"Day and a half up-river," Harrick informed him.
"Do you have proof of this?"
"Not on us...." They told him about the statues Henrietta had found; he took notes, and their names, and started drawing up a list of things that would be needed to capture the creature.
"I'm going to have to take these notes to the front desk," the odd man decided. "I'm sure that when you finish the tour, our boss will be perfectly happy to talk with you."
"He'll probably try to sell us stuff," Robin muttered.
The fifth building held the Magic of the Northern Woods. The room was dark when they stepped inside. With a flash of light and smoke a man appeared--the same one, or another twin--and announced, "Welcome! to the Magic of the Northern--" He began coughing from his smoke effect.
"Can we see your book?" Terzin asked.
The man gave him an offended look. "Not yet!"
"You're ruining the patter," Harrick chided his companion.
"Allow me to show you the magic, wonder, and mystery... that can only be found in the Greenbriar Woods," the man whispered. "Are you from the area?"
"Yes," they told him in a chorus.
"Oh. All right, then." Looking a bit disappointed, he dropped the dramatic pose.
"There was magic and mystery," Terzin assured him. "Where do you think I got this?" He showed off his still-livid scar. "That was magic!"
"A sword hit you," their guide said skeptically. "That was magical?"
"Well it was being wielded by a sorcerer...."
"No, it was being wielded by a zombie," Harrick corrected.
"See, that's magic, that counts!"
"Well, I might as well activate the whole thing," the guide said. He clapped his hands and torches came to life throughout the room. Harrick sensed real elemental magic working, however minor. The man seemed to have accepted them as insiders of a sort. "You're familiar with the area, so I'm not going to bother with the whole patter bit, although basically the whole problem is getting everything here to move. It is such a pain, you have to set all this up right in order to get the lighting, but there is magic and mystery in these woods, you probably ran into someone in the last place who told you that there aren't any elementals anywhere?"
"He's insane," Harrick judged anyone who would believe such a thing.
"Well, he is, but he's so into his birds that he can't see what's right in front of him, and there's a lot of magical stuff around here. Of course there are dryads native to the area...." Jared and Terzin take note of a mostly naked statue of one such, leaning against an obviously fake tree. "There are dryads of course, and various other elementals, according to legend there used to be a lot of very nasty water elementals in the Greenbriar River itself, they'd come up over the side of the boat, drag people back down, unfortunately I can't maintain any of them here, as you understand, so I have... this." He did something near a large, shallow pool with glass sides, and a tendril of water lifted up, then fell back with a series of splashes.
"Is that the world's smallest water weird?" the orc asked, seeing the elemental bindings.
"Not even that," the guide sighed. "It's an ephemeral construction, I'm just having the water sploosh its way up and down."
"It's a water kinda-odd," Terzin supplied.
"It's not really alive, or anything," the guide explained. "There's a spirit in it, but...."
"You could have green slime in there," Harrick suggested. "But you know, it's kinda boring and really rather dangerous...."
"I don't think that we'd be able to get past the royal laws for transporting animals."
"It's not an animal, it's a plant. Besides the fact that it could eat a forest." Theoretically, it could eat a good deal more than that, given the chance.
"And of course we have the dream moth exhibit." Another case, with a bush inside it, covered with moths. "These are often used by wizards. They're attracted to body heat, so you fall asleep, and you wake up in the morning and you're covered with moths, because they want to get warm, which has a tendency to freak some people out, but apparently according to wizards that gives you a connection to an entirely different plane of thought, people supposedly experience precognitive dreams when it happens to them, so there are hermits who will wander out into the Greenbriar Woods, in hopes of waking up covered with moths."
Harrick shrugged. It wasn't the strangest thing he'd ever heard of; compared to wizardry, elementalism made perfect sense.
Another display held two stuffed ettercaps, the dangerous spider-like creatures that dwelled in treetops and had an instinctive ability to mold wood. As they continued to look around, Terzin's eye was caught by the statue of the dryad, sitting beside her tree. She winked at him. He blinked. Went over for a closer look through the glass. She looked organic-ish, but didn't seem to be breathing. Harrick glanced over; it was a woman in makeup.
[We lost the second tape to user error -- i.e., I screwed up. This is the first time that's ever happened (losing a tape, not me screwing something up). So this is all paraphrased and pretty sketchy. There was some good stuff in there, too. Damn.]
The final building on the tour was in fact the gift shop, where there were all sorts of bizarre--to their eyes, at least--items for sale, like small stuffed toads. There they met the traveling's show's proprietor, Tsark, who turned out to be a dwarf, rather to their surprise. He didn't really fit the dwarven stereotype; he was more slender than stocky, and as far as they could tell entirely without a battleaxe. And, it quickly appeared, without more than one assistant. "Yew" apparently had something of a habit of dressing oddly and trying to fool the customers.
When he found that they were actually from Crapaud and had noticed certain... inaccuracies in the toad presentation, he seemed very concerned. When he found that they were adventurers, he insisted that they join him and his wife for dinner so he could hear all about their journey into the tunnels, especially the lizardmen, and the four were as usual more than happy to have a willing and appreciative listener. They had a very pleasant mushroom dinner and made their way to their inn late a while after sundown, feeling generally pleased. Tsark even gave each of them one of the stuffed toads.
The inn was pleasant enough; the group had three chambers, with the rowers in one, the male travelers in another, and Henrietta and Robin sharing a room, which meant that the latter didn't have to arm-wrestle anyone for a bed. In the morning, after a quick bite to eat, they resumed traveling. Before they departed, they saw Henrietta in negotiations with Tsark, eventually handing over the rabbit and turtle, and one of the valuable moths she had found.
As the day wore on, the four noticed that the crew seemed nervous about something. They were rowing with the current to make better time; there was some talk of something that had happened "last time" around this time of year, and of someone being lost, but their inquiries met no response. That evening they pulled over to the bank to make camp; there was more hushed conversation about the advisability of going on. After supper Henrietta announced that they were going to push on to Riseda that night, but would still say nothing of what she was worried about.
That became all too clear when the ettercaps attacked. Three strong nooses dropped down from the tree-canopy as they passed; one caught Jared, but at a bad angle, and he was heavy enough that after a moment's straining the rope snapped, leaving a good length trailing behind. Another caught a rower, who was less fortunate. Everyone heard the sharp sound of snapping bone as he was pulled from the boat and rapidly drawn up toward the branches. On general principles Harrick loosed a gout of flame at the creatures. The rower dropped a dozen feet before they caught the rope again, and then the river carried the boat out of range for any further attacks. Apparently, as the crew had known, the spider-like creatures migrated near the banks of the Greenbriar at that time of year.
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Copyright © 2000 Brian Rogers