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Thorn's Chronicle: The Forest of Canolbarth

by Robert J. Nuttman, Jr.

Canolbarth, to those who do not know its secret, appears to be a spooky, creepy forest that suddenly turns to stone less than a quarter mile from the old border with Darokin.

Borderlands and beneath the Shadows

Falling under the shadows of the trees -- either the live ones left at the borderlands or those that have been turned to stone -- subjects the wanderer to the whisperings of the countless demons bound within the forest. A Saving Throw vs. Spells is needed to shake off the influence of the ethereal demons. Those who succeed normally flee at this point. Another Save is needed every two hours. Those failing their Saving Throw are drawn into the physical bounds of the forest, and once they stumble into the petrified remains of the woods, they must make another Saving Throw vs. Spells once their gaze falls upon any of the panes of glossy black stone strung between the boughs and trunks of the great trees, or be struck by a confusion effect, which lasts for 2d8 turns. A wanderer is immune to the effect of the stone for 2d8 turns if the Save is successful, after which point, another Saving Throw is called for if they should gaze again on the stone (even if it is a pane they have already passed).

This material is razor thin sheets of Andahar Onyx. It can be seen through with a strong light source on the opposite side. That which is on the opposite side of the pane of semi-translucent stone appears shadowy, warped and smoky, nearly lost within the reflections on the surface. Fleeting figures and shadows can be seen within the stone, and the viewer's reflection is usually grossly distorted, appearing as a thinner, wasted and ghastly version of the original. Staring too long at the reflection causes it to animate, beckoning the viewer closer, reaching out a bony, desiccated hand.

This alter-image of the viewer is actually a manifestation of one or more demons bound within the stone. Touching the reflection bridges the dimensional gap, and allows the demon entry to the viewer -- it is up to the demon whether or not the viewer is even aware that this is happening. A successful Saving Throw vs. Spells will prevent the demon's entry, leaving the viewer dizzied and disoriented. Movement immediately after a failed possession attempt always results in the victim (and/or group) veering off their planned course per the "Becoming Lost" rules in the Expert Rulebook (Mentzer, p.41)/Rules Cyclopedia (p.89).

Travelers along the borderlands/periphery of the forest will find wildlife. If they are lucky, it will simply be stunted or mildly deformed. Every so often a demon will leak through into an animal host, usually resulting in the demon presenting a hideously malformed version of its host: spines, barbs, extra eyes, elongated teeth and claws in the case of predators. Damage is as the host animal type, but raised to the next iteration on the die-scale (1d6 becomes 1d8); viewing the creature calls for a Save vs. Petrification or the hero may be rooted to the spot in fear. Clerics may attempt to Turn the creature as an undead of hit dice one greater than the host animal. A "T" effect indicates the monster will seek prey elsewhere (or will return in 2d8 turns); a "D" or greater effect drives the demon into hibernation within the host, which gets its own Save vs. Spells to eject the possessor. Clerics of the Silver Flame achieving a "D" result will drive the demon out. (This then opens the can of worms of the ethereal demon seeking a host before it is forced back across the ethereal boundary)

Outside of Turn attempts, demon-possessed wildlife is fearless when it comes to Morale checks: the demon will always drive its host to fight to the death.

The Forest Interior

Far from being quiet as a tomb, Alfheim, though cast in stone, sounds very much alive. The waterways echo off the vaulted stone canopies, and the winds moan and keen through the hollows and nooks within the petrified overgrowth. And everywhere, the demonic whispering can be heard, like the rustling of underbrush. Though the winds cause no movement among the stoneformed plants, shadows still bob and weave and dance one among the other. The shadows can come to life just about anywhere, but usually concentrate among one or another of the twisted magic points.

Travelers beneath the petrified boughs had best bring their own food, for nothing grows in the stone forest. The only exceptions are the pockets of forest still alive around the "good" magic points and Trees of Life. There, wanderers can hope to find enough to sustain themselves for 3 or 4 days at a time. Though the waters are not poisoned, they do taste brackish and stale. Drinking too much at a time results in nausea (similar to exposure to troglodyte stench) Boiling the water will make it safely drinkable (but good luck finding enough wood to make a fire).

Those trees left alive are warped, twisted, radiating an almost-palpable sense of pain. Cutting the trees causes them to scream, flinch away, and bleed. Tapped trees release blood, not sap.

At seemingly random intervals, pillars of gray stone dot the forest, seeming to sprout from the petrified ground. They range anywhere from two to five and a half feet tall. Some are found on their own, others in groups (2d4) with no discernible pattern to their layout.

Also scattered about the forest are three dozen statues of pure white marble, all identically carved in the shape of a short, robed girl. Those closest to the Trees of Life (and there is always at least one within the Tree's magical radius) are accompanied (hand in hand) with a gray stone statue of an elf in full ceremonial garb. There are subtle differences among the statues: half of them have etchings of silver along their lower arms and brow, while the other half have etchings in threads of gold, the pattern the exact opposite of those of silver. Approximately half of those etched with the golden markings bear representations of great-bladed swords, clutched at military rest, point-down, the sword's tips actually penetrating the stone of the forest's floor.

Canolbarth: The Prison of Dreams

The forest is not dead, nor is the nation of elves trapped within its stony borders. The trees and elves, and all the creatures are held in the twilight between dreaming and wakefulness, in the suspension field generated by thrumming vibration of the labyrinth of Andahar Onyx woven through the forest.

Each pane of Onyx has four ways to enter. The first three only draw in the wanderers’ consciousness, leaving their body in a slumber-like state: at the beckoning of the demon(s) trapped within, at the behest of the elven guardian, unwittingly (touching the glass, or falling asleep while reflected in it). The fourth method, physical entry, requires one of the Masks, or the assistance of a Daughter of Andahar.

Beyond the Fusion Boundary

The “other side” of a sheet or facet of Andahar Onyx manifests as a darkened, distorted version of the original reflected landscape. The “natural” state is a perpetual twilight, the shadows long and deep, most of the colors blending towards blacks and blues and grays. Reflections -- even from the most highly-polished of shields or armor -- appear dulled, muted, washed out, much like a black dragonstone’s Veiling, but without the watery, wavering distortion brought on by movement.

Fires will burn, and materials combust as they normally would. Flame consumes fuel at the “normal” rate, but the light itself is dulled, bending towards reds and oranges. With few exceptions, natural light sources are only half as effective as normal.

Magical light sources retain their full effectiveness. and magical fire burns with full brightness. This could bedazzle or frighten “natives” who have adapted to the low-light conditions on the far side of the Fusion Boundary, at the DM’s discretion.

As far as Alfheim is concerned, there are very few physical inhabitants on the far side of the Fusion Boundary. A few elven heroes and wizards, a treekeeper or two, and the odd adventurer who either managed to capture the interest of one of the few remaining active Reapers, or lucked into being near a Tree of Life or in the Misthaven magic point during a proper alignment of stars.

Silent Sisterhood: The Reaper-class Daughters

The guardians along the Fusion Boundary at one time were known by many different names: Silent Sisters. The Songless. The Recommissioned. Princesses of the Night. Handmaidens of Matera. As the ages grew on and people forgot their origin, the guardians’ proclivity towards black robes and scythes -- along with the skull-like appearance of their ivory breath-masks -- lent them another nickname: Reapers. They do not correct the sometimes-paralyzing fear their visages bring about in mortals, for it serves to protect them as the Reaper pursues her true goal: the capture and binding of ethereal demonic essences to black dragonstones, or the direct conflict with demons powerful enough to manifest within the confines of the Fusion Boundary.

Reaper-class Daughters combine the strength of the shrike with the binding powers of the siren. A Daughter of the Reaper class is literally a fusion of the two different physiologies. The enhancements do not come without a price: Reapers are mute. Unlike the golden and silver-bedecked perfection of their sisters, the Songless are almost always crisscrossed with scars. Their regenerative subroutines are not as sophisticated as those of the frontline shrike or siren.

Reapers always work in a triumvirate, each bearing a scythe tuned to a different note of the chord needed to lock a demonic essence into a black dragonstone.

Unlike their sisters, Reapers dress exclusively in flowing black robes with deep hoods. Some Blackmoorian scientist with a morbid sense of humor crafted their ivory breath masks to resemble skulls, the sunken eyes actually thinly-cut lenses of black dragonstone crystal. The Val'Kira bracers of the Reapers are platinum-alloyed World Shield, outfitted with two to three black dragonstones per bracer. With Tenser's Seals disabled when a Reaper must fight hand-to-hand, the flow of platinum metal to reinforce their fingers further bolsters the image that their arms are nothing more than skeletal appendages.