Pungent lavender-scented pamphlets have been circulating around the city of Acryn:
| ADVENTURERS REQUIRED!
Miss Mirabelle Greenglade wishes to re-establish contact with her dear estranged sister. For this task, she seeks adventurers willing to journey deep into the Wyldewode.
Any interested individuals should meet at the Sweet Blossoms Flower Shop, Acryn, at Noon on the Seventh day of the month.
Payment to be negotiated.
The party congregates at the Sweet Blossoms Flower Shop, where Mirabelle Greenglade ushers them into a back-room, imploring that they mind the carnations. Mirabelle is surprisingly young – perhaps not 20 years of ago. She explains that she is hoping to reconnect with her sister, Ysmay. The two orphans once lived together (with their dog, Lucky) as herbalists in a small cottage outside the village of Willowish in the Wyldewode. Seven years ago, Mirabelle left home to seek her fortune in the city, and since then, she has heard nothing from Ysmay. She is aware that the Wyldewode is now mainly flux, and is concerned for her sister’s welfare. She promises to reward the adventurers for their efforts in re-establishing contact with Ysmay, and gives Otto a symbol of her bond with her sister – a sprig of rosemary that the two had gathered not long before Mirabelle’s departure.
Heading out, the party soon arrives at Wyldeaves, a town on the edge of the Wyldewode. There, a number of people try to dissuade them from venturing into the woods on account of how dangerous it is – they tell of creatures called “goblins” that feed unwary travellers strange foods that put them to sleep for a hundred years. Also ready to share a few stories is gentleman and writer Phileas Grinning, who is keen to sell copies of his highly successful book of fairy tales, “Tales from the Wyldewode” – Ruby purchases a copy. Grinning is especially pleased with his story of a lonely monster locked up in a castle, awaiting someone who will marry him and break the curse upon him. The nobleman admits to cleaning up the original story to make it more palatable for refined sensibilities, and to remove any radical anti-noble sentiment from it….
The party sets out on the forest path, and is soon assailed by goblins who seem eager to feed them. When our heroes politely decline, the goblins attack en masse and must be despatched.
Next up is the monster’s castle. Intrigued (and unwilling to brave the cliffs on either side), the adventurers enter the castle and are promptly greeted by the monster’s servants, who urge them to stay as guests for as long as possible. The monster, meanwhile, makes advances on several members of the party before it emerges that one of his grooms has been hopelessly in love with him the whole time. Otto presides over a ceremony to wed the monster to the groom and lift the curse. The situation is complicated, however, by Bartholomew’s independent discovery of a wilted rose in a secret room. Invoking the power of the Tender, Bartholomew causes the rose to sprout into a healthy-looking bush. At the end of the ceremony, the monster is transformed into a handsome prince but, as Lucian observes, has also become a little more *real*. Now the monster wants answers. The party beats a hasty retreat from the castle, reassuring the monster that all of his servants, and especially his husband, are every bit as real as he is, haha….
After a further trek through the woods, they alight upon an isolated crafters’ village. The crafters are currently making useless items out of leaves and sticks, having lost contact with the woodcutters’ village deeper into the woods… beyond the ruins of a castle where a terrible beast tears out people’s hearts. They dare not chop down any of the trees in this part of the forest, giving garbled accounts of the trees attacking people. Unperturbed, Vulcan marches out into the forest with the intention of harvesting some wood to sell at the village. He is followed by the rest of the party.
They reach a wide river, with huge trees growing nearby. All the trees have faces. Vulcan hacks at one of them, at which point all of the trees become animated and indignantly ask the party what they think they’re doing. Unable to justify themselves, most of the adventurers find themselves fighting the trees off… although Sev engages in friendly conversation with one instead. Several of the party are poisoned by the trees, while Vulcan is knocked unconscious and ‘planted’ in the ground. Finally defeating the trees, the party make an effort to free Vulcan, who screams in agony as they dig him out, snapping off a number of his… roots. The other party members who were poisoned (everyone but Sev) realise that they are developing woody nodules. They seem to be turning into trees.
Vulcan brings some of the wood back to the crafters’ village, gaining 15R for his trouble, while the others set to work constructing a bridge….
After encountering some goblins who are enjoying a great feast (the adventurers walk past hastily, leaving the friendly, hospitable goblins a little miffed), they make it to the ruins of a castle. Inside, they find corpses hanging from the walls, each one with a gaping hole in its chest. A terrible beast looms out of the shadows, asking them if any of them are pure of heart – he needs to consume a pure heart to break the curse upon him. The adventurers suggest that Sev might be his best bet (they are hoping that, as a paper golem, Sev has no heart and will survive the beast’s attacks). The beast signals to the corpses hanging on the walls, who unhook themselves and fight for him. During a long and difficult battle, the beast tears a wad of paper from the chest of Sev, who cries out in pain. Killing the beast, the party tends to Sev, binding the wound and speculating that Sev truly had no heart… until the beast had occasion to rip one out.
All suffering from some ailment or other (the encroaching roots or a broken heart), they find their way to another consensus village. This one seems to be inhabited entirely by children, who explain that all of the adults (woodcutters by trade) have gone missing. The last adult, Samantha, left only a day ago, telling the children to stay in the village at all costs. They mustn’t wear red and they mustn’t ever stray from the path. When our heroes ask the children who is looking after them at present, they mention the Nix, a strange forest spirit that likes milk left out for it in a special Nix Bowl. If you take care of the Nix, it will take care of you. It’s very shy, but loves stories. The children refuse to part with their Nix Bowl and, when distant howls are heard from the forest, the party leaves, assuring the children that they will save their parents.
Travelling onwards, the adventurers get a sense that some something is following them. The way through the woods ends abruptly but, when they hear howls close by, followed by cries for help, they leave the path and run to what seems to be some kind of bandit camp. The bandits, however, are all talking, bipedal wolves, and they have the last woodcutter (Samantha) cornered. The pack leader, who calls himself the Ugly Beast, explains that he has inherited a hatred of woodcutters from his mother, a renowned fighter who once swallowed a little girl without chewing. The players rush the wolves, killing them all and gaining the gratitude of Samantha, who rushes back to the woodcutters’ village.
Lucian leads them to another patch of consensus, a village which turns out to be deserted. As they wander the streets, they find a wooden bowl discarded by the side of the path. They try filling the bowl with water and then blood; at last, when they remain silent and back away, a lithe, shadowy form scampers up to the bowl and drinks. The Nix. They cautiously approach, gently questioning it to ascertain why it has been following them. It explains that it enjoys watching them follow the story, and warns them of Dismay, a wicked witch who lives nearby. She likes to kill little children, and her monstrous hounds are responsible for the desertion of this village. On cue, a pack of hounds ambushes them and, after a short fight, all of our adventurers are knocked unconscious.
They awake in front of a small cottage in the woods. Their hands and feet are bound and their weapons lie in a pile just out of reach. Dismay greets them and starts to monologue about how very wicked she is. She killed her own step-daughter, as it happens. She’d considered baking her in an oven, poisoning her with an apple, or hitting her over the head with a spinning wheel, but eventually chose the approach of stabbing her sixteen times through the heart - there’s no sense in overthinking these things, after all. Armand keeps Dismay talking while Sev and Otto surreptitiously unbind themselves. Sev sets to work on the others’ bonds and Otto rolls over to the pile of weapons and passes them down the line. They re-equip themselves just in time, as Dismay summons her favourite hound, Ugly, a fly-belching monstrosity that she has raised from the dead many times. It is another close fight, but by killing Dismay, the party is able to finish Ugly off without it getting up again.
At last, the party arrives at Willowish, the closest village to the cottage where Ysmay and Mirabelle lived together. The village has already been destroyed by Dismay’s magic and her hounds, but the Nix re-appears, congratulating them on defeating Dismay and coming so close to the source of the story. Nix is good with stories. Nix can tell that they haven’t reached the source, but the source is somewhere else. Nix has never sensed a story like this, Nix has seen loose stories, and strict stories, but never TRUE stories. Nix believes it can take the party there, because stories need endings. The little creature shows them a letter that it discovered some time ago – it is addressed to Mirabelle from Ysmay, who seems to be apologising for murdering her sister. She explains that she had once convinced herself that Mirabelle had merely run away, but that she now considers this to have been a pretty story and nothing more. The villagers of Willowish have accused her of murder, called her a witch, and stoned her dog, Lucky. Broken by her guilt, Ysmay has realised that, for her, there is no way through the woods…
Luckily, the Nix knows a way. As an anomaly it has a special way with the flux and is able to lead the party to the Lost Place where Ysmay is trapped. The landscape distorts around them and they enter freefall, finding themselves in a small clearing, by a ramshackle cottage. Sitting by what seems to be some sort of grave is a young woman who calls herself the Ugly Stepsister. At first, she seems fearful of the adventurers, thinking them ghosts sent by the spirit of Mirabelle. She is in a bad state emotionally and will not listen to their arguments, drawing a dagger and threatening to kill them as that’s what she does. But when our heroes call her by name, reassure her that Mirabelle is alive, and show her kindness (significantly, Otto gives her the rosemary and holds her guilt for her), she agrees to entertain the idea that she isn’t a killer, and to take the difficult step of leaving her prison and sanctuary to travel back to consensus with them.
At this point, the Nix mentions that it isn’t entirely sure what they mean – ‘leave’? They’ve reached the root of the story, haven’t they? Realising that the Nix is their only chance of escaping from the Lost Place, the adventurers try to tell the Nix the story of two sisters reunited, but it hasn’t heard that one so can’t track it back to consensus. They try the story of the beast in the castle, but it reminds them that that story is only a greatly changed iteration of the one they’re standing in. In desperation, Ruby opens the book, “Tales of the Wyldewode”, and finds a story about a village full of happy, talking trees. The Nix knows that one and confirms that it doesn’t share a common root with Ysmay’s story – it can use it to lead them out.
Unfortunately, the immune system of the consensus fights back against anything trying to re-enter it, and as they fall back out of the Lost Place, they are attacked by doppels of themselves. Ysmay faces a younger version of Mirabelle – at first terrified of her, Ysmay then tries to fight and kill the dopple of her sister, but Lucian prevents her from doing so – she later thanks him. Bartholomew, meanwhile, is busy having a friendly chat with his dopple, while Armand agonises over whether or not he needs to kill this other version of himself. Sev’s dopple convinces Sev that it would be wrong to try to return to consensus – daddy wouldn’t approve. Eventually, unable to tell one Sev from the other, the adventurers are forced to knock both unconscious and carry the two of them back into the woods….
Its work done, the Nix has vanished for now, but the party notices a trail of breadcrumbs it seems to have left for them. Before they can think about making their way back through the woods, however, they have the matter of two Sevs to deal with. Moving one out of sight of the other, they wake it up and proceed to question it, hoping that they’ll be able to establish the “real” Sev through its memories. It gives a concise account of their recent escapades and insists that they are harming consensus by bringing it back. Registering its responses as inconclusive, they return for the other one, only to discover that it has… gone.
Otto now returns Ysmay’s guilt to her – she seems shaky but is still prepared to follow them. They use the trail of breadcrumbs to escape from the forest without encountering any respawned nasties, although they do pay a visit to the Woodcutters’ Village and the Crafters’ Village, collecting all of the residents of each on their way. Most of the crafters part company with them in Wyldeaves, but Lucian successfully persuades some of them to travel back to Acryn with him, with the offer of a job. Bartholomew, meanwhile, adopts the orphaned children form the Woodcutters’ Village into the Church of the Tender.
The adventurers next pay a visit to the Sweet Blossoms Flower Shop. Ruby goes in first, to prepare Mirabelle for what to expect. She explains that Ysmay had been through a lot of trauma when they met her, and that her mental state was not good. The other adventurers then arrive with Ysmay, who breaks down in terrible sobs at the sight of Mirabelle. Privately, Mirabelle confesses that she hadn’t been entirely honest with the party before – far from leaving to seek her fortune in the city, she had run away from home after accusing Ysmay of not being her real sister. Life had been hard for both of them following their parents’ deaths, but she is truly sorry for all the suffering she inadvertently caused Ysmay – she will look after her from now on. Our heroes decide to leave for now and to collect payment when Mirabelle is ready.
There is now the matter of the encroaching woodiness of most of the party, who are now sprouting leaves. Bartholomew leads Lucian, Ruby, Vulcan and Armand to a Church of the Tender where the priests aren’t quite as mercenary as usual. Otto declines, retaining his reservations about gods. Learning that a ritual to cleanse all of the afflicted would be difficult, painful and expensive, Bartholomew offers to take on all of the others’ curses himself. After some soul-searching, the others agree, and a ritual is performed. Armand, Lucian, Vulcan and Ruby are all cured of their vegetative problem, but Bartholomew is transformed into an enormous tree. The priest who presided over the ritual inform Bartholomew’s friends that he is happier this way, being closer to the Tender.
Sev, who is still convinced that the adventurers have harmed the consensus by returning, writes a letter to daddy (the Arche-Mage), explaining that it is bringing the party to him. It then proceeds to lead Otto, Lucian and Vulcan to him. On the way, however, they are stopped by a group of people who describe themselves as “concerned citizens” and explain that the Arche-Mage cannot see them as he is currently deployed against Serradis. They strongly recommend that our heroes don’t explain their situation to the Arche-Mage, as they won’t be able to protect them from the consequences. After a protracted exchange during which Otto learns that you shouldn’t refer to the Arche-Mage’s progeny as “familiars”, they take the hint and leave without attempting to explain what happened in the Lost Place, or why there may now be two Sevs loose in the world. Sev does, however, leave a further note for the Arche-Mage, including descriptions of all the adventurers as well as Otto’s address, which he helpfully provided.
They go back to see Mirabelle, who explains that her sister isn’t talking to her yet. Mirabelle has prepared a room for her, and although Ysmay won’t unlock the door, she does at least seem to be eating the food Mirabelle slides under it for her. Considering how completely the adventurers achieved what she asked of them, and in light of how guilty she feels, she gives them each 35R – and Bartholomew’s share will be donated to the Church of the Tender. Armand comes to visit the sisters occasionally, sitting by Ysmay’s door and telling her stories of his own family troubles. He can’t be sure, but the crying seems to stop and he gets a definite sense that she’s listening….