As the party returns from the caverns near Itheka, MANTIUS unexpectedly finds himself in the garb of Concinnarium Vigilo and hears a summons to report for “judging”. Upon his bewildered acquiescence, he disappears, taking with him the party’s entire store of shards, including those currently equipped.
Left defenseless and extremely vulnerable, the remainder of the party does their best to block the entrance of the cave, but not without a Suicide Ferret making its way inside. After some panic, ARCTURUS and VARIAN manage to lure the ferret back out, where it apparently explodes.
Elsewhere, Mantius comes face to face with another warder, who chides the Concinnarium Vigilo (Mantius, it seems, is only incidentally present as the most recent “mount”—or bearer—of said shard) for its tardiness and proceeds to evaluate its performance thus far in the preparation for “the war against the blue”. While it is credited for having assembled the appropriate number of seven mounts, the loss of two shards—leading to the evidently inadequate total of 26 (They come in sets of seven)—is not well received, nor is Mantius’s inability to name the damaged as well as the most recently acquired shard. These two shards are therefore essentially confiscated; and the remaining are compelled to defend (through Mantius) the worth of their most recent mounts, with the final result apparently just passing muster by the critical warder’s standards.
Others are less fortunate. A third warder, the Custodiae Validus, is likewise called and roundly criticized for allowing its group of mounts to overly concentrate on the physical aspect of their abilities; and the bearer is summarily relieved of her store of shards and dismissed, the confiscated shards passed to Mantius with an admonition that it had better be a different warder shard that reports for the next judging.
Mantius is returned to his companions, who are stunned not only by the bounty he has brought, but by the realization that they have somehow become soldiers in a war beyond their comprehension. Nevertheless, after some rest (and acquisitive glee), they decide to proceed with their current plan and explore the beginning of the route toward Itheka.
|At a certain point, we referred to the Warped|
Woods as walking "Mystic Leafs" -- the
'instant resurrection' item for the game.
Before the whelk is eaten, it mentions the druid Adarius and his “secret sanctuary”; and indeed, there is an entrance to a chamber below ground among the trees. The party enters and finds the remains of Adarius, his face apparently eaten off by the many legged violet spider they soon spot lurking on the ceiling. They battle the creature, and Varian tries summoning a new entity, the Gorgon—which deals with the spider with contemptuous ease, but costs its summoner dearly in the process.
ALECTO suggests searching the chamber for another egress, and MARTA is able not just to find it, but to determine how it is operated. The group passes through into a verdant grotto, in which they soon meet a tree nymph named NERISSE, who was rescued by Adarius and taken to the grotto so she could recover. Moved by Nerisse’s distress, they soon discover that the bloodstained cloth they found among the trees appears to contain scraps of Adarius’s skin, so they put it on his face and place his body in the water in hope that this will help.
By so doing, they are able to summon up Adarius’s shade, which gently avers that it is too late for him, instead requesting their aid, if they are willing, for the families of Gideus (East, across the river) and Tomasina (North, in the valley). In conversation with him and, later, Nerisse, it is learned that:
The distressed nymph expresses her wish to leave the grotto and return to the wild, but is dissuaded when Catalina escorts her near the entrance, where Nerisse is injured by mere contact with some of the ash.