Shadowmoor is a gloomy, eerie place—especially for an elf. The morning sun never comes up, and the night-howls never die down. You've got the feeling that this whole plane has got wind of your scent—and you smell good. You've got a glow-spell cast into the tip of your staff, but that's all you've got to guide you. You've been lost in the wilds for hours now, ever since the rest of your patrol disappeared. How are you going to get back to the safehold?
You locate a small trail leading through the woods. It seems familiar, and you pick up speed as you head down the trail. But suddenly the trees begin to look strange to you—is this the right way? Now you're not so sure.
You don't get far before you run head-on into a pack of night-wolves, the legendary spirit-hounds of Shadowmoor's deepest forests. Quickly they swarm around you. What's the best thing to do here?
You're lost, but no spellcaster is ever truly without options. As a Shadowmoor elf, you're in touch with magics of nature and growth and magics of protection and order. You could try casting a green spell to cause the trees to move aside, so that you could see which way you should go. Or you could try casting a white spell to bolster your defenses before starting off.
You move on down the gloomy trail, hoping to find yourself somewhere you recognize. At the sound of a long, haunting wail, you freeze in your tracks. Out of the glow of the moon appears the legendary bean-sidhe, the banshee, harbinger of death. Your blood feels like ice crawling through your veins. What's your plan?
This... doesn't look right. The trees have become even more sickly and decrepit, and the land has turned to muck. All you did was turn around and walk for a few minutes in the other direction, so either your mind is playing tricks on you, or this blasted world of Shadowmoor is. You have a few ideas of what to try next.
As you attempt to draw mana from the surrounding woods, you tap into the Canker, the horrible blight that affects many treefolk in Shadowmoor. The dark essence of the disease seeps into your veins, causing your body to wither horribly.
You decompose in a matter of moments, and die without leaving so much as a corpse.
The ground glows, awash in protective magic—which you manage to channel into your staff. You now feel stronger, fitter, and more able to fight—or successfully run away from—any of the dangers you may face ahead.
Just in time, too, because you hear footsteps coming through the underbrush. They're coming toward you! What's your plan?
The sounds of footsteps move away—thank goodness. It must have been your bright protection spell that attracted whatever it was, so you wisely tone down the glow effect on your staff.
Now that you do so, you spy two new things: first, a hidden tunnel that leads deep underground. It might lead somewhere helpful—or deadly. Second, you can see the lights in the windows of a tiny woodland cottage.
You're in luck! It's the rest of your patrol! Thanks to your bold stance out in the open, they see you and come right to you.
"We've been looking for you! Thank goodness you cast that bright protection spell—it led us in the right direction. But we should get out of here, quickly, before something else is attracted to the light. Here, we even have a spare cervin for you."
Walking along carefully, you decide to give a shot at using your natural elvish senses to find some tracks. You quickly find two sets of tracks: one set of small, booted prints that head off into the thicket, and one set of hoofprints that lead into a small clearing.
Careful not to summon something too horrible in this swampy morass, you settle for something simple. A summoning spell later, and a four-legged scarecrow scuttles up to you. It holds a little cauldron up on a tail-like limb, but seems to use it as a sensory organ. It "sniffs" in an interesting direction and begins scuttlin' along. There's not much else to do but...
You lie down, pretending to be a run-of-the-mill corpse. That only seems to encourage them. One of the wolves comes over and starts sniffing around you!
The first hearty chomp from its slavering jaws convinces you that this wasn't a very good idea.
Your noises do confuse the night-wolves, but they still lick their chops, hungry for your tender flesh. However, it delays your death just long enough for your hullaballoo to attract a horde of even hungrier Scuzzback boggarts!
The wolves turn on them instantly, and in the ensuing melee, you're able to make your escape. You find yourself at the doorstep of a small cottage as the sounds of combat swell behind you.
After running for what seems like hours, you manage to evade your pursuers. You find yourself at the top of a ridge, overlooking a difficult, rocky plain, above which looms a mighty precipice. Delicate mists cling to it as if the mountain itself were alive and breathing. It's unfamiliar territory to you, but it could provide a good vantage point from which to see your safehold. What do you?
Down in the depths of this cavern, you find a pool that shimmers with an unnatural light. You feel like the magical images in the pool could mesmerize you for hours—best not to look too close. Or maybe you should dive in, just to see what's so irresistibly tempting about it?
Half-expecting to be eaten by a witch, you instead find a relatively cozy and well-kept alchemist's lodge. The kithkin-in-residence welcomes you in and offers you a balm for your aching muscles. You politely decline, but ask him what he's doing out in the wilds, far from the doun fortresses of the other kithkin.
"After years of life in kithkin society," he says, "I decided I needed to think my own thoughts for a change. The only place my mind could be alone was way out here in the wilderness. With enough powders and ward-spells, you can be surprisingly safe out here."
He seems knowledgeable and well-meaning. You ask him which way to elf territory, and he tells you to head due east. You thank him for the advice, but can't help feeling that there's something odd about him—it's hard to know whom to trust.
You head off the direction you were told, but your mind can't get over the nagging sense that a kithkin would never leave behind his thoughtweft-bound compatriots to come to the dangerous wilds of Shadowmoor.
Just as you're about to reverse your decision, you spy an elf in trouble! It's one of the members of your patrol, in the clutches of some witchy hag-creatures known as gwyllions! The cottage and the kithkin must have been a trick after all, and your elf compatriot must have unwisely taken the same advice.
You must do something to save your friend!
The tunnel twists and turns, eventually leading up a long slope. You can see a dim light up ahead, and so you follow it, hoping it's a passage back up to the surface. As soon as you get close enough to see the opening, a huge gloomwidow pounces into view. Ack!
Yeahhhh, that was kind of dumb. As soon as you hit the water, a school of vicious Inkfathom merrows swims up to you and pulls you down into their dark lair. What did you think, that this was a portal to some idyllic world of never-ending sunlight or something?
Just as you're about to die of drowning, you instead die of being dismembered and having your flesh devoured by the cruel merrows.
You tumble out the opening, and as you fall out, you realize that adult gloomwidows like to lair in cliffside caves. You've escaped the spider, but you're falling down a steep, rocky slope!
But luck seems to be on your side. After what seems like forever, you collapse, heaving, onto flat, solid ground. You get up, dust yourself off, and move on.
You climb and climb. Finally reaching the top of the mountain, you get an amazing, sweeping view of the surrounding terrain. You think that if you were to head down and to the west, you could probably find the fields and woods that form the beginning of elf territory.
Just when you're ready to head down again, the world shakes. Before you know it, a monstrous being strides into view, crushing the earth as it walks. Curse your luck—you've found yourself in the path of one of the demigods of Shadowmoor!
The rocky terrain gives way to field after field of nettle-wheat. The plants slash at your legs, but your armor protects you fairly well. It's not long before you find a river leading into a dark, leafless wood. You face a choice:
The spider doesn't take kindly to your thwacking and pounces immediately onto your tiny frame. Its massive bulk holds you down while its spinnerets bind you in a straightjacket of silk. Soon you're added to its collection of tasty treats, to be consumed at its leisure.
You wait for hours, or days, in terrified silence. Finally you feel something—its fangs sinking into your soft organs, and flooding you with dissolving chemicals that quickly make you even softer. You die as an elvish milkshake.
The small prints lead to a trail, which leads to a road, which leads to the planks of a wooden footpath. Before you is a kithkin doun stronghold. Before you can retreat, one of their gatewardens spies you. The beady-eyed xenophobes shoot looks at each other, likely exchanging battle plans via the thoughtweft. Kithkin soldiers swarm around you. What do you do?
You dive into the muck of the swamp, but the muck apparently has other ideas. You never find out whether the banshee's death magic found you, or whether something deep under the rot-fed waters had a will of its own. You die, enriching the swamp's foul broth with your own tender meat.
As you slide your sword out of its sheath, the glare of the moon catches the eye of a new, airborne threat. That unintentional signal, combined with the wail of the banshee, attract a cinder knight from Kulrath, hoping to find a helpless, shriek-stricken victim. But its greedy presence angers the banshee, who turns toward it with malice in its eyes.
As the two lock into what will surely be a brutal combat, you steal away. You could head in the direction of a set of small boot-prints, or dash into a small cave-mouth that leads down into darkness.
The kithkin creep toward you, their blank eyes unreadable but their sharp little teeth looking none too friendly. You decide this was a poor idea after all and dash off, heading for the cover of some trees.
You make a run for it across the fields, but before you get very far, a shimmering constellation of ghost-lights appears around you. You know you should run, but you just... can't help... listening to their... tiny, musical voices. Was it a kithkin spell? Some trick of the malevolent ghosts of the travelers who died in this meadow? You wonder these things as you enter a deep sleep—and never wake up.
Warily, you follow the hoofprints, expecting to see some horrible monster—but hoping to find a fellow elf. Instead you discover an elegant cervin—what luck! Perhaps it was abandoned by one of your compatriots. You climb into the saddle, and head off at a brisk pace.
Before long, at the urgings of the cervin, you find yourself in an elvish camp, back with the rest of your patrol! Things are looking up.
The scuttlemutt wasn't leading you home—it was leading you straight to its master, the gourd-crowned Reaper King! As it begins to summon a mass of its scarecrow brethren, you manage to dash away, leaving the accursed scuttlemutt behind. You could head for a tall mountain up ahead, or keep walking at ground level.
Incredibly, the demigod grants your wish, and you find yourself wracked with an overwhelming sense of insane bloodlust. In a blood-tinged haze, you eventually find your way home—only to lay siege to the very safehold that you once called home. Your compatriots are forced to put you down for the sake of public safety. Congratulations. In a world suffused almost completely by monstrous gloom, you managed to get killed by elves!
The gwyllions seem only to get nourishment from your green-white magics. Before you know it, they've overwhelmed you, bound you in rope that feels strangely alive, and buried you in the ground. You and your compatriot become just another statistic of Shadowmoor.
The stream leads up and up a gentle slope in the woods, and at last, you start seeing trees and paths that you recognize. However, you run right into a massive, old-growth treefolk of the woods. It sees you, and comes right toward you, enraged by the shine of your armor and the canker in its heart.
The way is difficult, and even with your comrades at your side, it's not clear which path leads back home. You see a column of smoke up ahead, which could indicate the hearth-fires of the safehold or some unknown danger.
The smoke turns out to be the funeral pyre of a huge gang of bitter cinders. They express their resentment of inevitable death by attacking you, the elves, as symbols of life and light. You try to see the bright side—that in that moment of destruction, you and your friends manage to stoke their soul-fires for a short while.
You steer away from the smoke, hoping to avoid danger as you make your way home. You adopt this policy over and over again, at every decision point—but you realize too late that you'll never get anywhere in Shadowmoor by avoiding all danger. You and your compatriots ride through the wilds until at last you become lost spirits, doomed to wander forever. Eventually you find your way home to the safehold, but only in the stories of travelers and talespeakers.
To your relief, you were quite near to your safehold. Your spell calls the entire force of your fellow elves. An enormous battle ensues, lasting from one dusky evening well into the next, with barely a horizon-glow in between. Instead of destroying the mighty treefolk, you and your brethren manage to freeze it in its tracks with a binding spell, knowing that destroying it would probably only cause it to rise again and seek revenge on the safehold.
Having defeated the treefolk, you follow your compatriots back up the stream again. After a long journey, you finally find yourself at the palisade of your own safehold. You've braved the dangers of the Shadowmoor wilds and lived to tell about it.
You muster all the power you have inside you and fire a blast of righteous energy at the treefolk. The caustic light strips the bark from its heartwood, and it falls over, defeated. But horribly, it rises again, and its first footfall crushes the ground beneath your feet, dropping you to the earth and snapping something in your knee.
The treefolk looms over you, and the last thing you see in this world is the moon between its leafless branches.
Your fellow elves eventually find the place where you fell and honor you as a friend and hero, naming the grove after you. You almost made it.
You free your friend's bonds, and between the two of you, you manage to slice the gwyllions to ribbons. Sadly, however, the tainted blood of the hag-creatures splashes you in the process. The poison seeps into the veins of both of you, and you die out in the wilds, with no one to hear your cries but the night-wolves.
Letter (sort of) of the Week
In lieu of a regular letter of the week, today I'd like to point you to a response on the message board thread for my column two weeks ago, in which Brady Dommermuth answers some questions about the changes to the fat pack that are coming as of Shards of Alara.
Check it out here.