Despite the plush surroundings of the Lowl’s estate sleep evaded me that night. I kept returning to Gif Chidrin’s little junk shop in my mind. The man had nothing to gain and everything to lose by siding with the construct resistance. What motivated such a risk? Were he to be discovered he would end up executed or jailed for sedition. From the little I’ve heard Aetherton describe his father I wouldn’t expect leniency. Yet Gif acted selflessly to support those who had no one else to help them. He was doing what Vali has been preaching and Persephone giving lip service to. Somehow his actions seemed even more noble done in their quiet simple way.
The next morning we ate a hearty breakfast and left Thrushmoor on the trail of the missing constructs. Either dead or free I was determined they wouldn’t be returned to slavery. I suppose I didn’t let myself consider what that meant if the group insisted upon it. With Persephone leading us and aided by an enchanted tracker we followed their path north and split off the road to the west only a few hours south of Rozenport. We entered a forest that quickly became thick with undergrowth and more slowly filled with webbing. The trees were mostly northern fir but something about them didn’t seem right. They felt somehow darker and grew with knotted twists so that they bore only passing resemblance to their cousins in the Echo Wood. It made me wonder if they had Ents here. I’ve never seen one of course but the stories Haalija would tell terrified me as a boy. What we first noticed as silken threads became thicker and more numerous until it was obvious we were traveling through the trapping grounds of huge spiders. It was very dark in the forest by the time we found them and only then because we walked right into some type of hub of the webbing. I think the spiders were giving us a wide berth but the rogue constructs were laying a trap for anyone following them.
A quick intense skirmish followed with a half dozen huge spiders and their ettercap allies. It ended with all of us standing so Persephone and I cautiously climbed the web covered tree to search for valuables or any sign of our quarry. We found nothing of value and were interrupted by conversation below. Elias had stumbled upon us tracking us from a nearby hamlet when he had heard we were near. He had had a few scrambles with spiders himself and was searching for some lost noble woman last seen at the edge of the forest nearly a week ago. The poor fool still held out hope she could be alive. I expect he’s heard too many old nursery tales.
We pushed on a little further not wanting to camp in the shadow of the spider nest and made camp an hour before daybreak. Persphone’s sharp eyes had not lost the trail despite the dark and tangled mess of forest. Elias was of course accompanied by his loyal staff Villem and Pytor and enough supplies for a small army. I woke up around noon to the sizzle and smell of frying sweet meats. Villem is an excellent cook. I sparred a bit with the boy Pytor while the others readied themselves and we set back on the trail still heading north.
A few hours later we found signs of a fight. An ettercap split open and another shredded. As much as I sympathized with the fleeing constructs I couldn’t help feeling an excitement about the possibility of a fight. Months of friendly sparring had bored me and I was looking forward to getting a chance to test my new glaive against something dangerous. Eventually the trail led to a cave sunk into the side of a hill. Two of the constructs were left to rot in a sprung trap pit in front of the entrance. The fact that they were wearing armor surprised me. If you were to fashion a soldier out of wood and metal why not build the armor onto their skin? And why were they left there to rust? I thought I could hear Halda mentally ticking a mark for the ‘not people’ side of the argument. With her mental powers perhaps I did.
Entering the cave we found some strange fungal growths and were attacked by them. Further evidence this forest is corrupted by something dark. During the fight a slimy tendril had slapped me hard on the shoulder nearly knocking me over. I recovered quickly and felt no pain so I was surprised when Halda came to check on me after the fight and found that the thing’s ooze had seeped through my mail, eaten away my shirt there and turned my skin bubbling and brown. Halda calmly explained about paralytic flesh eating enzymes while I was quickly losing my calm. Cool as ever Vali hurried over and sprayed one of his concoctions onto my skin. Nothing looked better. Vali and Halda both reassured me I would be fine now. Nothing about my skin looked fine though. I asked if I should peel off the dead skin and Halda just shrugged. I poked at it and some puss squeezed out of cracks in the baked leathery crust. Somehow the lack of any pain made it worse as if this crap could be eating away right down to my heart and I wouldn’t know until I dropped dead. The others didn’t wait long on me and started deeper into the cave. I wrapped my shoulder with a rag and pulled my hauberk back on all the while flinching for an unexpected agony that never came.
There wasn’t much more to the cave. A booby trapped door blocked off a large room the constructs were hiding in. The trap made an impressive looking explosion of fire but Elias blocked any danger from the blast with his shield. Coughing from the smoke and dust stirred up we entered the room to find the rogue constructs ready and waiting for us. The three leaders we had been told were so valuable and dangerous had weapons drawn and their four remaining lesser golems knelt aiming their blunderbusses at us as we stumbled in. They were understandably wary of us but willing to talk.
Knowing where my mind was set I voiced my stance and let the others argue out the specifics. Aetherton and Halda were most inclined to bring the fugitives in and the others fell somewhere between my opinion and theirs. Their leader Vek was reasonable but suspicious while his companions Vefla and Vum played angel and devil on his shoulder. In the end it was Elias that provided the solution offering to escort them safely out of Versex and east into the River Kingdoms where I told them I thought they could find legitimate work as soldiers or other some other trade. Before we left Halda got the biggest of them to agree to a test. She pushed at him with her psychic energy and was able to confirm to her satisfaction that he possessed a spirit of sorts. This greatly surprised her and seemed to confirm to her that we had made the right decision. I teased that they should now get a turn striking her but secretly I was happy to see that she saw them as more than just junk to hand over to get paid.
After a short rest we readied ourselves and traveled as a group to a homestead Aetherton knew on the way back to Rozenport. The poor rancher cleaned out his entire winter stores to host our party apologizing the whole time to Aetherton that it was so pathetic. I grew tired of his groveling pretty quickly and was happy when his daughter gave me a blanket and pile of fresh hay in the barn to settle into. I’ve been journaling and playing a little flute for the past hour. I’m starting to feel comfortable being alone sometimes after many years of never having that option. I can hear laughter suddenly erupt from the farm house now, it sounds like things have warmed up in there. Outside in the dark I see Persephone standing alone in a corn field letting the night’s strong wind and light rain pelt her skin. It’s a beautiful, private moment and at first I feel a little guilty witnessing it. Then I laugh out loud at myself. I’m starting to sound like Vali.