Cade strums a simple chord on his lyre, as he settles in once more atop a table in the center of the tavern. He smiles, as he looks out over the faces gathered around him. His tune slowly brings the sounds of the tavern down, a hush falling over the majority of the crowd. Those that decided to continue talking were quickly silenced.
“I see a few new faces out there, I am sorry but I do not have time to recap. I suppose for the new folk, this will seem like a completely new adventure. For those of you that were here last night... well, I apologize... The Lurkwood screws with your perception of reality... so some of this may not exactly make sense...”
He takes a deep breath. “You may recall I was traveling with my retinue, lost deep within the Lurkwood, when suddenly we saw an exit, and Stonehearth lay in the distance. With nary a thought, we rushed forward, eager to be free of this foul forest.
“It was not to be. As we rushed forward, reality shimmered, and we once more found ourselves deep within the forest. Things became a confused jumble, I thought myself back at the circus, Cora Tealeaf sitting on my lap, those nimble fingers of hers finding their way...”
He blinks a could times, and clears his throat. “Um... suffice to say... her hands were soft and quite skilled. Heh... uh... where was I?”
He nervously adjusts the collar of his tunic, takes another deep breath, and resumes strumming his lyre. “I have no idea how long I was under the influence of this spell, but when I came to, my bodyguards were in chaos. The elves seemed to be vainly attempting to wake up the dwarfs, one of whom seemed to be caught in a net, and slowly being pulled away. All in all, it was a rather distressing thing to see first thing after waking up from a much nicer place.
“Being the grand hero that I am, I immediately jumped into action. I jumped onto the stomach of the dwarf being dragged away, and managed to wake him up enough to stop the dragging. With him awake, I pulled out my trusty quarterstaff, and began to dispatch the barely visible gnolls that were assaulting us.
“Their assault was quickly turned away by the fury of my swings. I would have ended all of them, if it hadn't been for my bodyguards getting injured, and drawing my attention away from the fray. I gladly gave up my advantage in the fight, to save the life of one of the mortally wounded elves. A rather powerful healing spell, brought her back from the brink, and within a few minutes we were again on our way.”
He pauses to take a drink, and assess the crowd. Every single ear in the place seemed to be his to command. A smile forms slowly behind the tankard.
“The woods stretched on forever, and no matter how far we walked, it seemed that we were making no headway. The trees all started to look the same, even though the elves told us that they were different, I began to doubt them. I suppose that one can say there is a sort of paranoia that sets in when one walks for a long time, in an unchanging landscape. I began using my dagger to cut marks in the trees randomly as we passed, to indicate to myself where I had been, in case we were going in circles.
“After several more hours, we encouraged one of the elves to climb a tree, and see if she could see which direction we needed to head. She climbed the tree like a natural, and as we waited at the base, I strummed gently on my lyre, much to the delight of my remaining bodyguards. Mograine had disappeared, our horses had disappeared, but for the time being, we had a moments respite, and a gentle tune to keep away the encroaching madness.
“There is a strange solemnity when one is faced with imminent death, and there is nothing better to do than strum out a tune, and wait for death's sweet embrace. However, it seemed that the more I played, the more sane things seemed to be. Sure, we were still stuck in the deep dark forest of death, but... things seemed more welcoming. The strange air of foreboding seemed to evaporate. While I wouldn't say there was a sense of calm as I played, I would say that tension seemed to lessen ever so slightly.
“It seemed like we remained at the base of that tree for hours, but time was screwy in those woods. Minutes seemed like hours, days seemed like minutes. When our elf finally returned, she pointed us in the proper direction, and we set off.
“The walk was long, or so it seemed, and soon we found our path littered with the bones of other travelers. A bowed my head, doffed my cap, and played a gentle dirge for the departed, as we left them to remain lost and forgotten. A fate I hoped to the gods that we would not share.
“A soft scratching at my ankle startled me, and I looked down to see a skeletal hand clawing at the side of one of my boots. A frantic look around revealed the bones were slowly reassembling, and rising. I noticed the abject terror in the eyes of my bodyguards, and I set myself on the path, smashing the skull of one of the rising skeletons with my trusty quarterstaff. 'Run, you fools!' I growled out through gritted teeth, and I smashed another skeleton. 'I'll hold them off for as long as I can.'
“My bodyguards turned, and fled with nary a glance in my direction, as I took down skeleton after skeleton. It seemed as if a thousand of the things were rising, and soon, I knew I was only seconds away from being overwhelmed. With a growl, I spun around, knocking out a dozen more skeletons, before dashing off in the direction my bodyguards had just disappeared, with a horde of the shambling undead following after me.
“I caught up to the others soon, they stood staring at the elf who had climbed the tree. She appeared to be waist deep in the ground, a terrified expression on her face. I rushed forward, intent on trying to dig her out of whatever trap she was in. One of the dwarfs managed to grab me just as my foot started to sink into some sort of quicksand-like substance.
“I turned, and saw the skeletons were still pretty far off, and without a thought for my own safety, I tied a rope to my quarterstaff, handed one end of the rope to the gaping simpletons, and ran full out into the morass.
“Whatever it was, it was thicker than my ma's porridge, and I am fairly sure if there wasn't a horde of the undead barreling down on us, we might have been able to fashion a crude bridge across. Being in a crunch for time, and not wanting to be a person short in the epic battle that lie ahead, my only hope was to pull her back to solid land. When I managed to reach her, I handed her one end of my quarterstaff, and when I was sure that her grip was solid, I shouted for the remainder of my guard to start pulling.
“At first, nothing happened, but suddenly, the rope and staff lurched in our hands, and we were on our way. She shivered like a leaf the whole way, and I kept my hands clasped over hers to make sure she didn't lose her grip. I kept encouraging her to hold on between shouts to pull harder.