APoF 08: the Poisoned Grove
Coming to know the plight of the Veshka, and the crimes that they are being forced to commit by the self-styled queen of the Ironspike Woods, the party must decide what their next steps will be. A difference of opinion between Mordollwen, and Steve proves to be an obstacle, causing a minor rift to form within the group, Steve walking off in the middle of a conversation with the veshkan high priest Avarash. Mordollwen argues that justice calls the party to stand on the side of the veshka to overthrow tyranny, while Steve is of the opinion that the dragoness is a force of nature and that the whole situation might well be nature trying to restore balance to itself. After he leaves the party, he meditates in front of the dragon's grove, where Avarash finds him and, through appealing to the history that they share in mentorship under the same master, convinces him, at least reluctantly, that to fight the dragon is for the best. On the way back from Avarash's home at the edge of camp, Steve notices that the veshka appear to be uprooting the dreamwood trees that line the sides of the main thoroughfare of the village. He inquires as to the purpose of this, to which Avarash responds that his people are preparing for war. He reveals a weapon which he calls a dreamspike, crafted from the dreamwood trees and meant to be thrown as part of a charge. Shortly afterward, Steve hears the sound of familiar music, voices singing in a language so ancient and primal that it speaks to the earth itself. He watches as the treesingers of Avarash's community begin to replace the dreamwood trees that had been felled, and by the time that he reaches Astash's residence, which had been offered to the party for their accommodations for the evening, dreamwoods line the main thoroughfare once again. Inside, Steve finds that Dr. Roth is still awake and appears to be experimenting with an extract that he made from the Regret tea leaves, which turns out to be the distilled essence of spiciness that they both dread to imagine the effects of on an unprepared target. Shortly afterwards, they adjourn for the evening, coming to the next morning just before Astash arrives to invite them to breakfast. At the table, the party learns that the veshka have an innate emphatic ability, and they also learn of the fate of the individuals allegedly "kidnapped" from IldLuwan, who it turns out are those that the veshka have pinpointed as having suffered severe trauma in the past, and to whom they have decided to offer the chance at making a new start in life. It is at this time, as well, that they meet a woodland elf woman known as Nalaa, who is to be one of three individuals testing the mettle of the group. Combat is joined shortly thereafter, with dirty tactics being played on the part of the veshka in the form of an invisible Nalaa and healers standing by to bring the veshka back to life. However, the party prevails, and Nalaa, heavily wounded and the last one standing, concedes the contest and congratulates the party on actually having skill. The rest of the day is spent doing light work and resting, recuperating from injuries sustained during the combat, with planning being carried out that evening in Astash's home. The very next day, the veshka, with the party, begin their assault on the dragon, who appears to be prepared for their arrival. The dragon unleashed a barrage of multicolored rays of arcane energy at the party, severely damaging most of the members caught in the spread, and banishing Avarash back to the Shardscape. The situation looks dire, but the party believes that it is doing damage to the dragon, until Mordollwen notices that Nalaa has been using cosmetics to cover-up a patch of scales around her neck. Nalaa, revealed to, in fact, be the dragoness, chuckles and admits that she is impressed someone figured it out, promptly banishing Mordollwen to the Shardscape after shaking off one of Mordollwen's attacks. As she turns around to face the party, she waves her hand, and the dragon that the party had been fighting thus far dissipates into wisps of shadow.