Chapter 5, Part V: Shadow & Song

Having saved Boymin from the encroaching Darkness, the Platinum Talons took a respite before embarking on a perilous journey into the forest, each member pursuing endeavors suited to their unique talents.

Vance, Xerxes, and Drez ventured to The Chicken Bone, melding melodies and spirits, selling wine that echoed their artistry. The clinking of coin filled their coffers, a boon of 55 gold in wine sales and 20 gold in performance tips. Loosely supervised by Drez, the operation thrived.

Nohki and Firebrook, embracing a philanthropic calling, helped the city's needy. Nohki, with a generous heart, conjured Burger Bombs at a soup kitchen, while Firebrook, invoking the grace of Vortageus, tended to the afflicted in a clinic. Their deeds swirled whispers of the Talons' goodwill, increasing their reputation in the city.

Bart, with nimble fingers and a penchant for risk, engaged in calculated gambling, augmenting the party's coffers with the fruits of her sleight of hand.

In the literary sanctum of Inkling's Bookstore, Vance, under the guise of Advin Tageous, attemped to unearth information from the proprietor. Aiming to learn more about the Thanastra book, he discovered the rarity's price -- a staggering 100,000 gold. His successful persuasion attempt allowed him an opportunity: a part-time stocking assistant gig at the esteemed bookstore.

Upon reconvening, the Talons set course for Boymin, where Tali unraveled the intricacies of the impending ritual. Larry Steve's cooperation offered a flicker of hope. The ritual, a dark affair, necessitated the death of Firebrook's sister-- who the Order members referred to as the vessel-- in order to reanimate her as the darkness. Tali also explained that Hellblade had planned to bring a demonic entity to the material plane by tying his life force with a dagger, which would then be used in the sacrifice of the vessel, imbuing her with that demonic entity. The party had managed to stop Hellblade and, thus, prevented the demonic entity from being brought to the material plane.

Just as Tali was reminding the Talons to stay on the path once in the forest, Ricotti arrived and whisked Tali away to Lumi's temple, entrusting the Talons with their somber task. Into the frigid embrace of the darkened forest, the Talons tread, bound by a shared destiny. The whispering willows punished those who dared disturb the silence, the vines lashing out.

The roads they took were winding, treacherous, and confusing. Some routes circled back to the beginning, while others plunged them into ever more perilous realms. Yet, only one thread of the convoluted maze guided them to the ominous grounds of the ritual. In the gloomy crossroads, the anguished cries of various loved ones echoed from various directions.

Caught in the whispering willows, the Talons heard the trees shush them. Those who spoke above a whisper took slashing damage from the angry whipping of the trees' vines.

Following a meandering journey of backtracking, fortunate guesses, and twists, the Talons stumbled upon a darkwood grove. Sinister trees, their gnarled claws poised to strike, lashed out as the party crossed the shadowed thicket. A few more twists and turns took them to an abandoned cabin, where they deliberated the perils that lay within.

Peering through the cabin windows, Xerxes conjured a bonfire in the hearth. Venturing alone into the cabin, Bart confronted her own rising panic, opening a chest that held a blank sheet. At the same time, another sheet of paper materialized as sheet music upon the cabin's exterior. As Vance took the sheet off the door, Bart was able to see the party again. Firebrook shone the light of the lantern on the sheet and saw music notes. Vance took the papers and stacked them together so that the music on both sheets lined up to create a perfect composition that Vance recognized as a nocturne, a type of music which was best played on a piano.

Further wandering brought them to a patch of twisted thorns, inflicting damage as they passed through. Returning to the familiar abandoned cabin, now harboring a piano, Vance endeavored to play the melody. Echoing through the cabin, the song's lyrics materialized in Vance's mind, which he sung aloud for his comrades:

Long lost, long lost again,
shadows rise and fade away from them
But they may never know,
How Might and Dark can ebb and flow.

Once you start,
In the Northreach heart,
You can rise up and break through the fold
Let the path away
From the screams be braved
Through the clawed woods and needles of gold.

If you sink through the ground,
you should just turn around
Hushing vines will not light
Your wandering way

Long lost, long lost again,
shadows rise and fade away from them
But they may never know,
How Might and Dark can ebb and flow.

Untangle, untoil, a hidden path will appear,
Trust in the one with the eyes to see clear
A mother gone,
down she went,
To the dancing shadow's den.
Don't turn back,
It's the last
That conceals your rightful path
To the moon of blood that sets without your hand

Guided by the haunting melody, they carefully threaded the forest, steering through its complexities. They arrived in a clearing illuminated by the ethereal glow of a solitary golden pine tree. Disregarding its radiance, they relied on both the haunting melody and the impressively accurate map of their brilliant cartographer, Drez, to reach a colossal tree with intricately entwined roots.

Firebrook looked around the branches and saw how the roots were twisted together. Nohki saw a coat of thick moss that could be pushed away. Underneath, he saw an insignia of a flaming spear on the tree, the symbol of Hellspear.

Drez noticed a figure in the shadows, watching the party with two glowing white eyes. As the figure disappeared, he left a braid of shadow, much like a bell pull, that hung from the tree. Drez pulled it, and 6 notes pierced through the silence of the darkness.

Vance recognized the 6 different notes, and they realized they needed to tap the roots of the tree in the order of the song. They completed the puzzle. Nohki created goodberries for people, and Xerxes scratched out the symbol on the tree.

Following their skillful musical success, Nohki invoked the vitality of goodberries, while Xerxes scratched out the fiery insignia on the tree.

Heading north, they reached a clearing adorned with four statues, each pointing in different directions. Guided by the song's clues-- "Trust in the one with the eyes to see clear,"-- they followed the statue pointing west, its eyes unobstructed.

Xerxes investigated the nest to find very strange-looking baby bird-like creatures inside. Nohki identified them as Perytons, half stag, half eagle monstrosities. He also recalled that Perytons could understand common and could speak it limitedly. They asked the babies, using the song as a clue, where their mother went.

The babies guided them in the correct direction, and the Talons headed south to the Dancing Shadows' Den, where they solved an elaborate puzzle that required the use of their lantern to herd shadowy figures over candles to open up the last path. Drez, using a bit of out-of-the-box thinking, helped to solve the puzzle by putting himself in harm's way of the shadows.

As the path unveiled, another flaming spear insignia could be spotted on an adjacent rock, which Xerxes burned away.

Firebrook could feel the hair on the back of his neck stand on end, and he knew in that moment that the tunnel ahead would lead them right into the clutches of his villainous parents. He then cast Protection from Poison on himself, but with the Warden's shield power, the whole party gained the helpful effects.

The Platinum Talons steeled themselves for a confrontation that would determine the fate of Firebrook's sister, their allies in Iridea, and, potentially, the rest of Fynali.

Completed: November 2023