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Both the artistic and scientific enterprises are the product of our need to reduce dimensions and inflict some order on things. Think of the world around you, laden with trillions of details. Try to describe it and you will find yourself tempted to weave a thread into what you are saying. A novel, a story, a myth, or a tale, all have the same function: they spare us from the complexity of the world and shield us from its randomness. Myths impart order to the disorder of human perception and the perceived “chaos of human experience.
—  Nassim Taleb
Chapter Seven

[Chapter Six]

Except for the one ghoul fight, the rest of the journey ends up being rather boring, as the adventurers find themselves following more and more abandoned paths. A few signs here and there keep them pointed towards Thunder Tree, until finally they find a sign that reads differently: “Danger! Plant monsters & undead, turn back.” By judging the surrounding area they had arrived in Thunder Tree. It’s eerily silent, Faelen shudders and attempts to give themselves a health buff, not noticing the spell the managed was with a necrotic essence. Baileys takes out their weapon and readies it, also casting an Unseen Servant to walk in front of them as the abandoned settlement is explored. 

The first group of buildings that were more than just rubble seem to be just some very broken down cottages, without much left inside. The second group are better, definitely a prosperous area before whatever ill fate had its way there, but still mostly empty and torn apart by the wildlife now, with some trees even growing out from within. While trying to search for any signs of something interesting within, some of the roots start to move, at which point Brick exclaims “Hello friends!” as a bunch of little twiggy monsters spring to life. Baileys and Briar attempted to briskly walk away from this interaction of course, but without much success. 

As the tree like creatures rush forwards to attack, Brick switches from friendly to fight, aiming for her usual one-two punch, and instead releasing a cone of flame that obliterates the creatures in front of her. Exciting! Talia cheers for Brick to try doing that again while fending off her own twiggy creature, at which Brick just nods and tries to process what the hell happened. Faelen, being very experienced with the shock of accidentally using a spell for the first time, gives Brick some Mage Armour while she recovers. The rest of the battle goes slowly but rather safely, only Talia is scratched at a point and the creatures are rather easy to smash into kindling. 

As the group calms down from the encounter, Brick starts wandering the perimeter looking for more creatures, since some had run in after the initial encounter, and just to give herself time to think. Instead she finds an old savings box, and retrieves some money from it that she pockets as Talia comes over and attempts to comfort her. Faelen soon follows, putting a hand on her shoulder and asking if she’s alright.

“…… Ah! Yes! Yes fine, friend!” Brick looks down at her bandaged hands, turning them over slowly, “… how are you? I felt a presence in the fight, protected! Was that you?” she asks, elbowing Faelen in the side gently.

“I’m alright, y-yeah. Yeah, putting that new staff to good use. … You, you sure you’re doing fine?”

“It was wonderful! I felt quite powerful!” 

“Listen,” He says, not letting go of her shoulder quiet yet in hopefully a comforting touch, “I know what it’s like to have an accidental spell sprung on you, it can be real startling if you’re not expecting–” 

Brick continues, “Your help was much appreciated, friend,” ignoring the question.

“Well alright,” he mumbled, finally letting her be for a moment, but not moving away. After a few moments of having friends nearby without pressuring her, Brick finally opens up a little.

“… I don’t. But I don’t do, magic… That is not a thing I do.”

Meanwhile, Baileys and Briar, being very assured in their lack of ability to comfort anyone at all, decide to go explore the last building in the area. It appears to be an old tavern, and using the unseen servant, Baileys is able to get the door open and peered inside without getting too close. Just as decrypted as the rest of the buildings, but was clearly a lovely bar at the time, the common area looks like it was once quite nice, except for all the dead bodies strewn about. They back up and inform Briar of what they saw, noting back to the sign on the front of the town, and the two decide to let the dead creatures remain in their resting and push forwards instead.

Faelen’s ears turn as he hears about something undead, but also keeps listening to Brick and Talia chatter, including a few ideas of the magic coming from Brick’s worship. He only had a slight shrug to offer though, not knowing really what else to add onto the paladins comments. “I dunno friend, I guess you do now.”

There’s a pause, before Brick perks up to her usual sunny disposition. “I’m sure that it is fine! As friend Talia said, a blessing from the gods! Nothing to worry about! Come come, our other friends have wandered off, we shan’t leave them alone for too long, shall we? They are quite the squishy types.”

Of course, the monk sung this out as Briar and Baileys approached from behind, neither of which argued out loud against it, though the bard did give a tired glare before mentioning what they had found and suggesting pushing more into the center of the town. Wandering down the road, they come across the first building that doesn’t seem completely destroyed. The doors and windows are actually closed on it, and it almost looks lived in? Brick marches up to the door and knocks on it, but nobody answers. So she asks Briar to pick the lock as Baileys wanders down the path a little further to get a closer look at the building in the distance, finding it to be a rather destroyed farmstead and not quite looking like somewhere they want to dig into without much reason.

Returning to the group, the bard perches against the archway and informs everyone as to what they saw, as Brick and Faelen sneak into the small cottage and look about. There’s enough basic fixings to tell that someone had been, and probably still is, using this as a current living space. Brick finds a journal on the bedroll and opens it only to find sketches of plants and wildlife and some scribblings in a druidic language, and goes to pocket it, though Faelen points out that someone had been here recently. Brick lets them know about what’s in the journal and that she doesn’t think anyone would be still living out here with all the undead and monsters around, at which point Baileys chimes in that if the journal appears to be druid owned, and the monsters are plant based, it’s very possible they had just destroyed the druid’s security system, and that they’re living quite happily out here. Brick puts the journal back.

While spending the night locked up in the cabin waiting for the druid to return was a possible option, the group decides to explore a bit more, curious about the tower in the distance. The close up the home and head down the main path more, slowing as the next building comes into view… something that looks like a store, and not completely ruined either, but webbing climbs up the sides and leads into the surrounding forest… A good reason for hesitation.

[Chapter Eight]

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Ancient Pages
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A black mass pooled along the corners and darkest points of Artenia’s walls and like a continuous pour of ink, the spill of tendrils and the Void escaped past wallpaper, stone, and carpet, a cold bite in the air followed in the wake until finally, the expansion of darkness ceased. Boot and heel were the first to step through, followed by Artenia’s kin. It was enough to cause the Speaker to look up from her book and across the room though she had seen Hale traverse all the way out to Elwynn in much of the same manner. Hardly anything took her by surprise when it came to the Cress family.

Upon her arrival, that unknown cold of the entity at Hale’s shoulder followed in suit and while most had been quite impervious to the creature, Artenia seen him in shades of dark grey and misty blacks; like a restless second shadow to her cousin’s form, “Did you bring what I asked for?”

“I sure did, and then some. Look at you, you should be out meeting people, making friends or sharing drinks at the bar. Instead, you’re holed up here…reading.” Typical, Hale thought with a roll of her eyes and she looked around the large living space of the abode. The small manor house which was one of the smaller Cress holdings within the Eastern Kingdoms that had belonged to the dearly departed Aram which in his will had gone to Artenia upon her year of rightfully becoming an adult. 

As the portal behind her slithered back into nothingness and the previously obscured parts of Artenia’s room returned, Hale observed the mantle of the room, running a finger curiously along the wooden surface.

Clean.
Of course it was.

How could Hale have expected anything else from a woman who had nothing better to do than….clean and read books.

The Priestess smiled and pushed the terse thoughts from her mind, “Here. Oh don’t give me that look!” she huffed towards Artenia who sat in silence with a ‘look’ set in those honey-colored eyes and her book snapped gently upon her finger, ‘Come. See I brought you some nice things. You’ll like these. So!” Hale began, “– Toxicfang like you asked for.” she reached in her bag and pulled forth a black jar and handed it out to her younger cousin. Right away Artenia had set aside her book and took the jar to inspect it, even giving it a firm rattle and a shimmy. It had some weight to it. Yeah, that would do for the payment Hale had owed her.

“And –” the Priest sung out.
“And?”

Hale pulled a small worn book from within the bag and placed it within Artenia’s other hand. It was terribly old just by the near brittle feel of the leather at her palm and the smell of old parchment that came with it. Right away her skin prickled and Artenia begun to unbind the book with the thin leather straps that kept everything contained, all while Hale wandered the room peering out windows and even taking a peek at the books on Artenia’s shelves.

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