During one of the first few days in which we are resting in the town, I wake late in the night with an epiphany, or possibly something gastric based on the large amount of drinks and fine food consumed at the inn earlier. This however sounds far less heroic than is fitting with my deeds to date, so epiphany it is. My great plan is that I should learn the mystic ways of the Shifter, a distinctive variant of the Druid class and one that my Father strictly forbade me to become, mostly due to the fact that Uncle Levanter* had become one, changed into a mermaid and was never seen again.
So, destiny sorted, I furrowed my brow and thought about the Druids in the woods that we had been warned about when we first arrived in the city, dwelling deep in the forbidden forest. Now, where would I start? Who do I know that I recently found out was a Druid?
This was going to be both tricky and embarrassing. Now, whom could I rely on, or rather trick into helping me out should I need it, while simultaneously making them think that they are only coming along for the ride as an excuse to have ammunition for future use? It does rather seem that the lady Trixie ticks all of the above boxes. Not wanting to disturb Trixie now, I return to sleep and wait until morning.
Over a hearty breakfast I gather my writing utensils and try and come up with something that seems like a suitable apology to someone not days before I was referring to as a Whore of Babylon. By the time I have had a second helping of sausages and egg, I had penned the following:
It seems we got off on the wrong foot back at the slave pens. I only wished to ensure the safety of the slaves and it did appear (rightly or wrongly) that you wanted to push on exploring for your belongings while dragging members of the party unfit for any further encounters along with you.
I wish to speak for two reasons, other than to offer an apology obviously - we have dealings in Castle White Rock and as you were there, I wonder if I can offer my services for any task that you had within its walls. I won’t lie, I also require your services. I am hoping that one of your community know the ways of the Shifter Druids, and would like the opportunity to train with the community to become one......
Mielikki sake, that’s lame as hell, but it will suffice. Trixie soon joins me at the table and with food and ale, she agrees to accompany me but cannot resist a barb in the form of "...she may be able to teach you some manners as well..." as I tell my tale. I talk to Lady Shontessa, who seems quite confident that she can actually arrange a meeting with the head of the Druid order who you guessed it, is the father of Shakira.
With the rest of the party training and completing research, Shontessa tells us that she should have more information for us the day after next and accordingly, the days drags for me as I eagerly await the news that Shontessa has made contact. To help pass the time I spend some time researching an item that I can purchase from ‘Ye old magic shoppe’, costing me the last of my cash on a trinket that I hope can smooth over the process.
The rest of the day passes, and bright and early, Trixie and I leave through the front gate and head for the woods marked by lady Shontessa. Our instructions where clear, head to the start of the forest and wait.
And we did. Trixie had brought food, but I was too anxious, and examined the flora while keeping one eye on what looked to be a natural pathway of trees into the woods.A few hours later, a loud thumping and crashing noise could be heard coming closer and closer towards us. The noise does not take long to materialise in the shape of two massive lion shaped but elephant sized creatures as they burst from the undergrowth. Made of plants, foliage, bushes and entwined thorns, I stare in awe at the magnificent beasts that can only be the legendary BattleBriars that my father told me about.
A Human man, of indeterminable age and dressed in leather and holding a staff suddenly appears from the trunk of a nearby tree and walks towards me, ignoring the beasts towering above us. He introduces himself as the leader of the Druids, though without revealing a name, and mentions Lady Shontessa had contacted him.
He then begins a monologue revealing that his order protects the woods and some of the surrounding area from the Giants. When he asks me my history, I tell him all of it, missing nothing before finally coming to the adventures with the party in this area before mentioning his daughter’s entrapment. Remembering my penned prose, I offer to help her cause in relation to the Castle White Rock. I am stopped short when he simply says that he doubts she had any real plans, and is a headstrong and occasionally rash girl and probably made a silly mistake and got caught.
That throws me somewhat, and with a potential bargaining chip gone, I move to my gift, that I hand to him to pass to his daughter as a peace offering. He un-wraps the cloth and looks at the small glass, crystallised lenses and with a nod of approval he confirms, "Eyes of the Eagle?" before he puts them into a pouch.
He finally looks away from me and acknowledges Trixie simply to tell her that she will have to go back to town as I will be going into the Woods for a few days and she will not be able to accompany me. Stopping Trixie from a quick reply either to attempt a quip at the Druids expense or requesting a ride on the plant creatures, I send Trixie away, telling her I will be okay and not to worry.
As Trixie leaves, the Druid looks at me from under bushy eyebrows and asks if I am sure about the training as it will be very expensive. When I concur, he turns and simply asks me for all of the magical items I currently own. This is contemplated for perhaps a second before I start removing items and placing them into a small bag and then hand them to the Druid, which are slung into his pack. He looks at me again and wordlessly, nods and points towards the entrance to the forest with his staff.
Weeks flash by and I can remember only the training - I could have been anywhere within the forest or another forest entirely as the dense canopy prevented any kind of reference points being seen. I cared not though - if I needed to know my location, I would have been told is how I took things. Plus, my training became more intense as the Druid imparted not only the way of the Shifter, but something that very few Druids themselves know - the Woodling Genotype. This powerful trait included increased natural armour and resistances and is applied to the genetics of the original creature and with the knowledge imparted to me meant that I could add this genotype to any of the forms I had already learnt or would research in the future.
The form I choose this time to add to my increasing Menagerie was that of the Sahuagin, a swimming form that I thought entirely appropriate for a dungeon that we had been informed had lots of water within. The Druid however asked me multiple times if I was sure about the creature, as well as "...I think you may be better off as a merman..." even after I explained about Uncle Levanter. I confirm for the last time that I am sure, and with a little wry smile, the training continues.
A week later, I am standing back at the edge of the forest, the huge BattleBriars flanking me. With a roar they depart back into the depths of the woods, with not a single trace to indicate that they even were there, and I give one last backwards glance to the forest before heading back to the city.
*I decided that all my family would be named after weather effects, and so spent extra time googling them, as you do. A Levanter in case you want to know is a moist wind which blows from the east over the Strait of Gibraltar. It is frequently accompanied by haze or fog and may occur at any time of year, though it is most common in the period June to October. A feature is the occurrence of a 'banner cloud' extending a kilometre or more downwind from the summit of the Rock of Gibraltar. The strength of the Levanter does not normally exceed Beaufort Force 5. When it is strong, however, complex and vigorous atmospheric eddies form in the lee of the Rock, causing difficult conditions for yachtsmen and the pilots of aircraft. The levanter can also cause persistently foggy weather on the coast of Spain.
So now you know.