A Druid's fury only surfaces when Nature's pain does.
A long blade of grass bends low, brushing the face of an elf sitting in the sunlight. Aryanell becomes alert, his head scanning the area. Something is coming, something strong enough to make Nature warn him of its arrival. Quickly, he rolls over into a nearby bush and uses his enchanted cloak to camouflage himself. Aryanell peers from between the leaves, silently studying the dense foliage around him. He hears it before it comes into view, heavy feet stamping the ground and a thick body barreling through the bushes accompanied by groans and curses. Then a dwarf bursts from a nearby thicket and keeps pushing past Aryanell. The angle was too much for him to get a good look at the dwarf’s face, and as the dwarf stops a few paces in front of him, he scrutinizes his back, trying to discern the identity. The dwarf has heavily worn plate armor with an ordinary axe strapped across his back. Aryanell does not recognize anything that tells him who this dwarf is.
“Where is that durned Druid elf?” The dwarf mumbles to himself unhappily. The dwarf turns in Aryanell’s direction, and he immediately recognizes the red beard and large, once broken nose as Bullwyf, a dwarven warrior who Aryanell has known for nearly half a century. Aryanell smiles as he realizes that the “durned Druid elf” Bullwyf was looking for was himself. Never passing up an opportunity to torment his good friend he waits for Bullwyf to turn his back once more before calling upon Nature to aid him in his ruse.
Bullwyf whips back around, hearing something, and squints uneasily at a tree. “Whaa...? Where’d that blasted tree come from?” Bullwyf shivers. “I’ll be glad when I’m out o’ this place and back under the stone at Gornihm, back where the trees stay put!” Turning back around, he trudges off into the woods, but goes no more than two steps when he feels a hard tug at his belt. He spins to face his attacker but sees nothing, then his helm slides forward, slipping over his eyes and he feels himself lifted into the air. “What the...!” He throws off his helm and stares at the face of a Treant.
“Why is it a dwarf would be so far from his hole?” The Treant bellows at Bullwyf.
“I be lookin’ fer a friend, now put me down ye walkin heap o’ firewood!” Bullwyf realizes the foolishness of his request as he looks down at the ground, a good 20 feet away from his feet. He curses at himself as the Treant lets go of his belt and the ground rushes to meet him. He bounces once and rolls to his feet, coming up with his axe and facing the Treant. “I be havin me a fire tonight!” In the place of the Treant, there stands an elf, with laughing eyes and a slight grin. Bullwyf relaxes when he notices Aryanell. “Bah, ye durned elf! I coulda just split yer skull!”
“No, you couldn’t have Bullwyf, I would not have let you.” Aryanell replies, his grin becoming larger. “What brings you here friend? You knew of my wish to be left to my wanderings.”
“Them blasted goblins o’ Bleedinfoot been stirrin’ up trouble agin, figured ye might wanna get some gobby brain in ‘tween yer toes, jus’ like the ole days.”
“What are they up to now?”
“The fool Groomb got him some orc friends o’ The Durk an’ is thinking o’ attackin’ Gornihm.”
“Ah, I see. So it’s not just about my hatred of goblins that brings you here, but your precious hole is threatened.”
“Bah! Do ye wanna come er no?”
“Lead on, good dwarf.” Aryanell gestures in a direction, his grin reappearing.
“Eh, I think it be best if you get us out o’ here, I be thinking we’ll get lost if I lead and that ye won’t help much in the way o’ direction.”
“Suit yourself.” Aryanell shrugs, still smiling, and sets off to the south, a direction Aryanell knows will bring them close to Minerf. They walk for an hour with Aryanell taking them through the thickest foliage and Bullwyf following, grumbling how Aryanell is “the worst Druid to have to follow”. Suddenly Aryanell stops, his head bent forward slightly and a far-off look on his face. He looks to Bullwyf, smiling. “We have company.” Bullwyf instantly unhooks his axe from his back and looks around; seeing nothing, he glances at Aryanell and sees a tiny dart bounce off his neck, which Aryanell catches. Then Bullwyf feels another dart pierce his own neck, he tries to call out for Aryanell, but finds his voice has been lost. The poison on the dart works fast and moments later Bullwyf’s world goes dark. Aryanell looks at his fallen comrade then back at the dart in his hand and shakes his head. He feels another bounce off his shoulder and he turns in the direction it came from, seeing the staring eyes of a gnoll with a small blowgun. Aryanell raises his hand. “Greetings fellow creature of the forest, may Glorina be with you.” A spear hits him between the shoulder blades, but it bounces off as well and Aryanell spins to face his newest attacker. Another gnoll stares at him, snarling. Aryanell smiles back. “Something tells me your not here for a blessing from Glorina.”
“We eats the meat from your bones, puny elf thing.” The spear wielder says to him in broken speech. A howl sounds behind him and Aryanell sighs as the gnoll with the blowgun lunges at him. Roots spring forth as the gnoll touches the ground just behind Aryanell, snaking their way up its legs and wrapping themselves around its torso and arms, holding it fast. Roots secure the other gnoll in a similar fashion. Two more gnolls emerge from the bushes on either side of Aryanell. Aryanell lets loose a hearty laugh, points at one gnoll and a vine becomes alive and loops itself around its feet, causing the gnoll to trip and fall to the ground. Aryanell looks to the other one and mentally commands the roots under its feet to spring forth as well, securing it. The other gnoll has gotten to his feet again and looks at its three companions, at the dwarf lying on his face, then at the elf calmly standing with his arms crossed, watching him. He turns and flees, fighting the vine a few steps until it trips him again. This time the vine coils itself around the gnoll’s body. Aryanell kneels next to Bullwyf and pulls the dart from his neck, then puts his hand to Bullwyf’s forehead and mutters a few words. A soft glow emanates from Aryanell’s hand and Bullwyf opens his eyes.
“Welcome back, hope you enjoyed your nap.”
“Bah and just how is it that the dart bounced off you?” Bullwyf grumbles to Aryanell, waving away his hand and getting into a sitting position.
“Glorina smiles upon me, granting me a powerful Steelskin enchantment.”
“Figures ye’d keep the good stuff to yerself.” Bullwyf snorts, and then notices the gnolls struggling with the roots. “Ah, lets have us some fun.” He licks his lips, grabs his axe and stands up, tapping the axe head against his palm.
“No, leave them be, they were only hungry.” Aryanell grabs Bullwyf’s arm. Bullwyf glances at his friend with an incredulous look.
“They be filthy gnolls. They’re not worth keeping around.”
“Yes, but they may just have been driven crazy with hunger.”
“Gnolls be gnolls, they don’t be changin and they may try to catch us later.”
“Not everything is as we think they are, such as yourself, a dwarf, seeking the aid of an elf.”
“Bah, but that be different.”
“Cuz now it be me yer talkin about and not a couple o’ stinkin gnolls.” Aryanell shakes his head and walks to the one who had spoken to him. The gnoll looks at Aryanell with fear and trepidation.
“I’m going to let you live, but on one condition. You must become reclusive, abandon your clan and your ways and become Druids of the Unkempt, these vines and roots will hold you until I wish for you to be free. Let your friends know of this.” The gnoll emits a series of barks, whimpers and growls that is the gnollish language. Aryanell nods and walks back over to Bullwyf, who is giving him a quizzical look.
“Gnolls aint ones to be changin.”
“Maybe so.” Aryanell winks at Bullwyf and they continue on their way. The moment they melt into the nearest bush all fours gnolls produce a small shoddy axe and begin to hack at the roots and vines binding them. On the first hit the snare and root spells dissolve, leaving the gnolls free. They pick up their dropped weapons and pursue the dwarf and elf.
Aryanell puts his hand on Bullwyf’s shoulder, halting him. Bullwyf looks to his friend and sees Aryanell quivering in anger. Bullwyf notices the look on Aryanell’s face and the burning hatred in his eyes and recognizes it as the look that often crosses Aryanell’s face moments before he leads Bullwyf into the mouth of death. Grinning Bullwyf grabs his axe and turns around, figuring the gnolls behind him were the ones who made Aryanell so angry.
“I gave them a chance,” Aryanell mutters. “Now its time to pay!” Aryanell screams and sprints off into the direction of the gnolls with Bullwyf bounding behind him with eager anticipation. Aryanell bursts into a small clearing just as the gnolls enter on the other side; they all stop and begin hooting, then start running at Aryanell. Aryanell summons a hive of hornets from nearby and they swarm over one gnoll, which drops to the ground, writhing, trying to get the hornets off. Starfire erupts on another gnoll, burning through its fur and flesh down to the bone. Bullwyf dashes past Aryanell and charges a gnoll. He swings his axe at it, but a lightning bolt streaks past his face, blasting the gnoll in the chest and hurling it backward. Bullwyf’s axe keeps swinging and its momentum spins him in a circle and drops him on his rear. Aryanell charges the last gnoll, changes into a large timber wolf a few paces away and leaps at the gnoll. The gnoll tries to dodge too late as Aryanell’s weight drives it into the ground. The gnoll tries to keep Aryanell at bay, but Aryanell’s Nature empowered muscles soon push the gnoll’s hands back and he tears out its throat. Aryanell gets off the dying gnoll and changes back into his true form. He walks over to the gnoll that the hornets attacked and stands over him. With the rage still in his eyes, he bends down close to the gnoll’s face. “You should have accepted my offer.” Then Aryanell stands up and walks away with a disgusted look on his face. Bullwyf appears in the gnolls vision then, brandishing his axe and a malicious grin. He hoists his axe up high and brings it down on the gnoll, cleaving its skull. Bullwyf walks after Aryanell then turns to survey the scene and shakes his head.
“Blasted elf takes all the fun.”
“Come Bullwyf, I wish to stay in this place no longer.” Bullwyf turns around and sees Aryanell standing next to a teleportation doorway.
“Why didn’t ye jus’ do that in the first place?”
“Because I like walking, let’s go.” They step through the doorway and enter a forest with thick pines all around them, they were standing on an old Druid alter. Bullwyf knows this place well, it is a place Aryanell often teleports them when they get into a situation with little hope for survival, it is a place Aryanell calls Cedarcrest Forest. They walk the short distance to Karner's Grove and pick up two horses, horses that will take them to Gornihm.