Ranza (Changeling 5)
Gnarl (Wood Gnome 5)
Hobbs (Hedgefey 5)
Hobbs (Hedgefey 5)
Thrax (Fighter 4)
The palace itself was small, with four towers set in the surrounding walls, and two more rising above a covered portico where a set of wide marble stairs led up to a pair of massive doors. Curiously, a very narrow bridge or buttress connects the inner towers with the two front towers on the outer wall. The palace itself seemed to consist of just a few floors, topped by a translucent white dome.
Hobbs and Gnarl lead the way into the ragged garden, heading forward to look into the scum covered pool. With a little poking about, Gnarl noted one interesting thing; when the green algae was cleared away, the reflection in the pool showed the palace intact and in pristine condition. Meanwhile, Thrax had emerged from the entrance gate and decided to head straight towards the palace stairs and doors. As he passed the overgrown garden however, there was a stirring among the branches and out popped a black, tangled mass of torn and bark. It lashed at Thrax, cutting a deep gouge into his arm, which immediately turned black and began to fester. Gnarl and Hobbs rushed forward to help, while Ranza and the baby stayed behind and out of danger. The trio chopped the brambling to pieces, but were alerted to the presence of another when Ranza cried out. She (and luckily not the baby) received a horrible wound as well before this second creature was dispatched. They all stopped to bind their wounds, and Gnarl announced both wounds were pulsing with poison. But alas there was little he could do to help for now; they'd have to hang on until the morrow.
Reassured(?) by the wood gnomes advice, the party headed now towards the stairs. They lay under an overhanging roof supported by a pair of pillars. The doors were covered in a geometric pattern and made of a silver, yet now tarnished, metal. Over the lintel was written "Strife comes only to those who bring strife with them". Suspicious, Thrax pulled out the quilt of augury, and asked if it was safe for him to enter the doors. The quilt rearranged itself to show Thrax opening the door, and then disintegrating into a pile of dust. That was not reassuring. After a few attempts to use the reflection in the pool as a means to enter, Hobbs threw caution to the wind and dropped all his weapons to the ground. Pushing on the door, he found they swung opening easily and allowed him entry. But then closed quickly before anyone else could follow. Having seen no danger or disintegration, everyone else followed after dropping their weapons (even Thrax). It seemed the quilt had lied.
They found themselves in a pristine and glittering, white marble entrance hall. In the middle were a couple of glass and metal tables, atop which sat decenters of wine, goblets and bowls of fruit. At the far end of the hall a delicate metal staircase circled upwards around a tall shooting column of water. Thrax went to examine the fountain, discovering that items thrown in do come back down. Except, curiously, the red wine he tossed in; it did seem to disappear. Meanwhile, the other three checked one of the doors that lead off the entrance chamber. Inside they found a room subdivided by blankets, tapestries and towels to form a number of small private bedchambers. They also heard the sounds of sobbing, and another voicing saying "There, there. It will be all right ..." Following the voices, they came upon a pair of woman sitting on one of the beds. The younger was the one weeping, and at her side an older woman was trying to comfort her. Curiously, the older woman was dressed quite anachronisticly, while the younger was in the current height of fashion. After some initial surprise, the older lady (Hilla) was happy to answer their questions. Explaining she and her companion (Erid) were nursemaids for the children of the Autumn Lady, Hilla explained Erid was upset as she was new here and just learning her life now was to remain in the palace forever. It seemed the Autumn Maiden would snatch woman, who has recently lost a newborn themselves, from the realm of men and brought them here to care for the fey endangered babies she likewise pulled through her mirror. When asked, Hilla said she could not take the baby; the party would have to present the child to the Autumn Maiden herself, who dwelled at the top of the palace.
Taking their leave, the party headed up the stairs. There they emerged into a hall filled with statues of strange beings.
- A darkly beautiful woman with no mouth, dressed in a red silk robe.
- A woman of indeterminate age in a blue silk dress, but whose lower body (emerging from water) was obviously not human.
- A woman with dark skin and hair of autumn foliage, recognized by Hobbs (thanks to his vision) as the Autumn Maiden.
- A woman of alabaster completion, wearing a white feathered headdress and white leather bodice and skirts. But with no legs, and holding a scepter of gold, crystal and pearls.
- A woman with pale skin and hair of starlight, dressed in a fuligin robe.
- A woman with bronze skin in a bronze robe, with a head formed of owls wings.
- A faceless pre-teen girl in a plain dress.
- The Green Man.
The party was now left to figure out how to get up to the top level and the dome. They tried searching for secret doors in likely places, and used detect invisibility to find anything that might be helpful. Hobbs even recklessly rode the fountain, hoping it would propel him to the dome. But all to no avail. In the end, Gnarl pulled out the greenstone of earthseeing so he could look deep into the walls. The wood gnome discovered stairs leading up the inner towers, and after rushing downstairs discovered a secret door leading into one of the outer towers where there was another set of stairs. By this they figured out the only way up was to climb the outer tower, cross the tiny narrow bridge to the inner tower, and then up those stairs to the dome. And so it was done, and the party was happy to find it was pretty much impossible to fall off the narrow filigree bridge that spanned the towers.
Emerging onto the top of the palace, they passed a pair of rose beds, climbed a short flight of stairs and entered the dome. There they were shushed by a waiting nursemaid, and watched as the Autumn Maiden, sitting on a simple stone bench in the middle of the room, reached through a large ornate mirror and hauled out a screaming baby. This she handed to the nursemaid, who immediately slipped out the door and left the party with her patron.
The party started off by offering the child into the Autumn Maiden's care; she summoned another nursemaid and sent the baby on its way. They then started asking her some question. First, was whether she could do anything about their two diseased companions. This she could not, airily directing them to her sister Broann, the Wych of the High Moor [hex 06.06]. They then asked why she gathered in those babies at risk from the fey? She responded with a story of the Forest in the days of the arrival of the D'war, the first men. Her father, the Green Man, and his fellow wood gods, the Black Mother and Prince in Yellow, resented the arrival of man and fought against them. But man was too strong, so the Green Man opened portals to Faerie to allow the dark fey into the forest to fight at his side. The war was terrible, and the Autumn Maiden was turned from her father and his allies by the horrors they inflicted on men. She dedicated herself to protecting those young mortals who risked being taken by the fey. Asked about her sisters, she said some remained loyal to the Green Man, some turned against him and some stayed neutral. And asked about the Green Man, she told them her eventually turned against the dark faerie as well, but the war had sapped his power and he (plus the Black Mother and Prince in Yellow) had fallen into a slumber. Their presence was still woven thought the forest, but less overt than it once had been. The party finally asked her what happened to the babies she saved? Once grown up and able to fend for themselves, she told them, the children would be sent back through the mirror to another place and time to rejoin the mortal realm.
And for the last, they asked how to get back to the mortal realm. The Autumn Maiden offer them four gold necklaces, on each of which dangled a large teardrop of amber. Each contained a golden leaf; dog rose, shamrock, oak and mistletoe. They could use these to go back through the gate to the garden, and then out through the toadstool ring to the caverns. Each would also, once per month, allow to wearer to meld with that plant in the wild and be hidden from all sight and detection.
Thanking her for the gift, the party at once retraced their steps, and without further adieu found themselves back in the caverns. Their first shock was Feedbag and the white stag , whom they'd left behind, were long dead. Gnarl figured, based on the remains, they'd been dead for well over a year. That was their first clue that they were the victims once again of the weird time flow in Faerie. Hobbs recovered his saddle, and the party headed out of the caverns. And into a bright spring day, quite unlike the cold winter weather they'd been in just two days before. After a nights rest (and a few neutralize poison from Gnarl to cure Ranza and Thrax), the party headed back to the town of Upland. Once there, they learned about a year and a half had passed since they entered the Garden ...
4150 [shared]; plus 4800xp each [Gnarl, Ranza, Hobbs, Thrax]
4 Amulets of Autumn
2 Black Bramblings