The walk to the forest is pleasant, though the weather is bitter. It’s not long before the last of the houses give way to rolling green hills. The path is lined with gaunt-branched hedgerows; here and there, a cluster of hardy flowers puts forth pale blossoms in defiance of the winter chill.
“Cydonie,” Aleph says. “You have been investigating disappearances of fey creatures, have you not? Have you learnt anything that might aid us in our current endeavour?”
Cyd nods. “Before I met up with the rest of you lot in Baldur’s Gate, I spoke to some elves in the fey wilds. What’s happening in Greenest could be part of a wider pattern of vanishing fey all over Faerûn. This was found at the site of the last disappearance—” she holds out a wooden disk on which is carved a strange symbol: a grinning mask with a sunburst behind it. “Does it mean anything to any of you?”
Gerard wrinkles his nose. “That’s the symbol of Cyric. The sunburst is usually accompanied by a death’s head, though, not a mask.”
Cyd punches the air. “A lead! That’s the first I’ve got.” Feathers, who is trotting along at Cyd’s side, glances up at her companion.
Took you long enough, she comments.
“Hey! I pushed to visit the woods every chance I got,” Cyd replies. “I’m just as concerned about these missing fey as you are.”
I’m not concerned. But I was tasked to investigate this by the queen herself. As were you.
“I’m investigating right now, aren’t I?”
The tressym flicks her tail, a gesture which Cyd decides is probably a shrug.
“So who is this Cyric?” Cyd continues, shooting Feathers a look.
“He is the god of lies and deceit,” Gerard says, his expression hard. “A scoundrel, and Oghma’s inveterate enemy.”
“Yeesh, Ger, don’t get your tonsure in a tangle! I didn’t have your order pegged as the vengeful type.”
“Oh, we’re not,” Gerard replies. “But given that our mission is to share knowledge, we have what you might call a pronounced difference of opinion with the deity of falsehood.”
After a few minutes, the group round a bend in the path to find the edge of the forest is before them. There’s a wagon standing at the tree-line, a pair of stout metal cages lashed to its bed. A leather-clad figure is leaning against its side, her head nodding on her chest.
“She’s asleep,” Cyd whispers. “Maybe we could sneak up on—”
Aleph steps forward. “Hail, traveller! What business have you here?”
The woman’s head snaps up as she startles into wakefulness. She fumbles a heavy mace from her belt. Then she sees Aleph, and her eyes widen.
Aleph grips the handle of his axe. “Do not try to attack,” he advises. “It would go hard with you. Now tell us, what are you doing in these woods?”
Nubbins steps in front of Aleph, attempting to look menacing. “Yeah, what he said!”
The woman’s eyes dart from face to face, searching for the source of this new voice. Eventually, she lowers her gaze by at least three feet to see Nubbins, and bursts out laughing.
“DORN!” she yells, “WE’VE GOT COMPANY!”
Nubbins barely has time to take offence at this slight before the woman lunges at him, bringing her mace down with surprising speed. He jumps aside, receiving a glancing blow to the arm. Cyd retaliates with an arrow, which buries itself in the woman’s leg. As Keothi draws his throwing axes, the woman holds up her hands.
“I yield! I yield!”
The party pause, lowering their weapons. Only Gerard notices the smirk playing on the woman’s lips.
“I think this may be a distrac—” he begins. Then there’s a rustle from the tree-line as four more bandits join the fray. They are on the group in an instant; two of them close with Keothi, felling him with a flurry of blows.
“Keith!” Cyd yells. Aleph pulls a healing potion from his belt and throws it to Keothi’s familiar.
“Impy, feed this to Wordweaver,” he orders. Then he leaps toward the goliath’s ambushers with an agility that belies his bulky frame. His axe blazes with light as he brings it round in a wide arc. The blow cleaves the nearest bandit in two; consumed by white fire, the hapless man crumbles to dust at the Warforged’s feet.
“The souls of the Eighth Phalanx find your honour to be wanting,” Aleph bellows. “Lay down your arms and you may yet find mercy, though I cannot guarantee it will be to your taste.”
A scarred bandit carrying a large, curved sword—the leader of the band, by his bearing—leers at Aleph. “No thanks,” he says. “Then we won’t get paid—and the take for this job is enough to set us up for life.” He clicks his neck and advances, his scimitar swishing from side to side.
Impy ducks and dives amongst the combatants until he lands on Keothi’s chest. He looks quizzically at the vial of red liquid in his hand, then at the shallow breathing of his master, then back to the liquid. “Feed this to Wordweaver,” the metal man had said. How hard can that be? But here, Impy pauses. Do his mortal companions consume these little glass snacks in their entirety, or just drink their contents? He has never bothered to check. Eventually, he compromises by prising open Keothi’s mouth and smashing the vial onto his face. The jagged wounds from the broken glass heal before they have had a chance to bleed. Keothi’s eyes fly open and he splutters, spitting out a few stray shards.
“Impy, what am I eating?”
Before Impy can answer, a bandit spots Keothi and turns his way, raising his mace to strike him down a second time. Keothi’s eyes dart across to the wagon and his body dissipates into thin air, reappearing inside one of the metal cages. He chortles at the sight of the surprised bandit, who trips in mid-lunge and goes sprawling.
“Misty step,” he murmurs. “Gets them every time.”
By the wagon, Nubbins watches the fight unfold in consternation, torn between helping his friends and guarding the one bandit who has surrendered. He wrings his hands as he sees Gerard fall to the ground. Nearby, the bandit leader and one of his crew have Aleph flanked and are raining down blows upon him with a ferocity that even the Warforged is hard put to match. Nubbins’ charge catches his eye and shrugs.
“I’ve already yielded,” she points out.
“If I go,” Nubbins asks slowly, “will you promise not to move?”
“Oh, I promise. I know when I’m outnumbered.”
It’s all the encouragement Nubbins needs. He immediately turns to help Gerard—and the bandit clubs him in the back of the head.
“Ow! You moved!”
The bandit smirks. “I was just stretching my arm.”
“You hit me. With a mace.” Nubbins glares at her. “That’s not how you surrender.” He lifts his hand axe, the edge of the blade glinting with frost, and drives it into the bandit’s chest. She staggers, disbelief etched on her features.
“How did you…” Then she collapses to the ground, ice spreading across her torso.
As Nubbins runs toward the fray, he hears a fluttering sound overhead. To his surprise, the bandit leader lowers his scimitar and begins to chuckle. He doubles over as his laughter overwhelms him, swelling to gale of hilarity that brings tears to his eyes.
“Oh no,” a bandit groans, pulling a scarf over his mouth. “They’ve escaped.”
The man next to him begins to snigger even as he scrambles to cover his own face, soon collapsing in fits of helpless giggles. The third bandit glances at his dead and incapacitated companions and throws down his mace. “Fuck this, we give up,” he says.
“Lay down your weapons and remove your armour,” Aleph commands.
Slowly, the two bandits who are not already rolling on the floor laughing begin to unbuckle their breastplates.
“And your belts,” Aleph adds sternly. “Remove them, too.”
“Our trousers’ll fall down.”
“Then remove your trousers.”
“But it’s cold—”
“I care not. Trousers are for the righteous!”
The bandits look at each other with dismay, then remove their belts and trousers, shivering as the cold air hits their bare legs. Aleph ties them up, while Cyd and Gerard together wrestle the two laughing men to the ground and disarm them.
They are loading the subdued captives onto the wagon to transport them back to Greenest when several small projectiles fly out from the trees. One hits Nubbins square in the face and another bounces off the back of Aleph’s head. Gerard turns and catches one mid-flight, inspecting it.
“We appear to be being bombarded by baked goods,” he says, raising an eyebrow.
Before anyone can answer, several colourful lizard-like creatures appear in the air around the party.
Feathers saunters out from the edge of the forest.
I brought these annoying flappy beasts to help you, she tells Cyd. It took ages to get them to follow me. They aren’t very clever.
“Ohmigod!” Cyd practically squeaks with excitement. “TINY DRAGONS!!”
“Faerie dragons,” Gerard says softly. He tickles the belly of a yellow one who is currently sunning itself on top of his bald head. “I suppose these are the woodland fey we’ve heard so much about. That would explain the laughter—their breath can induce extreme euphoria.”
The dragons chitter and chirp, wheeling in the air above the party and occasionally alighting on a head or an arm. Cyd listens, head cocked on one side. Then she gasps.
“They speak draconic,” she tells the rest of the group. “They’re thanking us!”
A violet faerie dragon, slightly larger than the others, lands at Cyd’s feet and bows to her. Beaming, Cyd kneels down and scratches it behind the ears—an action that makes it close its eyes and purr beatifically. It addresses a short speech to her in draconic.
“Ask him of the pact between the fey and the people of Greenest,” Aleph prompts. “Can it be reinstated?”
“It was never broken,” Cyd explains. “He says that these men are smugglers—they captured him and his friends.” She shoots a glare in the direction of the bandits. “If we hadn’t come when we did, they would have kidnapped all of them!”
“Leaving the people of Greenest without any fey protectors,” Aleph summarises. “A deplorable act.”
Two loud bangs from behind them cause the party to turn, hands flying to their weapons. A shimmering, grey-green light, like a hole in reality, obscures the wagon. After a moment, it dissipates, revealing a sheepish Keothi. The goliath coughs.
“I require assistance in exiting this cage,” he says. “The lock is particularly strong.”
Cyd blinks. “What are you doing in there, Keith? And was that a portal?”
“I do not see how either of those questions is relevant. The lock is strong, and I lack the arcane power to escape.”
Cyd rolls her eyes. “Fine. Give me a second.” She climbs up onto the cart and examines the lock, which now bears two large dents, presumably from a hand axe.
“I do not imagine that you will be able to pick it—it is extraordinarily stro—”
Before Keothi can finish his sentence, the cage door swings open. He steps out.
“I assume that I weakened the mechanism with my blows.”
“Whatever makes you feel better. Now come and see the tiny dragons! They can fly!”
“Impy can fly, and is far more experienced in combat than these dragons.”
“Yes, but these are tiny DRAGONS, Keithy! C’mon!”
With Cyd acting as translator, the violet dragon asks the group to follow him into the forest, where he leads them towards a large tree surrounded by muffins, buns, and cakes. The clearing is full of the smell of sweet dough and icing. There is an entrance at the base of the tree—far too small for any humanoid to pass through—and before this the little dragon halts, looking at Cyd.
<This is our home,> he tells her. <We would like to show you something, but I must cast a spell on you to facilitate it.>
Cyd nods enthusiastically, and the dragon puts a claw on her leg. A small spark of energy flies from his talons and weaves across Cyd. Her body begins to change and shrink. Feet and hands become claws, and small wings sprout from her back. Within a few seconds, a red faerie dragon stands where Cyd once was. Dragon-Cyd squeaks, turning frenetic backflips in the air. The party can’t understand what she’s saying, but her feelings on this occasion are crystal clear.
The violet dragon leads Cyd through the opening and inside the enormous tree, climbing up a ramp cut into the trunk that opens into a spacious room. In one corner sits a nest of twigs and feathers, a collection jewel-like eggs nestled inside. The shells shine, iridescent in the dim light.
<Our young,> the little dragon says proudly. <We thought that we might never see them hatch. Thanks to you, both we and they are now safe.>
He presents Cydonie with two large, red gems. <Take these with our thanks,> he says.
Cyd’s eyes widen at the sight of the gems, which are almost as big as the dragon eggs, and far shinier.
Once she is back in the clearing, Cyd’s polymorph spell wears off rapidly. She expands back into humanoid form with a sigh of disappointment.
“Now our business here is concluded, we should take these captives to Greenest Keep,” Aleph intones. “Governor Nighthill can decide their fate.”
Waving farewell to the faerie dragons, the group return to the edge of the forest. Aleph and Keothi shoulder the yoke of the cart between them and begin the journey back toward town.
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