They Came and Got Barbara!
With the sun just starting to peak through the trees of Willowspur Forest, Devereau checked the sparse equipment that lay before him. Although Devereau was always welcome in the nearby trading post of Pondview, the seventeen year old human male had made Willowspur his home. After returning his bedroll and waterskin to his backpack, he tightened the straps of his studded leather cuirass and secured his swords at his side.
Any thoughts of a peaceful day spent searching the forest for useful goods were swiftly pushed aside when a shrill scream that was cut short rang through the dew soaked air. Devereau scooped up the backpack and his longbow and sprinted East, towards Pondview and the source of the scream. He suspected the old abandoned cabin that nature had reclaimed so many years ago. The traders of Pondview always whispered about the building being haunted. Devereau had not yet been motivated to test the rumors, until now.
He slowed his pace and crouched into the brush as he approached the abandoned cabin. The young ranger was not the only one drawn to the cabin by the scream. From the tree line on the other side of the building, a tall, thin woman in custom hide armor stepped into Devereau’s view. Pointed ears protruded from her long, unkempt auburn hair comprised of dreadlocks, braids, leaves, and twigs. Her right hand rested on the hilt of a scimitar, the curve blade fashioned from bone. A larger than average gray-brown wolf trailed her by a few paces. Her perceptive emerald eyes instantly fell on Devereau’s hiding place. He stepped from the brush and nodded to the young druid.
“Phayegwynn, I presume?” Devereau had heard rumors of the young half-elf that had been accepted by the druids of Willowspur Forest.
“The traders still speak of me in Pondview, ranger?”
“On occasion. I believe Traver misses you.” The gnome innkeeper was the only citizen of Pondview that had spoken with Devereau of her by name. “Perhaps you should visit when this is through,” Devereau suggested as he nodded towards the decades old wooden door that hung askew by a single hinge.
Without saying a word, Phayegwynn drew her scimitar and used it to push the door open, revealing a dimly lit hallway. Her wolf companion sniffed around the base of the first door on the left. Phayegwynn twisted the rusty door handle slowly and swung open with a pained groan.
To the right of the now ajar door, a humanoid figure in a black hooded robe looked over its left shoulder at them. The cloaked figure’s shoulders sagged as if from exasperation, before vanishing in a small cloud of smoke. As the smoke cleared, Devereau noticed a young woman restrained to a wooden chair. Longbow still in his hand, Devereau took one step towards the restrained woman. Phayegwynn tapped Devereau’s thigh with her scimitar and gestured towards the other side of the room as three zombies began to shamble out of the shadows in a flanking formation.
Devereau fired an arrow at the one positioning itself between Devereau and the captive woman. The arrow passed harmlessly between two sets of exposed ribs and found its mark in the rotted wood of the wall behind the shambling zombie. Phayegwynn removed the left arm of the one closest to her as the wolf tore the third into pieces. Devereau’s second arrow missed its target as the dismembered zombie’s lunge made him lose his footing. Phayegwynn slashed at the zombie at Devereau’s back. Devereau and Phayegwynn turned in unison to find the wolf standing over the remains of the final zombie. Trying to hide the disappointment that he felt with his own performance in the encounter, Devereau quickly plucked the two arrows from the back wall while Phayegwynn untied the young woman.
“What can you tell us about your cloaked friend?” Phayegwynn asked.
“I think she meant ‘Are you alright?’” Devereau eyed Phayegwynn.
“I… have no idea who that was,” tears slid down her cheeks and her eyes darted around the room, taking in the gathered party. “I was picking fruits from the edge of the forest and he grabbed me and dragged me to this… place.”
“We should check the rest of the cabin for signs of our hooded friend before returning her to Pondview,” Devereau whispered to Phayegwynn.
“Very well,” Phayegwynn nodded then helped the girl to her feet. “Come with us for a few minutes.”
The four entered the hallway, with Phayegwynn leading the party. Deciding to work clockwise around the cabin, she walked farther down the hallway to a second door on the left side. She cautiously pushed the door open to find an emptied room with vines making up more of the wall than the original wood.
With a sigh, she returned to the hallway and reached for the door knob of the door opposite the cabin’s entrance. The door yanked free of her grip. With the taste of metal on her tongue, she dived back towards the party entering the hallway from the empty room she had just left. A blast of lightening arced down the hallway and blew the entrance door off of its single remaining hinge.
“What the hell was–“ Devereau caught Phayegwynn mid interjection, “are you okay?” Devereau looked towards the door, “must be something they didn’t want us finding behind that door.”
Phayegwynn pulled herself away from Devereau and stormed into the room with her scimitar ready for attack. She stopped two steps into the room. The scimitar lowered as her eyes scanned the empty room. Nothing. No hooded figure. No furniture. No zombies. She turns back to Devereau, confused, “Why install a trap for a vacant room?” Devereau merely shrugged in his own confusion. Phayegwynn sheathed her scimitar as she returned to the hallway for the next room.
After eyeing the door and determining it wasn’t rigged with another trap, she kicked the door in with a sigh of frustration. The floor of this room was covered in ropes of various lengths and thicknesses. In the very center of the room, a large ornate mirror stood. The cloaked figure from the first room was staring straight at the party from beyond the glass. The head tilted toward the young woman before vanishing again, leaving only the reflection of the party.
Phayegwynn drew and hurled her cudgel at the mirror and it shattered instantly. Phayegwynn crossed the room to recover her club and picked up one of the larger pieces of glass shards that now accompanied the ropes. She pocketed the shard before turning to Devereau, who was inspecting some writing on the wall. Phayegwynn could only make out one word, “Erythnull.”
“It’s written in blood,” Devereau stated without checking to see if anyone else had even noticed what he was seeing. “Well let’s see what wonders that last room has to offer us.”
As the party turned for the hallway again, Devereau inspected and coiled up a useful length of rope to take with him. He rejoined the two women and the wolf as Phayegwynn slowly opened the last door.
“It would appear that something exploded,” Phayegwynn stated flatly as she eyed the crater in the floor and the scorch marks that covered what was left of the room. Noticing that the ceiling was damaged and the crater was flooded with water, she added, “a great while ago.”
“And treasure,” Devereau, more excitedly than he had meant to, pointed at a floating chest in the middle of the flooded crater. Picking up a piece of lumber, most likely once part of the ceiling, Devereau nudged the floating chest to the edge of the crater and hauled it up to an undamaged section of the floor. A handful of gold pieces lay scattered in the bottom of the chest.
“Give the gold to the girl. I have little use for it and you will surely survive without it, ranger.”
“Barbara. My name… it’s Barbara,” the young woman said, with as much confidence as she could finally manage to muster.
“Very well. Give the gold to Barbara.” Phayegwynn stroked her wolf’s head as she walked past Devereau and Barbara towards the entrance of the cabin. She wished to be back in the forest. She assumed that today would not be the last time she saw a mysterious figure causing trouble in Willowspur. The forest was her home and nothing would bring it harm.
Devereau and Barbara followed Phayegwynn to the edge of the forest in silence. Once the inn of Pondview was in sight, Phayegwynn turned to Barbara. “Speak only with Traver at the inn. Tell him what happened and he will do everything he can to help you.”
The young woman nodded, “Thank you both so much for rescuing me.”
Devereau and Phayegwynn silently nodded as Barbara jogged to the inn. “I need to consult with the elders. I’ll see you again soon, ranger.”
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