The willow at the center of Lurielle’s grove was enormous. Like opening the way into a tent, the veil-like branches were parted by Leafwind but the elf paused to give the heroes warning.
“Your Wills are fragile, and so you must not look directly upon her, and you must leave when she bids you go. Be warned, enter only if you understand what I have told you.”
The leafy curtain gave way to a shadowy hollow beneath the massive tree, and as the heroes’ eyes adjusted to the dim, they found they could barely make out the silhouette of a woman leaning against the trunk. The silhouette was enough.
Lurielle was no hag at all – she was a nymph! Even her silhouette brought weakness to the heroes’ knees, and her voice, though only a whisper, stirred yearning in their ears for her to speak louder.
“There are five of you, and so I will answer five of your questions. I dare not speak more than that, for I have much to say already…” she began. In stunned silence, the heroes barely recognized that the nymph had asked a question as well.
“Will you ask now, or wait until I have spoken?” her words lingered, and at Adris’ faint murmur of ‘after’, she continued. “Something of no small importance has come to pass today. The ritual which you so painstakingly interrupted was cast with such design as to bring me a spell I seek. You have disrupted it, and perhaps then you owe me its due, or it has worked, and you are the very delivery of its working.”
Lurielle paused, then gave the heroes a long look. “But I am not keen on denying you your Free Will, a thing not often found in those who come to seek me, as you will learn. And so I will tell you my tale, and then I shall ask you to help me, for the choice is yours to make, not mine.”
And so Lurielle told the heroes her tale. Two winters past, a hobgoblin army marched against the Nearwood. Sworn to protect the forest, Lurielle unleashed her nymph’s magic and enchanted the hobgoblins to her service. She began to mold them into protectors of the forest to atone for what they had been, but she found that her magic was powerful and far-reaching. Soon, elves wandered to her grove under her enchantment, and when she bid them leave, they returned with their entire villages. Rather than let them bring more to this unfortunate enslavement, she bound them to stay in the grove.
The druids came looking for the elves, having found entire villages inexplicably deserted. Lurielle told them her tale, thinking their wills strong enough, but they too returned with elves in tow. The nymph used her magic to bind the grove in a labyrinth of fog and forbade her ‘followers’ to leave. She devised a ritual that would summon her a spell to free them all from her magic, and it is by this ritual, she believes, that the heroes have come to her.
Adrie summons the will to ask for one night (Avaris was certainly going to ask the same question, but with an entirely different intent), and Lurielle grants the request. The heroes are given one night to stay in the nymph’s grove before they must depart – lest they fall under her spell.
The heroes’ heads clear somewhat as they make camp with the elves and hobgoblins. The night’s discussion turns to what questions they will ask, and Avaris decides to pursue a personal interrogation of Leafwind. Come morning, the questions are decided and the heroes enter Lurielle’s willow once more.
“We will accept your quest, Lurielle,” the heroes began, “But we will also ask our questions.”
The nymph nodded, knowing too-well the importance of withholding words when she can.
“Firstly, what does this spell you wish for us to seek entail? What will happen to these people when you cast it?” Adris asks. “These hobgoblins won’t just start murdering the elves they’re so peacefully living with, will they?”
“It is a spell that will imbue me with the power of the natural world. It will bind me to a feature of the world and give me some measure of its power. I will bind myself to the entire Nearwood — thus diluting my power. Rather than the sharp focus of a single person, my enchantment will be spread throughout all the forest. Thus, these people will be able to leave my grove and live their lives — perhaps endeared a little more than the average elf to the smell of the forest and the rustle of leaves in the wind, but no longer hopelessly captivated by the love in their hearts. At least, no more than any other elf has the freedom of will to find another to captivate them so.”
“And what else can this spellbook be used for?” asks Sabellia. The warlock was accustomed to dangerous bargains with powerful beings, and it was never a poor idea to know more about what exactly she was getting into.
“The library of Al’Maja has many spells for many things. It is said that it may indeed hold record of all magic ever conceived. The particular book that I seek, however, is druidic magic. And unlike the folly of some wizards of lore, I know well enough to cast only the spell whose purpose I understand.”
The heroes glance among each other, not entirely satisfied, but not willing to squander their remaining questions on the topic of Lurielle’s task. “What can you tell us of the Doomspell written on this scroll?” asks Adrie.
The nymph examines the scroll and comes to some conclusions, few of which the heroes haven’t already. The scroll is from the Magiclands, where Al’Maja is located, and where the vile Lysinda reigned. She does not know of the Doomspell, but given time, she can scry for news of it and pass those answers on to the heroes.
Tanule is more to the point; “Balthazar,” he growls, “Who, what, and where is he?”
The nymph has few answers. However, the hobgoblins she has charmed to her side know more — she summons their foremost lieutenant and bids him to speak on the topic. “Balthazar is many-shaped,” he reveals, “He has taken the form of hobgoblins to speak with us, a giant among the ogres, and orcs among their kind. I know that Ygglgomm, a beholder, serves him, but I do not know why. I do not know for certain, but I believe him to be the son of Balnakiir, an ogre-mage from the caves beneath the Stout Hills.”
Like the Doomspell, Lurielle promises to scry into the history of this Balthazar and inform the heroes with what she learns.
Finally, Avaris looks to the nymph. Insightfully noticing the anger in Lurielle’s body language when Lysinda’s reign was mentioned, he asks, “What of Lysinda, or any of the other names listed on this scroll? What do you know of them?”
The nymph spits the name as she tells what she knows of Lysinda, “She was a vile succubus. She deceived her way to the high seat of the Magiclands and ruled as Archmage, where she plotted to separate the kingdom from this plane and plunge it into the Abyss. I know these things, for I was called upon to aid the adventurers who deposed her, and it was I who cleansed their cursed crystal ball from her betraying magic a hundred years ago.”
Of the others, she sheds a little light.
Soveliss is the eldritch king of the Magiclands, having been rewarded with the throne after exposing Lysinda’s plot and defeating her. He has worked tirelessly to repair the damage the succubus did.
Orewealth Goldbeard is the dwarf king of Tul Kulumad. She knows little of him, and their paths have not crossed.
Vellraem is the ancient red dragon whose menace has been somewhat checked by the dwarves of Tul Kulumad.
Jonesmaster Oarbuckle was one of the final victims of Lysinda; he discovered her plot but was thwarted by the heroes who later deposed the succubus. Deceived by her, they captured him and brought him to the succubus where he was seduced and slain while under her thrall.
Balnakiir was an ogre-mage beneath the Stout Hills who was rumored to be slain a hundred years ago by the same adventurers who later deposed Lysinda.
Of Alumirridar or The Prophet, Lurielle knew nothing.
Before departing her grove, Lysinda awarded them five gifts. To the elves, she granted the boons of Sehanine and Melora – to Tanule, a weapon that would deter the vanishing tricks of the Fey, to Sabellia, shadowy armor that would befit her warlock powers, and to Avaris, boots that would make his footwork unequaled among duelists.
Too, she gave them the crystal ball that she had broken of Lysinda’s curse, that she might communicate the findings of her scrying. She bid them good luck and directed them to the dwarf-city of Gald Kulumird, by which they could find passage into the under-mountain kingdom of Tul Kulumad, and one of the few remaining paths into the Magiclands after it had so nearly been severed from this plane by Lysinda’s magic.