two can play at that game!) is casting a spell. He wears a thick gold chain around his neck from which is suspended a withered but very familiar looking female hand, and he holds a semi nude old man on a leash, on hands and bony knees in the snow, who looks as if he has been beaten and tortured: the tortured one is Delon! The necromancer that Pudgit and Matthonwy had met several days west of this place, who started them on their own quest, after a fashion. Nobody knows who the other dude, the sinister one with the lady hand necklace, is. Matthonwy and Little Pudgit charge him regardless, thinking him to be up to no good. The spell caster opens a dimensional portal and steps quickly through, though cannot pull Delon along behind him before Dwyn the druid casts his entangling enchantment again. Delon is held firmly in place.
Pudgit, grimly determined, loads a stone into his sling, wanting to sever the leash extending from the portal before it can pull Delon through. He selects his ammunition, loads it up, starts swinging the sling mightily (for a wee fun folk), and lets the stone fly with all the power he possesses and ... misses and mortally wounds Delon instead. Before the rest of the party can catch up, the portal slams shut anyway, severing the cord. Elyx in a truly epic display of sorcerous acumen, discerns from the display she's witnessed that that person had just teleported himself 300 feet straight down. Dwyn uses his natural magic to heal Delon, on death's door, to a semblance of health, only to be staggered with the rest of his companions when the tarp raises to reveal what was beneath: a ten foot tall monster stitched out of corpses, lumbering on mismatched unsteady legs, and topped with the head of the zombie deer that Elyx had raised from the dead, infusing it with her necromantic power. It attacks!
First it takes a moment to slam Little Pudgit who, unbeknownst to us all (since we'd never rolled his hit points yet), turned out to be one hardy little kobold. Little Pudgit lashes the creature again and again with his weapon of choice: a three foot length of hemp rope, now with a single, expertly tied knot at the end. Elyx wills herself out of her reverie of tears and, realizing her magic would not be particularly effective against the creature, takes the opportunity to cast a spell on Mattonwy, which causes him to grow to an epic size, now standing nearly seven feet tall. Matthonwy moves to do combat with the creature, at first fumbling and throwing one sword across the courtyard like an ass (I wonder why!), he manages to hold on to his remaining blade, though it is as a wobbly pool noodle in his hands, and, with the assistance of Elyx's spell, strike two staggeringly powerful blows on the creature. Dwyn moves in similarly, and the creature selects him as its target. Tension: Dwyn has been taking some punishment, and used his cure spell on Delon. The creature attempts an entangling move with its antlers and rolls -- a natural 20. Critical hit, double damage. Only a 1d4, but Dwyn is down to 4 hit points. He lives on a roll of 1, and sustains a (probably) mortal wound on 2. The creature rolls a 4, not just hectoring but viciously spearing Dwyn, and splaying him across its face. Dwyn dies on its antlers. Wolf howls.
Pudgit returns to Delon a scroll that Delon had actually once given them as a gift. Delon casts it at the creature, and its flesh begins to blacken and boil, and the seams where the flesh is stitched together begin to swell and strain with infection. The creature, having sustained significant damage to its unliving tissue, now makes a bee-line for Elyx, though it can no longer see, as it's now wearing Dwyn's gushing corpse as a human blindfold, and lifts her in the air and begins to carry her off. Pudgit, on the spot again, readies a sling stone, one of the special ones he's been saving this time, and strikes a truly astoundingly hard blow (it seems to be all or nothing with this guy). Stitches rip, guts spill, limbs fall, and the creature collapses in a pile of deer, Dwyn, and Elyx all together. Elyx will never not be the blood soaked bride. Everyone notices that where Dwyn's body has split open, there is over his viscera (where fat would normally be) a layer of moist white mushroom caps.
Elyx struggles up out of the gore of the still moving but no longer assembled creature. Wolf hovers over Dwyn's body and will let no one touch it. Pudgit throws lit torches on Dwyn from a distance until he burns in a hero's funeral. Wolf backs away, afraid of the fire: his human is gone and he does not know these humanoids. Matthonwy asks Delon wtf. Delon explains that that man had been the druid Forest Oracle, now possessed by one of three spirits once trapped in the Temple of Elemental Evil: Moksha Jehannum, the one called Fleshharrower. These were an ancient evil not seen in the world for many years, unkillable by any means known to man, be able to possess living souls on a whim. Of the others there is Turiya Herem, that one called Kingslaughterer, who was known to have gained the body of a subhuman beast: a great ape, and was creating armies of animals made insane by his malign presence, and driving them against humankind. The third, Samadhi Sheol, has not been seen, and no one knows what form he might have taken.
The three are agents of an evil older than time, and are just awakening. They are in league with the general onslaught on the civilized communities of the world man, dwarf, elf, fun folk, are all alike besieged in their homes by bloodthirsty evil that seeks nothing less than the conversion of the world into an inhospitable hellscape. Nursing their own ancient grievances against the estabilshed civilizations, the dispossessed people of the realms - the goblins and orcs and bugbears - have thrown in, in no small numbers, with the agents of these evils, as have powerful, independent factions, like the giants, who have no love for man or dwarf or elf.
And Moksha Jehannum wants Elyx. The hand of a necromancer, willingly severed, is a powerful artifact, and if he had access to her physical presence, it could become more powerful still.
We leave our characters here, mourning their dead and contemplating their next move.