Gabriel didn’t stay dead for long. The Dryad my new companions knew agreed to help us—I was quite unfamiliar with her magic, however, and her spell did not guarantee the form of his reincarnated body. In the end, his old human body had been intermixed or changed somehow into a partially dragon body. Whoa. He scared the crap out of Lightbeard, which was a much needed moment of levity. I told him that I was glad he was back, even though I suspected he was still a pretentious jerk…my comments didn’t really have any force behind them, though, and indeed he seemed a little more subdued, almost friendly. I must admit, his new form seems less threatening to me. And he offered the necklace I had made back to me, but he now wears it around his neck. These new friends are starting to grow on me—as evidenced by me using the word ‘friends’.
Some hostile seeming harpies were singing their stupid songs outside the grove. I went out to speak with them and found myself caught between two worlds. On one hand, they were clearly evil and deserve to die. On the other hand, I wasn’t sure we were in any state to be fighting them at that moment, and the more pressing matter was saving Alloralla (I had learned the elf’s name from the Dryad). I negotiated a deal with them, eventually giving them one of the baubles I had taken to seal the deal. As they were leaving, someone decided we should attack, and the boys ran out of the grove’s protection wildly firing an arrow at, apparently, nothing in particular. Still caught in two minds, I began drawing my bow only to realize that two of my companions were utterly enchanted by the siren song. Just when you think you know and could trust some men, they go and become blithering idiots at the sight of some naked, singing half-birds. (Not that being a half anything is bad. Damn you if that thought entered your mind). This was clearly not the time to do battle. Lightbeard, oddly enough displaying the most sense, and I led the way back through the grove on our mission. Rebrus, it seems, stayed back to continue working to remove his cursed garment.
As we neared the tree again, I cast some added stealth protection over our group—we all had a feeling that time was of the essence. This enabled us to avoid some gnoll packs and enter the tree undetected. We found 2 ogres and some small, annoying imp creature on his shoulders repairing the damage I had done on our last visit to the tree. We crept up on them, Bodhi and I toward one, Lightbeard and Gabriel to toward the other. I struck first, two deep rapier thrusts (the second, wickedly, in the same place as the first) and a dagger slash, and Bodhi quickly finished off our opponent with a powerful swipe from his dangerous-looking blade. I took off to help our other companions, and found they had similar luck with their ogre, but the little imp was proving problematic. Gabriel seems to have not lost any of his agility in his new body—he leapt off the tree, acrobatically swiping at the little imp. He narrowly missed (I suspect magical protection) before nevertheless burying his sword in the ogre’s eye. Arriving quickly, I contributed to the ogre’s demise before striking sure at the imp’s midsection only to find my blade stopped by, as expected, an unseen magical force. To top it off, the little imp was laughing maniacally, only adding to the absurdity of the situation. I think it was Lightbeard who finally finished him off.
We then, still under the influence of my stealth spell, crept around the tree to find a gnoll with a hellish, otherworldly wolf pet. Using our stealth to deadly advantage, we released a barrage of spells and arrows which, I must say, was pretty damn powerful. Despite the creature’s otherworldly toughness, our first barrage utterly destroyed it. The gnoll, seeing its powerful companion dispatched, wisely ran, although this only prolonged its life for another minute or so.
Pressing our advantage, we gave chase down one more level of the tree. Our gnoll was still running, screaming incoherently at another, larger gnoll, and a nasty, middle-aged, horned ‘woman’ (if you can call it that) holding a macabre skin-bag. There was also a wolf, dragging something out of view. As we took down the cowardly gnoll, the air was rent by a powerful blast of lightning. Normally I can avoid such attacks, but I was so focused on the disturbingly familiar object in the wolf’s jaws that it hit me square in the stomach, blasting the air from my lungs and scorching my cloak.
Lightbeard responded with a phenomenal, angry bear shaped fireball (where did he learn such a kickass spell?!), and Bodhi and Gabriel engaged the big gnoll. Greatly weakened, I stayed back, firing arrows into his prone body. Gabriel took some powerful hits from the gnoll, and just when things seemed to be going badly, the hag disappeared and from Lightbeard a warm light erupted, erasing the pain of our injuries and, briefly, filling me with hope. We ran frantically after the hag, only to find the body of Alloralla, ripped open, her heart taken, no doubt for some nefarious purpose. I now have no doubt that we are on the right side of this game, and I only hope that, once freed from the evil hags, this tree can restore Alloralla’s heart to working condition. Oh, and I hope my companions don’t decide to kill her (or, worse, start getting harpy-song induced ideas) at that point. You never know.