“Where was I?” So often the conversationalists and raconteurs of this world use the phrase as an interjection when their attentions flag, but for those who have happened upon the the twilight realm, the phrase has a more literal meaning.
Much to the annoyance of Athanius, Yérënia and Hogar had grown inebriated following their successes in the Cultists’ camp—Ren from the tasty but hallucinogenic snozzberries found at the foot of the Sunset Mountains and Hogar from the fortified ale of the Keep’s cellars in Greenest. As the rest of the group ascended the stairs, a familiar voice rang out in Ren’s ears. It beckoned her, but out of place as the voice was, she assumed at first that the snozzberries were to blame. She had not heard the voice of her patron, Agridhama the Connoisseur, for quite some time, and tricksy as he is, his sudden arrival made her wary.
Soon, Agridhama made himself known to Hogar and after a brief but garbled look into Ren’s past, Hogar began to worry as well. Agridhama made it plain that Ren had not lived up to his expectations of her, but offered a way for her to redeem herself: steal something of value from a Duchess of the Unseelie Court. Much like pilfering the staff from a powerful and unpredictable wizard, this would not be an easy task, or one without consequences.
Hogar and Ren began to ascend the stairs of the cellar seeing nothing for them there but the promise of ever-growing hangovers, but the climb proved much more of a task than they had anticipated. Whether it was the ale or the berries or something darker at work, they walked for what seemed like hours or days or perhaps months. As their endurance waned, they realized that the darkness behind them was growing and with it, an unsettling growl. Hogar noticed a strange script circling the stairway wall, and with some consideration, Ren realized that the antiquated elvish challenged them to be brave or perish.
With a bit of bravado, Ren grabbed Hogar by the hand and jumped down into the darkness and the increasingly emphatic growl. Hogar and Ren found themselves before a simple wooden door. An inscription carved above the door suggested that having proven their bravey, they would now have to rely on their cunning. Opening the door, they found themselves in a hall bound by two doors. They continued with great trepidation, as Ren cautioned that the Fey, whether friend or foe, were not to be trusted.
The room’s floor was composed of large tiles, some of which Ren and Hogar soon noticed bore strange animalistic carvings. As they moved closer to the carved tiles, some strange things quickly became apparent: the carved tiles were being warded by some unseen force, the door behind them had disappeared and the wall was somehow following them as they progressed, and equally unsettling: they were being watched. While testing theories, Hogar looked into the silvery finish of Ren’s elven dagger and in the reflection, saw a pair of eyes. Eyes that quickly flashed from surprise to anger before a flash of light momentarily blinded Hogar. When his vision cleared, the eyes were gone.
As Ren and Hogar began to try their luck with the carved tiles, each of them displaying an eagle, snake, or spider, they were bruised and battered by the warding, which tossed them against the wall like rag dolls. With their resolve already flagging, a set of spikes began to descend from the ceiling, which reinforced the notion that cunning requires haste. In short order, their space became cramped as the spikes forced Ren and Hogar to puzzle on their hands and knees, and to add to the calamity, Agridhama appeared to lament their foolishness. With death looming, however, Hogar employed his hunter’s instinct and, seeing the true pattern, trod a path through the tiles, reasoning that the eagle eats the snake who eats the spider.
As the spikes fell behind them, Ren and Hogar found that their escape led them to a forest clearing with none other than a hulking owlbear pacing at its center. This test of might proved too much for Ren who was laid low by the beast, but Hogar caught it in the neck with a practiced shot. Unsurprisingly, the owlbear, in defeat, revealed itself to be an elf, who begrudgingly took the pair to meet their malevolent host.
The Duchess, a powerful fey, but nevertheless a fey bound by the conventions of her people, welcomed the pair to claim a prize for their efforts. It became clear to Ren and Hogar what would have befallen them had they failed, as in the Duchess’ thrall, sitting and crawling and slithering in every corner of her hall were the once humanoid animals that had failed to escape her gauntlet.
Of this twisted menagerie, she offered Hogar one creature to be his companion. Not one to be impressed by any ordinary snake or stag, Hogar selected a blink dog, a cunning pack hunter of the feywild, which stalks with an unusual tactic. To Yérënia, she offered a single tome from her library and among the hundreds of dusty spines, Ren chose an ancient grimoire clad in Sylvan gilt and enrobed in a pall of shadow. This, however, was not enough for Ren, whose patron is a greedy sort. With Hogar as her lookout, she stole into The Duchess’ cellar and from its depths, she burgled a centuries old bottle of a fine celestial vintage.
The moment their feet crossed the threshold leaving the Duchess’ court, Hogar and Ren once again found themselves in the cellar of the Greenest keep. “Are you all coming?” Athanius’ voice called from the top of the stairs. Time, you see, does not pass in the feywild as it does in the material plane. Whether it drags behind or speeds ahead, time, like all other aspects of the feywild is deceitful and unpredictable. Something about this peculiarity struck Ren as she felt the bulge of the wine bottle in her bag: as time is meaningless to the Fey, they have plenty of time to consider slights against them. The Fey are petty and powerful, capricious and deceptive, but they do not like to be deceived themselves. The theft of the bottle is not something the Duchess would soon forget or forgive…