In which the party walks around the entire globe to find the next crossing point…
This was the densest rainforest I had ever seen. There were trees, saplings really, reaching for the sky with vines wrapped around them as far as the eye could see. In many places, the vines had grown so heavy, the trees had bent down and were lying along the ground. The trees, fighting this grapple, extended their branches toward the sky, themselves becoming new saplings. The vines continued the struggle, climbing around these extended branches and in some places, pulling down these secondary saplings. Which then extended branches for vines to climb. Underneath this tangle of vines and trees, the understory had its own vegetative struggles. Decaying leaves and wood were covered with moss that then supported small grasses and flowers. Swampy pools appeared where the mossy ground was low, and these harbored floating insects, algae, and other debris. Additionally, even the air battled for attention. The oppressively humid air teemed with small gnats, and shone with a diffuse light.
Amazingly, in this sprawl of twisted greenery, there was a trail. It was clearly marked with stones, shored up in damp places, and wide enough for four of us to travel abreast. Our crossing had put us right on the trail. Looking at the tracks, I could see the trail was well traveled. There were many print resembling the cloven hooves of deer, sheep, or goats. Strangely the feet were smaller than these, but the stride was much longer. I tried to imagine long-legged sheep walking through the jungle. I also noticed that all the tracks travelled in the same direction, to our left. The Fey Node indicated the next crossing was just a few paces to the right. After a brief discussion, we decided we’d spend the next few hours exploring to our left, then come back when Allara was ready for our next crossing.
Walking along the trail, it was obvious it was well-traveled and scrupulously maintained. There was no real dirt or ground, just mounds of plants that had been trampled by the constant travel. And the path was laid to avoid the deepest, swampiest places. After about 20 minutes, we could see a village of small stone buildings up ahead.
The people of this village stood tall on two long legs, but had an additional four appendages, two on each side of their bodies. Their heads were wide, pointed at the chin, and their huge eyes bulged from the top. Their claw like hands and feet matched the cloven prints I had seen on the trail. Their bodies reflected the light like smooth glass, giving off tints of amber, green, and gold.
The village was loud with the sounds of chattering, talking, and singing. Their language was difficult to make out. It sounded a bit guttural, like Draconic, but also had some high-pitched teeth sounds. They were very welcoming to us, and seemed happy to see us and converse. They called themselves Trikin. Some of the smaller people, possibly youngsters, were especially entranced with Cragbeard’s metal armor. They crowded around him, rubbing their claw-hands along his armor, gesturing to each other, tapping on Cragbeard, and on each other comparing the sound of each other’s carapace.
Niva and Allara gestured with the villagers, hoping to find someone to converse with. Meanwhile, Cragbeard, BRND, and Tryn had determined that metal of all kinds was extremely interesting. The villagers held up copper and silver pieces and watched them reflect the light, chattering quickly amongst themselves. Looking around, I could see that everything in the village was made of stone, wood, and plant fibers. There were spears with points made of obsidian, but no metal. Eventually, Cragbeard, BRND and Tryn went off with a group of villagers who were playing a game with stones and leaves. They started drinking some sort of fermented root ale. Even without any common language, they managed to enjoy one another.
Another group of villagers had gathered around Niva inspecting the mechanics of her crossbow. The villagers had very well-made longbows and arrows, again from wood, plant fibers, and obsidian, but the winding of the crossbow and the strength of the shot seemed fascinating. Everyone took turns firing bolts at a tree target, and a sort of contest started. Niva helped villagers use the crossbow and bolts. The villagers exchanged some large nuts they demonstrated as healing, and Niva nodded and gestured that the crossbow was theirs to keep.
Eventually, a person came forward to give a very broken greeting in Eladrin. Allara and I sat with him and talked as well as we could. He spoke often of “Athoos.” We couldn’t tell if Athoos was his name, the name of the world, or their god.
“We with Athoos”
“Elements part of Athoos”
“No danger with Athoos”
“Round, pool, hole, powerful, good”
“Others powerful, hole, bad”
“All is good with Athoos”
“Something from pool…” after this phrase, the villager shook his head.
After some time, a group of Trikin entered the village from the trail we’d used. They had their bows out, and a sack of large insects gathered as food. The Trikin started to gather in their homes, and we decided it was probably time to start heading to the crossing point the Fey Node was pointing to. Niva said goodbye to the archers, Cragbeard, BRND, and Tryn made their farewells to the gamers, and Allara and I said thanks and goodbye to our guide. We headed in the direction the Fey Node pointed, back the way we came.
It had only taken us 20 minutes to get to the village from our crossing onto this world. And the Fey Node had said the next crossing was only a few paces from there. As we walked along the trail, the Fey Node continued to point in the direction we were heading, but the glow never got any brighter.
After 2 hours of walking, BRND sat down on a rock. “Have I had too much of that root ale? We’re walking, trees are moving past us, but we’re not getting where we’re going. Are we walking in circles?”
Niva climbed a tree, she said all she saw was uniform jungle trees forever. Tryn sat down beside BRND and shook her head. I looked again at the trail and the tracks on it. All the tracks were pointed back toward the village. Only our tracks were pointing in the direction the Fey Node pointed.
“Well,” I said. “Is it possible that there is only one way to travel? Would the Fey Node point us in a direction we can’t go?”
Allara explained, “The Fey Node points out the direction of shortest travel. There may be obstacles between us, but it points in the direction of the crossing.”
Niva and I looked at each other. Cragbeard swatted at the insects surrounding his head. Tryn kicked at some rocks on the side of the trail. I thought about trying to hack our way through this dense jungle, trying to triangulate the position of the crossing, and it didn’t seem appealing. Assuming this was a spherical world, we could continue in the direction away from the crossing, walk around the entire globe, and end up where we wanted to be. That wasn’t appealing either.
I adjusted the pack on my shoulders. “Back to the village?” Niva, Allara, and BRND nodded. Cragbeard and Tryn just shrugged. We turned back the way we’d come and headed in the direction of the village. In about 10 minutes, we were back. All the Trikin were in their homes. We walked across the village, down the main street, and out the other side. On the other side of the village, the stone trail continued. All the tracks also continued to point the same direction we were going, away from the village. The Fey Node continued to point back the way we came. It also started to get dimmer. Either we were going the only direction possible on this one-way planet, or all roads led to the village. Those hunters must have gone somewhere and gotten back. We must be able to get somewhere and get back.
I stopped walking and looked around. In my musings, I realized I’d outpaced the rest of the group. Walking in the only direction possible on a world you hoped was small enough to get all the way around it in a reasonable time will make you speed up a bit. I looked up and saw that the trail had widened into a large area with many pools of water. I waited for the others to catch up.
Allara and Niva arrived at the clearing and were excited by the pools. Allara stepped up to one and dropped in a rock. Niva approached the pool and squatted to touch the water. Before I could stop her, Allara stepped into the pool. She became a blur, appearing to move very fast. Allara stepped out of the pool and joined us at the edge. “Did you see it?!” She gasped, and ran to another pool. Meanwhile, Niva stepped into the first pool and started to move very fast.
At the second pool, Allara was standing in the water, holding her orb out in front of her. I dropped a stone in the pool. “I can see fire in my orb,” Allara said. She stepped out of the pool. “The flames are gone.”
I looked around. There was no sign of Crag, Tryn and BRND. Thudul. Fermented root ale.
Allara had moved on to another pool. She screamed as a giant lizard-shape burst from the water, grabbed her and dragged her into the pool. At the first pool, Niva struggled to keep her balance as a winged creature hovered above her sent an icy blast to freeze the ground she was standing on.
In front of me, a fiery claw reached toward me. I pulled my battleaxe and warhammer and squinted at the creature in the pool. The bright flame made it difficult to focus. The claw extended its fiery fingers to scratch at my head. “Ha!” I chortled as I felt nothing. Then, a few seconds later, searing pain extended from my forehead to the center of my chest. I stumbled back. Flammen, verflucht flammen.
Over my shoulder, I could see Allara had escaped from the lizard beast. She flung a thunderbolt at it. With a deafening crack, the creature was blown back stunned, and dissolved back into the pool. I turned my attention back to the flames. I stepped into the pool, then watched as my weapons began to glow with a smoldering power. I swung at the creature and felt them connect, but the creature didn’t step back. I swung again, and this time, there was a strong connection. Then, a blast from Allara finished the beast.
We both turned to look towards Niva. The flying beast was gone.
We stood for a moment catching our breath. The entire encounter took maybe 20 seconds. Crag, Tryn, BRND came to the clearing. “Why are you standing there?”
Allara pulled some vials from her bag and began to collect water samples. “These may come in handy.” While Allara filled her vials, I looked at Niva and debated whether to tell Crag, BRND and Tryn what had happened. No harm in storytelling.
I turned to Tryn. She was leaning against BRND and looking a little pale. “Are you okay?” I asked her. She shook her head, “Yes, I’m fine. I mean, BRND gave me, no the Trikin gave me a big nut to eat to feel better, and I can’t tell if it’s helping.” BRND shrugged. “Small people aren’t big drinkers.” This earned a dirty look from Tryn, and a pointed raised eyebrow from Crag. I smirked at her. “Careful what you say about small people. There’s more of us than there is of you.” She nodded and smiled.
“Look,” Allara got our attention. “The Fey node is not as bright, but it’s pointing along the road now, not the direction we came.”
As we continued along the trail, the Fey Node got steadily brighter. After a few hours, I recognized the landing point where we’d arrived. The Fey Node was bright and steady. Allara gathered us around, drew a circle of light in the ground, and we crossed to our next point.