In the night, a message came. Written on tree bark in the language of the Briarwood, Rorith’s brother called for help. A curse lay over him, and death was near. His brother, the exiled mage, had become his only hope.
And so the Keepers packed their bags and left, for never would they let one of their own face danger without aid. At the edge of the forest, wilden sentries reluctantly allowed the travelers passage. They moved deeper, far deeper into the woods, until they came upon a wilden settlement build into the very trees. Rorith entered Olden’s hut. The chieftain lies in bed, paralyzed, his warhammer by his side. He asks the sorcerer to help break the curse, but Rorith is fraught with conflict. This was, after all, the brother who had seen him exiled. But Olden was so weak. Rorith assented.
The other Keepers entered the room and began to collect information. They managed to extract only a modicum of information from the ailing warrior, who insisted he had been hexed by a witch who lived deep in the heart of the Briarwood. Rorith waved his hands over his brother and examined the curse, probing it, finding it impenetrable. It could only be removed once the witch lay dead or agreed to help lift it. Even then, the cure was potentially deadly. But the Keepers had no choice. They ventured into the wood.
The witch was ready. But she seemed a harmless old crone. Her cabin, nearly falling apart, lay in shambles. Every inch of space seemed occupied by twisted roots and strange, primal specimens in clay jars. When asked about the curse, she explained that she went to the wilden for help, and that they had turned her away. “A demon comes for me,” she confessed. She continued, explaining that the demon desired to harvest her soul, and that she sought protection from the wilden tribes. When turned away, she responded by hexing the chief. The tribe sent wave after wave of hunters after her. She smiled proudly.
She agreed to help lift the curse from Olden, but only if the Keepers could aid her in fighting the demon that hunted her. The Keepers were unsure, and then they noticed something. The twisted roots, the specimens in jars, all seemed familiar. Rorith was the first to realize – they were the remains of his tribesmen. The witch had slaughtered any that came her way. He and the other Keepers elected to help her, but secretly planned to exact justice once the curse had been lifted.
The witch prepared a ritual to draw the demon into corporeality, but it needed a host. After much debate, Mhera offered her familiar, Roc, an extension of her very soul, to the demon. But the demon had another plan entirely.
The lights snuffed out, then began to blaze with an unholy light. The witch levitated away from the floor, possessed by an otherworldly energy. The demon had finally taken its quarry. It turned its sights on Roc. The Keepers, though, always ready for a rumble, carved into the hag’s body. The demon wrenched itself free of its mortal coil, and all was normal.
And then somebody knocked at the door. When they answered, they were greeted by a tall, grim-faced man in top hat and suit. He requested, as demons sometimes do, in an ever so humble tone, that he be served Roc’s soul. Then, he would leave for the night. Enough time for the Keepers to flee.
But they refused his vile offer. The Keepers swarmed around Mhera and Roc. The gentleman-devil smiled and called out to the forest, “Join me, children.” And the sounds of play echoed. A swarm of children, most of them younger than ten, emerged from the forest, each wielding a long butcher knife or other household implement. The Keepers barred the door, but the children, followed by their paternal master, teleported into the hut. Over and over, the Keepers cut down the frail-looking demon as his minions swarmed over them. And when he was cut down, the children formed a ritual circle and slit their own throats. Their tainted blood pooled, and from that pool sprang the same demon! Over and over, in an endless tide, the children came, and died, and in their blood the demon was reborn, until finally the Keepers had exhausted his supply of thralls. And he stood broken and defeated, and then the Keepers put him to the sword.
At the wilden village, they stood over Olden. The curse still stood. Rorith prepared his reagents, and with a muttering of incantations, he plunged his hand deep into Olden’s chest and removed a blistered, rotten shell that had formed around his heart. The chieftain screamed, and then sighed, and then he was cured.
He apologized to his brother and finally, after years of silence, explained the circumstances behind Rorith’s exile. Olden elected to step down as chieftain, bestowing his ceremonial hammer upon his brother. Olden promised to try to change the anti-magical ways of the tribe, though both he and Rorith knew that task would be a difficult one.