Ulaid Part 3
Ulaid Part 3- Journal
Entering into the ominous, shadowy woods, Manzio & Heraclief are almost immediately thrown into an unpleasantly humid, dank and very dark environment. The woodland floor beneath is dry and the trees exude the smell of rotting vegetation, much like peat. Heraclief calls a cantrip but the emerald light seems unusually subdued as though battling for oxygen in the turgid conditions.
After about an hour of battling through thick, claustrophobic forestland, with snapping branches, the ground begins to rise and it is clear that the pair are climbing. Ahead, they see figures, although after having quickly gained cover, they note that the figures are in fact entirely static. On closer inspection, they find that the individuals have in fact, been petrified. Two pale faced Danagrim and seven wolf faced lycanthropes are discovered and nort far from the site, three sithe elves. Dead bodies from all three racial groups are scattered throughout the woods, suggesting that a major battle took place in the area, not long before the two heroes arrived.
Pushing further into the forest, the pair find more dead bodies. In particular, one horrific find in which a Dangrim looks as though his entire head has been devoured as though by some vast creature. Manzio, keen to make sense of the battleground scattered throughout the forest, notes some huge footprints alongside those of the Sithe and Danagrim, suggesting to Heraclief that perhaps Lu-Thi-Us has returned, passing them unseen somewhere in the woods. An increased number of petrified creatures are found as the two push deeper into the forest. Mostly, these are Sithe warriors as though they have made a concerted effort to defeat the creature capable of petrifying its enemy. Both Heraclief and Manzio note that the Danagrim warriors look very different from those at Hadrian’s Wall…an altogether wilder looking breed, carrying wicked knives, spiked maces, whips etc. The Danagrim are dark skinned and most have shaved white hair. On close inspection, they all have tattoos. In one place, a sithe and dark skinned Danagrim have clearly fallen together, weapons still severing one another’s vital organs.
The carnage continues for the best part of an hour, as the two move deeper and deeper into the forest. There is a sense that the forest viewed on the road descending into Tir na nOg is far smaller than the one the two are passing through. Heraclief suggests that perhaps the space through which the two pass is actually an illusion and that Tir na nOg is far larger than it appears from a distance. Both recall the final warning of Lu-Thi-Us…’the land is not what it seems.’
As the day progresses, neither companion feels like resting, given the violence surrounding their trek into the heart of Tir na nOg. They eat some of their rations on the move, remaining vigilant throughout. Shortly after they have eaten, Manzio stumbles upon a Danagrim warrior, still fighting for life, though his shuddering breaths suggest that he is close to the end. Crouching down, holding the stout warrior in his arms, Manzio crouches as the Danagrim whispers his last:
‘…we protect the eye of Balor. It is our curse to bear, ever since the time before the giants came to these lands. The accursed elves and the giant with one eye, seeks to take it from us. They must be stopped. If it falls into the hands of the giant, he will commit terrible acts of genocide. He is clearly a creature of evil. He must not carry the eye! Whoever you are, please help us.’
With that, the Danagrim stiffens, before exhaling slowly, the life leaving his eyes, before sinking back down into the earth. Standing, Manzio repeats the warning of the Dangrim’s last words, before Heraclief voices, exactly what Manzio is thinking.
Shortly after encountering the dying Danagrim, Manzio & Heraclief leave behind the thick forestlands as the ground becomes ever more rocky and hilly. Rounding a bend between two dark hills, the two have a sense that they have once again breached an invisible barrier, pushing through into a dimensional space not visible from the vantage overlooking Tir na nOg. In the distance, they see an epic, imposing structure, which seems to sit perched on top of a Munro, volcanic peaks surrounding the tower. The central turret reaches high into the broody, perpetually stormy clouds above and both heroes feel a very long way from home.
(Image Credit: https://www.pinterest.com/stphrolland/castles-ruins/)
Descending into the valleys leading to the structure, the two pass through an eerie mist but quickly note that the mist carries the sound of screaming, as though the lament of the dead hounds their journey. It is incredibly unpleasant and both steel themselves against the terrible shrieking assailing their senses. Descending further they comes to the shores of a long, stretched lough. The lough is alive with life and the two can see that in the distance, small sailing vessels are at war. It is impossible to see who is involved but the screams and cries as well as metal upon metal and the occasional flash of lightning and fire can be seen in the distance.
Manzio and Heraclief are transfixed by the battle, attempting to glimpse the assailants but the ships are merely two specks on the lough, far in the distance.
‘You be seeking to land on yon island would you?’
(Image Credit: http://whotalking.com/flickr/Leprechaun)
From nowhere, a bald headed, squat creature smoking a pipe appears, looking up at the pair, appraising them with visible curiosity, one eyebrow arched. (See image 2 for the game) He has a wrinkled face, with a grumpy, sceptical eye. Grumbling, the figure seems impatient for a response.
‘Can you understand me? Do…you…want…a…boat?
Manzio, nods, still rather shocked out how this creature was able to appear at their backs without so much of a noise.
‘What do you have to bargain with then boy?’
Manzio, finds one of the gemstones carried in his inside pockets, revealing a beautiful fire opal.
The creature’s greedy eyes light up and he nods his acquiescence. Taking the gemstone and quickly placing inside a filthy oversized cloak, the creature concentrates, closing his eye before beginning a guttural chant deep in his throat. Miraculously, a small sailing vessel begins to reveal itself, sat on the edge of the lough. A set of oars are hooked on either side of the diminutive boat.
‘Hey, this is rather small,’ objects Heraclief but as he turns back from the boat, the creature has already vanished.
Disturbed by the transaction conducted, the two, step carefully into the boat, Manzio taking the oars before gently pushing out from the shore and quickly making their way out onto the rippling lough. Paranoid of not becoming entangled in the battle ahead, Manzio rows the boat within a few hundred yards of the shore, keeping to the left hand arc of the lough.
Having covered about half of the distance between the shore and the debris left from the maritime battle ahead, a large black stone can be seen just ahead, Heraclief warning Manzio to circumnavigate the monolith ahead. As the draw closer to the rock, the two notice that a figure is sat on the rock watching them.
The figure is astonishingly beautiful and both men feel almost immediately entranced by the hypnotic beauty of the woman sat on the rock. Her angelic look is confirmed when two beautiful golden wings stretch behind sinewy but soft shoulders. As her wings extend, she begins to sing…her call is incredibly powreful but even Manzio, unschooled in magic can sense the force of an enchantment that feels as though a hand is reaching out and guiding the men magnetically and inexorably towards the radiant beauty waiting for them. Heraclief shakes his head, grunting as though in pain as he resits the call.
‘A siren. We must resits her call Manzio, Resist…
As though in response, the siren shoots high into the air and then plummets back into the waters like a salmon, her graceful dive like watching a dream.
As the two begin to frantically row their boat back toward the shoreline, Heraclief gasps as the front of the boat appears to disintegrate before his eyes, the wood dissipates and the well tended sheen of the wood fades. As he looks at the vessel, it is clear that an illusion has disguised what is a rotting boat, the timbers worn in places and the front of the boat struggling to be seaworthy. Realising that they have been duped, Manzio slows his pace for fear of causing the lough water to break through the feeble prow. As he does so, the wood beneath his seat splinters and a pale arm grabs hold of his leg, dragging him down in a firm yank. Before he is able to react, Manzio finds his left leg beneath water. In panic and as the boat quickly capsizes as water rushes in through the breach, he reaches for his skian dubh, the sickening necrotic energy surging from the blade in a palpable wave of power. Beneath the waters a flicker of light betrays the siren as she prepares to attack. As her talon like fingers reach up he notices the protruding teeth revealed…slashing wildly at her reaching arm, he feels the blade connect, cutting deep into her arm. A jab of electrical energy once again jolts Manzio’s left arm, violently ripping into his underarm. Surfacing momentarily, the siren shrieks with a terrible high pitch of pain, as her right arm literally disintegrates before her eyes, blood exploding from the exposed, severed limb. The pain is so intense that the creature blacks out her eyes showing a vile white, before her body sinks beneath the water.
Astonished, Manzio sees Heraclief treading water his teeth already chattering from the old. Quick…swim…the cold will kill us. The two kick for the shore, using their packs as ballasts and fearful of the numbing sensation cause by the shockingly cold waters of the lough. Dragging their exhausted bodies ashore, Heraclief and Manzio waste no time in collecting driftwood, quickly piling together the sodden logs into a makeshift campfire. Calling forth his emerald flames, the wood is quickly dried and then begins to light, gradually building into a bright fire to warm the beleaguered pair. Stripping their clothes to dry, the two retain only their weapons, as they look fearfully towards both the eaters and the tower, reaching up above the hillside, under which they clutch to the meagre protection offered. Certain that many eyes will be on the magical emerald flames, the two chew barely edible food, glad to have survived the attack. As the two sit silently staring into the flames, Manzio can see Heraclief studying him out of the side of his eye. Neither needs to verbalise the insidious power of the blade wielded by the young Vesuvian assassin but Manzio can sense the concern from his friend.