We hear the bubbling before we come into the cavern, the slush and slurp of mud slowly moving, of thickened water pressing its way slowly past thicker soil. When we emerge into the cavern we see the mud everywhere, caked on the walls and covering the ground. The little stream runs down the center of the room and off to the right, but its destination is not what we are looking at: rather it is the two hands that protrude from the mud, reaching for each other. I am about to comment on the ring on the womanly hand, which pegs it as not being Julianna‘s, but then the mud shifts, and a column swirls up, and from a few directions the very earth advances toward us. KD starts forward, Saya flanks right, and after a few moments of flying dirt and energy and flashing blades, the last of the Elemental beasts is seeping back into the mud from which it emerged. We inspect the hands and find three of Crystalbrook’s finest, part of the party sent to find their Orlando. Two more members went, but they are not here.
KD continues through the cave, our footfalls echoing his as he follows the river and we follow him. The walls glint in the darkness, and soon the name of this cave shows itself in our surroundings, with crystals protruding from the dirt. The crystals steadily grow in number and size until the walls are made of nothing but, and when your humble narrator attempts to break a bit from the wall to document the passage, I find in my hand nothing but a stone. It is not an illusion, but the walls of this place somehow sustain the crystal, and breaking from the wall breaks it from its essence.
Ahead is a lighted room, and when we enter we see a strange sight indeed. A pool of water dominates the cavern, a waterfall at the far end. But the waterfall is like a picture more than a reality, the water droplets frozen in time, waiting to fall. There is no sound except the rush of water racing away down the passage we just emerged from, and no other exits. If anyone preceded us into the cave, they must have ended here. KD is already wading into the water, and it is evident that his passage is being slowed, increasingly, as he approaches the falls. The water is only a foot or so deep, yet he might was well be trudging through tar. Suddenly he glances back, and points through the waterfall, and as he describes the scene we all see the room behind the curtain of water. KD pulls his feet from the pool and stands atop it, then walks to the falls and attempts to shove his way through, but is repulsed. He tries again, slower, and disappears behind the veil. Your humble narrator has other means available to him, and with a blink I find myself standing next to the Kender. Soon after an issuance of steam presages Valeris’ passage, with Lulu in his pocket and Saya close behind.
The room contains a table and chairs, a mosaic flooring of natural scenes, and a smattering of broken glassware scattered about. With nothing else to see we move through the solitary door and find ourselves on a wreckage-strewn beach, a vast expanse of water all around. The Sildaine Forest is nowhere to be seen; we have been transported, but where we’ve found ourselves is anyone’s guess.
We wander for a bit, the sunshine bright to our cave-dark eyes, until we hear the sounds of laughter and crying. Followed, we find four leprechauns circling a raven-haired woman, whom your humble narrator, long her acquaintance, recognizes as Julianna, but changed from her chestnut hair to this black and with one eye similarly miscolored, to a hazel where blue should be. It is from this woman–Julianna but not Julianna–that the weeping emanates, and from the leprechauns–four, prancing and singing gaily about the return of “Caerwyn”–that the laughter comes.
We entreat the five to make their origins and meaning plain, and though it takes some guile and wit on our part we do convince them to disclose such. This is, in fact, the lost Julianna, though she has only dim remembrance of her coming, and is quite inclined to believe herself to be Caerwyn, since everyone is calling her such. The mysterious Caerwyn seems to be the daughter of Oran, the Green Fey Lord, for whom this place was a gift of some sort. Her betrothed–Caerwyn’s, I mean, not Julianna, who though she has a beau has yet no betrothed–is one Propherio, who seems to have died some time ago. Orlando did accompany Julianna, but ran off chasing yet another woman, whose identity is anyone’s guess. Your humble narrator has some recollection of all these names, especially of the Green Lord, and brings Tiandra the Summer Queen into the story, whose son shares a name with the betrothed in this story, and whose betrothed in turn shares the name Caerwyn. We seem to have stumbled into an old legend through a waterfall. One tends to do such things when following KD about.
But no sooner have we unraveled the origins of this place as the mention of Soryth the Dream Witch darkens the mood, and all the leprechauns bolt for the underbrush. One stops short, his eyes rolling back in his head as he loses his senses. KD predicts the next move and is next to the Hag as soon as she appears, half her visage the same as Julianna’s darkened Carrowin-mask. She claims the powers of this island and pulls Julianna in with tendrils of dark energy, and though KD stays at her side and pummels her rightly she escapes into the ether before our eyes. In her stead we come face to face with various dark Xivorts, who prove annoying but no match for our troupe.
Shaken by the Hag, the leprechauns become more talkative, and soon tell us of a pair of champions from the fey lords’ courts, both of whom have recently appeared on the island. A ritual was attempted a short time ago, causing Caerwyn to “stir in her grave”, and either the Hag or the champions interrupted, and your humble narrator must confess that the leprechaun’s telling of the story made it impossible to discern who did the invoking and who did the interrupting. In any case, those involved now bear marks and confused identities as a result. Pointed in the right direction to find the champions and uncover what might be done to return the children to their homes, we set off.