APoF 15: Mezmin, Great-Best Hunter of the Grolm-Folk
Still reeling from their encounter with the Shadow of Doubt, and the erinindal deity Mwrgynn, the party decides to take a moment to step back and reevaluate everything that they have experienced so far. After sleeping on the trials of the previous day, they come together and talk about what they all saw about one another, but not before asking the tretâllë that have accompanied them to scout ahead. Dr. Roth clarifies that he never harmed the girl that was in his vision, much less killed her, and when asked if the second vision was something that he had experienced, he confirms it. Ailos Tepes comes clean about his relationship with his blade, and the dragoness of whose heart of hearts the pommel is made from, and explains the identity of the second a'drekh that appeared in his vision as being Loikos Āsc'akir, Kaladrea's first champion. Furthermore, Theris Silverfrond ruminates on the meaning of his vision, and some of the uncertainty that he has been feeling in the depths of his soul. Thurkear admits to his fear of abandonment, that he is afraid that not only will his vision come true, but that the people around him right now, who he's come to care about, would turn their backs on him. But he also says that the Stranger has given him the strength to continue on. With the help of Ailos, IkBroknard is able to speak as to the curse that has been laid on him, which prevents him from speaking, and he explains that his father was murdered by his own mother. For the first time, as well, there is someone else who understands the burden on Broknard's shoulders, as Ailos feels the dark corrosive presence of the entity that cursed Broknard. Zephyros remains largely mum about his vision but talks about his tribe and what happened to them, how he left in order to protect them, how Thrineus usurped the leadership of their tribe and is now leading them down a dark path that Zeph intends to stop. After they've spoken their respective pieces, the group decides to forge on ahead. They emerge from the illuminated halls of Mwrygynn, but find no trace of the scouts that they had sent ahead. They follow the only path forward as the city around them is gradually overtaken by fungal growth. The gradation from one area to the next is so subtle that they don't notice they've entered a fungal forest until it's too late, and they find themselves in a clearing with the trunks of massive mushrooms in the stead of trees, and tendrils of mycelium holding aloft strange orbs all around them. Once again, they find no trace of their companions. Thurkear attempts to locate them, but his magic provides no answers, only confusion. The party explores ahead, finding a fork in the road before them. They take one of the branches, finding themselves in a clearing with five other exits. With great reluctance, they decide to search for a path, but each time they travel through three clearings they end up in the first one that they entered through. Frustrated, they decide to exhaustively try each and every possibility, while Theris suggests that he could stay behind and meditate, to connect with the land and figure out if it can tell him anything. The party agrees to this, and the members each go down one of the possible paths. Theris, meanwhile, had merely pretended to have the ability to connect with the land. Despite his being a druid, his powers and his connection to nature had not yet grown to that extent. It isn't until Ailos realizes that someone is watching him, by virtue of a giggle which he hears coming from between the trees, that things change for the party. He calls for whoever is watching to come out just as Thurkear comes by, and they are both surprised by what appears to be a miniature a'drekh emerging from between the trees, speaking in a'drekh, and calling the two of them "big scale-brothers" and asking them if they were "nose-blind." The little creature introduces himself as Mezmin, the "great-best" hunter of the "Grolm-folk" and he says that it's been pretty amusing watching the party walk around in circles like the others that had come through. He offers to show the group the way and tells them to get rid of any light, once the rest of the party, except for Theris, arrives to join Ailos and Thurkear. He tells Ailos to close his eyes because his ability to see through magical darkness makes it impossible for him to successfully navigate the forest. The others, however, see that the forest around them is aglow with a faint blue luminescence. There are pathways between the trees which are dark, and Mezmin takes them toward one. At the same time, Theris, having been left alone in the dark, notices this as well and follows one of those pathways, realizing that what had seemed like a solid wall of trees before was actually just an illusion. He follows the path and finds a small encampment, figuring out what it is once Mezmin takes the rest of the party down the same path. Mezmin takes the group to meet Grelkin, the leader of the Grolm-Folk, who reveals his dislike for Mezmin, blaming the hunter for the predicament of their tribe even though it was the actions of Mezmin's great grandfather that caused their exile. Inside Grelkin's hut is a fungal dryad, who seems unable to speak but is friendly with Grelkin. The party tries to communicate with her when Grelkin expresses an unwillingness to help, but ultimately get nowhere until Broknard approaches the dryad and presents a water skin to her, which she promptly swallows whole, her jaw unhinging. The dryad presents a mushroom to him, in exchange, which gives him a vivid vision of a banquet hall with heaps of food and gold and silver cutlery, crystal chalices, brilliant chandeliers, and illuminated stained glass windows being destroyed by an irate rockwurm. Seeing this display inspires Grelkin to offer the party help in exchange for their promise to get rid of the "filthy red-skin tribe" that the Grolm-Folk have trouble with. The party briefly discusses the issue and agrees, at which point, Grelkin volunteers Mezmin to lead them out of the fungal forest. Following Mezmin's directions, the party encounters a number of clearings and obstacles on their way out of the fungal forest. First, they arrive at a clearing where the orbs held aloft by the mycelium glow faintly in the darkness. Then, they have to navigate a thicket of thorny brambles. Before they enter the next section of the fungal forest, Mezmin warns them to be quiet because the dryads sleep in the next clearing and are quite irritable if woken. For much of the journey through the next clearing, the party is able to get by without detection, but at the last moment, one of them strays too close to a large mushroom that starts shrieking, setting off other similar mushrooms in a chain reaction around the clearing. The party makes a break for the exit and manages to get away unscathed, but they stumble into the camp of a group of mushroom people who approach them with shields and spears. As the party readies for an attack, what appears to be a sac of spores is lobbed at them and explodes, creating a thick cloud of spores at Ailos' feet. Thurkear, panicking, tells Theris to burn the spores. Dr. Roth, hearing this, is fast enough and reacts just in time to get out of the way as Theris lobs a mote of fire at the spores, setting it all alight in a dazzling conflagration while Ailos is still in the middle. Battle is joined and throughout the combat, spore clouds are produced by artillery firing from a distance. The warriors, with their flint shields and steel spearheads ignite some of the clouds, but Theris is responsible for his fair share of eruptions. Ultimately, the party prevails. A heavily wounded and burned Ailos confronts Theris over his actions afterwards and tells him not to do anything like that again, while Thurkear profusely apologizes for panicking. The group then makes its way to the next room and they find themselves in the banquet hall that Broknard had seen in his mushroom-induced vision. They realize that it's likely a safe place to rest and most of them take a moment to breathe. Despite Ailos' warning not to eat anything, Theris tries anyway. Dr. Roth examines him and realizes with a start that Theris is rapidly dying, a fact that is not lost on Theris, who is feeling his entire body burning up and being eaten up from the inside. Calling upon his magic, Theris is able to halt the disease and even reverse its effects, but not without significant expenditure of his own energy. Ultimately, he survives his stupidity and joins the rest of the group in resting.