Clearly perceiving violent intent on behalf of the party, the gnomes (which numbered several more than had initially been apparent) attacked the party with tremendous and sudden force.
As the two groups struggled, Sister Briar and the leader of the gnome forces bandied back and forth with ocillating efforts to calm the fight and prevent any deaths, each by turns convinced that the other’s attempts to curb the violence was a ruse.
Several combatants had taken heavy wounds, and others had been knocked unconscious, by the time the respective leaders finally got their troops to almost stand down…
…And that’s when Zariel struck.
Having positioned herself near Briar during the heat of the battle, the eladrin war wizard suddenly turned on the young priestess with a flash of fey light.
Briar, dazed and surprised by the sudden betrayal, staggered and tried to reorient herself as Zariel grasped at her victim’s belt, clearly attempting to steal her bag of holding.
But the Mage’el was too slow. As she fumbled with her dagger and opened the Bag, Flori’x struck her blind.
The moment’s respite was all Briar needed. She swung her mace in a viscious arc, crushing the eladrin’s face and sending her to the ground gasping for breath and choking on her own blood.
Before anyone could think, Elliane was standing above the dying wizard, and had not quite finished asking Briar whether or not she should kill the traitor when she drove both her blades down, ending the life of Zariel with the first smile anyone had seen on the elf’s face.
This seemingly random turn of events seemed to confuse the gnomes, who tended to assume that anyone betrayed by an eladrin was probably at least worth talking to. Despite some lingering scuffles at the outskirts of the battle, the leaders of the respective groups were able to turn the confusion into a hesitant cease-fire, and so the parlay began.
It was quickly established, and apparently believed, that the adventurers, excepting Zariel, had come in peace and meant no harm. The gnomish leader seemed appeased, and bid the party depart.
But when Briar prepared to lead her companions north, the gnomes grew tense again and their leader declared that the group had to head back the way they’d come. The argument progressed, with the party insisting that they needed to go north to the temple to fight the dragon, while the gnomes refused to let them do specifically that.
Just as they had begun to fear that the matter would again come to blows, the shrewd gnomish leader asked Briar’s name, which she gave.
Upon hearing this, the gnomes grew excited, and their leader asked the party to wait, as he needed to consult with his superior. Cautiously the heroes agreed, and waited while a gnome was dispatched to fetch whomever was in charge.
Some time passed…with the gnomes and the adventurers avoiding eye contact, bandaging wounds and occasionally fingering weapons.
Eventually a new gnome appeared. Slight and pretty, but very dirty and unkempt, she bounded from behind a huge tree, clearly excited and casting about with wide, dark gnomish eyes.
When she saw Sister Briar, the gnomeish leader lit up and shouted a bright salutation, as of a long-lost friend reunited.
The gnome, against all probability, claimed and seemed to be Zoe.
Briar, suspicious of fey tricks, inquired closely on subjects she believed that only Zoe would know in detail. The gnome answered all the questions with a sly innocence with which Briar was all too familiar, and, after a few moments, the two laughed and embraced with joy!
In a rush to learn what had happened since they’d last seen each other, the two young women began discussing their adventures until, Jorli, the gnome who had first confronted the party, respectfully cautioned Zoe that discussing things openly in the forest was ill advised.
Zoe, suddenly serious, agreed, and took the party to a secret door in the bole of the large tree she’d come from; down a long, earthen tunnel; and eventually to a small complex of dirt-and-masonry caves where a small number of gnomes clearly made their residence.
As they sat in the rough common area, and received dinner and water from a friendly female gnome named Balili, Zoe insisted she be caught up on what had happened to the party since the Tomb of Heroes, including what had happened to Jala, Flori’x and Rinzai.
The telling took some time, and Zoe was appropriately impressed and sad at Flori’x’ and Jala’s tales, respectively. She seemed somewhat sad that she’d missed out on so much, and cursed violently when she heard about the death’s of her clansmen during the Farivest Massacre, as well as when she learned of the betrayal of the Slimkeel’s afterwards.
Eventually, she grew antsy, and Sister Briar was forced to rush the end of the tale as Zoe began to but in, seeking opportunities to tell her own.
She had been, as they’d guessed, thrust into the Feywild when the oni Toshokotoru had been slain. She had wakened to find herself in the middle of an unknown forestland, which had turned out to be the fey forest outside of Fliklee.
She spoke of wandering the woodland for what would have been days in Mana’era, struggling to find food and shelter, and fighting all manner of terrible beasts. In time, she found her way to the outskirts of Fliklee where the gnomes, so unfriendly to the party, had taken her in as one of their own. It was only after a good night’s sleep and a bath that she had noticed that the Feywild had already wrought changes in her. Her pupils had grown wide and dark, and her body hummed with magical vibrations. She was clearly more gnome than hovaia, at least in appearance…
The gnomes of Fliklee were kind to her, and for several “marks” (roughly 24 hours, or a “day” in the Feywild) they tended her and taught her what they could of the ways of the Feywild though whenever she asked about finding her way back to Mana’era, the subject would be changed.
Zoe, never patient, had just begun to consider striking out on her own in search of a way home when a strange kaenti came to Fliklee. The kaenti was named Miyoko, and he had a reputation among the gnomes for being both decent and a harbinger of trouble. Zoe was told that a number of young Flikleens had followed Miyoko into the wilds over the last few seasons, all in pursuit of some mad prophecy to which he’d devoted his life. The gnomes advised Zoe to steer clear, lest she be whisked away.
But Zoe wanted nothing more than to be whisked away.
She found Miyoko staying at the small tavern in Fliklee. When she approached the kaenti, he seemed to have been expecting someone other than her—which was discomfiting on several levels.
After speaking for a time, it became clear to Zoe that Miyoko was searching for Briar. To her surprise and delight, when she told him so, he had taken her seriously and asked her to join him on his next journey. He said that if she helped him reach his goal, there might be a way back to Mana’era at the end. She’d agreed.
Over the next few marks, Zoe traveled with Miyoko south through the fey Nentir Forest. Along the way they traded tales of their lives and their journeys. As they did so, Miyoko came to know more about Sister Briar, and the doings of the Heroes of Fallcrest, including their interest in the Temples of Khalipanofax that had been turned into monasteries of Dan’Tsu and then lost in the The Bloodspear War.
Zoe, for her part, learned about the the prophecy, and Miyoko’s belief that it foretold the rise of the ancient primordial lords who would wage war on the gods if not prevented. Miyoko also spoke in vague terms of a group of people who were devoted to the goal of preventing that war.
By the time they reached the fey reflection of the Southern Temple of Khalipanofax, Zoe had come to understand that these temples, and the lore of Dan’Tsu that she and her friends had been searching for were being also being sought by the agents of the Primordial Lords such as Dorratham An’Vaethullin, and, sadly, her former companions Memai and Gornelius. Miyoko believed that Dorratham was planning to use the temples along with the scrolls of Dan’Tsu to create a god-slaying weapon.
From miles north of their destination, they could see that Dorratham had gotten there first.
A great green beam of light shot upwards from the temple, gouging the twilit sky of the Feywild. When they reached the actual location, the spriggans and redcaps that had dwelt there were dead. All of them. Blood and viscera were strewn about in a grotesque display of violence. Worse, some of the bodies had been flayed and splayed out as though someone or something had spent time explaring and examining their innards. Dorratham’s party had clearly come and gone.
Miyoko led her to the top of the temple, and examined the runes carved into the base of the crystal spire from which the crackling green energy was shooting. He turned and sadly declared that they were too late. He told her that, if she wished, he could use the power of the crystal to send her back to Mana’era.
Zoe thought about it for several minutes before deciding that it was more important that she help Miyoko with his prophesy.
He had then taken her north again, to meet the gnomes nestled in this strange hideaway. He’d told her that this was a secret outpost known now only to a small number of Flikleeans, all of whom were sympathizers to his cause. It had long ago been a holy place to various fey folk, but had been abandoned when the full temple of Khalipanofax had been built. It was now repurposed as a hideout for the gnomes, whose magics kept it hidden from the dragon and its strangely worshipful minions.
Miyoko had gathered the gnomes, and informed them that Zoe was part of the prophecy, and that she was a harbinger of the Golden Child, whose coming had been foretold. He told them that she should be treated as the chosen one’s emissary, and given all due respect.
Naturally, Zoe explained, this made her the leader.
Miyoko had remained for a mark, then had told them all that he had to depart again. He explained to Zoe that the purpose of this outpost was to observe the dragon and it’s followers. To gather intelligence and to keep an eye on their doings. Not to slay the dragon. He asked her to be careful.
And then he left.
After Zoe concluded her tale, the party discussed what to do next, while bemused gnomes listened in as they went about their business.