Learn the lore of kingdoms four
The sky realm far above
The faery lands lie close at hand
Our home we know and love
The realm below where all souls go
When life comes to an end
Know the roads to each abode
Their signs and their portends
—From Paracelsus’ Little Book of Knowledge
The companions drew blades and nocked arrows in the cramped darkness of Iommor’s Tomb. Passageways changed their shape before their eyes—the two niches stretched outwards and curled down into ominous depths. An unseen force battered at the tomb’s slab, cracking it before shattering it entirely. Beyond the slab a passageway led upwards into the twilight of a setting sun.
Ulreik Hras Halril confirmed what everyone feared—by carrying the Tears of Mairg into the tomb, they crossed a threshold and left the Mortal Realm behind. The passages to their left and right descended into the Underworld. Since no living being can enter the underworld and emerged unscathed, the companions walked cautiously into the world above—the world of Faery.
Ulreik’s studies at the University in Gloriana prepared him for such a journey, and he shared warnings with the companions. Accept no food or drink without offering like in kind, or you may be enchanted and never leave. Illusions and mysteries abound in this realm, so do not always trust your eyes. Mortals who walk in Faery may return to their home and forget all that transpired within; elves and the elf-blooded are immune. Finally, and perhaps most dangerously, the ebb and flow of time itself cannot be trusted within Faery. When next they walked the mortal realm, it could be years since they’d entered, or it could be no time at all.
They emerged at the bottom of a grotto. Trees and streams of unearthly beauty surrounded them, but the terrible roar they heard before returned. All around them, bears paced back and forth, smelling mortals in their domain. They had come to the home of Morco, the Great Bear, whose skin Iommor wore when he battled Ursi Arcistoth twenty years ago. At the heart of the faery glade a wood totem carved in Morco’s likeness towered above them.
By guile and wit Morel slipped past the watchful eyes of the bears to leave an offering at the foot of the totem—a turquoise bear figurine, some food, and other small gifts. Morco emerged from the totem to accept their offering and challenge them to prove their strength. With a roar, he charged the companions. Bromin Firebeard went forth to meet him, weathering blows from the Great Bear’s terrible claws. The combined arcane power and skilled archery of the rest of the companions rained down on Morco’s hide. In the end, Bromin hefted his maul and shouted a mighty dwarven war cry—and accidentally hurled the weapon into the mud.
Fortunately for our heroes, not only was Morco impressed with their strength and valor, he found this hilarious. His challenge was complete, and the bears who prowled above departed. Morco spoke in a ponderous, rumbling voice, slow to answer and frequently using the incorrect word. He told them how Iommor met him many years ago in a similar challenge, and Morco granted Iommor his might. He recounted the tale of the battle against Ursi Arcistoth, with her steel sinews and devilish cunning. When asked about their current errand, he had the following important facts to share:
- Mairg has gone down to the Starless Market, where she paid an unknown price to gain the aid of a creature from Down Below.
- That creature comes and goes through the Underworld, working Mairg’s will in Arkaley.
- The only way back to Arkaley through Faery is through the ancient Huldra burial mounts just east of the town. The mounds lie within the lands of Nuinn
With a vague direction, the companions set out from Morco’s Grotto and into the eternal twilight of Faery, seeking the Grove of Nuinn.
Welcome to Faery
Several hours of wandering the enchanted woods passed, and the ground became wetter, giving way to a swamp. Bellowing roars echoed through the tree branches, shaking them as if afraid. The companions came across an ogre, half-sunken in the muck, struggling furiously against vines that reached out to hold it in place. Choked laughter, like the chiming of silver bells, caught the companions’ ears, and balls of light flickered back and forth before the ogre’s face, enraging it further. They quickly deduced this was the work of fairies. Unfortunately, the fairies found a new target for their mirth, and one by one the companion’s clothes—and sometimes hair—changed to a light periwinkle shade.
Rhawunel called upon her family name in stern declaration, demanding that the fairies take heed. Before her eyes a shape rose from the swamp. It resembled her perfect, save that its hair was mussed and its eyes pointed in opposite direction. Slurring with drool, it responded back in clear mockery. “FUHHH BUFF FUUUUHHHH BUFFFA FUBBA BUFFAHH” Over the uproarious (yet tiny) laughter of their fey tormentors, Bromin called upon the most powerful tool in his possession: alcohol! He quickly got the pixies drunk, which changed their attitude completely.
Leaving Tuks the ogre to deal with the trap they’d planted for him, the pixies pointed out a path through the woods and marshes, admonishing the companions to stay on the path at all costs. Follow this simple rule and it would lead them straight to the Grove of Nuinn.
The next day, our companions followed the path to a swamp. Though beautiful, with colorful trees, caves illuminated by thousands of fireflies, and mushrooms that soared up into the sky, peril lurked beyond the wonder.
Fog rose up the deeper they went, occasionally wading through the muck to follow the path. As they prepared to make camp and rest, Tyrandriel saw something impossible—a figure dressed in the colorful garb of a merry maker or entertainer, resting against a lavender willow tree. It strummed a tune on a lute, and on its face bore the mask of the Laughing God. Could it be Tyrandriel’s deity, come at last to reveal the hidden secrets of the past, or explain why he had chosen the young half elf? Though nobody else witnesses this figure, it beckoned to him. He had to know. The rest of the party saw that he could not be deterred, and tied a rope around his waist for safety. With a few fateful steps, he left the path, and plunged directly into a pit of quicksand.
The Laughing God vanished, the illusion gone, and from the darkness a baleful orb of light whizzed down to wrack Tyrandriel’s body with lightning—a Will-O-Wisp! With its evil touch it tortured him until he collapsed. With his life force ebbing away, it lighted upon his body, seeking to snuff out the last sparks of energy and feed on his death. It had not counted, however, on the combined magical power of Aine, Nashia Arie and Ulreik. The mages unleashed their might and tore the malevolent spirit to shreds. Thanks to their foresight, the companions’ warriors dragged Tyrandriel through the much and back to safety, where Rhawunel’s healing power revitalized him. Shaken and battered, the companions took their rest, reflecting on the dangers of straying from the path in the future.
On the next day, they drew to the end of the Graspingmuck, where the swamp gave way to a beautiful, root-riddled lake. Purple lights danced around the waters and flowers of all colors reflected their radiance. It seemed the path led directly into the water, and though they could have tried climbing the roots or finding another way around, the companions put their trust in the pixies’ warning. They held their breath and plunged below the surface.
The Grove of Nuinn
The walk beneath the water tested their strength, but they emerged, drenched and grasping for breath, into a forest of flowering hawthorne trees. Thorn sprites flicked from tree to tree, watching the companions on their way. Ultimately the path ended at a single massive hawthorne tree at the heart of a meadow. A languid figure detached itself from the tree and descended to the ground; everywhere it set a foot, roots burst forth to meet it. It was the Man with Roots for Boots, with wicked wooden thorns for fingers, who delights in beauty and fear — Nuinn, the Prince of the Thorn Trees.
Nuinn offered the wanderers berries and nectar, to recover their strength along the way. Remembering Ulreik’s warnings, the companions graciously offered their host a gift of ale and food. He laughed in delight—only one other mortal had ever shown such foresight, a young boy who stumbled upon Nuinn’s grove many years ago. Gaemund realized with a start that this must refer to Convarch Callach — referenced in Manard the Weaver’s letter! He made a point to confront the Reeve of Arkaley on their return.
Ever since the boy cleverly escaped Nuinn’s grove, the archfey decided that the town of Arkaley was part of his domain. His power extends through all the surrounding lands, and the fairies whose comings and goings force the villagers of Arkaley to live by careful superstitions are his servants and subjects. Nuinn seemed fond of Arkaley, unconcerned by any inconvenience his powers cause the town.
When asked of Mairg, Nuinn revealed the following:
- Nuinn has barred Mairg’s power and servants from entering Faery anywhere near Arkaley
- Mairg covets Fiebras the Miller’s twins because they were born on a moonless night
- Twins born on a moonless night are part of the Prophecy of the New Day. This Prophecy is referenced in certain obscure texts in Gloriana’s libraries, and what little Nashia has translated of her mysterious scroll references The New Day
- Nuinn forbids Mairg from taking the twins because they are under his protection.
- To get around Nuinn’s power, Mairg “Reached out to the Fifth Kingdom, but she was driven out by ashes and embers”
- Nobody has heard of a Fifth Kingdom, but the companions suspect that this refers to the Mists Mairg sent against Arkaley a month ago, and that “ashes and embers” refers to the grey-clad strangers whose arrival presaged the vanishing of the mists.
- Undaunted, Mairg went to the Starless Market and enlisted the help of Down Below. She has a nasty minion who travels through the underworld, doing her bidding.
- The companions suspect this servant is responsible for poisoning Ammy and Gaemund. It would also explain the change in the sickness — where the children developed a fever and failed to awaken with no signs of poison.
- If the companions can catch her servant from Down Below, the children of Fiebras will be safe at last.
- Morel asked if Nuinn could lift her curse. He told her that there are four ways to break the curse. First, she could convince the witch that cast it to reverse it. Second, she could find and kill the witch responsible. Third, she could pledge her loyalty and make a pact with a being of greater power. Finally, the witches’ curse must have a secret flaw to make it last forever. If Morel can discover that flaw, a condition for breaking the curse, it will be lifted.
At last, Nuinn offered them a boon: a Golden Bough from an enchanted tree. Such a token could allow them safe passage through the Underworld, or it could be used to lure and ensnare Mairg’s unholy servant. Such power is not without a price. In exchange, Nashia gave up the silver flower she plucked from Iommor’s tomb. Nuinn took the gift with delight, for it represented the sorrows of his enemy, Mairg.
With Golden Bough in hand, the companions left Nuinn’s grove and found the burial mounds of the Huldra. On the Faery side, they were great hills with ancient runes and monuments to warrior spirits. They passed through the tomb, and once again the slab cracked before them, giving way to the Mortal Realm.
Blinking in the light of the setting sun, the companions discovered that for each of the three days they spent in Faery, a single minute had passed here. They still had time to return to Arkaley before Mairg’s servant returned that night. Furthermore, Nuinn’s attendants spirited Gaemund’s horses and cart all the way from the Bulwark Mountains to their new location. Not all was well, however—one of the companions, Tavion Gervis, lost all memory of their travels through the Faery realm. They recounted their adventures while making for the town gates, hoping to find a way to ensnare and defeat Mairg’s evil servant before the next day…