We spent days travelling across the Abyssal plane, doing our best to avoid any encounters with unsavoury sorts. As we approached the edge of the barrier in whatever plane presented before us, my companions said their goodbyes and departed. A bitter sweet farewell and I would miss the comfort of security they brought.
"Chin up Bensome. We've performed admirably these past weeks and the information these devices hold will prove invaluable" Florina said as she playfully punched my shoulder. Trying to hide the pain from that friendly gesture I nodded in agreement.
"So what now?" I asked.
"Onward, lad. Onward. Beyond this barrier lays more questions that need answering. I've sent for the two goblins to make their return as a protective force. I'm sure they'll arrive soon enough."
With that, the druid and mage-priest left, skirting the barrier of the Abyssal plane as that seemed the most safest, if not the most direct path home. I took a few deeps breaths and steeled myself for the what's to come, the barrier within sight.
I note that as I approached the threshold the terrible heat and choking air gave way to wisps of curious energy. I can best describe it as surfacing for air after being submerged. This feeling grew stronger with each step towards the plane's edge. When I was a single step away the energy exuded from within the barrier was overwhelming. Overwhelming yet elated; my body and spirit rejuvenated.
No longer wanting to spend another moment within my current hellish surrounds i pushed forth. The same sense of electrified air when I first crossed the border greeted me between planes. Then it was gone; replaced with soft sunlight and clean, crisp air. The smell of flower pollen, various tree leaves, and something sweet... unnaturally sweet. A reminder that this was not the material plane. As lovely and heavenly as it is, the land ahead was magical in nature.
I allowed myself an hour to soak in the majesty of it all, the stench of the Abyssal plane drifting away. As enjoyable as it was, I still had a job to do. I found an open area, clearly visible and easy to find for my goblin Truthbringers, when they arrive. A half day later I heard that tell-tale sound of a goblin army on the march. loud, clanking, bickering and discordant. Grabblesnot and Grimple leading the group, waved a greeting as they approached atop a pair of fleabags.
"Fellas, how goes it? I see you brought your friends once more" I said while I gestured to the hordes of goblins and machines behind the wizards.
"Yeah. The boys had such a good time last go around they were keen to go again!" Grimple replied.
"We couldn’t get the trolls to join us but we did bring sommore toys" Grabblesnot added, pointing with his thumb over his shoulder to the mincers.
"We juiced that lot up to give ‘em some more grunt... err, as an experiment. We can't give 'em too much more oomph or they might blow up".
As a worrying exclamation, Grimple snickered with glee.
"Speaking of 'splosions, we brought a couple of Boom Wagons. I hope you don't mind, but we couldn’t resist."
Looking over Grabblesnot, the juxtaposed image of the lush, green environment broken up by goblin hordes and fume belching war engines didn't sit well with me. This didn't feel... right.
I asked the wizards if they brought orders from the Heads of College. "Yep. They want us to take over the place. Hold it for them so it can be studied at length." Grimple answered.
My instant reaction to hearing those words had me internally questioned those orders. This Empyrean plane should not be controlled by any force; it is too pure and should not be sullied by intruders. Regardless of how I felt, I had orders and a good soldier follows orders. Even writing these words doesn't sit well. Should I just blindly follow instructions because those in power give them? Even if those orders go against my natural response?
Eager to get moving and to keep the goblins active and distracted as to prevent infighting, we made a plan. The area mapped and the army split into groups we headed off to claim this immediate grounds in the name of The College. As we were settling in for the afternoon, each group already in position in idle, a sense of foreboding made itself known.
A foreign feeling, especially considering the emotions this plane evokes. A stillness fell over us all. Birds stopped singing, the sound of wind through grass ceased, the nearby trees halted their swaying. This penetrating silence made even the goblins stop whatever they were doing and freeze to attention. Almost like a rabbit sensing the presence of a predator but not knowing where it may be.
The silence was soon broken the crashing and snapping of tree branches and trunks. A symphony of rustling, thumps upon the soil, creaking, and low guttural, indecipherable speech. As coordinated as regiment of royal guard, a mass of walking trees emerged from the forests. Masses of Forest shamblers guided by two gigantic tree herders, one dark and emanating decay, the other light and enveloped by growth.
Overhead a trio of Pegasi and a flying unicorn made for an intimidating sight when coupled with the oncoming wall of wood. Interestingly i spied a lone druid beside a group of naiads, waiting patiently in a forest and no making a move. Did we have a similar situation to my first battle where there was a overseer keeping track of a fighting force? Possibly though deep down i did not think this true. Still, naiads so far from home was something to be noted.
"This doesn't feel right. I don't think we should be here." I shouted to the goblins wizards.
"Nah, we 'av orders and the lads need to burn some of that energy unless you ya want 'em to start makin' trouble" Grabblesnot said.
I nodded in resignation and tried to suppress this feeling of guilt that had set in.
By the time the goblins stirred into action the trees were almost on them. There was no way this forward advance could have been predicted so holding and bracing was all the goblins could do.
A throng of bow-wielding goblins took aim and let loose a volley of arrows at the distant naiads. Their aim surprisingly accurate but only managing to harm a few. Lightning bolts arced out to the Pegasus in range, attempting to scare them off but failed. The two flying machines proving more effective than the last time I saw them. No longer fighting with their brethren and the hulls actually holding together, the aim of the on-board grenadiers was spot on.
As you would expect, trying to wound a tree proved difficult. The flip-side was also as you would expect; goblins are much less resistant to the swings of living clubs. I will admit the courage of the green-skins was admirable. Facing off against walking forests is not a thing that those of week will could stand for very long.
As lightning streaked the sky into the goblin mages, the Forest shamblers continued to stomp their smaller foes. Panic and disorganization began to take hold.
I note that the magic nature of this plane was taking it toll on the wizards. While it seemed to give them a greater capacity in the destructiveness of their magic, it came at a physical cost. Also curiously, it seemed the forest themselves held some sort of power. Those warriors and machines that were within healed and repaired as though some invisible mage was casting restorative magic upon them.
The presence of these elementals of nature and the aura of balance, of life of death the Tree herders held, began to overshadow all other thoughts. I am NOT a soldier. I will NOT follow orders blindly. We should not be here and the very environment was telling us to leave. These walking trees and tree herders a natural cure to a foreign invader: us.
It was at this point the goblins started to heat up, the battle stirring their blood. Mincers slashed and chipped away at old growth, branches and canopies blasted by goblin explosives. As enthusiastic and energetic the goblins were, the effort was not enough.
Before too many casualties could be inflicted I ordered the troops to pull back. "There's nothing here for us! We must leave before we damage too much of this precious land!" I screamed, hoping that at least some would here and follow the command. A few turned with an expression of incredulity but with the press of wooden limb on goblin shield increasing, the goblin survival instinct kicked in. A full retreat cascaded across the line leaving many a felled tree in their wake.
We may not of achieved what was asked of us but i did feel confident in my decision. This was not a place for any person to control. The trees were here to repel invades and protect their borders. A thought confirmed by the fact that the trees did not pursue. They did what was necessary to keep safe their home. This is what I reported back to the College.
I am glad that casualties were minimal; the goblin knack for escaping dangerous situations alive, a blessing for my conscience. I do not think I am experienced enough to be able to handle the loss of life under my care. As such while it may take longer, we will cross this plane by keeping to the edge of the barrier. I can only hope that this will be enough to appease the natural order and not attract a defensive response.
I trust my fellow Truthbringer will also come his his conclusion or are adept enough to hold their own to venture deeper. I am certain there is be many a discovery to be made in this place but I am happy just to make it through alive.