THE LIBERATION OF GEOFF
The Gifts of the Fey part 2: The Caves of Twilight Resplendent
(Campaign Notes and Adaptation by Thomas Kelly)
Based on Living Greyhawk module GEO1-03b, by Eric Menge and Sholom West.
Beware total spoilers. Read part one here.
“Wake up, mortal!” Cold water sprinkles Bryn’s face, forcing her to wakefulness. A strange-sounding voice urges her in cross and impatient, gargling tones, “Enough with your slumbering! The queen expects you, and you will be a sorry to keep her waiting!” Bryn opens her eyes to behold a scowling sea-green faerie crouched over her. His webbed hands flick more water into her face. He motions toward a nearby bench on which her clothes are laid out. “Get dressed. Lilly Petal and Cottonseed have brought watered wine and bread to break your fast. Your companions are already up and dressed.”
Bryn shakes her groggy head and tries to remember the details of the previous evening. It’s all a blur—the ballroom, the costumes, the fey, the music, the stars. Was I drinking wine? I can’t remember! Nothing for it now. She slides out from under soft blankets and dresses herself. The green-skinned faerie impatiently bids her eat, and she obliges him with a few bites. The door opens and Ansgar, Boots, and Gundoriel enter the room. “Good! You are all ready,” the faerie observes. “The queen’s grace is in her court. Don’t make her wait!” With no further ado, the nixie turns and paddles off down the hallway, his webbed feet leaving small puddles of water with every footstep.
“Wait, if you please! Where is the queen’s court?” Bryn inquires.
The nixie turns back and offers a condescending smile. “Precisely where it needs to be.”
“But how shall we find our way?” she asks. “These tunnels and hallways seem to shift about and move. I can’t think how we will find our way.”
“Like attracts like. If you seek, you will find.” The nixie hurries off and says no more.
The grey elf priest and the three rangers gather their things and set off in the direction the nixie left, but they soon find themselves quite lost. “Let’s just make as if we know the way,” Bryn suggests.
“You found your way round the ballroom just fine last night. Must have danced with every fairy fop in the Seelie court,” Ansgar mutters through clenched teeth.
“I learned a thing or two while you sulked in the corner,” Bryn replies. “Rumor has it the queen already gave Dyvan away as a gift to a competing Seelie court.”
They wander about some short while, pretending they know they way, and come upon a carved and ornately decorated grand hallway with the forest mosaic down the middle. “You see! Here’s our road!” Bryn exclaims happily.
Hungry Little Plant
The hallway opens into a large cavern that, for all appearances, might have been an orchard in the world above. The floor is a grassy field, and fruit-laden apple trees fill the cavern. At the center of the orchard, a tiny faerie resembling a type of bipedal grasshopper plays a fiddle. Several dozen faeries clasp hands to form a circle and dance maniacally to the music. Unexpectedly, the grass in front of the fiddle player erupts as a huge carnivorus plant springs up and abruptly grows to the height of a man. Leaves fold out from the stalk, and the top of the shoot blossoms into an enormous splitting bulb in the shape of a toothy mouth. The eyeless plant looks down on little fiddle player and smiles with menace before snatching him up by one leg. The tiny fiddler screams as the plant works toward masticating him. The other fairies watch in fascination, but none intervene or offer to help the fiddler.
“I’m going to do something!” Ansgar resolves. He draws his silvered sword and shouts, “Iron blade!” A slash, a blow, another slash, and he cuts down the predatory plant like a laborer with a scythe during harvest. The fey audience applauds the show, congratulating him before they wander off into the orchard. The fiddler introduces himself, “I am Tweedle the Grig, and I am in your debt.”
“You can pay your debt by showing us the way to the queen’s court,” Ansgar suggests.
The grig agrees to do so, and he adds, “Help yourselves to the apples. They provide strength to the weak.” He scampers up an apple tree and plucks an apple for himself. He nibbles at it, and the magical nectar heals his wounds. “You see. An apple a day! That’s what I say!” Tweedle insists until each member of the party takes an apple. “Save it until you need it,” he advises. From his perch in the apple tree, he hops onto Bryn’s shoulder and directs the party to the far side of the cavern. As he rides along, he squeaks and jabbers incessantly, “That grig-eating plant was probably planted by Gaunt. Perhaps he thinks it funny, but it’s not. Pity that Queen Lhiannon puts up with his pranks. She doesn’t like him, that’s clear enough to see, but what can she do about him? He’s here as an ambassador from the Unseelie Court at Glades of Shadows Lurking, and the queen must abide by the rules of the court. The queen’s power knows no bounds within these Caves of Twilight Resplendent, but one thing she cannot do is to break the seelie laws.”
When a Queen Sits in Judgment
The adventurers enter again into the grand hall, no longer empty as it had been when they met the chamberlain the previous day. Faerie folk fill the ranks and crowd the balconies. The din of their many conversations goes abruptly silent and all eyes fall upon the four adventurers. The chamberlain gestures, inviting them to approach the throne. They fey folk part to the left and the right to allow them passage, revealing the queen upon her throne. She is tall, slender, and elflike, but the back edges of her ears resemble a fish’s fins. Her black eyes have no pupils, but they shine with bright pinpoints like stars across the nighttime sky. The tresses of her hair shimmer like moonlight. She wears a clinging gown of midnight blue, spun from threads as fine as spiders’ webs, and an enormous sapphire star hangs from a thin cord of silver about her head. The chamberlain motions for the party to kneel, but they stand dumbstruck, gaping in awe at her beauty. Even Gundoriel stands agog as one smitten. The queen sits patiently, waiting for their wits to recover. Tweedle whispers in Bryn’s ear, “Praise the queen and thank her for granting you audience.”
Bryn does so. She kneels before the queen, and as she does, she sees that she and her companions stand upon on a pattern of concentric circular grooves cut into the floor. Speaking on behalf of the discomfited men of her party, she inquires after the welfare of the child. The queen listens patiently to her tale, but responds, “My people found the child wandering, abandoned, unwanted, and far from mortal lands. He belongs now to us.”
“Your majesty, he has a father and a mother and a nanny that cares for him, and she it was that sent us to retrieve him,” Bryn counters.
“So be it. Take the boy and go,” the queen sniffs. She pulls her skirts aside to reveal the child. Dyvan crawls out from under the throne where he was hiding. “These folk have come to return you to your home,” she tells the child. The boy nods stiffly, and walks toward Bryn, but his rigid gate and awkward steps betray an illusion poorly crafted.
“Your majesty, this is not the boy, but merely an eye-biting trick,” Ansgar complains.
Queen Lhiannon smiles, waves a hand, and dispels the illusion. The boy disappears, and in his place a glammered stick falls to the floor. “You are indeed speaking the truth, else you would not have seen through my illusion,” the queen says. Turning to the chamberlain, she commands, “Summon the ambassador.” The chamberlain dissembles into the flock and takes flight. The queen turns to other affairs, and the party is left waiting in her presence. Some short while later, the flock returns, assembles into the chamberlain, and the voice behind the porcelain mask says, “The ambassador will be here presently, your Fey Grace.”
A moment later, the unseelie ambassador arrives. The members of the seelie court edge back and avert their eyes as he strides into the grand hall. This is Gaunt, and his name describes his visage, for he is tall and emaciated, his skin stretched tight over thin bones and sharp points. He gazes maliciously through glittering rubies instead of eyes; his cold glassy stare fixes upon the three rangers, the grey elf, and trembling little Tweedle.
The queen commands, “Gaunt, you must return the gift I gave you, for the human child belongs to another.”
“Nay, your highness. You gave it to me to settle your debt to King Liir.” Gaunt’s voice hisses and spits.
“So I did, but not mine to give. You must relinquish the child. I shall pay the drury,” the queen insists.
A grotesquely wide smile splits the ambassador’s face, revealing far too many teeth. “You insult me and my king with a gift not yours to give. I demand the right to challenge their claim!”
“So be it. But have a care to remember that they are my guests,” the queen warns.
“A puzzle then,” the ambassadors licks his thin lips. “I will pose a puzzle. Let them overcome the Rings of Perception.”
The Rings of Perception
The room fills with mist. When the obscurement clears, the four adventurers find themselves in a curving hallway with walls and floor of smooth grey and solid stone. There are no doors or windows, only the curving and featureless hallway. Above them they see no ceiling but, instead, the faeries towering above and peering down on them. They look like enormous giants, hundreds of feet tall, appearing as we might appear to ants looking up at us. Indeed, the adventurers have become the size of such insects in a crevice in the floor.
Gaunt crouches down to regard them closely. His hideously huge face looms over them, and he laughs, “Now, hapless heroes, find the center of the circles if you can.”
Tweedle hops into view and warns the adventurers, “In this puzzle, your senses will deceive you, but one will remain true.” Gaunt’s gaunt face twists furiously. He snatches up the little grig, shoves him whole into his mouth, and swallows. “No more hints!” he warns the other faeries.
The queen produces a large hourglass from thin air, turns it over, and sets it on the lip of the crevice. “This is the time allotted for you to find the center,” she explains. The adventurers must pass through the five rings of perception. Each ring tests their wits and their senses. In the first ring, they circle about until they return to the place they began. They find no door or exit, though they feel all about for hidden egress. The sand runs swiftly through the glass. Ansgar begins tapping on the inner wall with the hilt of his dagger as he circles about again, but he finds nothing until he comes to a place where the tap of his dagger makes no sound at all. A secret door leads the party to a second ring, cold and dark except for the light of a solitary torch that burns in its fixture beside a distant doorway. Something moves in the darkness. All about the darkness they hear the sounds of things slithering and skittering. The sinister sound of whispers and hisses betray the presence of some fell creatures. Claws click on the stone floor; something rushes past. “They’re in the darkness between us and the door!” Bryn exclaims.
“They are not but eye-biting illusions,” Gundoriel insists, but Bryn is too terrified to disbelieve the terrifying sounds in the darkness.
“They’re all ‘round us!” Boots panics. He unsheathes his sword and swings wildly in the darkness, perilously close to taking off Gundoriel’s head. “I think I got one!”
“Something’s grabbed onto me!” Bryn screams. She briefly swoons and backs against the wall.
Ansgar disregards the sounds. He hurries through the darkness and takes hold of the torch, pulling it from its sconce. He sweeps it about to reveal the emptiness of the hallway. There are no creatures. “It’s all illusions, but the door is real. Hurry, the sand is running out,” he urges them on. The door leads to another ring. Feeling pleased with himself for solving the first two puzzles, Ansgar remarks, “My shoulders grow weary from the weight of carrying this whole company.”
So it goes, each subsequent ring deceiving their senses, save one which holds the key to finding their way to the next. At last they complete the final ring. The last of the sand still remains in the hourglass. Queen Lhiannon extends her graceful hands toward the heroes, and they find themselves standing before her throne again, restored to normal size. “They have bested your challenge,” the queen says to Gaunt with a note of triumph. “That settles the debt. Relinquish to them the mortal.”
Gaunt snarls, “A human child! I’ll not suffer the loss of such a prize.”
“Do not try my patience, ambassador! Suffer the loss or suffer my justice.”
“Even if I was still actually here, I would do neither!” Gaunt laughs as he collapses into a heap of dirty snow.
Hunters for a Fey Queen
Queen Lhiannon rises from her throne. An ominous thunderhead of anger darkens her beautiful face. The points of light in her eyes flash hot. “Gaunt has defied me and transgressed the rules of courtly deportment for the last time. Forfeit be his life!” Turning to the heroes, she says, “You have been wronged as well. Serve me as my hunters. Hunt him down.” The queen claps her hands. Two cooshee hounds stand at her side. She waves her hands over the heroes, explaining, “I bespell you with expeditious speed to keep pace with my hounds.” She commands the dogs, “Gaunt, the unseelie ambassador! Hunt him down!”
The cooshees leap away faster than deadly arrows loosed from the strings of Geoff’s longbowmen. Ansgar takes Bryn by the hand, “Come on! Let’s go.” All four run after the hounds. If not for the queen’s magic, the hounds would leave them behind, but under the spell, the heroes move so quickly the halls and tunnels about them become a passing blur. All along the way, the hounds bay and howl, leading the heroes through many halls, under spanning arches, across narrow bridges, into narrow tunnels. At last the hounds slow their pace to a trot as they close in on their quarry in the Cavern of the Stars. The walls and high ceiling of a great hollow glimmer with crystals like twinkling stars in the night sky lending the cavern its name. The hounds trot out onto a narrow bridge, growling and snarling. Gaunt turns back to face them. He stands atop a narrow arching stone bridge that arcs across the vast chasm. He has the boy by the hand. They causeway upon which they stand is but one of several bridges crossing the chasm, each one at its own elevation and angle.
Bryn is right behind the hounds. She nocks a feathered shaft to the string of her hornwood bow and prepares the shot, but wait … the hounds snarl and growl their ferocious threats at the child Dyvan. Indeed, they seem prepared to pounce upon the boy, but they pay no interest in Gaunt who stands beside. Nearly a moment too late, Bryn realizes, He has glammered himself to appear as the boy and glammered the boy to appear as him! She shifts the aim of the arrow to fix upon the child, but uncertainty forbids the loosing. Can I be sure? She fails to warn her companions.
In her moment of hesitation, an arrow sings from behind, just past her right ear. It’s a clean shot, straight and true. The silver-tipped and elf-fletched shaft buries itself in Gaunt’s forehead. “I got ‘im!” Boots celebrates his perfect shot. The force of the blow knocks the body of the seelie ambassador backwards. He lands on his back, dead, the arrow lodged between his eyes.
“No, that’s not him!” Bryn cries out too late. Even now, the illusion crumbles. The boy Dyvan lies dead on the bridge, Boots’ arrow planted in his head. The false Dyvan leaps away and off the side of the bridge, laughing as lands on a lower walkway where he resumes his normal form, “Congratulations on killing the son of Darlon Lea. His father will thank you for it, I am sure!”
The son of Darlon Lea! The rangers recognize the name. He is an outlawed ranger lord of their own order, exiled by Gran March from living in Hochoch or among the other refugees, but they have no time to reflect upon these things.
The chase is on. The cooshees dive after Gaunt, land upon the lower bridge, and resume their chase, but Gaunt transforms himself into a great warg. He turns on the hounds. A terrible cacophony of growls and barks and snarls and yelps echoes about the cavern. The warg flees across the bridge and disappears into the mouth of a tunnel. Bryn leaps after Gaunt, and Ansgar too; both fly through the air an impossible distance to land on the bridge below thanks to the queen’s spell. But Gaunt the warg has emerged from a tunnel mouth yet lower and crosses over the bridge extending from it.
Boots doesn’t understand what is happening. Oblivious to the chase, he hurries to attend to the boy’s still bleeding corpse. His wail of horror fills the Cavern of Stars, “Oh no! I’m sorry li’l lad. I didna’ mean it! I couldn’ tell it was ye!” Great sobs shake the ranger’s body.
Gundoriel the grey elf priest calls upon the power Larethian and smites the fleeing warg with flame as he passes on the causeway below. Ansgar takes up the chase. Still moving expeditiously fast, he follows close after the warg, but it seems that every time he crosses a bridge and thinks he leaves the cavern, the tunnel magically deposits him back at the mouth of another tunnel and at the head of another bridge spanning the same cavern. Bryn tires of the game and nocks a feathered shaft of Geoffian longbowmen to the string of her hornwood bow. She pulls it back until she feels the fletching at her ear. The arrow sails straight and true. The warg yelps, stumbles, and transforms back to Gaunt’s shape. The arrow has entered his back and pierced his heart.
Gaunt crawls on his knees as his body melts away into black steaming ichor. “I’m not so easily dispensed with, fools! I will repay you in spades!” he threatens as he collapses into himself. There is nothing left of the ambassador but a sticky pool of oily goo dripping off the edge of the stone bridge. A small, winged creature stirs in the pitch. Tweedle picks himself up from the mire and wipes the ichor from his eyes.
To Look Upon Mortal Lands Once More
Queen Lhiannon smiles on the heroes, “You have rid us of that nuisance we called ‘ambassador,’ defended our courtly etiquette, and earned my grate! Ask a gift of me in payment for your service.”
Ansgar lays the boy’s lifeless body before the queen. The Gyruff arrow remains still lodged square in the child’s forehead. “Your majesty, grant us this one gift. Revive the life of this poor lad who never should have been here in the first place, then grant us passage back to mortal lands that we might return him restored, whole, living and breathing, back to his poor nanny and unto his father.”
“Think you that I wield power over death?” the queen sighs with sympathy.
“Your majesty, forgive me, I might have told them something like that,” Tweedle bows low. His little body trembles.
The queen considers the matter and casts a questioning glance to her flock-coated chamberlain. He replies to her unspoken query with speculations, “If the mortal’s soul has not yet passed on from Twilight Resplendent, if it still wanders about lost and bemazed in thy halls, it might be coaxed back to this body were the wound closed and the body restored.”
The queen nods. “Even so, I offered but one boon, and you have asked of me two. If you would receive both your leave back to mortal lands and the human child’s life, I shall require a compensation for the latter. One of you must here remain in Halls of Twilight Resplendent as huntsman in my service.”
Ansgar starts to object, but Boots steps forward, “Please, m’lady, let it be me. I’m the one what shot the boy in the ‘ead. I couldn’ go back to live with such a burden. If you can bring the lad t’ life, tis only right that I be the one what stays ‘ere.”
“Boots, we cannot leave you here! I should have warned you before you loosed that cursed arrow!” Bryn’s eyes are full of tears; Ansgar’s no less.
On the morrow, Queen Lhiannon delivers the living child, Dyvan, into their hands. “Surely some weird lies upon this human child, and some future destiny too. Whether he holds the same shade that left him or another has come in its place, I cannot say, but here he stands, whole again, according to our bargain.”
“No tricks this time?” Ansgar is suspicious, but the queen’s stern scowl persuades him not to question her integrity again. The three heroes take leave of Lhiannon and the seelie court, bid their boon companion sorrowful farewell, and leave the Caves of Twilight Resplendent. Dyvan says little; few words can be coaxed from him. He remains pensive and quiet. A prominent scar on his forehead marks the spot the arrow pierced. He only says his days in fading lands seem but a strange dream.
They lead the child out through the waterfall that conceals the entrance to the gates. Their silvered weapons and armor revert to iron. The sunlit springtime afternoon shines bright around them and song of birds still hail the end of winter, but the hearts of Bryn and Ansgar weigh heavily for their companion left behind in Twilight Resplendent. Some little way down the stream, they bid farewell to Gundoriel and leave him in the company of Sesonya the river nymph for who knows how long or if they shall ever see their grey elf friend again in mortal lands.
Less bright and cheerful is the way home than the way into faerie lands, and oft the rangers turn to look back over the shoulder, longing for the faces of their companions. Presently they pass over the Laughing Brook and out from fading lands. Alys still waits beside the banks with Bryn’s dog, Fang. Even more surprising, she tells them less than hour has elapsed since they passed over the brook. The rangers insist on accompanying her back to the boy’s home—the home of the outlaw Darlon Lea.
Reluctantly, she leads them to a small elven village built on flets hidden under thick sunless canopies of Dim Forest trees. Wood elves descend to intercept them and also a Gyruff man they recognize from their order. He apologizes, “Though I would vouch for the two of you, the wood elves will not allow you entrance to their village, nor would my master permit it. Return to Hochoch and forget you found this place. I’ll take the lad to his father.”
A week later, Ansgar sits in The Two Tents, deep in his cups, when a woodsman hands him a bundle of fox and beaver pelts. “A gift from someone,” the man explains. The woodsman says no more and goes on his way. Inside the bundle, Ansgar finds a note poorly scrawled on a folded piece of paper that reads, “A thanks for fetching my lad.”
“Come on then,” Boots urges his friend, but Ansgar remains unmoved. The ranger keeps his eyes fixed unhappily on Bryn and her dancing partner, resentment and jealousy painted on his face. Boots shrugs and joins the throng. He finds himself clopping clumsily opposite a graceful pixie girl who squeals, “Don’t you want to stay with us here forever and ever?”
DM Notes: Obviously, that didn’t go well. Unlucky Boots rolled a natural 20 for his shot at Gaunt. Too bad it wasn’t Gaunt. The resurrection of Dyvan wasn’t part of the original module but the queen’s bargain made for a more dramatic conclusion with stronger future story leads and hooks.