Vincent's mind was racing. They'd secured the keep and vowed to build it up, make it a home. He'd volunteered to go use his wealth and connections to help bring others to fix up their new accommodations, but in truth he had bigger things on his mind. Since he was a child he had not been content to simply hear Thalenia's voice in his head. He had vowed to himself that he would be strong enough to go to her, to be with her. And seeing the massive demon fall to their might, he found himself going back to that thought. Maybe, just maybe he was ready.
He had heard of a spell long ago, but every time he'd try to cast it, it would fail spectacularly. Once to almost disastrous effect, and which had left him shaken and reluctant to try again. But this time, this time he felt emboldened by their victory and after the celebrations had subsided, rather than heading to Liam's room to continue the celebration as he normally would have been preoccupied with doing, he returned to his own, eager to test out his new feeling of confidence. He concentrated his mind and closed his eyes, focusing himself on his objective and with a slight whooshing sound and a light dizziness he felt himself stabilize. Opening his eyes, he looked around his room, but it was hazy and devoid of colour, a white swirling mist obscuring the objects. He tried to touch a nearby table but his hand passed right through. He was in the Ethereal Plane. He had done it, the spell had worked! Concentrating again, he returned to his room on his home plane, panting at the effort.
However elated, the Ethereal plane was only the first step, and not his final destination. He knew that he would be safe there as he'd been there before, and it made for a good test, but he would need a lot more information before he truly made his journey. When the opportunity had come up to travel, he knew that this would be the perfect chance to learn what he needed to know. Vincent was never much of a reader. When he was younger, he'd tried to learn magic by reading about it, in order to help legitimize his deception of being a wizard, but he didn't have the mind for it. Yet he knew that this was worth it.
Heading South towards Stiybia, they passed through the scholar's land of Ashar. Making excuses to stop there so as to hire workers or wizards for the defense and maintainance of the keep, Vincent was more interested in using his free time to go to the multiple libraries there. There he learned of a place called the Feywild, where Fey creatures of all kinds lived and where he was most likely to find his beloved. It was not dissimilar to our own plane, and there were many areas that were safer and places that could result in danger. They said there was something dangerous about the feywild itself for a mortal, but did not specify how. It didn't matter, Vincent was determined.
The writings talked primarily of three places where humans could go that were considered relatively safe. A place described only as "The Citadel", the seat of power for the Feyfolk of the Seelie court that catered to otherworldly travelers. Another location called Sylvania which is a city of a race called the Eladrin which are said to be similar to humans but with pointed ears and slighter builds and the ability to teleport. They are said to be defenders of nature. And a third called "The Planelands" Which is a rare spot in the feywild that isn't a thick Sylvan forest and it is home to Centaur tribes that war with Fey giants called Fomorians.
Vincent took notes on each place, looking for more specific information, but unable to find any. He wished he could be more certain, but that was all that he had to go on. The rest of the journey was largely uneventful. He'd contacted his family about his newfound independent wealth and settlement. His parents and siblings had been thrilled by his apparent settling down and sense of responsibility, and they vowed to extend their supply lines to their new keep. The hiring went well too, with so many Barls to throw around, it was not difficult to find people willing to work. They even made contact with several groups who would consider farming the land and relocating their permanently. His charms at selling the place didn't hurt in that regard. However, through all this mundane work, Vincent was eager to return and to test out the knowledge that he had gained.
It was over a month, close to two, before he was able to get back. Tremendous work had been done on the keep, and he feigned his excitement, but he could not concentrate on their home or his friends. It was time. He was ready. He went to his room, looking slightly more fixed up but largely the same as when he had left it months earlier. Still unsure of which area to choose, he pulled out the small pendant he used for divining and attempted to contact Thalenia, asking her where he should go in order to find her, but he was met with nothing but silence. He would just have to use his best judgment. Not wanting to enter a war zone, and not sure whether people devoted to nature would be particularly interested in helping a human, he decided on The Citadel. It was the most likely place to find information about where to go within the Feywild.
Concentrating again as he had last time, Vincent summoned his focus on the Feywild and on The Citadel. He feels his body wrench through the planar barriers. Vincent is dizzy for a moment, much more than last time, before finding himself in a thick forest with huge redwood trees stretching so far into the air he can't see the tops. The light level is as if it is dusk. Vincent looks around and finds is on a path. It goes off in two directions and as far as he can see in either direction there doesn't seem to be any paths diverging from this one he's one. The noise of the wilderness assaults Vincent's ears as insects and birds and wildlife of all kinds seem to be singing their songs.
It takes a moment to acclimatize. He wasn't sure what to expect, as there had been no physical descriptions of The Citadel and he knew that the spell could land him some distance from his destination. He didn't know if something had gone wrong or if he was exactly where he should be, but in either case he didn't seem to be in any immediate danger. The air was heavy, but clean. It was clear he was successfully off his home Plane, as there was nothing like the trees here that he had ever seen. It was stunning, and he took a moment to enjoy the beauty of nature.
However, he now had a choice, and no clear indication of which way to go. As he usually did when he needed a better view, he sat for a moment and summoned his dear friend, Zara. He wasn't sure how she would appear, since he knew that she wasn't really a bird, despite her appearances, but was a Fey spirit herself taking a form. Yet as normal, she appeared before him, bright beak and shining eyes happy to see him. Smiling, he asks her if this is where she is from and if she knows the way. She blinks at him and he understands in his mind that while she is Fey, she is not from the Feywild and has no more information about The Citadel than he does. Resorting to Plan B, the one that has worked so often in the past, he sends her out to scout for him. She flies high into the air, but even 100 feet up, she cannot see the tops of the trees. They seem to go on forever. Vincent imagines this must be what the depths is like in his own world and idly wonders if he will know for certain soon enough.
Zara flies down on direction and the path continues straight without varying, while the other eventually curves sharply and appears to go up what seems to be a hill. Knowing structures tend to be built higher up, Vincent calls Zara back to him and heads towards the hill. He starts to climb the hill, but after about five minutes realizes that he's no longer walking a dirt path but appears to be climbing the massive root of some tree. Cresting the top of the hill, Vincent looks down the root path to a glowing tree structure surrounded by redwoods.
Vincent is awestruck by the beauty. He's never seen anything like this before, a living structure yet appearing as though it had been there forever. This must be what he was looking for. He sees movement up ahead near it and cautious, but projecting as much confidence as he can muster he continues up the path. As he moves forward, the closer he gets the larger he realizes the structure truly is. What originally seemed simply to be a large building now appears impossibly tall. He can now make out the shapes near the entrance that were moving before. A couple of humanoid figures are standing at the entranceway to this place. They initially appear to be humans but upon closer inspection they seem to be taller and their eyes are diamond shaped like a cat's, and their ears are pointed. They are both stunningly gorgeous. They are carrying longswords and wearing chainmail, and their tabards bear a symbol of a tree.
They watch Vincent approach and when he is near they step in front of the entrance and say "Ho there human, what is your business here?"
Vincent looks up at them, trying his best not to reveal how strange this all is to him. "Hello, I'm looking for someone. A nymph. I was hoping I could find a way to locate her here."
They look at each other for a moment and burst out laughing. "Understand, there's nymphs everywhere, almost anywhere you can find a pool or spring. Got more to go on than that?"
Vincent blushes deeply. He had meant to be polite but had only embarrassed himself. He coughs before answering. "Her name is Thalenia. I-I'm not sure where she would be."
"A name is good, you'll have more luck that way." He gestures to the entranceway "You're free to enter the Citadel but keep your manners about you or you'll have trouble. Might want to start with the records hall." Giving Vincent directions to the records hall, Vincent quickly thanks them and heads inside, still feeling his face glowing red from his terrible first impression. He had done everything he could think of to prepare himself and had still felt so ignorant.
Vincent walks through the entryway and marvels at the tree this place is built from, the wood is white and glows brightly. After the entranceway the citadel sprawls out before him. The whole place glows like the tree and it seems to be in perpetual sunlight. There are steps that lead out into a beautiful garden fountain with benches, all carved from the tree itself like some of the cities in Ashar. The predominant creature you see is the same as the ones standing at the entranceway, there are also a myriad of fey creatures beyond anything you imagined. Pixies and faeries and Satyrs and Dryads. Music fills the air and the city is bustling with fey, you even see the occasional Asharian wizard. Vincent is struck again by not only the beauty of the structure, but of the people as well. He is used to being the most beautiful person in the room, but in this place so many of these fey have an otherworldly beauty that matches or surpasses his own.
For a moment while walking through, he suddenly feels the magnitude and the apparent hopelessness of his task. He had promised Thalenia long ago that he would try to make his world more beautiful for her, that he would use the powers she gave him in order to make it better. But, if this is where she is from, if this is what she's known, how could he possibly compare to all of this? What could he do with his dreary world to ever bring even a fraction of this light into it? The difference was insurmountable.
However, despite his misgivings, he had come this far and would not be dissuaded. Vincent proceeds through the citadel to the records hall. He enters a large structure with shelves full of papers and books surrounded by a latticework of wood slats blocking off the areas with the actual shelves from the front entryway and at a desk sits a beautiful woman seemingly made entirely from wood. She looks up at Vincent and asks how she can assist him.
Trying to be a little more confident this time and not repeat his mistake with the guards, Vincent says "Hello, I'm trying to locate a nymph named Thalenia. Would you be able to help me find out where she may be?"
The Dryad looks at him, "I can certainly research that for you. Is this your first time in the citadel?" Vincent nods with a smile. She looks him over more carefully now and squints for a moment. "Is…is this your first time in Feywild?"
Vincent pauses for a moment, a little more humble this time, "Ummm…yes."
She smiles warmly, "Welcome! It's always good to have a newcomer experience the beauty of our world. I do feel it prudent to inform you of some basic properties of this world." She looks you over again, "Well, you are a human so I assume you came from the Prime. I don't know how much research you did before you came here but this is important. Time here flows differently than in your world. The longer you stay here the faster time will pass in your world. I would not recommend staying for more than a day or two at a time. Also, you will find kind of a symmetry between this world and yours, in your world, where a raging volcano might be here might be a mountain with magical fire crystals sprouting from the top. And lastly, most importantly, when you return to your world you may experience memory loss of your time here. It doesn't happen to everyone but it does happen. Do you have any questions before I try to find your patron?"
It was a lot of information to take in, but Vincent was most concerned about the last statement. What if he came all this way but couldn't remember it? "Is there any way to prevent the memory loss?"
"Sadly no one knows why it happens, you just either get it or you don’t. I can say though, that smarter or wiser people tend to fare better than those who do not have those qualities."
Vincent frowns a little, considering himself neither of those things. However, he is curious as to whether this will be his only chance. "Once I leave, if I come back will the time will stay roughly the same or is the speeding time cumulative?"
"It is relative to how long, in total, you have spent here on a single visit. if you return and then come back it will begin again." She responds kindly. Vincent nods, and indicates he has no more questions beyond finding Thalenia.
She smiles again, "Well then give me a moment and i will see if she is in the records here." She puts here hands on a crystal in front of her and her eyes begin to glow. You see all the papers and books on the shelves begin to float around in the air as she seems to be mentally zipping through them. Vincent watches in amazement. After about 2 minutes the things neatly rearrange themselves on the shelves and she lets go of the crystal as her eyes return to normal. "Your patron's spring is located 10 clicks to the southeast." Vincent is astounded how easy this is and goes to thank her when a drawer pops open from underneath the desk and she says "Please deposit payment in the drawer."
Vincent's heart sinks. He was a merchant, he grew up with merchants, he should have known that everything comes with a cost. "Oh…what kind of payment do you take?" He says, while trying to think of something that he could barter with.
"Anything shiny or interesting at all" She smiles.
Vincent thinks for a moment. All of the money he has from his own world is wood, not shiny at all or particularly interesting. He looks down at his own possessions and feels the bag of holding on his hip. Surely there is something in there worthy of payment. It doesn't just belong to him though, all of the items the group has found, that they'd worked so hard on getting together was in that bag. He was torn, but started searching anyway. He sees scrolls and money, a fur bag, a bow, some ancient weapons, but his mind is drawn to a shining emerald. A gift from Ellwyn, that Vincent knew was worth quite a lot. He still was not sure what its purpose was. Hesitating, he instead takes out an iron ring, holding it up to the Dryad.
"Is this the kind of thing that's appropriate?"
She looks at it and wrinkles her nose "Really? Iron, how boooorrrinnngggg."
"Alright, I'll see if I can do better." Vincent rummages around, but is sure he is not going to find anything more appropriate than the emerald. He pulls it out of the bag and shows it to her.
Her eyes grow wide and she coughs a little. "That…is fantastic! I'd even throw in a little extra present for that!"
"Oh?" Vincent says with a surprise, happy that he seems to have pleased her.
"Oh yes, I'll give you everything you'll need to travel through the wild to your patrons pool plus an extra present!"
"That's wonderful, you are so kind!" Vincent says as he drops the shining emerald into the open drawer. The drawer retracts and a moment later reopens with a small glass box the size of a compass with a beetle inside, something wrapped in a cloth bundle, and a pale lavender ellipsoid stone. The Dryad smiles and says "Happy travelling new friend! What's your name?"
Vincent gathers up the items, looking over them before responding, "My name is Vincent Arbordale. It's been a pleasure meeting you!" He pauses for a moment, not wanting to once again be caught off-guard by the strangeness of this place, "May…may I ask about the nature of these items?"
"Certainly Vincent, my name is Giselda, and what you have there is a fey compass, the beetle always orients towards the citadel, and it clicks at regular intervals telling you how far you have travelled. The cloth bundle is filled with a loaf of Elvish waybread and a hunk of Satyr mead cheese. The stone, that’s a little magic gift for you." She winks.
Finally feeling his confidence fully return, Vincent flashes her his winning smile before thanking her again for all her help and turning to leave. He could have sworn he saw her blush, but as she was made entirely of wood, that was definitely impossible.
Eager to get going, but unsure how best to start or how long it will take, Vincent wanders the citadel until he finds another guard wearing the same uniform with the tree symbol. Inquiring how best to find his way to the southeast and how long it will take to go 10 clicks while walking, the guard points him towards the eastern gate. "Going that far will take you to the edge of The Planelands, it should take you at least 8 hours, probably more. Although eventually you will need to leave the path and travel through the forest."
Vincent thinks for a moment, he considers himself relatively powerful in his own world but that is with strong friends to protect him. He has no idea how he stacks up to the people and creatures of this Plane. However rather than be caught, better to risk looking stupid by asking, "Are there dangers in the forest?"
The guard shrugs, "Maybe a few if you aren't prepared, there’s the typical carnivorous predators, bears and big cats and such and every once in a while you may run into an orc or two, maybe a tricky little pixie who wants to rob you blind. If you are going in that direction and run into caves stay out of em."
Vincent thanks the guard and walks towards the exit he pointed out. If he can only be here for a day or so, he needs to make the most of his time and needs to get going. Leaving the enormous citadel, Vincent starts down the path. As he travels through the feywild, Vincent realizes it is the most peaceful place he has ever travelled through, the intense swampy heat of his world is gone replaced by cool dusk air. It is dark and comfortable instead of the glaring of Nesletheas eternal sunniness. Vincent hears animals all around him.
As he travels Vincent comes to understand the beetle in the glass box. It always faces back towards the citadel, and about every mile he gets away from it, the beetle clicks loudly. He understands the term "clicks" in relation to this thing now. After about 7 clicks of the beetle the terrain begins to get rockier and the forest gives way to a huge sprawling open plane, there are some mountains in the direction he is travelling and the sky is beautiful, much like nighttime in his world it is just barely light with a myriad of oranges and purples in the sky.
As Vincent gets closer to his destination, around the 9 click mark, he arrives at the foot of the mountains. There are cave openings everywhere on the side of the mountains and Vince can see glowing eyes peering from the darkness of the caves. Heeding the guard's warning, he gives the cave mouths a wide berth. Skirting around the edge of the forest, following the mountains, Vincent hears the 10th click of the beetle and looks around at his surroundings.
Vincent notices two possible places a spring or pool could be. There are a couple of spots in the mountains that he can see some trickles of water going down the side of the mountain. In the opposite direction there is glowing in the forest. Both possibilities are far from each other, so he has to make a decision. Bringing out his divining pendant again, Vincent asks for guidance on whether the forest is the right direction. He doesn't like using this skill so often, pestering otherworldly beings for help does not always end well but he risks it anyway and immediately feels both a warm light and a deep chill, telling him that both good and bad things will happen to him if he goes in that direction. Not being the one to want to risk himself, Vincent instead turns to the mountains, despite the glowing eyes threatening him.
While not his best skill, he tries to remember what he learned from Dani, and moves quietly towards the mountains, careful not to get too close to the caves in hopes that he can get by unnoticed, or at least not seem interesting enough to pursue. Eventually the trickles down the rock lead to a spring in a small area of trees. It is like an oasis, the rocky terrain giving way to life giving trees surrounding a pool of water.
More nervous than he'd ever been in his life, Vincent approaches the pool. Unsure whether he should call out. He reaches the edge of the water and looks in. It is dark, but clear. A glint deep in the water catches his eye and he stares at it fascinated. Then there is movement below and a moment later a woman pops up from under the water resting her hands on a lily pad.
"Vincent, you shouldn't have come here."
Vincent is, for the first time in his life, entirely speechless. Here she was, he was standing right in front of her. She was more beautiful than he could have possibly imagined. When she said his name, as she had said it in his head for as long as he could remember, he gasped. Despite himself he was choking back tears. He wasn't sure how he had imagined this would go. Would she be happy to see him? Would she smile in a way he'd always pictured it in his mind? Would she embrace him and tell him how proud she was of him for becoming strong enough to find her himself? Would he tell her all of the things that she knew for she knew all of his thoughts, but he so desperately wanted to say out loud? She was mother and sister and lover all in one and he had so much he wanted to say.
Instead he stood there, dumbfounded, barely understanding her concerned tone. Rather than the brave and strong caster he was, he instead felt like a child desperate for attention. "I…I had to see you for myself." He heard himself say. He sounded small and his voice was breaking.
Her expression softened, "I understand the call, many like you come seeking their patrons here. You though, are special, my love. You have important work. Since you have come though, I will tell you important things about why you must listen to the words of Ellwyn."
Vincent breathed deeply, trying to bring his emotions under control. He wanted to hang on her every word.
"To do that, i will need to tell you a story. A story about an ancient god king, one the history books do not tell you of. Zon Kuthon. He was envy, pain, suffering, and torture. Your god kings had a plan to trap him, but he was the strongest of them. There was another too, Oberon, the Faerie King. The other god kings hated him as much as Zon Kuthon. He was goodness and light and nature. So they devised a plan to trap Zon Kuthon and seal away OIberon in one fell swoop. They told Oberon the ritual needed his light, but they twisted and corrupted it using Oberon's life force to seal Zon Kuthon in the depths. Then they rewrote history to make them seem like the good and just ones. Oberon's spirit has been revitalized, thus breaking the seal of Zon Kuthon. Zon Kuthon is being revived by The Emerald Wave in your world, and the vehicle to do so is The Purple Fever. Ellwyn was an ancient fey spirit who was sent specifically to you to help guide you to save your world from the wrath it is about to feel."
This was so much to take in. All Vincent could think to say was "Ellwyn is gone now, he fell in a battle, but did leave some manner of instructions, a map." Vincent reaches into the bag and pulls out Ellwyn's map with three locations in the depths marked on them.
"I know his fate. We all felt it. The Wave knows where you are. You must hurry. I do not know much of the geography of your world. If Ellwyn marked these places then they are important." Just then, Thalenia perks up and slowly her face turns into a mask of terror and worry. "They are here! Quickly! Return home!"
The sky darkens. Vincent looks around and sees thousands of demonic creatures begin to descend from the sky. Small and red skinned, with sharp claws and glowing eyes. Vincent pulls out his wand. He had just got here, he doesn't want to leave. He wants to protect her!
"Are they after me? Will you be alright? I don't want to leave you!" He yells, desperately.
"Go! Quickly!" and with a splash, she dives under the water. The figures are getting closer. Vincent knows he stands no chance against them and his only option is to escape. He looks towards the pool, to the lily pad Thalenia was just leaning on. He yells to the water "I love you! I will come back to you one day!" and Vincent closes his eyes, concentrating on home. He can hear the creatures are almost upon him, feel the vibrations of their stampede, when he senses the same wrenching of his body being pulled through the Planes and the dizzy feeling.
He lands hard on the ground, panting heavily with tears streaming down his face. He stares at the dirt, feeling the oppressive heat of the wilds, and knows before even looking that he's home. He goes to stand when he is struck by a terrible, splitting headache. Through the pain, he can feel something changing in his mind. He's thinking about what has happened to him when he finds it…fading. The path through the redwoods, the impossibly tall citadel, the tremendous beauty of the fey people, Giselda's kind face, the caves and the glowing in the woods. Vincent starts to panic, terrified that Thalenia will disappear as well. He focuses on the memory of her face and the sound of her words, willing them to remain.
And whether his focus has helped or whatever magic causes forgetting had run its course, the memory remains in tact. After a few moments all Vincent remembers is casting the spell, then spontaneously standing in front of Thalenia before he had to leave only a few minutes later and ending up here. How long had he been gone? Did the spell work? Was he able to Plane Shift right in front of her? He hadn't expected it to be so accurate, but it must have been since he had been standing in front of her immediately. Maybe he was a better caster than he thought.
Vincent finally finds his strength, pulling himself up and looking around. He is only a few metres outside the keep, the strong doors already repaired. Brushing the dirt off his coat, he heads inside. The others will need to hear what he has learned.