Khadral of Petross’ attempt to quell the insatiable flames failed spectacularly. Standing at the open shaft where below he lay unconscious or dead, I had but one choice. With nothing to tie a rope to, Torrent held it fast and I lowered myself into the cavern, only to make out gloomy, shuffling shapes in the darkness. It was more of the fungoids we had battled and fled from on Khadral’s doomed errand. The caves must stretch for miles beneath the whole forest.
There was no time to waste. Quo-Varis and Fern leaped down to fend off the creatures as I tipped a healing draught to the wyrmchild’s scaly lips. Avandra served us well; it wasn’t too late. The others reft the repulsive fungoids with stalwart passion as Khadral came to his senses, and the room thundered and crackled with Merrick‘s spells. We ascended with haste, and returned to Khadral’s abode. I must admit it was a somewhat spectacular rescue.
Khadral pledged to continue his work, even in the face of miserable defeat. We wished him luck and headed out. I admit I was distracted; in all of our encounters with the fungoids, we’d never seen any stricken by the curse of the Fire Forest. Is it their strange biology, or could they have a patron spirit that shields them? At that moment I wondered if we would ever find the cause of this affliction, or if it would continue to elude us.
It would all become much clearer soon after—though I still can’t quite fit it to what I know.
Following the path again, we hoped to escape Innenotdar soon. But nothing in this place is easy. The hotness is unbelievable; what I wouldn’t do for a cool Lycean ale. What I wouldn’t do — A proud descendant of Bael Turath shouldn’t notice this trivial heat, let alone be bothered or endangered by it. Oh, I am a wretched thing!
The path was blocked, and we were beset by fiendish stags, with bodies composed purely of fire and ash. The all-consuming fire encroached as we battled. But in the end it seemed to be just a test of our abilities. A terrible visage, like that of a demon, appeared in the flames and spoke to us. We knew not of what it spoke, but it seemed to be the animating spirit of the forest. It informed us that we’d soon cross a river, which we would follow to a lake and then set the being free.
None of us knew what to make of this. We were missing a piece of the puzzle which we found soon after: the journal of Bhurisrava. We found it in a blackened tower near the river, a sort of watchtower for a long-deserted elven settlement. In its final pages, Bhurisrava seemed to suggest that the fire forest was created when an elven hero named Anyariel tried to slay a terrible creature – a flaming stag – and the best she could do was pin it to the ground with her sword.
In the center of the town there was a shrine, underneath a stone tree and in the middle of a fountain. Bhurisrava‘s journal had mentioned going there for more information, and we decided to follow in his footsteps (so many years later). However, dark forces had seemingly guessed our motive and assaulted us as we crossed the stone steps leading to the shrine. We prevailed, but it was a difficult fight. For Melora’s sake, how long had it been since we’d last rested?
After gaining entry, we descended into the cool depths of the shrine, only to find our way blocked by an old eladrin who called himself Eteranth. He was a friend to our cause, and had much information to offer, but insisted we not continue into the shrine until we proved our honor with a task. Specifically, we had shown him the legionnaire’s badge that had once belonged to Torfendar of Kilraadel, and the old eladrin wished that his old friend’s bones were buried properly. I couldn’t believe it. Rest in Peace. Like anyone could possibly give a damn what happens to their bones. If only he knew! I swallowed my incredulity and
we agreed to assist him in exchange for his help.
We returned to the fungoid cave, with plans to sneak in and steal away the old elrad’s bones, but found that things had changed. The odd plant creatures had been slaughtered, and the cave had a new residence: vile goblins, stricken by the living death of the fire forest. How strange it was to see something so close to, and yet so different from, my own existence. Even though they writhed in eternal torment, I found I had little pity for these creatures. Leaping into the fray, we struck them down one by one, only to see them rise again, reinvigorated by the terrible flame. Plunging their corpses into the underground stream seemed to prevent the curse from taking hold again, and soon we had reclaimed the entrance to the cave. However, the skull of Torfendar had gone missing! It was suggested that the savage chieftain might have taken it as a trophy, and we proceeded deeper into the cave, where we were presented with a gruesome sight: Poor Khadral, strung up like a stuck pig, and about to be sacrificed!
Not knowing how or why the wyrmchild had been brought here, we charged in, and found ourselves blocked by the goblins’ advance. It pains me to write it, but we failed him. I failed him. I was just reaching for Khadral when the goblin shaman plunged a dagger deep into his chest. I watched the life vanish from his eyes.
And so the dark ritual was completed with a blinding flash, opening a dark portal, from whence a diabolic horror emerged. We battled the goblins and struck uselessly at the horror, when to our grim surprise, Khadral’s body erupted into flame and reanimated—upon his death, our poor friend had become infused with the abhorrent energy of the fire forest! A terrible fate, indeed.
The situation was dire. Should we flee, or stay and fight, possibly to the last? On instinct I tried to push Khadral into the water, to hopefully quench his suffering, but he spoke! In stuttered, agonizing words, he gasped, “Fools! Do not delay! The monster must be returned to the portal!” And he lurched toward the thing, trying to grapple it with his bare, flame-scarred hands.
For a few moments, it seemed too late, but then Fern, with a keen eye, blasted the thing right in the maw, and it stumbled back towards the portal. With all of his might Khadral leaped at the beast; both of them were sucked into the portal, which closed, then collapsed, causing a disturbance in the cave. Someone snatched Torfendar’s skull from the goblin king’s belt and we made a run for it, as the ceiling tumbled down around us. Poor, noble Khadral.
Let me say now that if we ever make it out of this Fire Forest, it will not be soon enough. It seems like the forces of evil track our every move, and ambush us whenever we let our guard down. If it is true that we must free a terrible beast in order to restore the forest to its natural order, I cannot say which is worse. How can one weigh the suffering of the forest creatures against the unknown quantity of a great, implacable evil?
Perhaps we’ll get some answers once we’ve returned Torfendar‘s remains to Eteranth. For now, I must rest. I can’t help comparing my own fate to Khadral’s. Will I become like him? A useless martyr?