Chapter One: Parravon
Loren was moving.
Quenelles had always bordered the fay forest, but those within the city were keenly aware that border had since shifted, and had watched with apprehension as the Loren Forest seemingly enveloped the town. The paths through the new overgrowth were treacherous at the best of times and the once finely maintained road that connected the town to the rest of Parravon was now not even a memory - it simply was gone, as though it had never existed to begin with. Righteous Paladins had been set out to request aid from the duchy, Tulass le Beau was the only one to return.
He returned with a wild tale of the entire duchy being consumed by the Loren forest. He claimed with his own eyes to have seen the vine choked ruins of Parravon, guarded by living trees and great birds. Lady Helene Armistead, blessed Prophetess and defacto ruler of the town in this crisis, had tried to soothe the Paladin's troubled mind by le Beau was adamant. Parravon was lost. Men of wood stalked the shadows, and the vast trees that had rooted outside of Quenelles were a testimony to the ultimate fate that awaited those within.
Lady Armistead's questions of what to do with the doomsaying Paladin were put to rest, when le Beau stole away from the city during the night, vanishing into the murky woods. Those night sentries who witnessed the departure - peasants conscripted into service and who were flogged for letting le Beau pass without challenge - stated the man was raving about taking back Parravon himself. In truth, the Prophetess was glad when le Beau left. It was one less mouth to feed in a town dangerously low on resources as it was.
She had been blessed with a vision by the Lady. A warning that Quenelles was in danger and to raise a mighty host in its defense. Now she fretted in the dark corners of her mind if the Lady had turned Her back, and the vision was to lead Armistead to her doom instead. Her "mighty host" consisted of three motley companies of conscripted peasant bowmen she'd gathered from the countryside around the town. The town itself had a curtain wall around it and the peasants took to its defense with earnest, but she had but one grizzled Paladin to ride herd on them. If the flogging of their fellows had improved their discipline, the constantly shifting and growing forest just outside the walls unnerved them greatly even before the food had gone.
Lady Armistead, standing atop the curtain wall of the town looking at the trees beyond let out a heavy sigh and glanced back to where the dead were being piled in the center of town. To do even that was expending precious energy among the survivors but Armistead was adamant that the dead not litter the streets. Farther north, the unattended dead had a bad habit of harassing the Bretonnians. Her forces were starved, and she wondered if she looked any better than the gaunt, pained faces of the forces she had manning the walls at all times.
An attack was coming. She was sure of it. She'd seen it. But she'd expected one immediately after arriving in the town. She hadn't anticipated a prolonged siege. It was as if the enemy she'd been warned about was nature itself - patient and eternal. It frayed at the Prophetess' nerves. Villieth Michaud, the Paladin in charge of the community's defenses, let out a sudden shout. Armistead's eyes shot back to the forest and immediately saw what Michaud had - the trees were legitimately moving closer to the curtain wall.
Massive, gnarled things, she hadn't liked the look of them when they'd begun to take root. And now she could see they were all moving with intent towards the gatehouse she stood upon, where she'd arrayed the defenders. A cursory glance down the curtain wall showed her that two more gnarled trees, siege towers she silently amended, were moving towards the gate she'd been forced to leave abandoned due to lack of forces. She cursed herself for a fool, but quickly put it out of her mind, she had a town to defend.
Michaud shouted something else then quickly raised his shield as over a dozen arrows suddenly sprouted from it in rapid succession. Whomever was coming for them, they quickly grasped who the priority targets were. But in firing upon Michaud, the enemy had to have exposed itself and that gave the Prophetess an opening.
The flapping of wings suddenly filled her ears as she suddenly found herself in shade on an otherwise cloudless day. She dared to look up and saw a vast eagle, far larger than she had ever seen before, swooping down from the sky, it's talons open and cast downward. Helene Armistead opened her mouth, whether to cast a spell or to scream none would ever be able to say. Where once a proud Prophetess of Life had once stood, there remained only a few stray feathers, and a ear piercing avian scream of triumph.
Vilieth Michaud took it in in an instant, still being bombarded by the elves just at the edge of the tree line. The Prophetess was dead and those impossible, crawling trees had suddenly found themselves right next to the walls. Little knots within the bark suddenly yawned wide, and impossible men poured out of the openings onto the walls. Men made of bark and branch.
The peasantry, half-starved and now leaderless, broke immediately. Michaud couldn't even reprimand them as they ran, though he did try. The sight of his forces retreating off the walls made him drop his shield a half inch and sent an arrow screaming at the side of his helmet. In his condition the arrow did more then just jostle him out of position...it threw him from the wall all together. He hit the dirt just inside the gatehouse and heard something inside himself snap. Michaud lay there for a spell, listening to the screaming of peasants, the hissing, grinding laughter from the men of bark, and what he initially took to be the rhythmic pounding of his heart due to all the blood in his ears. It took Michaud precious seconds to register that the pounding was in fact the gate itself.
The gate erupted inwards and Michaud rolled onto his back and raised his head to behold an immense tree man that seemed to engulf the entire entryway. The newcomer wielded a giant sword made of seemingly glowing amber and its face was like fire. Vilieth Michaud, Paladin of Quenelles, numbly fumbled his hands in the dirt, seeking out his dropped sword as the massive Tree Man stepped forward and regarded him with naked hate radiating from its very being.
Durthu regarded the soft thing before it for a moment, then gazed upward. Michaud was confused and then heard the avian shriek as a second great eagle flew over the curtain wall, hovered for a moment, and then angled downward. Michaud saw talons flash and hungry eyes just as his questing hand found the hilt of his sword.