- Plane Weaver
The Forest disappearances have become more frequent as of late. Few would turn more than a blind eye towards such things, but two remarkable events have drawn the attention of the Forester’s Guild: a couple of unaided escapes from the clutches of branch and gloom.
Yet the large, chitinous growths protruding from their chests and backs, and babbling nonsense about the rustling claws and staring eyes – oh god the EYES – have increased the resolve of those who say something must be done. Both quickly expired before much more could be learned.
Loyal citizens are called to the Forester’s Guild to take part in this mission of utmost importance.
Three loyal citizens make their way to the Forester’s Guild in answer to the call about the mysterious appearances of two citizens stumbling out with large, insectid growths protruding from their bodies. They are met by Ivan Treehammer – an experienced but rather grumpy member of the Guild – who explains the situation in short, sharp words and scrutinises them on whether they are up to the task. The citizens had, sadly, died shortly after making their way back to Rastaban, but what few words they did manage to eke out aroused suspicion of something large and malevolent lurking out there. The Guild would have to investigate. They would be accompanied by Alazir, a Connection Weaver from the Circle of the Enlightened Mind. Apparently they had taken some interest and wanted to send along one of their own in order to lead the investigation, but it should be stressed that whatever they found should not be spread around to anyone who asked.
Heading out into the Forest, Alazir is clearly naïve to its trickery, but is warned by Eli in no uncertain terms as to the danger it poses. Although the path was surprisingly clear at first look, things soon took a turn for the gloomy as the adventurers were set upon by what appeared to be corrupted moss poppets; additional limbs sticking out of their already uncanny bodies at bizarre angles. A crooked man stalked the battlefield, dead bodies swinging wildly from its branches at it grasped and clawed its way towards the party. Fortunately all were dispatched of without too much fuss.
Already on edge, the party were surprised to see what appeared to be an Imperial Legatus and his troops marching through the Forest. Ignoring his welcome, Magda marched straight past and ordered the rest of the party to ignore their salutations as a Forest trick, but Alazir and Eli were a little more willing to engage. Bizarrely, the Legatus seemed under the impression that the party were themselves from the Empire of Rastaban, and invited them to break bread back at the Imperial Camp which was nearby – this being part of their usual patrol.
Herded on by Magda, the party continued down the path and into a grove, at which point the Legatus and his forces abruptly vanished. Where there had previously been standing a dozen armoured soldiers, there now stood a vast tree with a flat top and few branches. The rancid smell of rotting flesh filled the air, and, from the top of the tree, blood could be seen pouring down and the sounds of gnashing teeth heard from within. This is a Blooded Oak. Surrounding the tree were several long, reaching vines that suddenly lashed out at the party, grappling them towards the hungry maw. Alazir, Eli and even Magda were quickly dangled and dropped inside the trunk, but Zosime managed to escape, slashing all of the vines – but too late to rescue the rest of the party. Approaching the tree in despair, she suddenly found herself metaphysically dragged out of her present location, and unceremoniously dropped again – now surrounded by the three other members of the party. Eli mentions a strong sense of Dream, but Alazir says she can’t help but feel a sense of Connection in what just happened. In any case, it all seems very strange.
The Forest that now surrounds the party has changed – if only subtly. The chitinous growths seen on the dead citizens can be seen growing out of tree trunks, and eyes appear to watch them from the surrounding darkness. The eyes don’t take much notice at first, but as the party continue slowly along the path they seem to take more and more notice. The sky above is no longer visible, but a low twilight permeates the whole area.
Hearing a shout in the distance, the party turn a corner to see a person struggling against a tree, slowly being absorbed into the Forest. To make matters worse, rot monsters have accumulated around her, hoping to feast on whatever is left of her corpse once the Forest is done with her. The players quickly dispatch the monsters, but not before a few foul-smelling belches briefly incapacitate one or two of them. They manage to extract the person from the tree, and she thanks the party profusely. Her name is Nadia, and rather than being a citizen of Rastaban as was expected she is apparently one of a small community called the Lost Souls who live in the Forest under the protection of someone called Sartov. Interestingly, she has the same growths that piqued the interest of the Forester’s Guild. Magda and Zosime are highly suspicious of things at first, and Magda suggests taking Nadia as a hostage in order to extract information from Sartov, demanding to know what he asks for in return for his care. Eli and Alazir take a less hostile approach – the party has after all been tasked with investigating this very phenomenon, and it’s probably a good idea to get whatever help we can. Extremely reluctantly, Magda and Zosime agree to allow Nadia to lead them to the rest of the Lost Souls – and Sartov, their leader.
After a short and surprisingly uneventful walk the five make their way into a clearing where a small band of people with the same affliction as Nadia are gathered. No food, shelter or fire can be seen, and it is apparent that they spend a lot of their time on the move. Eli and Alazir ingratiate themselves with the Lost Souls, who thank them for having rescued one of their number – although petty squabbles seem to erupt on all sides, with talk of the hopeless situation they are all in. The Lost Souls have evidently got rather sick of each other’s company. One particular member – Granny Grinoc – takes an odd interest in Eli, while Magda and Zosime remain well back from the gathering, highly suspicious and warding any Lost Souls who approach back with weapons and threats of violence. Magda in particular remains unconvinced that this isn’t a Forest trick.
Although the Lost Souls are rather evasive about their situation, they claim that they were once enslaved by a spider-cult in the Forest called the Soul Weavers, led by an individual called Aksirv. Somehow, she manages to get deep inside the mind of those individuals unfortunate enough to stumble upon her and her followers, but a lucky few have managed to escape her grasp. Unfortunately, she corrupted their bodies in the process, hence the gross disfigurements that they have suffered under her.
The Lost Souls seem in reverence to Sartov, but he doesn’t seem to be present at the gathering. The party ask where he is (and eventually demand to see him), but are told that they will have to be taken to a further location to meet him as he isn’t present here. Magda and Zosime remain highly suspicious, but eventually the four agree to accompany Nadia to Sartov if only to find out what is going on.
As they walk deeper and deeper into the Forest with Nadia, The eyes that previously watched them closely from the Forest grow in number and shift eerily, and the oppressive feeling of gloom sinks itself ever deeper into the minds of the party – although Nadia looks oddly unaffected by this. Perhaps she is just used to it. Eli mentions that she senses an incursion into Dream, leading to an angry outburst from Magda that she knew this was a trick all along and that they should never have got themselves into this situation. At this, Eli and Zosime vanish, reappearing a short while later with Zosime clearly in large amounts of pain. When questioned, both are unwilling to talk about what just happened.
Before anyone has much of a chance to react, the glistering gazes shift and grow, and legs scratch their way into view – the party has been stalked by giant spiders that now spring themselves upon them. The combination of agility and spitting venom prove a tough fight, with Magda and Alazir being swarmed on more than one occasion. Nadia is nowhere to be seen, but once the affray has died down seems to emerge from the gloom and in high spirits offers to continue guiding her guests to Sartov. As the path continues the overgrowth encloses itself over the path to form a tree tunnel, and the spider-like growths from the surrounding growth becomes ever more fantastical.
The path opens up into a cavern of similar design, with décor and furniture formed through Forest-like growths from the walls, floor and ceiling. A large spread of delicious food is laid out before the party, and on either side of the table sit the same Lost Souls from before. At the head of the table sits a rather gaunt looking man who stands and greets the adventurers as they enter, and introduces himself as Sartov. Magda, Zosime and Eli all refuse to partake, although Alazir and the others quickly dig in despite forewarnings. The conversation from earlier is reprised – Granny Grinoc again taking a strong interest in Eli – and to the surprise of the party Sartov appears to be both forthcoming and willing to assist them in their investigations, despite their earlier suspicions. He is quickly questioned on how the Lost Souls manage to survive, and he explains that they generally try and stay far away from the Soul Weavers, always staying on the move.
He explains that the Soul Weavers are in fact vast, spider-like monstrosities who worship the Forest that surrounds them, but hone their minds to the extent that they believe they can control it. Originating in Connection, they have chosen gather behind Aksirv, who is one of their number, although over time the Soul Weavers have become cult-like in their following. At one point Sartov offers to show the party Aksirv, and both Eli and Alazir get a vision of a vast creature with fifty legs and thousands of eyes, surrounded on all sides by individuals that look just like the Lost Souls, although clear under the sway of their spider mistress. Other, hulking giants scuttle around in her service while smaller denizens command orders to those in service in a strange, clicking tongue.
What is particularly concerning is that Sartov mentions that the Soul Weavers apparently have designs on Rastaban, and that they will strike soon if nothing is done. Sartov offers to transport them through Connection to the heart of the cult in order that they can challenge Aksirv and her power, although he says he cannot offer them much more assistance once they are there. Alazir agrees and offers to assist, and the party find themselves sprung out of their location and surrounded on all sides by the dark, glistening, labyrinthine walls of Connections. Alazir reassures them that this does seem to be the right place, although Eli still can’t shake the sense that they remain in Dream.
Things take a turn for the worse as they begin to move, however. The dampness on the walls develops into moss, and lumps of rock reveal themselves to have been shifted by gnarly roots and creeping vines along the tunnel walls. The sound of a droning, monotonous voice drifts on the damp, listless air and as they enter a cave they find themselves confronted with large, bud tulips that seem to be talking continuously and strange humanoid figures that run towards them that bear a strong resemblance to unhealthy obsessives. Both groups appear to have been corrupted by the Forest, and upon engaging the oversharers taunt the party about how soon they will be consumed by Forest and make threats towards them, while the latter become fixated on a single thing about their target, but talk at length about how perfect that thing will be once the adventurers have all been subsumed into the Forest’s grasp.
Once dealt with, the party once again feel a tug at their inner selves and are transported into yet another unfamiliar part of the Forest. Or at least, a part that is unfamiliar to Magda and Zosime, as Eli and Alazir recognise it as the clearing that they had seen in Sartov’s vision. Aksirv towers over them – several metres tall – and swiftly orders the slaves surrounding her to attack. As she fights, she cackles that it was she that laid the bait that led them here with the Blooded Oak and those they met on the way. Alazir is unfortunately slain by her, and is becomes yet another of the enslaved. The slaves appear to be connected to her and following her orders through their minds, but are eventually disposed of along with Aksirv herself – or at least nearly. Before the player party have the chance to finish her off, another crawling beast of a similar size enters – and is immediately charged at by Magda.
Announcing himself as Sartov, he cackles (as much as a spider can cackle) while he monologues that in fact it was he that masterminded this whole affair, and thanked the players for their efforts in allowing him to overthrow his leader and rival. The Lost Ones were in fact his own slaves, and the whole series of events had been a trick inside his own mind – none of it was real. Boasting about how he can control the Forest as Aksirv is finally murdered by Eli and Magda, his body appears to morph to become far more Forest-like, while the insectoid growths on the trees fades away. The slaves now appear to have large cordyceps growths emanating from their heads and bodies, and forest-like spiders creep into the clearing. The phrase “you will submit” is repeated over and over as it dawns on the party that this whole thing has been the Forest through and through.
Barely able to contain herself, Eli spots Granny Grinoc of the Lost Souls with a cordyceps growth sprouting from the back of her head. At the point she is slain the bulb explodes, casting spores in all directions and envelopes both Magda and Eli in the process, but Eli manages to resist its effects. Sartov is finally slain, exploding into a Forest-like mess of disgusting undergrowth and rotten leaves, Eli is suddenly overcome with grief at the sight of the body of Granny and – without warning – hacks off her own arm and, incredibly, controls the surrounding Forest to stop either Magda or Zosime from stopping her. Once freed, Magda launches herself at Eli, but Zosime manages to get between the two of them to calm things down.
The feeling of constant hostility from the surrounding Forest appears to fade, and in the crepuscular dimness a path opens up on the edge of the clearing. An odd sight greets them along the path – two denizens locked in a constant argument in front of a locked gate, while odd, plant-like denizens surround it. Upon chatting to them, they reveal themselves to be Connection denizens who have found themselves trapped in the Forest, although they aren’t sure how to open the gate again. The party try to reconcile the differences of the two shouting entities, but they appear just as unwilling to unlock the gate once both are in agreement. Magda attempts to use her willpower to open the gate, but unfortunately fails, but eventually Camaraderie in Battle drops the hint to Eli that perhaps one entity needs to be keen on the other while the other is in conflict with them. As the party manage this, Zosime rushes from behind and blasts the gate open far beyond its normal size with sheer, brute strength. The Connection denizens thank the party, and offer them a guide back to Rastaban through Connection.
The adventurers take them up on this offer, with the denizen Confidence happily chatting away as they wander through the familiar catacombs. Yet, the tunnels are rather too familiar as the four spot the familiar signs of Forest undergrowth – this time, Eli reports no sense of Dream. Yet more of the oversharers and unhealthy obsessives appear, taunting the party and hapless denizen about their incursion into Connection, and that Rastaban will be next. Fortunately, the party make it out without any serious injuries, but unsure of what to make of this new development.
The party find themselves in Rom after travelling through a portal in Connection and back into the material plane. All three report their findings to the Forester’s Guild about the Soul Weavers and bodies with chitinous growths, but are very careful to stress that the Forest has now made an incursion into Connection and clearly has designs on Rastaban through it. They are informed that the Guild is exceedingly grateful to each of them. The loss of Alazir is conspicuously overlooked.
Eli informs the Order of the Throne of what has happened, and in particular the new information that she has learnt about the Forest. She is particularly keen to work out exactly where the area of the Forest that she has abjured actually lies.
Zosime reports back to the Imperial Commission about what has happened, and is later reported to be seen with only one arm.