The Journal of Micar’eyl Auvrymtor: The Long-Awaited Forest Expedition
A little philosophy for you: often people will seek to hide their deeds, but they will be content with the most transparent of covers. It takes a long escalating cycle of paranoia and fear and getting caught to make folks go to an effort to hide what they are up to. It’s almost like body modesty: the important part is not folks being ignorant of what you have under the loincloth. The important part is that you cover it so they don’t have to look at it.
Case in point: Neverwinter Wood. A dangerous place, sure, but nonetheless not so dangerous that the local power brokers couldn’t send out some scouts to see what’s really going on there if they had a mind. But they don’t (at least, not until I force the issue — you’re welcome, guys). Out of sight, out of mind, easily ignored. As much for the deceived as the deceiver. This has been Micar’eyl’s philosophy corner.
So anyway, the long-awaited walk in the woods. We meet in one of our rooms at the Old Dirty Dwarf to plan our route. Looking at such crude (okay, it’s actually pretty nice) maps as we have been able to follow, I confess that I’d quite like to see this Tower of Twilight that keeps appearing and disappearing. My plan is to follow Neverwinter River through the woods until we get near the eastern border, then break out to where the tower is appearing. Our first stop could be the ruins of Thundertree, which was traditionally the first stop into Neverwinter Wood. Until, you know, it was destroyed.
Marcus pushes for going to Old Owl Well, which apparently is a trade crossroads that used to connect Neverwinter with other cities of the north. He seems to want to clear it out for … reasons. It’s much further to the south than I wanted to go, but we agree to put off a decision until we get to the fork in the river and have to decide which direction to turn. Since the whole idea of the trip is to gather information, we might hear some interesting things before then.
The next day we head north to Neverwinter River, then start to follow it to the east to the village of Thundertree. The sun beats down in the afternoon and as the first ruins of the old village come into sight, we have a brief discussion about whether the overall climate is really changing over the decades. None of us are experts, so I’m afraid it’s more fools speculating to put off travel boredom, as one does.
The first part of the village we come to is a pit, where we are attacked by undead plant creatures intent on murder. It’s somewhat frightening at first, but luckily they aren’t as good at taking hits as they are at giving them.
A figure is watching us, then runs away when we look at her. Branwen can’t track her due to a fire set during the battle. However, Valtha suspects this might be Favria, the dwarven female hermit that Valtha heard was living out here, and calls out to her. After some coaxing, Favria comes out. Her face is kind of a mess, criss-crossed with cruel, jagged scars. She is apparently another one of these seekers of Gauntlgrym, called out by the spirits of her ancestors.
Funny how we never hear from drow ancestors, isn’t it? I guess Lloth isn’t much on issuing dead people day passes.
Valtha tells her about the three paths to Gauntlgrym and then asks what she can share with us. Favria asks if we have heard of Valindra Shadowmantle. She is the lich in charge of the Thayans in the region. Favria’s pretty cagey about this, all, “We did not hear this from her,” and if we say we did she will deny it. I find it hard to blame her. Liches are dangerous business, as I remind everyone. Like all undead, basically imitations of living minds twisted by cruel hungers. Powerful as all the Abyss, too!
Per Favria, Valindra commands the obedience of the Ashmadai cultists in the area because she possesses a ruby rod given to his Chosen long ago that is sacred and rumored to have been used in his ascension to godhood. A greedy part of me says I’d like to get my hands on that! A more sensible part of me says that’s the kind of treasure you want to pass on as quickly as possible if you do get your hands on it.
Favria claims that if she retrieved this sceptre she could find the way to Gauntlgrym. I ask how, and she’s like … uh, uh, because it’s very powerful. Sure, Favria. (After she leaves, Valtha and I confer and agree that she’s probably an Ashmadai cultist herself and we aren’t bringing that rod within a mile of her if we did get our hands on it.)
She closes by telling us the Thayan headquarters is the Dread Ring, which is southeast of here, 2 to 3 days travel. More on that later!
We ask about the Netherese. Favria says “Shadovar scum” infest this woods. She really wants us to slaughter them. Their main focus is on the eastern side of the forest. They are practically due east of here. We ask about the Iliyanbruen, and they are focused on the northeast. Nice to know where everyone’s territories are.
She demands all our names — seems really interested in that. Valtha, Branwen and Horst are all honest. Marcus gives “Greycloak” as his last name., and I give her Aerlyse’s name. Sorry, Aerlyse! It’s all about keeping everybody confused, right? Favria says we aren’t to explore Thundertree further, we’re gone in the morning, and if we find any duergar, we should eat their hearts. Okay. None of us feel much like poking around a destroyed village, so we leave it there.
So, more on the Dread Ring. Valtha and Horst tell us that a Dread Ring is a magical construct used in a ritual fueled by a massive atrocity that Szass Tam attempted to ascend to godhood. There’s a whole story about how he bargained with Bane to learn the ritual but it was screwed up for some reason, and that’s why Thay is devastated and on a huge plateau today. It’s pretty common knowledge that Tam would like a redo on that one, but he can’t use the same Dread Ring twice so he’ll have to sacrifice a different country. So hearing a Thayan outpost here on the other side of the continent from Thay called a “dread ring”, well that’s pretty disturbing. Oh and hey, a ruby rod used to ascend to godhood? Might be more than one reason the archlich wants to keep that around.
We have a long debate about whether to “scout” there, but I don’t want to go. I feel like we’re not ready to take on a lich or to deal with what we might find. Marcus really, really wants to go, though. He’s feeling all heroic. Between you and me, though, liches scare the daylight out of me. I do not want to get within reach of one without — well, preferably not at all, but if I must then not without more backup than I have right now. Eventually we decide to keep with our original plan for now and see what else we can find out.
We travel a day along the river, then another to the fork of Edel’s Creek and the Gibdraw. Along the way, Marcus spots some kind of a sign and withdraws a sack from a tree with some potions inside. It is a secret stash hidden in the woods. We ask him about it and he says to “look out for the signs”. He says it’s a gift from the Harpers.
After some pushing, Marcus admits he is a Harper, which explains a lot. Branwen doesn’t look too shocked. I think she knew, or at least suspected. I thought maybe the Harpers were extinct, but Marcus says they’re making a comeback with two groups, one in Everlund, and another in Cormyr. I’m trying to explain the concept of the Harpers to Valtha, who seems to know less about them than I do, and I really cheese off Marcus when I say a lot of human kingdoms think of them as terrorist agitators. Well sorry Marcus, but it’s a fact that many view the Harpers that way. Stopping ‘evil’ is great and all, but there’s definitely a component of remaking the world how you think it should look in there.
We talk about a comparison with the Bregan D’aerthe as an organization, and Marcus asks some weird questions about how people can identify members of the Bregan D’Aerthe and what happens if someone falsely claims to be one. I hedge my answers a lot because I don’t want to say the actual truth. We are not an organization with such a great reputation that you’re going to get a lot of trust by claiming to be a member. I’m working to change that, but I am afraid few people trust us more than any drow on the surface. I explain to Marcus that if a drow wants to gain trust, they claim to be Drizzt Do’Urden. Even I’ve done that once.
Branwen seems a little shocked and I assure her that there is a Drizzt and I’ve heard he’s a truly great swordsman. One man couldn’t possibly be everywhere and do everything that has been associated with him, though, so the rest of us borrow a little of the magic when we need to get by. It sure would be nice if someday random drow on the surface were claiming to be members of Bregan D’aerthe in order to borrow our reputation. That would be a goal worth fighting for.
About then we stumble into a ritual space and an altar stained with blood. Clearly there were humanoid sacrifices here. There is a symbol carved into the altar. It matches the graffiti in Blacklake, the symbol of Asmodeus. We are attacked by a bunch of Ashmadai cultists. I quip with one on the superiority of Lloth over Asmodeus. I’m afraid he’s schooling me a little, being unexpectedly theologically sophisticated, but we shut him up by killing him, which is the ultimate way to win an academic debate!
There’s a little controversy when Valtha prays to Asmodeus during the battle to use the altar’s magic in her favor. Branwen seems pretty horrified and I think Marcus makes some remark about all gods being equally bad — he seems a little bitter about religion, now that I think back on a few remarks he’s made. As for me, well, Valtha got scared and did what she thought she needed to do in order to survive the fight. I get scared too, sometimes in fights. Who am I to judge her? Praise Lloth, don’t we all do what we think we have to in order to stay safe?
After heading a little deeper into the woods, we set camp for the night. During Branwen’s watch, an elf named Faelar Calashadir (her cousin) emerges from the woods. I’m trancing, but vaguely aware of the conversation as I start to end my trance. What sweet memories was I thinking about? Funny story, was actually trying to bring some stories of the Crown Wars to life inside my head by picturing people I’ve known acting out the roles. Maybe I’ll write a play someday.
Branwen asks about her mother and is told she’s still alive. At this point I break in and start asking what the heck is going on with these people and why they’ve let the war in the woods get to this level. Faelar starts getting defensive for a bit, then brushes me off completely with a, “you’re a drow, I don’t have to talk to you” attitude. Marcus jumps in and there’s a lot of back and forth.
Branwen wants us to all go back to the elf camp so she can talk to her family, but she seems to be having some trouble explaining to Faelar why she’s traveling with a drow and a necromancer. Of right, the ancient enemies thing. So tiresome. Makes me want to burn down their home. (Joke! Joke!) Eventually I have enough and invoke some bardic protocols to guarantee our good behavior in the name of the ancient pantheon. I’m very stern with the others and tell them that now I’m responsible for their behavior. Marcus seems to think that’s offensive for some reason.
Faelar leads us to an elven encampment during the night. Branwen meets her mother. I am afraid that Valtha and I are making some cutting jokes to each other about how Branwen’s mother apparently doesn’t give a damn about her, seeing as how she hasn’t contacted her in decades. Well, shame on us. It turns out that she was in the Feywild for what seemed to her the past 10-day, though apparently 30 years passed while she was away.
They helped the Illyanbruen deal with some dark fey — a colony of spriggans led by a coven of hags — but they lived in a part of the Feywild out of sync with Faerûn. They paid for it. Branwen’s mother apologizes for not being there for her.
We meet with another elf, Maeve Tarnruth, apparently their leader. I talk to her about my efforts to build a relationship with the Illyanbruen. She agrees that proving a connection between the Netherese and the theft of their artifacts would be an excellent way to get in good with them. Due southeast of where we are, two or three days travel, there is supposedly a crashed Netherese city. It seems to be the Netherese headquarters in these woods. If the Netherese are to blame for the looting of Sharandar, that crashed city is probably at the center of it.
A day’s journey to the northwest is Sharandar, the ancient capital of Illyanbruen. We might not get a positive reception if we head there, unless the elves escort us.
We tell Maeve about Thay and ask about other groups. There are not many people running around Neverwinter who aren’t up to no good (how do you like that triple negative?). A lot of clashing Ashmadai cultists and werewolves, who are apparently the pawns of the Thayans and the Netherese, respectively. Straight to the south of us the elves recommend we do not go, because that is where all the dead have been animated into ash zombies.
Maeve warns again that if Illyanbruen doesn’t have something to focus on soon, they may destroy Neverwinter for the hell of it. Oh yeah, but we drow are the evil race (rolls eyes). I am going to push for investigating that crashed city.
As we’re talking and spilling secrets, Horst warns us that the Dead Rats are trying to use the Sons of Alagondar to set up a trade deal with Thay. Implying, of course, that the Sons already have a relationship with Thay, which seems to come as a bit of a shock to Branwen. Horst remains cagey about his connections. He’s a private guy, Horst.
And with that, we try to get some sleep.