Curious Case of the Man in the Forest
Below the Pear Trees
“I don’t know, Joe.” The short rogue said as he scratched his head. “If it’s so easy, how come no one else tried to do this?”
“Because, Big Dave, they are all scared and dumb!” Joe said as he pointed at the map repeatedly. “I know this forest like the back of my hand! This is where I grew up with most of my wolves, we’d have back up, we’d have the manpower, it’s perfect! The source of my druid powers are from these very woods!”
“You know the surface, sure. But that, right there, is an underground… something, that you had no idea was there before.” Big Dave said, also pointing at the same place on the map. “For all we know it’s a death temple made by the dark elves.”
“Don’t tell me the great rogue, Big Dave, is scared of some ancient underground structure.” Joe said with a smirk, knowing that Big Dave loved a good challenge. “I heard that you were the one who went into the dwarven fortress in Blackpike, alone, and stole Lavahide’s ruby necklace while he slept. Did I hear wrong? Were you just a coward all this time?”
Big Dave smiled as he dodged Joe’s eyes and looked towards the entrance of the tavern. He never admitted anything that could get him in trouble.
“Plus, they will clear my debt if we get them the potion of immortality.” Joe said softening up a little, knowing Big Dave had no responsibility in helping him do this, and thankful that he stuck around purely out of comradery. “Anything else we find there will be profit and up for grabs.”
“I’m not worried about getting in there. It’s the coming out alive part that is concerning.” Big Dave stated as he crossed his little arms. “We simply have no idea what we might find in there. I have declined jobs with much more intel than this.”
“But we could be so rich!” Joe practically begged. “With just this one last job.”
Big Dave sighed and shook his head, but Joe could see that he was smiling in defeat.
“Yes!” Joe yelled triumphantly. “You won’t regret, we will be rich by tomorrow night!”
“Whatever.” Big Dave said, as he tossed a pear towards Joe, who awkwardly caught it and smiled.
“Whoa, where did you get this?” Joe asked as he wiped the perfectly plump pear on his garments. “You never see pears around here.”
“Traded it with a traveler from afar for a necklace I had lying around.” Big Dave said as he got off the stool, shortening his height from when he was sitting down. “I know those are your favorite.”
“Where are you going?” Joe asked before sinking his teeth into the juicy flesh of the fruit.
“If we are going to go in blind, then I will just have to get some more gadgets to be ready for more hypothetical situations.” Big Dave said, waving his hand as if brushing Joe’s curiosity aside. “You should get some sleep to be fully focused tomorrow.”
“Are you kidding?” Joe asked as he grinned. “No one can stop this duo!”
Shit, shit, shit! What were those things?
Joe’s heart was racing as he rode one of his dire wolves away from danger. They were out in the open air once again and he couldn’t hear anything but the rush of the wind and his own heart, but he dared not stop. Through the quick and rough pace of his wolf, he felt a great discomfort at his side. He looked down and saw that there was a big cut below his ribs.
When did that happen?
“Are you-” He heard Big Dave behind him. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I think so.” Joe said as he looked at the golden liquid inside of the flask that his left hand was clutching to. He let out a laugh in disbelief. “We did it!”
“Don’t stop.” Big Dave sounded exhausted. He had taken a big hit to the head when they activated the traps by grabbing the potion, but Joe had seen him survive worse. “Not yet.”
Big Dave was right, Joe still wasn’t sure whether those things back there had just been mindless guardian golems or some kind of seek and destroy constructs. Whatever the case, they were powered by some kind of powerful arcane magic and he didn’t feel safe even thinking about slowing down. He could feel Big Dave’s little body pressed against his back, he couldn’t believe they had made it out of there alive. Too much happened too fast, but they had made it.
“Hold on a little tighter, buddy.” Joe said as he pressed his knees against the wolf for it to go faster. “Don’t want you to fall off and get a concussion after we made it out of that hell hole!”
He winced as his side hurt when the wolf jumped over a fallen tree. In the chaos, however, he had only had time to grab the potion of immortality and a small golden broach. He wondered if Big Dave had been able to grab anything. Everything had seemingly exploded with searing purple lightning and deafening thunder that seemed to rip reality apart. And before they could react, the statues by the pillars had come to life as that violet light spread through them like veins through their stone body. He would have appreciated the complexity of the magic involved, if they hadn’t moved with such speed and ferocity.
He tried to look back, but his side hurt too much to turn. The farther they got, the more it seemed to hurt. Perhaps the adrenaline was starting to wear off.
“Yo, Big Dave, are they following us?” He asked, wondering how much longer his wolf could run carrying them both.
He leaned forward, hugging the wolf’s neck as he tried to put his hand near the mouth of his beastly companion. The wolf was heaving and that broke his heart. They had gotten there with five wolves, all of which he had grown up with, but only escaped with one.
“We are going to have to stop soon.” Joe said a little louder as the excitement of making out alive with the potion started to be replaced by the realization of how much he had risked and lost in this one job.
But we did it. I just have to keep going.
Once they made it to a little grove, he whispered into the wolf’s ear, telling him that it was far enough. The wolf stopped and turned around to face the direction they had come from. It continued to pant while looking around. Joe put away the flask in his pocket and pet the wolf’s head before raising a closed fist with just his indicator finger outstretched.
A small sparrow came and sat on his finger as if it had done so a thousand times. He brought it close to his mouth and whispered for it to check for anything following them and the sparrow took flight.
Joe quickly looked down at his wounded side. Seeing that he was still bleeding, he put a hand on it as he started to recite some spells. He felt some of his muscle fibers knitting themselves together under the green glow emanating from his hand. It tingled and itched at the same time. When he stopped bleeding, the sparrow came back to him.
“We are good.” He said after a big sigh.
But when he got up from the wolf, he heard a thud behind him. When he turned, he found Big Dave face down on the ground and felt his heart drop.
“Hey, man, stop joking around.” He said as he turned his best friend, finding a fist sized charred crater in the little rogue’s chest. His body was already limp and his eyes distant. “No, no.”
He took a step back, not knowing how to process that.
“No, no, no.” was all he could say as he kneeled by his dearest friend. When had this happened?
He placed both of his hands over the mortal wound, feeling the crispy and cracked texture, and started reciting all of the most powerful healing spells he knew. Both of his hands had a greenish glow as he chanted one spell after another as tears started to come down his face.
No! No! No! You can’t do this to me!
When he pulled his hands away, nothing seemed to have changed. Perhaps the arcane magic was keeping the wound from healing.
He put his hands in front of him as if holding an invisible ball and started reciting some of the ancient spells that he had seen the elders perform. Soon a bright green ball of light formed between his hands and as he kept reciting the spells, he slammed the light sphere into his most beloved friend’s unmoving chest.
“Get up!” He yelled at his friend despite being angry at himself for practically forcing Big Dave to come along.
I need something more powerful. He thought despite knowing that these powerful spells were taking a toll on him. Then, as realization hit him, his eyes dropped to look at his pocket.
He quickly pulled the flask out and poured it in his friend’s mouth.
“Get up! Get the fuck up!” He yelled as he started reciting some of the first spells again with his trembling hands on the wound. “Why won’t you get up!”
But he knew why.
He looked at the scar on the palm of his left hand, remembering the spell that had gotten him exiled from this very forest.
Mother Nature can heal, but only life can beget life.
Without a second thought, he drew his dagger from his belt and cut his palm open as he started chanting a much different and harsh sounding spell. His hand glowed a crimson red and he began to chant louder as he focused most of his life essence into his bleeding hand.
I got you into this, I’ll get you out.
His body trembled and he could feel the wound on his side open once again. He used all of his energy to slam the erratically glowing sphere of red light into the chest of Big Dave.
I hope it works.
Suddenly he felt old and exhausted. He fell beside his unmoving friend and looked at the person he treasured the most in his life. As life started to leave him, he noticed that his friend was clutching something in his left hand. Surely, no treasure was worth his life. With great effort he opened the little rogue’s hand and found a small pouch. Inside of it, he found three seeds.
Pear seeds. He thought as he cried one last tear. You fool.
“Wow, this is really it!” Rithersby stated, pointing at the three giant pear trees. “The legend of the sleeping beauty is real!”
“Well, I don’t know about beauty.” Rothwell said as he kneeled by the perfectly still young man. “Looks like a weird man child thing. Maybe a gnome of some kind? And I’m not even sure about the sleeping part either, look, he ain’t breathing. It’s a dead kid.”
“A dead kid that refuses to rot for at least six hundred years.” Rithersby said as he wrote something down in his journal.
“You’d think someone would have tried to move him by now.” Rothwell said, turning his head in an angle.
“I think most people were afraid they might get cursed by whatever magic affects him.” Rithersby responded, making his companion quickly get up and take a step back. “Makes one wonder what it was that happened to him. Just one of those mysteries we might never know the truth about.”
“Just another poor sod who died alone in the middle of nowhere.” Rothwell said as he brushed the dirt off of his hands.
“Maybe not alone." Rithersby scratched his bearded chin. "But the only one cursed.”
“Now you are just theorizing.” Rothwell said, moving away from the undying body in the middle of the forest.
“Sometimes that’s all we can do.”