Smells Like Teen Spirit
Deep in the Shadowfell, our intrepid adventurers huddle close to Sigvi the druid and the strange blue fire as the air grows cold and the light dims. Beyond the firelight, those with darkvision watch with horror as a frightening visage of despair, accompanied by three small wretched creatures.
As Bodi'ka gestures towards the firepit, the flames grow taller and brighter, revealing the pallid humanoid and the bipedal mouths. Ilan_73 launches a mote of flame towards the creatures. The pale thing lets out a roar and swings its spear-like arms forward -- its arms suddenly become impossibly long, impaling both Ilan and Halor, and drawing the two closer to its body.
Freeport plays a gentle tune on his fabulous lute, and vines spring up at the creatures' feet, wrapping around some but finding purchase around only one of the toothy maws. As Pthalo and Naeris move forward to engage the creatures, one a flurry of fists and the other firing beams of force, Halor manages to tear himself off of the pale figure's spear-arm. In response, it lets out a pitiful cry, blackened ichor streaming from its eyes, and tosses Ilan from its other spear-arm and into the firepit.
Bodi'ka quickly retrieves her herbalism kit and tries to tend to Ilan, but the old wizard does not move.
The creature's cries seem to draw forth more of the hungering maws into the firelight, and while two are dispatched, two more attach themselves to each of Naeris' legs. Pthalo gains similar attention from the weeping spear-thing, and finds himself stabbed and grappled, but the monk manages to fight off the creature's embrace with blindingly fast blows with his fists.
As Ilan miraculously opens his eyes, Halor leaps into the air with a piercing cry, his shirt popping open and displaying his mighty abs, as he stabs his rapier into the spear-thing's head. The bard whispers a few words and some psychic force seems to join the force of his blade, burrowing deeper into the creature's head. The crying beast wails despairingly, unraveling into a shadowy mist before the adventurers' eyes. The group cut down most of the remaining bipedal mouths, though one of the creatures flees into the shadows beyond the circle.
With the immediate danger gone, the chill in the air fades away. Freeport turns his attention to Sigvi, whose dark brown hair has gone white and his skin is loosing its color. Sigvi is no longer continuing the ritual, but the leshy heart in the bowl no longer appears to be pulsing with blackened brackish vines. Sigvi looks off into the shadows beyond the fire, and merely says, "This is wrong."
Naeris looks out beyond the circle, but there seems to only be a swirling cloud of darkness. As Freeport and Halor stare into the cloud, though, they begin to notice two huge eyes peering down at them -- each pupil easily the size of Naeris' whole body. Bodi'ka gestures towards the firepit once more and the flames roar higher in response, revealing the ritual circle to be forming a magical dome around them, keeping out a hundred-foot tall creature made of smoky matter, with curved horns stretching out from behind its head. Pthalo and Halor try to talk to it, but if it spoke back, it makes no sound audible to the other adventurers. The shadow giant rakes its claws against the invisible force of the dome, making a sound like metal clanging against metal.
Just then, the blue flames within the firepit blast outward, snaking through the ritual circle once more, before dying down and cooling into orange embers. The blighted featureless landscape beyond the circle has disappeared, and the wooded clearing the ritual started in has returned, with nothing above them but the treetops and the starry night sky.
Sigvi shivers in the night air, and his hair hangs like icicles while his skin feels cold to the touch. Freeport drapes his wolfskin cloak over the druid's shoulders, and the party escorts him back to the treehouse on Knotted Hill. Once returned, Sigvi immediately retreats inside.
With only 20 hours before the purified leshy heart becomes unusable, the party makes their way to Cinderbeard's brewery in their duckbeast-drawn carriage.
Because the Night
Back at the brewery, after a long rest in the carriage that seems to have resolved the strange black veins Freeport and Naeris gained, the surrounding trees have become overgrown with blackened vines, and inside the building there is a strong smell of rotting foliage. In the basement, Kraken Knuckles find their dryad friend is still there and alive, though she is doubled over in pain, crying tears of blackened ichor and covered in dead vines, like the tree creatures that first attacked the party during the ritual.
The group sets to work, digging out the space around her tree's stump and trying to clear the pool of ichor away from it before burying the leshy heart in the stump's roots. For a moment, nothing seems to happen, and Bodi'ka moves to comfort the dryad. But then, with a great creaking and crashing, a sapling juts up from the stump and grows into a huge healthy tree that explodes out through the brewery's rooftop. The vines fall from the dryad's body, and she walks into the tree.
Ilan and Halor speak to the tree briefly, and the dryad reports from within it that she 'intends to not be a bother, as long as neither her tree nor any tree in the vicinity are harmed.' As Ilan goes off to search the brewery, claiming to have seen a 'land squid', Halor asks the dryad more about the Fomore. The dryad says that there are many more like her who recently came back--they were 'released' from torpor. When asked about the naked fiddler, she calls him a fossegrima, who prefer odd gifts and stolen meat, and will often teach strangers to play music in exchange.
With the dryad healed, the group loads up another huge barrel of mead onto the carriage, and returns to Farhaven. There, they find Jarl Habiek's party in good spirits and heading to a boat decorated with a swan or some kind of minuscule pigeon as a figurehead. Habiek has brought the head of a frost giant from his island, and offered it as a sign of his completion of his first trial.
While Pthalo dons a disguise and goes off to see to some kind of business matter, the rest of the group goes to the Kaer to speak with Ohlren and see about this frost giant head. While the giant's head appears legitimate to Ilan, Freeport implies that it is very suspicious that Habiek just happened to have a frost giant on his own island to kill so soon after the Jarlsmoot, yet failed to protect his people from it beforehand. Freeport goes on to suggest to Ohlren that Bodi'ka definitely passed at least one of the trials after enduring an endless 40 minutes of combat in a ritual that saved a dryad and ultimately will bring a better harvest, and that she absolutely would have brought trophies of her kills back from the Shadowfell had the bodies not faded into nothingness. As Ohlren appears unconvinced, Halor casts several minor illusions to illustrate the group's battles, including the shadowy giant that threateningly clawed the ritual dome. Freeport advised that this shadow giant was definitely real, and perhaps Habiek or Aethelwulf would like to journey into the Shadowfell and deal with it to prove their worth as High Jarl. Ohlren agrees that perhaps the next High Jarl will kill the beast. Ohlren also advised that Aethelwulf returned from his own island and presented the head of a giant serpent as a trophy, but that the head was not deemed to be satisfactory enough for him to have succeeded in a trial. Ingvold, however, has not been seen in at least a week. Dissatisfied by the news, Freeport goes to speak with the Kaer's skalds, who report much the same and have not heard tale of any nearby creatures to be slain. Freeport tells Fjoard, the skald's leader, the tale of Bodi'ka's leadership in the Shadowfell and the harrowing battles and narrow victory achieved there, and then the pair wander off together.
Bodi'ka meditates on the cliffside for some time, then as the remainder of the group returns to the Dick Inn Pickle, tells them she has had a vision of their next task. Back at the tavern, though, Brimthrall suggests that Kraken Knuckles make use of his brewery, and that perhaps payment for such can be discussed later, and presents Bodi'ka with a mysterious letter from her home.