Sani Nodin and Adlei Rhiggs dragged Serafina Anduril and Rondal until first light and until they could move no more. Serafina had enough energy to treat Rondal. He was feverish; the blade had been poisoned. They rested for a couple of hours but dared no longer. They pushed until they made it to the Grimvald.
It was a sight to behold, if you were not weary, wounded, or running for your life. The Grimvald was encircled in Heart Trees as far as the eye could see. They acted as a magical barrier, trapping the dark things inside. Once they passed the threshold, they could instantly feel the heaviness of death. The sky was darker. It was almost pitch black. In the distance they could see the shadows and outlines of large animals. Twisted magic permeated everything.
Sani laid traps and misleading trails. They avoided nemesis vines. A tree that had been swaying… no, shuddering… began to flutter. The leaves flew away from branches and toward Adlei, who had been laying misleading tracks. He picked up and they began to flee, Serafina was able to throw a fireball at them, but the swarm continued to pursue them.
Out of the shadows a figure appeared and urged them to follow him. Out of desperation, they did. He led them to a concealed cave that had a small fire burning. As her eyes adjusted, Serafina noticed that their savior was a grim creature whose skin did not quite fit around his eyes and mouth.
Their host said his name was Cadimus. Serafina, too tired to beat around the bush, confronted Cadimus. She asked him directly what he was. He explained that he had been born with no form that he could remember. He would live with a village for a while then, when banished, live alone for years. He admitted to helping them in return for help of theirs, when they were well. He needed a new body. He asked what hunted them and offered to throw the Dray off their trail for as long as he could.
After some deliberation, Serafina had the final word. They would stay, promise to help Cadimus, and take the help he offered. They were too badly injured to try to attempt surviving in these woods themselves. Sani and Adlei were not happy but had no good arguments against her.
The small cave was covered in animal skins and smelled foul, but it was hidden and warm. There was a pig in the corner, which Cadimus used in a ritual to bind their essence. The pig’s name was Pipo. Pipo’s tracks would look like theirs and theirs would look like Pipo’s, for as long as Pipo was alive. Serafina thanked Cadimus for his sacrifice as it seemed that Pipo was not being kept as his dinner.
Then, focus turned to healing. Cadimus said that he could hasten the healing process if they could retrieve honey from a charnal tree. He described the tree, where to find it, and how to extract honey safely to Sani and Adlei. He also warned against coming into contact with the Lluaran there. They would go in the morning to retrieve it.
That night Serafina took first watch. Cadimus spoke with her for a while and inspected the nerve damage on her left arm and hand. He said it may never return to normal. “It could be worse,” she replied.
Rondal woke up the next morning, unable to move. Cadimus returned with a snake and a rat for breakfast. He carved them into pieces for everyone to eat. He ate his raw. Serafina cooked hers and Rondal’s.
Sani and Adlei headed to the charnal tree and saw the Lluaran extracting honey themselves. As they walked away, Sani used vines to steal the honey and they absconded with the stolen goods.
Serafina learned new treatment techniques from Cadimus, seeing the value in his knowledge. He was skilled and more knowledgeable than anyone she had met. He turned the honey into a powder and administered it to Serafina and Rondal.
The honey worked instantly. They both felt like they could move around. They felt no more pain. Cadimus said that it also healed them faster but warned against becoming addicted to it. He also said that while they felt better, they were not actually better, so they needed to take it easy and let their bodies do the work.
Serafina spoke with him more and got to know his sad story. She felt sorry for him and wished that she could take him with them and find a way to help his situation. Sani and Adlei argued with her once again. They did not want to help him get new skin and thought it was a bad idea to attempt to bring him out of the Grimvald. Serafina suggested that they do some recon at the village to see if the locals were in fact “savages” and if they would feel less guilty then.
An idea formed. What if they used a form from outside the Grimvald, such as a Dy’Voth? On the third morning Sani and Adlei left to find a Dy’Voth. They were instructed to bring one back unharmed and about the right size for Cadimus. If the body were damaged, it would all be for naught.
As soon as they crossed the barrier, they felt better. On the second day they ran into a patrol of five Dy’Voth. They killed four and took one prisoner. Meanwhile, Serafina and Rondal had time to recover and talk to Cadimus, whose company Serafina did not mind as much as Sani and Adlei.
The Dy’Voth was brought back to the cave, unharmed. Cadimus said he would do the ritual the next day and suggested that the others not be around to watch. That night, they spoke with the captive. Serafina almost regretting asking his name before he spit out that she was “a bleating cow. A she-goat.”
When Cadimus began the ritual the next morning the others went for a walk in the lovely Grimvald. They dared not go far because while feeling better, Serafina and Rondal were still in no condition to do much. They heard horrific screams and shouting from the cave for an hour or longer before silence. When they thought it was okay to return, they saw a new Cadimus. He now lived in the body of a strong and healthy Dy’Voth. The change was jarring. Even though they knew what to expect, the reality felt cold.
After a couple of days more had passed and Serafina and Rondal were approved to walk by Cadimus, they set off to leave the Grimvald. Rondal was angry at Serafina for giving Sani control of the honey for emergencies and beginning to cut doses down each day. Serafina scorched Cadimus’s armor and chest to get rid of the sign of Ouroboros.
As they approached the ring of Heart Trees, everyone grew tense. Would the spell with Pipo hold? Would Cadimus be able to leave? Would they make it to the Great Heart Tree?
They walked forward and Serafina held Cadimus’s hand.
Nothing stopped him.
They emerged into sunlight. Cadimus said, with tears in his eyes, “so… many… colors.”